Tubby: 1951 Nash AirFlyte Ambassador Custom

A lot of people refer to these cars as the bathtub Nash but I think that Nash hit it out of the ballpark with their quirky styling starting in 1949. This 1951 Nash AirFlyte Ambassador Custom is the last year for these iconic and huge designs. That isn’t saying that the 1952 models weren’t also a grand slam of quirkiness, they were, and in some cases even more so. This ’51 Nash is listed here on eBay with bids of over $1,200 but the reserve isn’t met. There is a $4,000 buy it now price if you just have to have it without taking a risk of someone else winning the auction. It’s located in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Thanks to Fred H. for sending in this find!

The president of Nash, George Mason, was a fan of aerodynamic vehicles and as you can see from the half-enclosed front wheels, these cars were aerodynamic, at least for the time. The turning radius suffered because of the partially-enclosed front wheels but in my world it’s form before function. Who’s with me?! (crickets) At 17′-5″ in length the 1949-1951 Nash is far from the longest car, it isn’t even close. But, to see one in person you might think that it is. They’re big but it may be more a case of being bulbous than being long.

But what a beautiful bulbous shape it is! These were unit-body cars, or unibody as some of us grew up saying. For its 1949 debut that was fairly revolutionary. The seller says that the “paint is original and it looks it along with a few light surface rust areas.” They also are including “the 4 hubcaps, in the trunk, and another front grill that is not cracked like the one on the car, I also have the horn button.”

You already know from the photos that the exterior needs help and now you know that the interior does, too. What did you expect for $4,000, a Pebble Beach car? It would be great to have seen the seats folded down like these AirFlytes had. I don’t know if I’d want to sleep at a rest stop and a lot of times it isn’t even allowed, but I’m sure that feature came in handy. The interior in general needs to be restored, hopefully back to original spec. It also needs help with the floor pans, they look fairly scary. This car has the optional GM Hydra-Matic automatic transmission which meant that a new starting method had to be devised – normally you would step on the clutch all the way to the floor which would press the starter button. Nash came up with putting the column-mounted selector in neutral and pulling it towards you to start the car. My how times have changed.

The 235 cubic-inch inline-six was the only option and you can see that it’s also in need of at least cosmetic work. It would have had 115 hp when new. The seller says that the “engine runs so quietly you can almost not hear it and it shifts and drives good too.” The 6-volt battery is a year old and the starter is currently out being rebuilt. Have any of you owned a Nash from this era?

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    Really cool car. How do you remove the front wheels?

    • Fred w.

      By brushing up on your salty language. Not the longest car , but has the largest turning circle ever!

      • James HGF

        Sorry Fred, “the largest turning circle ever” – it just ain’t so!

        The ’51 Ambassador does have a large turning circle ie: 44′ 4″, but that isn’t close to the largest. Can’t nail down the record for you, but the ’56 Cadillac 75 with a 51.7 foot turning circle should be in the running. The ’56 Cadillac models 60 & 62, the little ones so to speak, clock in at an even 45 feet as do the ’56 Packards. The ’53 Lincoln’s turning circle is 45.8 feet w/o enclosed front wheels and a wheelbase only 2 inches longer than the ’51 Ambassador. Curious, eh?

        ’51 Nash Airflyte brochure with turning circle specs:

        http://oldcarbrochures.com/static/NA/Nash/1951%20Nash/1951_Nash_Airflyte_All_Models_Brochure/1951%20Nash%20Airflyte%20All%20Models-15.html

    • Rube Goldberg Member

      This comes up every time a car like this is featured. Instead of lug studs ( and nuts) these, and many other cars with tight wheel well clearances, like my ’50 Packard, had lug bolts ( and a short locating pin on the brake drum. That extra inch or so allows you to take the lug bolts out, and drop the wheel straight down.
      http://www.vintagecampers.com/PartsImgUpload/Parts/2393/llugbolt.jpg

  2. SAM61

    I appreciate quirky as well. Use the damaged grill for some man-cave wall art. Here is a “newer” Nash that is out on our local streets in fair weather.

  3. Ben T. Spanner

    In the late 1960’s I had a freind who had Polio and wore leg braces. He lived with his Grandmother, who had a bathtub Nash. We installed homemade hand controls. He later had a 3 wheeled Harley service bike. He would start it by habd using the kick starter. Yes, he did hve a lot of upper body strength.

  4. jw454

    When my father got out of the Army in 1952 he bought a 1949 that looked very similar to this one. It was a six cylinder 3 speed with overdrive. He always talked about how fast that car was. He would tell stories about getting up to 50~60 and then pulling out the overdrive handle. The car seemed like it would leap forward. I really miss him. I’d love to hear him tell all the stories about that Nash again. Thanks for the memories.

  5. Jack Quantrill

    This is tied with the Pontiac Aztec, for world’s ugliest car!

    • ccrvtt

      Really? My Dad worked for Nash Kelvinator after WWII in Detroit. I came home from the hospital in a dark green over light green 1950 Ambassador. Dad went fishing with George Mason.

