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Back To The Future: 1951 Nash Airflyte

As did Chrysler with the Airflow of the 1930s, Nash also dabbled in aerodynamics in the design of their cars in the late 1940s. The 1949-51 editions of Nash automobiles were dubbed Airflytes though they looked something like upside-down bathtubs in execution. This 1951 edition in Ambassador trim is one of those cars and may have the distinction of appearing in the Back to the Future movie of 1985. Though a minor appearance in a film may not add any extra value, this Nash is in Mariposa, California, and available here on craigslist for $8,000. Thanks for the futuristic tip, barn finder “numskal”!

Before American Motors came to be in 1954, one of the “independents” in the auto business was Nash-Kelvinator (as in the refrigerator). In preparing to redo their cars after World War II, the company used a wind tunnel to take advantage of aerodynamics in car design to achieve many benefits. That resulted, in part, by reducing the height of their post-war cars by six inches. This is also where the “enclosed wheels” used on these vehicles came from.

As had been the case since 1927 (and until 1957 when the Nash name disappeared), the Ambassador was the top-line model sold by the automaker. They were sometimes nicknamed “Kenosha Duesenberg’s” for the company’s base of operations in Wisconsin. When the new “bathtub” cars came along in 1949, the design had also switched to unibody construction, a format Nash had pioneered just before the war.

The seller doesn’t tell us much about this ’51 Ambassador except that it’s said to have had a cameo in the first Michael J. Fox movie about time travel using the “flex capacitor” and a DeLorean. The automobile looks to be in good condition, though the older paint may be starting to show its age. And some of the weatherstrips may be getting old as well (where the trunk lid seals). Powered by a six-cylinder engine, that’s likely Nash’s 235 cubic-inch inline motor. The car may have at least 140,000 miles given the odometer reading and a note that it’s turned over and broken.

The Airflytes were an interesting design that would go on to influence other Nash products and perhaps the rest of the 1950s auto industry. But is this a car that Marty McFly would be seen in with Doc Brown?


  1. HoA Howard A Member

    Really enjoy the Rambler/AMC theme, but I must correct. The Ambassador was called “Kenosha Kadillacs” and while they may have looked unusual, they really had some innovative features. Volumes have been written on the reclining seats, but Rambler had one of the best heating and A/C, the “Weather Eye”. They promoted traveling, and had a slew of options. Speed was not its strong point, 100hp in a car like this gives VW performance, but they were good enough for Superman, that’s good enough for me.

    Like 27
    • Will Fox

      Howard, these Nashes even came with window screens for camping out as an option. There is a promo film on Youtube that was put out by Nash in 1950 showing 3 fishermen setting up their Nash by the lake! Hokey I know, but interesting to see.

      Like 10
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Right you are, the Weather Eye system was so damn good that GM ended up licensing it when they realized nothing GM could develop was even close in simplicity and ease of use, and how the entire heating, venting [and later A/C] system was handled by 1 switch and 2 levers, right in the middle of the dash.

      Like 2
  2. RayT Member

    Curtis Turner drove one of these in the 1950 Mexican Road Race — actually, two of them, which got him disqualified — which tells me they’ll get out of their own way. Especially if you put a certified crazy behind the wheel!. I wouldn’t expect this to be a hot rod, nor would I do anything in the “restomod” line. Looks just dandy as-is, even though I’m sure I’d eventually want to spruce it up paint-and-upholstery-wise a bit….

    I’ve always liked Nash’s willingness to build standout designs — this, the NXI/Metropolitan, Rambler, etc. — and would dig to have one for some leisurely, comfortable touring.

    Like 19
  3. Derek

    There’s something of the Tatra (77/87) about the back end of it.

    Like 13
    • chrlsful

      stold my thoughts (both of them)!

      Like 0
  4. Smokey Member

    I am a child of the 1950’s and have a long memory. There actually were parents who would NOT allow their daughters to go on a date with a boy who showed up in a Nash like this. The seats would easily convert into a bed.

    Like 23
    • Will Fox

      True story: When my mom wanted to introduce my dad to her folks, Grandpa apparently asked her, “He doesn’t drive a Nash, does he?” She knew what he meant & laughed. My dad back then drove a `47 Chrysler Town & Country cvt.!

      Like 11
    • Rick

      Ah, the memories of Nashes, Ramblers and AMCs with their fold-down seats.

