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Nash 1940: the new Nash Ambassador 600 and more

The New Year began on a peaceful note. Factories hummed throughout Kenosha, and all was well at the state’s largest private employer, Nash-Kelvinator. Still, the papers and airwaves were filled with reports of the latest Axis victories and Nazi atrocities.


A blizzard with -25°F temperatures swept the Midwestern states on January 15. Pounding snow and sleet closed roads in southeastern Wisconsin, and power lines were down. Mother Nature rampaged throughout the entire region for five days, causing four deaths in the Kenosha area. Nash employees were sent home early on the 18th, because the extremely low temperatures were making it too difficult to work.

While sitting in the living room at home that Friday night, folks could tune into WBBM’s broadcast of Professor Quiz, sponsored by Nash Motors. WGN broadcast Captain Midnight and The Lone Ranger. At 9:30 that evening, President Roosevelt addressed the nation live.

January turned into February. For three cents one could buy the Kenosha Evening News to learn that day’s events were every bit as grim as the weather. Nazis swept into Romania and captured its oil fields. Finnish soldiers struggled to repulse the advances of the Soviet Union.

On February 16, R. A. DeVlieg, the General Works Manager for Nash Motors, announced that the Racine plant would be reopened to make parts. The one-time Mitchell factor would also be the company’s Parts and Service Department. DeVlieg expected that 200 men would be hired to run the new department within the next ninety days, as soon as alterations to the building were completed.

Nash ads were filled with spring, “Forget what a long, hard winter it’s been… it’s spring and the income tax is paid.” The ad copy promised that Nash’s Weather Eye would be on constant guard to clear the air or warm it if the temperature should turn chilly. For only $825 one could own a new Lafayette. Similar advertisements appeared around the nation and every one of the 1,800 Nash dealers from Maine to California was ready to sell or trade.5

On April 9, the Swedish government declared its intention to remain strictly neutral, even as the Kingdom of Denmark capitulated to soldiers of the Third Reich. Norway was next, as Hitler’s soldiers invaded that Nordic country in yet another stunning Blitzkrieg. German officials told the world press that it had entered Norway as a pre-emptive strike, to protect the Baltic republics from the “aggressive Scandinavian countries.”

Nash-Kelvinator threw an enormous housewarming party on April 10. Eight hundred guests from Kenosha’s business, industrial, professional communities and prominent civic leaders came to the banquet held in—of all places—the Export building. If it was an unusual place to hold a banquet, the assembled throng cheered loudly when George Mason announced that Nash-Kelvinator was about to spend $400,000 in yet another local building and expansion program. It could only bring more jobs to Kenosha.

Kenosha nash plant

Mason proudly showed off the eighteen models on display in the 1940 Nash line and with the cars as his backdrop, gave a rousing speech, in which he told guests that the cars had “captured public fancy. The styling, the precision mechanism of our motors, the roominess and the long-life qualities of our cars and the features we introduced to make driving and touring fun again are winning new friends daily.”6

By the third week of May, France was under attack. Britain was being bombed nightly and Whitehall readied millions of citizens for an inevitable invasion by way of the English Channel.

On May 24, the Wisconsin Telephone Company opened its doors to the public. More than eight hundred curious citizens took the opportunity to tour the central switchboard and office in Kenosha. Though the population of the city was 48,464, there were only 8,800 telephones in the city,7 one telephone for every 5.5 residents. Operators were kept busy, connecting 48,350 local calls each and every day.8 A phone was a status symbol. At Nash, one of the conditions of being a foreman was to either have a telephone or live close enough to the factory to be able to respond to the “Foreman’s Whistle” when it blew.

King Leopold of Belgium was forced to surrender on May 28, and over the next seven days, 338,226 British and French troops were evacuated; the Nazis claimed victory on June 3, taking some 40,000 soldiers as prisoners of war. Virtually all of the Allies’ trucks and ground support equipment had fallen into the Germans’ possession.


With the loss of more than 80,000 trucks and other vital war weapons, there was no possibility of re-arming in time to fend off further attacks. President Roosevelt petitioned Congress for permission to sell arms to allies. The Kenosha Evening News revealed that certain key Kenosha factories were already under secret orders of preparedness for production of war materiel.9 Three days later, nearly two million German soldiers had advanced to positions within 25 miles from the Paris city limits. Italy declared war on Great Britain and France. FDR signed into law a bill requiring compulsory military training for young men; the Senate beefed up the bill by giving the government the right to seize manufacturing plants for defense purposes, if required.

Former citizen and industrial legend Charles Nash arrived in Kenosha on June 19 to be awarded the Citation of Patriotic Distinction. Nash spoke movingly to the assembled throng about his unshakable belief in “Americanism, patriotism and democracy.” 10

There was absolutely no news from or about Nash Motors and there hadn’t been any for some time. Negotiations between management and the union continued in secrecy. Even monthly sales and quarterly profit reports simply disappeared from the press. The company had something up its sleeve. Rumors were that a new kind of car was under development. Nash officials would neither confirm nor deny the story.

On August 12, Nash officials finally confirmed to a reporter at the Kenosha Evening News the poorly kept secret that it was about to produce a new, small car and that the company had spent $7 million to develop it. On August 22, the Detroit press corps was offered a sneak preview of the new Nash at the ritzy Old Club in the St. Clair River Flats. Newspapermen from the automotive trade and newspapers “generally were privileged to marvel at its innovation in the industry.”

