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Folding Beds and Racing Glory: 1951 Nash Ambassador

Throughout American automotive history, there have been some very out-of-the-mainstream automobiles.  Many of these were from so-called independent makes.  Independent means not one of the “Big Three.”  One of the most distinctively out-of-the-box automobiles after WWII was built by Nash-Kelvinator.  Take a look at this 1951 Nash Ambassador for sale on Craigslist in Grangeville, Idaho.  With its “bathtub styling” and fold-down bed, this automobile is something different.  What would you do with it if you ponied up the $8,000 asking price?  Thanks to T.J. for this aerodynamic find!

After the war, the flamboyant and very round Nash-Kelvinator president George Mason wanted to produce a car that both took advantage of aerodynamics and was out of the box in its styling.  Why?  Before the Depression ran its course, the list of independent automobile manufacturers was as long as your arm.  After the war, there weren’t very many left fighting for the scraps left over from the Big Three.  To stand out and lure potential customers into the showroom, independents had to come up with cars that set them apart.

Charged with this mandate, the folks at Nash came up with a car that was longer, lower, and wider than its postwar predecessors.  The final design more closely resembled the revolutionary 1935 Stout Scarab show car than the 1948 model that Nash was building previously.  It wasn’t long before critics compared the car’s sleek lines to an upside-down bathtub.  The nickname “Bathtub Nash” stuck instead of Nash’s preferred Airflyte moniker.  Decades later, these cars are still lumped under that somewhat derogatory description.

Mason also wanted to get his car some notoriety.  Partnering with Bill France and his fledgling racing organization NASCAR, the new Nash Ambassador was used as the official pace car for NASCAR in 1950.  France even went as far as entering one of these Nash Ambassadors in the La Carerra Panamerica road race through Mexico in 1950.  Curtis Turner was the driver and France was the passenger/navigator.  As was Turner’s fashion, he drove the Nash with wreckless abandon and managed to finish a few stages well ahead of true sportscars.  A slide that resulted in the car hanging over a cliff on the passenger side finally forced France to forcefully remind Turner that he had a family that he needed to return to in one piece.

1951 was the last year for this version of the Nash Ambassador.  The car you see here is a good example of these distinctive cars.  In the ad, the seller tells us that the car is the Super version.  It is said to run and drive well.  Having emerged from a shed to keep it out of the snow and the rain it will need some polishing up and a bit of refurbishment to return it to show condition.  Although equipped with the very desirable overdrive option, the seller has not returned that feature to operation.  The car is currently driven at speeds no greater than 55 MPH thus negating the need in the seller’s mind.

Another feature that the seller mentions is the fold-down seats.  Many Nash automobiles had seats that would fold down into a horizontal position to form a makeshift bed for weary travelers.  Given the rise of the drive-in movie theater at the time, one has to wonder how much the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation assisted in the postwar baby boom.  The seller tells us that he does not have the mattress, alluding to an additional item needed to make a bed.  Anyone who knows how these beds work (from an engineering standpoint please), do let us know in the comments.

For $8,000, this is a very distinctive vehicle that is not often seen anymore.  With some work and the repair of the overdrive unit, this car would make a nice traveling companion.  It is not every day that you can buy a 72-year-old car with a racing heritage and seats that fold down into a bed.  Talk about the best of both worlds…


  1. RayT Member

    Looks a little too nice to go out and play Curtis Turner with. But I dig it, anyway.

    Just to fill in the story: The Turner/France Nash was actually too worn out to finish the race (even after Big Bill decided he didn’t want to be Curtis’s passenger any more) and Turner took over another Nash, with which he finished (with another co-driver), well up in the standings. But officials disqualified him because he wasn’t entered to drive that particular car.

    Price seems good too. What a temptation to turn it into a vintage racer! Wouldn’t that wig out the folks at the Monterey Historics!

    Like 4
  2. HoA Howard A Member

    Coming from Nash city ( Nash-“ville” didn’t sound right) I was never aware of any racing history, even though, I read, the motor, with dual carbs and experimental OHC was capable. The front reclining seats have been the “butt” of all jokes for years. I never heard of a mattress, although research shows, Nash did make a roll up pad, among other features and the seat backs merely lined up with the back seat bottom. It looks awful uncomfortable. Far as the baby boom goes, that could be done in any car, 1949-1957. Besides, Nash wasn’t that popular anyway. Great find, in case some may wonder what that mount on the motor was for, a HUGE air filter, oddly replaced by the smallest one. Hey, at least it has one. O/D? Don’t have visions of 100 mph. The motor doesn’t have enough power in a heavy car, and was used solely for better gas mileage and lower rpms,,,at 50mph.

    Like 9
    • Robert Vlasic

      I have a 51 Ambassador with 50,000 original miles and I absolutely love driving this car. I can cruse at 75 mph all day long. I also have the Nash mattress that is in a clear plastic case with the Nash name on it. I’ve owned 100s of antique autos and this is top of the list for driving. Look at Jay Leno on U Tube driving one. He loves it too. Interesting watch.

      Like 5
  3. Fahrvergnugen Fahrvergnugen Member

    Wallace car, in search of Gromit. Seems like a great price!!

    Like 3
  4. John Eder

    When did they move Stonehenge to Idaho?

    Like 3
    • mayhamfx

      Maryhill, Washington. Replica. Been there, pretty cool.

      Like 7
  5. Mike

    A lot of car and a lot of attention for $8k.

    Like 7
  6. Meyer Ranch

    I’m tempted to sell our Tundra/Camper combo for this. Now I just need to convince my wife!

    Like 9
  7. Richard

    Interesting and a good price, but too old of an automobile for me. And parts??? I have parts issues/problems for my 91 Buick LeSabre.

    Like 2
  8. Rick

    Curtis Turner drove the Nash with r-e-c-k-l-e-s-s abandon, and he avoided getting in a wreck. ;)

    Like 2
  9. javman

    Loved those old buggies and the fold down seats were a bonus for us young guys (then) outdoor here we come. The overhead Ambassador engine had plenty of power and would go close to 100 mph. The dual carb setup came with the Le Mans series in 53 o4 54. My Dad had a 54 Ambo that we drove to California I remember my Mom driving through the desert at 80+ mph for a long distance thanks to OD before anyone mentioned the speed she was driving.

    Like 3
  10. TheOldRanger

    I always thought these were some of the ugliest cars on the road, but they did ride nice and they did have a lot of room.

    Like 3
  11. bone

    I’ve always wondered they would have been a bigger seller if Nash had kept the body style, but arched the wheel openings like other cars .

    Like 3
    • Slimm

      That’s the thing about Americans. The general population car buyer wants a car that looks like everyone else’s car, otherwise, they consider different as ugly. Even in this group. I love the mid-century modern aerodynamic-look styling in a family sedan.

      Like 1
  12. Lou Rugani

    The Ambassador 6 engines, with their seven main bearings, are bulletproof. The last Nash Ambassador 6 was the 1956, but the engines kept being produced there for DIVCO for many more years.

    Like 5
  13. Johnny Calabro

    I never think ‘bathtub’ with these cars because it strikes me as a pre-jet age airoplane. I’ve never seen a bathtub upside down or not, that resembles this car.

    Like 5
  14. Car Nut Tacoma

    Lovely looking car. I’ve heard of the 1951 Nash Ambassador, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen pictures of the car, but I’ve yet to see one up close and in person.

    Like 1

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