Nash Ambassador AirFlyte: One Of The World’s Worst Cars?

Most of the time I write about cars that are quite nice or are interesting.  Occasionally I do venture over to the nether side, such as a post a few months ago about the Trabant.  I was reading a book recently called “Lemons, The World’s Worst Cars” by Timothy Jacobs.  This book was written almost 25 years ago, in 1991, so I’m sure that some other lemons have come on the scene.

Worlds Worst Cars Book Cover

Interesting Book About Some Undesirable Cars

One of the “lemons” in Jacobs’ book is the 1951 Nash Ambassador Airflyte sedan.  This car did have a somewhat unusual design.  They looked somewhat similar to the Hudsons of that era, but the Hudsons were much more attractive cars.  Craig Cheetham wrote a similar book in 2005 called “The World’s Worst Cars”, but he did not include the 1951 Nash Ambassador Airflyte in that book.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (1)

1951 Nash Ambassador AirFlyte Sedan

George Mason, who was the president of Nash at that time wanted a car that had a streamline and aerodynamic  design.  One of the results of this was the front fender design that had a minimal wheel well cut-out.  This design would have limited wheel movement.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (2)

The Front Wheel Opening Limited The Turning Circle For The Big Nash

The design of the Nash Ambassador Airflyte is very rounded and frankly not very appealing.  The weight of the Nash Ambassador Airflyte surprised me.  The four-door sedan weighed “only” 3,450 pounds.  In the days before thin metal and extensive use of plastics, I was expecting a weight of a little over 4,000 pounds.  The weight of the Nash Ambassador was almost the same as another controversial car, the AMC Pacer, that came along about 25 years later, yet had smaller dimensions.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (8)

Some Referred To The Nash As An “Upside Down Bathtub”

The resultant design of the Nash Ambassador was aerodynamic, but to me it just looks too bulbous.  Definitely not to my liking.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (9)

From This Angle It Almost Looks Like a Saab 96!

One of the options available on the Nash Ambassador Airflyte was a front seat that folded backwards to form a bed.  This option was a favorite of traveling salesmen, sportsmen, and teenagers.  This option is illustrated in the following Nash publicity photo.

Nash Sleeping Car

Factory Cut-a-Way View Of The Fold-Down Front Seat Option

This advertising photo above suggested to me that a “suicide” style door design might have been more appropriate for the Nash Ambassador Airflyte.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (6)

The Steering Wheel Is Huge

As illustrated by its sleeping capacity, the Nash Ambassador Airflyte was a spacious car.  The dash and interior furnishings are typical of this era.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (11)

This Car Had A Three-Speed Column Mounted Transmission

The 1951 Nash Ambassador is powered by a 235 cubic inch inline, overhead valve six cylinder engine.  It had a bore of 3.375 inches and a stroke of 4.375 inches.  It had a compression ratio of 7.3:1 and a Carter one-barrel carburetor.  The result is an engine that produced 115 horsepower at 3,400 rpm.

Nash Ambassador 1951 (4)

115-Horsepower Ambassador Six-Cylinder Engine

The Nash Ambassador was a capable performer in its day.  Four Nash Ambassadors were entered in the 1950 La Carrera Panamericana.  One Nash Ambassador driven by Roy Conner with co-piloto, Robert Green were initially listed as finishing third Overall in the 1950 La Carrera Panamericana.  This car was subsequently disqualified because Conner, a car dealer from Texas, had “felt sick” on the last day of the race.  Another Nash Ambassador, Car #37, driven by NASCAR founder Bill France with Curtis Turner, had crashed out earlier in the race.  It was decided to put Curtis Turner, one of the top dirt-track racers in the USA, behind the wheel of Pat Conner’s Nash in place of the “sick” Conner.

Nash France Turner LaCaPa 1950

NASCAR’s Founder Bill France & Curtis Turner With Their Nash Ambassador, Car # 37, In The 1950 La Carrera Panamericana

The picture below shows the heated discussion that took place at the finish line around Nash Ambassador Car #49 when Curtis Turner emerged as the driver instead of Pat Conner.  These images of the 1950 La Carrera Panamericana came from “The Carrera Panamericana, Mexico” by R. M. Clarke.

Nash Conner Car Argument Finish 1950

Heated Discussion After The Initially Ranked Third Place Nash Ambassador, Car # 49, Crossed The Finish Line 

The same Nash Ambassador engine with a slightly larger cylinder bore of 3.50 inches, increased compression ratio and two carburetors became known as the LeMans Six which powered the Nash-Healey to a third place overall finish in the 1952 24-Hours of LeMans race.

Nash Healey 1953 (1)

1953 Nash-Healey

The Nash Healey shown above is probably the design style that most people would think of when they think of the Nash-Healey cars, but the early Nash-Heal;ey cars used the same front grille as the Nash Ambassador Airflyte, as shown in the image below from “Cars of the 1950s” by Consumers Guide.

Nash Healey Early Model

1951 Nash-Healey Used The Nash Ambassador Grille

I’ll leave it to others to decide if the Nash Ambassador Airflyte belongs on a list of the world’s worst cars, but I would say that it could be a contender.

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29 Responses to Nash Ambassador AirFlyte: One Of The World’s Worst Cars?

  1. says:

    Mr McKelvie my grandparents had on of those and traveled around the country sleeping in it and getting good fuel economy. Yea it was ugly and a turkey. Your friend Kurt

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Hi Kurt! What’s with this Mr. McKelvie stuff? The Nash would have been good for a trip like that. I enjoyed seeing you a month ago and look forward to seeing you at Lime Rock.
      Steve McKelvie

  2. Dianne Moen says:

    My first car was a 51 Nash Ambassador Deluxe 2 door…It was easy on gas, handled well on ice and snow: a great car for a 16 kid born in 1953. Yup, the car was two years older than I was. I would love to have it now.