      These cars are NOT UGLY. Azteks are ugly. Nissan Jukes are ugly. Trabants are ugly. ’49-’51 Ambassadors are revolutionary.

      l think one of this vintage finished in dark blue metallic over light silver blue would look stunning. Fit the interior with a modern version of the original mouse fur and install a late-model Jeep 4.0 six.

      No, don’t EVER mention an Ambassador in the same sentence as that abomination from Pontiac.

    • XMA0891

      To each his own. I think this a stately looking automobile. I love her!

    • rcflyer

      There is no car tied with the Aztec for ugliest car.

  6. fahrvergnugen

    She’s not tubby. She just has a large frame.

  7. Steve R

    Too bad it isn’t a 2 door.

    Steve R

    Like 2
  8. Chuck

    Just got a 53 lincoln at a yard-barn sale, now I know the turning circle thanks james,, (now I need a bigger driveway )

  9. Chuck Cobb

    Awesome, even with 4 doors. Maybe a AMC 343/360/390 for drive train. What is the bracket on the passenger side of the block for?

    • jw454

      Chuck,

      That bracket holds the bottom of the air cleaner canister as in this shot.

  10. Chuck Cobb

    Awesome, even with 4 doors. Maybe a AMC 343/360/390 for drive train. What is the bracket on the passenger side of the block for? Look how cool the shift indicator on the column is, for it’s day and age.

  11. Bullethead

    Always liked Nash designs of this era. And for some reason, whenever I see one I think of Robert Crumb.

    Like 1
  12. Derek

    Ah yes, the era of the ‘big chrome lips’ grill designs. I remember it well.

  13. Jim Benjaminson

    Had George Mason lived — and had his plans to merge many of the independent makes after WWII had come to fruition, our automotive landscape might be totally different today. He was a visionary. His cars were built in the same shape he was!!!

    • Beatnik Bedouin

      The deal didn’t go through once American Motors/Nash Kelvinator saw the poor state of both Packard’s and Studebaker’s books. While the concept had merit, it would have tanked the former.

  14. Adam T45 Staff

    I really like this, but every time that I see a Nash of any description it reminds me of the line by Henry Fonda in the Movie On Golden Pond: “Ugly and breaks down a lot? It must be a Nash.”

  15. guggie

    My grand father had a 1950 Nash like this , he drove it for years , nice smooth car for a long road trip , good on gas also !!

  16. charlie Member

    Neighbor had a ’50 when I was a kid. You could not tell the engine was running if you were inside, by listening or by feeling for vibration. Keep the original 6, it would go 65 mph with overdrive, at least on the flats, all day.

  17. Beatnik Bedouin

    Nashes of that era were the choice of many generic law enforcement agencies across the B-movie USA. I always thought they were pretty cool…

    Like 1
    • Rex Kahrs Member

      The “B-Movie USA”. Are these the people that elect D-list presidents?

    • Dan in Texas

      Ed Wood loved them!

      Like 1
  18. Canadian Mark S. Eh! Member

    Please someone get some rust killer and paint on that metal before its to late. This should be inside until the metal can be preserved.

  19. Rube Goldberg Member

    I’m getting old. All these comments and not one Superman comment, even from the author, who I know loves vintage TV. Nash was the sponsor and provided most of the cars. Some may take offense to the term “bathtub” ( but it’s ok for Porsche, for some reason), but it is what it is. I can’t find any reference to the OHV engine in ’51 Airflytes, as most say they came with the L head 6. Maybe jw454 can shed some light on that. Great find, and these are always a hit at shows, because of their,,,um,,,shall we say say,,unusual design, but ugly??? Never. And, a Nash, Rambler, AMC feature, fold down front seats ( apparently, as GP stated, not all cars had that, standard on 2 doors, option on 4 doors)

    Like 1
    • James HGF

      The spec page I posted above with my comment on the Ambassador turning circle also provides the specs for the 234.8 cu in OHV engine. The Nash OHV 6 was first used in 1934 with a 5.25:1 compression ratio and 88 hp for the Big Six model. Its’ compression ratio was 7.3: 1 for the 115 hp version in the ’51 Ambassador.

  20. G B Fish

    I grew up in the backseat of a 51 Nash. My brother and I would be put in the back in pajamas and it was off to the drive-in theatre with food and a feeling of adventure. No back seat restraints, so my brother and I could freely fight on trips. And with no front restraints, Dad could quickly swing around and whack us both in one flowing movement. I kinda miss life at 40 mph.

  21. chad

    jw454 – ck out the “H” motor too.
    almost as out there as that ‘batwing’ Chrysler!

    UNDER 6:1 compression but lookat the tq and gearing! Luv me a straight 6!

    This baby – open the trunk & U could carry a few twenty foot 2 bys restin on the passenger’s fire-wall.

  22. bog

    Love the shape of these. Brings back childhood memories of seeing them fairly new. Thanks guys, for the info on the turning circle. Always wondered how it would be to drive one…apparently straight line was best.

  23. Mountainwoodie

    Speaking of B movies…I’ve been on a film noir jag lately…Youtube has many……and watched the terrific Dick Powell..’Cry Danger’……he drove an earlier Nash maybe a ’49 or ’50…..heres a screenshot….

    Like 1

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