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Nash Twin-Ignition Eights

Nash Twin-Ignition Eights

By Jack Nerad

Nash Twin-Ignition Eights If Nash Motors Company were a comedian, it would be Rodney Dangerfield. If it were a baseball team, it would be the Chicago Cubs. If it were a food, it would be macaroni and cheese. You see, in Dangerfield's vernacular, Nash never gets no respect. Automotive historians sing the praises of Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow. They wax eloquent over Isotta-Fraschini, Hispano-Suisa, and Bugatti. But Nash, well, Nash is treated like yesterday's mashed potatoes.

Now, to be fair, Nash does not belong in the pantheon of the great marques that built luxurious conveyances for the wealthy, who, as Fitzgerald wrote, are different from you and me. But Nash always did a superior job of creating vehicles for the vast American middle class -- vehicles that were solid, honest, and hard-working just like the citizens who bought them. Further, when one takes a close look at the Nashes of the late Twenties and early Thirties one has to note that they came very close to presenting the style, power and flair of the classic marques -- but at prices that were far more palatable to the middle-class masses that continued to need automotive transportation even in the depths of the Depression.

The Nash story began when Charles W. Nash joined another middle-class American icon, Buick, soon after the turn of the Twentieth Century. By 1910, Nash had worked his way into the presidency of Buick just as William Crapo Durant was using the well-established brand to lay the basis of General Motors Corporation. By 1912, Nash assumed the presidency of GM after Durant's financial antics prompted the directors to force him out. Durant, however, wasn't ready to say goodbye to his dream, and by the end of 1915 he wrested control of General Motors back. This turn of events forced Nash to make a decision: should he stay with General Motors or should he strike out on his own?

Though he was a friend of Billy Durant, he decided that his best course was to resign from General Motors and look for another opportunity in the still-blooming automotive industry. Partnered with fellow GM veterans James Storrow and Walter P. Chrysler, Nash began courting a takeover of Packard, but Packard's board of directors turned thumbs-down on the deal, and Chrysler, lured by a bushel of GM cash, decided to stick it out at GM for the time being. (Of course, he would eventually depart to turn Maxwell into Chrysler Corporation.)

With the Packard deal but a memory, Nash looked for another car company to acquire, and he found it in, of all places, Kenosha, Wisconsin, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago. It was there that the Thomas B. Jeffery Company built Jeffery (neè Rambler) cars and the Jeffery Quad four-by-four truck that became famous as a World War I transport vehicle. For less than $10 million, Nash purchased the Jeffery company lock, stock and barrel, and, while he and some other GM refugees prepared their first Nash automobile, the plant continued to turn out Jefferys.

Finally, in the fall of 1917, Nash Motors was ready to introduce its first true line of Nash cars. Designed under the supervision of former GM engineer Nils Erik Wahlberg, the new vehicles were, not surprisingly, solidly middle class. Inventive naming was not one of their attributes -- the 1918 model year lineup consisted of the 681 and 682 touring cars, 683 roadster, 684 sedan, and 685 coupe -- but good engineering was. At their heart was an overhead-valve straight-six engine dubbed "valve in head" by the Nash sales folks. With prices ranging from $1,295 to just over $2,000, they were out of the reach of average working families, but right in the sweet-spot for the growing middle class managerial, professional, and retailer set. The line-up proved to be an immediate hit, and by 1920 Nash Motors had more than doubled the top sales mark the Jeffery Company had set in 1914. Adding more solid vehicles continued to spell success through the 1920s. One landmark model was the Carriole, a four-cylinder-equipped two-door sedan priced at $1,350 that was one of the first low-priced "closed cars." Less than three years later, Nash made another bold move with the announcement of a new, affiliated brand to be called Ajax. In 1925 the Ajax models -- a four-door sedan and a touring car -- debuted, but while they sold reasonably well, Nash decided they weren't enough to sustain a separate company, so they were brought under the Nash banner as the Nash Light Six. (By the way, your author has owned a 1926 example since 1967.) Priced at less than $1,000, these vehicles were filled with virtue.

Nash continued to add features as the Twenties turned into the Thirties. The 1928 lineup was especially innovative. The six-cylinder-powered 400 series Nashes offered four-point engine mounts, seven-main-bearing crankshafts (as did the supposedly "cheap" Light Six) and "dropped" frames, but the big news was "Twin Ignition," a two-sparkplugs-per-cylinder technology that assured more even combustion and thus much better fuel efficiency and power. Because Charles W. Nash seemed to have an uncanny ability to gauge what Americans would buy, the new Nashes were again a hit in the market, yet another success story for a company that continued to roll in substantial profits year after year.

October 1929 and its stock market crash brought big challenges to Nash, especially because the company introduced its most ambitious cars ever nearly simultaneously with the Wall Street debacle. New for the 1930 model year were the Nash Twin-Ignition Eights, many of them riding on 133-inch wheelbases -- the longest Nashes ever. With these models, Nash took the Twin-Ignition idea to its next logical step, putting together a 299 cubic inch straight-eight engine that was built with the same precise conservatism that had always marked Nash products. With two sparkplugs popping in each cylinder, the engine was a model of efficiency in its day, producing 100 horsepower and boasting such niceties as overhead valves and a nine-bearing crank (for smoothness and strength.)

Those 1930 models and the successors that followed in 1931 and 1932 are not generally recognized as classics, but even to the trained eye they are remarkable facsimiles. With substantial length, regal grilles, and broad, sweeping fenders, the twin-ignition eight-cylinder Nashes could easily pass as "luxury cars." The 1932 models that arrived in one of the worst years of the Depression are especially noteworthy. At the very top of the range were the first of the "Ambassador" series, which rode on a 142-inch wheelbase. These cars, like their brethren the Advanced Eights, boasted Syncromesh transmission, freewheeling, and ride that could be adjusted (within reasonable parameters) from the dash. Unlike some other, more vaunted marques, these cars were also built like brick outhouses -- without a hint of mechanical maladies that beset some of the more touted vehicles of the day.

This insistence on quality, on giving the customer more than what he paid for, was the reason that Nash was able to survive and finally thrive in the Depression when other car companies were breathing their last. When Charles W. Nash decided to turn over the reins of his company to George Mason of the Kelvinator Company in 1937, the company was solidly anchored as a fixture in the American marketplace, and it would stay that way until Nash merged with Hudson in the mid-Fifties to form American Motors.
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