The new Nash had no frame. Built with same principles employed in aircraft manufacture, the lightweight steel girders were welded into place, forming a stronger, quieter and much safer package because the body was the frame. It was the eighth wonder of the world, according to the press.

On September 11, the city of Kenosha threw a huge bash to thank Nash-Kelvinator for its $5 million plant expansion and the 1,100 new jobs that it brought. The company used the event to unveil its new, small car, the Nash Ambassador 600. The Kenosha Evening News added a rare second section in its paper to salute Nash.

A lavish meal was ready for Nash-Kelvinator officials at six o’clock in the Elks Club banquet hall. More than 400 attended. The Helen Schott orchestra entertained throughout the sumptuous courses. After coffee, the diners left the hall and joined a parade that wended its way to the Lakefront Stadium. More than 12,000 people jammed the stadium for the show. Every one was particularly proud of the display of Nash cars, one for each year from 1917 through to 1940. Finally, the spotlights flooded down on the all-new 600 and the other new Nash models.

Governor Heil surprised George Mason by calling Nash-Kelvinator’s president to the podium where he swore him in as an honorary Colonel on his staff. “ I now constitute and decree that Mr. Mason is an honorary colonel on the staff of the governor and swear him into that office. I do this both in appreciation from the State for what he has done for the expansion of industry in Wisconsin and also because I want him to continue as he has done in the past for the advancement of you, the people in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee. The crowd cheered wildly.12

The corporation’s fiscal year closed on September 30. This year it proudly declared a profit of $1,505,151 on sales of $73,489,574.

The LaFayette did not return for the 1941 model year, having been replaced by the new Ambassador 600. The nationwide unveiling of Nash products took place on October 1. Time magazine saluted Nash for bringing out the only truly new car of 1941. Consumers crowded showrooms in all forty-eight states to see the revolutionary new car.

This year, the company fielded 21 models. Prices ranged from $731 for the two-door, three-passenger Nash Ambassador 600 Special Coupe to $1,215 for the sleek Nash Ambassador Eight Cabriolet.

1940 nash cars

Nash styling was now the handiwork of independent industrial stylist Raymond Loewy. He had designed the Champion for Studebaker, a direct competitor of the Nash 600. Loewy updated the basic envelope nicely, deleting the running boards completely. He gave the grille an “electric shaver” look underscored by five chrome bars that wrapped around the front fenders.

The little 112-inch wheelbased 600 was blessed with a new 173-cubic inch, 75-horsepower, gas-sipping, six-cylinder engine. It was dubbed “the Flying Scot.” The thrifty mill promised 25 miles to a gallon of gas. Many owners delightedly reported better.

1940 nash

All men from the ages of 21 to 35 inclusive were ordered to register for the draft on October 16. Failure to do so would result in a $10,000 fine, five years in prison, or both. 7,214 Kenoshans complied, 365,577 men in Wisconsin, and the 16 million men throughout the nation.13

On October 16, President Roosevelt banned on the export of scrap metal to any country but Great Britain and Canada; this was aimed primarily at Japanese companies, who had been buying up as much scrap as they could.

After months of negotiations, the men of UAW Local 72 headed down to the Eagles Club to vote on a new contract on October 26. Following Simmons’ lead, Nash workers got their week’s paid vacation, a three-cent an hour wage increase, strengthened seniority rules and a new recognition clause that read thus: “In order to promote a harmonious relationship between the employees and the company it is important that the employees who are members of the union remain in good standing.” Local president, Paul Russo, addressed the men. “We are proud of the improved contract. It was negotiated without any interruption in employment and demonstrates the good will and harmony that exists between employees and management.” Members approved heartily and voted in favor of the new agreement.14

Another vote was taken on November 5, this one for the office of the president of the United States of America. President Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term to the White House, with the electoral votes of 39 states, including the twelve belonging to Wisconsin. In Kenosha, citizens cast 17,176 votes for Roosevelt and only 4,993 for Wilkie.15

Thanksgiving was an odd, disjointed affair for the second year in a row. President Roosevelt declared that the holiday be observed on the fourth Thursday in November but only 32 states did so. The rest would observe it on the old traditional date, resulting in nationwide disruption and confusion. This year, Wisconsin observed the day in accordance with the president’s wishes.

Nash distributors and regional managers were invited to Chicago and Kenosha for an unusual event that began on December 7th: they would take part in testing the new Nash 600 against its competitors. Interest in the little Nash was sensational; dealers reported that it was creating the highest levels of foot traffic into dealerships ever recorded in the company’s 25-year history.

The carmaker from Kenosha was well on its way to breaking into the low-priced crowd, and seemed to be itching to take on Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth.

Chapter Notes

  1. Kenosha Evening News, February 13, 1940

  2. Ibid, February 14, 1940

  3. Ibid, March 6, 1940

  4. Ibid, March 12, 1940

  5. Ibid, March 27, 1940

  6. Ibid, April 10, 1940

  7. Ibid, May 29, 1940

  8. Ibid, May 24, 1940

  9. Ibid, June 9, 1940

  10. Ibid, June 19, 1940

  11. Ibid, August 19, 1940

  12. Ibid, September 12, 1940

  13. Ibid, October 18, 1940

  14. Ibid, October 28, 1940

  15. Ibid, November 6, 1940

Also see: Series Contents, Nash Motors, Nash engines, Nash Metropolitan, Jeffery, AMC, the Nash Car Club of America

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