      And, you know how people sometimes name their children after the place of their conception? Somewhere I might have a kid named Ambassador. ;)

      Like 7
      • Robert White

        Following along the same lines I’d have a kid named Chrysler New Yorker 1978 with air & cruise control plus power seats.


        Like 3
  5. Otis Dimick

    Is this it’s 15 minutes of fame? https://www.imcdb.org/v011619.html

    Like 0
  6. Rw

    Hot and Nashty.

    Like 4
  7. Cassidy David

    $8K seems like a very reasonable price. I would buy, drive and keep it stock.

    Like 0
  8. That AMC Guy

    Although the ad lists this car as an Ambassador, the flathead six cylinder engine as seen in the engine photo was used in the Statesman. Ambassadors received an OHV six and a stretched wheelbase, with the additional length ahead of the cowl.

    Like 15
    • Rick

      I noticed that shorter wheelbase right off. Then the underhood photo really convinced me this car is a Statesman, not an Ambassador.

      Like 4
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

        The car in the movie was a Statesman, so that fits. Photo courtesy IMCDB

        Like 0
  9. ‘57Mike

    Doc Brown drove a PACKARD!

    Like 0
  10. Chuck Simons

    I’m seeing Lois Lane roll up to a story to be rescued by Superman.

    Like 3
  11. Ted Mathis

    Do my eyes deceive me, or are there actual fins on that ‘51 model? Others may argue those are not fins, but I wonder if these set the stage for future fins yet to come in the future by the Big 3?

    Here’s another question: Were there any older cars before 1951 that had fins?

    Like 0
    • Naptown mark

      48 Cadoo, arguably.

      Like 5
  12. Steve

    I was under the impression that the frame surrounded the car, including the wheels, which gives it that bulbous look.

    Like 0
  13. Pauld

    I believe that Cadillac had the first,”Fins” in the 1949 model.

    Like 3
    • Phil Maniatty

      The ’48 Caddys had the same fins as the 49’s. The biggest change between the two years was the introduction if the OHV V-8 in 1949.

      Like 2
    • Keith

      Nope, 1948

      Like 0
  14. Arfeeto

    I’m an old-movie buff. In the past year or so, I’ve seen at least two old films that depicted Nash Airflytes as police cruisers. I doubted police departments would have used these cars as patrol vehicles because, as a previous commenter notes, Nashes weren’t known to be high performance cars. But a bit of online research disabused me of that notion. It seems several police departments around the country indeed used these cars.

    Like 8
  15. GT

    The tail fins with tail lights were a 1951 feature, the ’49-’50 models rear fenders followed a sloping contour down to the rear fender. The taillights were at the bottom of the trunk lid. Interestingly there was a secondary single tail light/reflector on the inside edge of the trunk for times when the trunk lid was open resulting in the tailings pointing skyward.

    Like 1
  16. ramblergarage

    Nash was the first to introduce seat belts as an option in 1950. First with an affordable air condtioning system with all parts under the hood 1954. First with unit construction 1941. Just to name a few.

    Like 5
  17. Jack Hope

    What memories of times long gone
    A Guy Called O’Malley living in Annamoe Terrace Cabra Dublin Ireland in the late 50’s early 60’s had a simular NASH to this beauty !
    I spent many hours just standing looking at it and waiting for him to come out of house and start it up !.
    I love this one as much as that one back then.

    Like 1
  18. Robert White

    Car of the century IMHO. Super excellent find, Barn Finds.

    That’s what I like about BF.

    Way to go on this classic Nash.

    I’m a Nash fan. Love the Metropolitans.


    Like 2
  19. Verlin

    Do you have any pictures of underneath the car I’m very interested player but these rusted out I would love to see pictures my phone number is 816-223-7017 and my email is vjboes@gmail.com

    Like 0
    • GT

      You should contact seller directly through their Craigslist add.

      Like 0
  20. Verlin

    Do you have any pictures of underneath the car I’m very interested player but these rusted out I would love to see pictures my phone number is 816-223-7017 and my email is vjboes@gmail.com

    Like 0
  21. chrlsful

    yeah, Verlin, this aint that forum (altho they do have some sales w/it clearly indicating so on the post).

    WoW. I look and see a b i g car, others can see that it should be even longer. Gimmie the nash rambler (esp the dual fender skirt waggy) or ’58/9 AMC rambler.

    Like 0

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