There was a time when the American automotive landscape boasted a panoply of marques. By the end of the 1950s, however, the attrition of the independents was nearly complete, leaving GM, Ford, Chrysler and AMC (which, ironically, began as the merged Nash and Hudson, the intended inclusion of Packard having fizzled). But for most of that golden era the indies flourished, each with its subset of models, technical innovations and stylistic identities. Today these vanished marques are known affectionately as “orphans.” For many they evoke memories of a time when cars weren’t the largely anonymous fare they are now. For the rest of us, this rich heritage makes for fascinating study…and collecting! Nash-Kelvinator thrived into the early to mid-‘50s. Kelvinator provided technology adaptable to automotive heating and cooling and a number of notable innovations, like unibody construction, wind-tunnel testing and the first sub-compact (the Metropolitan), were introduced. Nash appealed to middle class buyers wanting safety and reliability with roominess and comfort, too. During 1949 – 1951 Nash’s senior models, the Statesman and Ambassador, sported a distinctive look: low, rounded bodies with skirted wheels fore and aft. They were the “Bathtub” Nashes, the best-selling cars in Nash history.
With some factual license (using the founding date of an acquired company as its own), Nash celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1952. For the occasion it was decided to redesign the senior cars. Nash executives knew replacing the distinctive “Bathtub” required something special. The challenge to come up with a winning new look was presented to Nash’s small, newly formed design team under Edmund E. Anderson and to the esteemed Italian design firm Pininfarina. Battista "Pinin" Farina had visited Nash in June, 1951 to discuss styling concepts. With the finalized decision for restyled Golden Airflytes (so named only for that anniversary year), Farina returned to the U.S. where he met Anderson, his “rival” in the project. Back in Italy Farina created a thorough aesthetic reworking of the senior cars. It was shipped to Nash as a full-size sheet metal mockup including interior. Though Farina’s artistry was undeniable (sadly no photographs of it exist), Nash executives found it unsuitable for American tastes. So it was decided to use a composite design (most of it the work of Anderson’s team): a squaring-off of the “Bathtub,” slab sides, and retention of the skirted wheels with some of Pininfarina’s touches worked in.
Though predominantly a home-grown design, it was decided that Pininfarina must be heavily promoted and advertised, with the cars proudly bearing the Farina crest on the front fenders. (Anderson’s graciousness at this juncture cannot be overstated.) The grandest incarnation was the flagship Golden Airflyte Ambassador, available in two trims, Super and Custom, the latter offering some extra interior appointments at a slightly higher price. Sun Star has chosen the Ambassador Super as the latest 1:18 scale release in its “Platinum Collection,” a series that came roaring out of the gate in 2007 with a mightily impressive ’56 Lincoln Premiere. Since then the line has developed into a serious contender for collectors of ‘50s American cars (with some European fare tossed in for good measure). The Collection was quickly embraced with open arms and copious praise despite a few miscues (the occasional missed detail or fudged proportion) along the way. It’s evident, though, that Sun Star has been responsive to collectors’ input; this Nash, Sun Star’s second foray into orphan marque territory, easily equals (and in some ways surpasses) replicas from Highway 61 and Precision Miniatures…no small compliment! In terms of sheer execution, this may be the finest Platinum release yet.
Scale and proportions appear dead-on. The paint (ivory with a metallic gold roof) is the equal of any I’ve seen: rich, smooth as glass and virtually blemish-free. Operable features are few; what impresses is the near-perfect execution of the tiniest details. Take the model in hand and relish the delicate foil scripts, the “Farina” emblems (perfectly legible), the lustrous chrome, the care given to even the smallest light lens, the artfully replicated wire wheels and the absolute clarity of the glazing…note the weather stripping around the front vent windows. The crisply cast wipers are a vast improvement over the spring-loaded ones used on previous models (well-intentioned finger fun but clunky and out-of-scale) and the front ones (this car had a rear wiper, too!) can still be moved back and forth. The cowl vent is depicted with an actual metal screen and, though static, the antenna is also real metal. A popular ‘50s option, the sun visor is beautifully installed and actually looks adjustable. Best of all, this is a FOUR DOOR sedan with sophisticated hinges: each door opens smoothly and closes with a decisive snap. Shut lines are excellent, if just shy of state-of-the-art.
With the backseat widened 12 ½ inches for ’52, the Ambassador was nothing if not spacious. Though this was Nash’s flagship, you won’t find an abundance of luxury amenities. Instead there was plenty of room and comfort. After a road test one writer declared it the best-riding American car, surpassing even Buick. The interior is prime Sun Star, starting with doorsills, flocking and front mats. The upholstery’s simple pattern looks good and the seats are supple. Which brings us to the Airflyte’s most distinctive interior feature: the fully reclining front seatbacks, creating the "Bed-In-A-Car," smartly replicated here along with the fold-down rear armrest. The two-tone door panels and hardware are terrific: note the painted knobs on the window cranks. The excellent headliner includes the dome light and adjustable clear amber sun visors. The wheel with chrome horn ring and Nash crest is perfectly scaled, while chromed knobs and recessed gold foil appliqué contribute to a dash of fine depth and presence. Even the spotlight lever is done to perfection. The pedals aren’t the usual glued-on 1-piece cluster, but emerge individually from the floorboard. Pop the trunk to view a spacious, flocked compartment with mounted spare and clearly visible backseat bracing.
The “Super Jetfire” 252.6 c.i. straight six producing 120 horsepower was no barn-burner, but a capable, tried and true powerplant more than adequate for the everyday requirements of the 3400 lb. Ambassador. It was considerably more powerful than the Statesman’s engine (also a straight-six), and was tweaked a bit for ’52 for an additional 5 HP. A 140 HP version was optional for those wanting a little more get-up-and-go. Sun Star’s engine bay is splendid. You’ll need a powerful penlight, though; the hood (note the insulation!) only opens to about 45°. The compartment is fully detailed, wired and plumbed, with many different labels (even the VIN and serial plates atop the firewall!), most legible under magnification. The undercarriage is likewise impressive with front and rear suspension and the engine block and drive train done in nicely cast separate pieces. There are even individual “cables” for the emergency brake. The painted exhaust system culminates in a bored-out chromed tailpipe.
Exemplary packaging and presentation (with a beautiful copy of the sales brochure) make for another eminently desirable “Platinum” release. This new Nash belongs in the collection of anyone interested in the period in general or “orphans” specifically. Highest recommendation!