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Nash 1940: the new Nash Ambassador 600 and more

by James Mays • Chapter 4 of A Car and a Refrigerator Go to War: Nash-Kelvinator in World War II

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.

Urban design Architecture City Games


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.

Transport Art Painting Vehicle City


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.

Classic Vehicle


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.

Land vehicle Vehicle Car Classic car Classic


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.

Land vehicle Vehicle Car Classic car Classic


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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