NASH – THE FORGOTTEN INDEPENDENT

By Jim Hinckley

With the acceptance of his resignation from the position of President of General Motors by the board of directors in June of 1916, Charles Nash stepped from the pinnacle of success into the unknown. However, Nash was a man of uncommon vision, self-confidence, and determination as evidenced by his meteoric rise from homeless orphan to head of one of the worlds largest corporations in less than thirty-five years.
Nash, always planning the second step before the first, was not a man to sit idle and within weeks of his departure, with two other alumni of General Motors, Walter Chrysler, and James Storrow, an alliance of sorts was forged in an effort to acquire Packard. In rapid succession, the partnership unraveled; the board of directors at Packard voted no to their offer and a salary offer of $500,000 by William Durant encouraged Chrysler to stay on with General Motors.
Undaunted Nash selected his next target, the Thomas B. Jeffery Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Since 1902, this company had enjoyed modest profits with the production of the Rambler as well as other well-engineered vehicles and then during World War I with the Jeffery 4×4 truck. However, beginning in late 1915 profits had begun a noticeable slide, largely the result of antiquated production methods and equipment, and a decision by the Jeffery family that the time had come to sell.
Nash’s bid was accepted and on July 29, 1916, the Nash Motors Company was organized. In the weeks that followed Jeffery cars continued in production utilizing the existing components on hand thus providing the new company with cash flow.
Meanwhile an entirely new automobile was in the initial stages of development, a vehicle that would bear the Nash. Simultaneously transformation of the factory with the latest equipment and machinery, with Nash himself working on the floor to facilitate installation, progressed rapidly.
In mid summer of 1917, Jeffery automobiles began carrying the Nash nameplate and in the fall, an all-new vehicle was ready for shipment to dealers. The well-engineered Nash featured a gear driven, overhead cam, six-cylinder engine, patented frame and suspension.
The car was an instant success with sales of 10,283 units built in the first year. Adding to the companies revenues was sales of the Nash Quad 4×4 trucks in such numbers that Nash was the largest American producers of trucks in 1918.
In spite of the creeping post war recession, sales continued to climb through midyear 1920. The slight stumble led Nash to begin discontinuation of truck production; this division had seen the largest decline in sales, and the development of lower priced four-cylinder model.
Carefully Nash continued expansion of his company with acquisition of the defunct Mitchell manufacturing facilities in nearby Racine for production of his new companion line, Ajax.
Under the careful guidance of Nash, the company ended fiscal year 1926 in robust condition, largely the result of his tight fiscal policies and hands on management. Production topped 135,000 units and the company ended the year with a net profit of $23.3 million dollars. Even more astounding was the fact that Nash, unlike any other company in the automobile manufacturing industry, had no debt other than current bills!
The foundation of these sales and subsequent profits were the cars built by the company that represented incredible value for the dollar. Prices for 1928 models ranged from $1135 to $1990. Innovative features included four-point engine suspension, seven main bearing six-cylinder engines rated at seventy horsepower, and dual point ignition.
With the onslaught of the Great Depression, many independent manufacturing companies began to fall by the wayside. Nash’s prudent fiscal policies and well-earned fierce brand loyalty to products produced by his company enabled him to not only to stay afloat but also to prosper.
On April 28, 1934, the one-millionth Nash rolled from the assembly line and Charles Nash himself personally thanked his staff and employees. To celebrate this milestone, a nationwide dealership search was launched in which the original owner of the oldest Nash would receive a brand new model, the one millionth one produced.
The winner was Dr. E.O. Nash, no relation, of Pueblo, Colorado. His Nash was the 517th produced and had been driven an astounding 215,800 miles through all manner of Colorado weather over some the worst roads in the nation.
Innovation and value was the companies’ trademark since its inception. The Nash Weather Eye pioneered the concept of heating and air circulation with the use of thermostat and removal of excess moisture from the system. Unitized body construction debuted for 1941; the reduction in weight allowed the 600 series to obtain more than twenty miles per gallon at highway speeds. The first American automobile to feature an air conditioning system with all components under the hood was the 1954 Nash.
In 1950, the company pioneered the American compact car with the introduction of the Rambler. The popularity of these cars, especially in convertible form, enabled the company to garner 71 percent of the entire convertible market that year. In 1957, Nash laid the cornerstone for the muscle car market that would explode in the 1960’s with the Rambler Rebel, the fastest Production car produced in America that year.
The independence of Nash ended in 1954 with the merger of Hudson and the formation of American Motors. The name lived on until 1957 when the combine decide there was no need to continue the charade that Hudson or Nash were independents.

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