  3. ken says:

    The 51 was ugly; but………..the 50 was a better looking car. The backend design of the 51 was just crap; but these were reliable cars with good suspension and engine

  4. ke1ri says:

    The ’51 Nash is just so different that I love it! Didn’t the dad on Happy Days have one?
    I have a couple of them pictured on my Flickr site:
    -1- My wife and daughter looking at a Nash at a car show (daughter now 38)

    -2- A photo of a Nash outside a Radio & TV store in 1954 (recently purchased on eBay)

    Nice article!

  5. Patrick says:

    Yikes, I just bought one of these cars a 1951 Ambassador 2 door sedan. Painted desert rust- has no paint. Now resides in New Zealand. Are they ugly or just super cool? One thing is for sure, you will get more looks driving one down the road than in a MUstang or a 57 chevy or a Camaro,
    Cheers from down under Patrick

    • Hi Patrick,
      I think that these cars are neat. I also like the idea that it would be unusual to meet another one when you are driving down the road or at a car show. Have fun!
      Steve McKelvie

  6. David says:

    You have no clue dude

    • Hi David,
      When I saw that you used the word “dude”, then I knew that I should not be concerned about your opinion.
      Steve McKelvie

      • Charles W. Nash, III says:

        And your poor manners as the host of this blog in criticizing a reader’s word choice of “dude” was when I knew that I should not be concerned about YOUR opinion, sir. Someone’s worth is not comprised of their vocabulary and if it was, it wouldn’t be your place to judge people on their word choice. You don’t like the word “dude”…fine, don’t use it.

        Here’s the thing about cars…they’re like wine. Some people like red, some like white and some like both. If there was one car that was the best, then that would be the car that everyone on the planet drives. We get it…you don’t like the Nash Ambassador Airflyte. Some people, like me, like that car. How about you stop telling the world what a bad car it is and I’ll stop telling the world what a great car it is?

        No need to tell me to get off your lawn…I’ll show myself out.

      • I never wrote that I did not like the Nash Ambassador Airflyte. But yes, I don’t like the use of the word “dude” and as you suggest I don’t use it.
        Steve McKelvie

  7. Bill says:

    Had an uncle who was a salesman for Philco. He had several of these post war, Ambassadors were the only ones he bought. Fond memories of riding on the rear center armrest on the way to family reunions as a 4 or 5 yo.

    Nash produced the 1st unibody cars in 1941 (which explains the light weight you noted). They were very reliable, economical, & had a great ride.

    Ugly does NOT equate to worst…hard to understand how these could be equivalent to a Trabant, Yugo, Gremlin/Pacer, Vega, etc.

    • Hi Bill,
      You make a good point about styling.
      In one of my darkest moments my future wife complained one rainy night about lack of space in my MGB. It came down to either the MGB goes or she goes. I was young and in love, so the MGB went. But if she wanted space then I’ll give her space. I went down the street and bought a 1975 Pacer X. Imagine – a Pacer! Oh … the humanity. As a result I can’t say much about the styling of the Nash. But if you were looking for comfort and room, then there was little better this side of the Cadillac.
      Steve McKelvie

  8. Baby Lulu says:

    My father drove a Nash back when he was in law school. My mother’s relationship with him was supposedly scandalous, because “good girls” don’t date guys whose car is a bed on wheels. Their marriage lasted 45 years, until death they did part.

  9. John Hull says:

    My parents owned one of these cars, and I learned to drive on it. My friends didn’t think it was cool, and neither did I at that age. However, the OHV 6 cylinder engine had 4 ring Pistons which meant for very long engine life with no oil burning, and the car would do amazingly well in a drag race with a flathead Ford or 6 cyl. Chevy. One problem nobody has mentioned is the propensity of Nash cars to rust out. The ’51 was our second Ambassador, and both were traded, not because of being worn out mechanically, but because of rusting out. (Even the floorboards!!)

  10. well I have a 1952 airflyte Pinin Farina, its got 14067 original miles, it runs and drives, very little rust, was stored for 41 yrs, stripped and repainted factor colors. Its 98% complete and everything works. I’d sell it for 14K….. its been kept indoors all its life.


  11. J.L. Ashlock says:

    Definitely not a “worst car” candidate …the Nash six was super smooth and economical…the airflyte design was the product of Italian design… it was a ahead of its time utilizing a monocoque or unibody design..hence the low weight of this full-size car. I rode in them in my youth and they were great luxury as well as economic and reliable transportation

    • Steven Macklin says:

      Well I have a nice original 52 Airflyte custom Farina. She has 14k original miles and was in storage 43 yrs.
      Your welcome to buy her!! Im only asking


  12. Pfram says:

    I approach this with a sort of bias: I hate those “10 worst” lists put out by magazines like Business Week and Time, the ones that always list the Cadillac Cimmaron at the top. The Cimmaron was not a bad car, it was a really stupid marketing decision; the car itself was mediocre, just like its sister cars, but with a few more bells and whistles. Anyone who owned a 1978 Delta 88 diesel, with a snapped crankshaft or a $1,500 failed injection pump knows better than Business Week what a bad car really is. The Ambassador sounds like a car that did its job admirably and had some unique features, with rust and what must have been a big turning radius (especially with manual steering) the only really memorable complaints against it. Yes, the styling, which makes it look like a giant VW fastback from some angles, was like something out of one of those dreams you get when suffering from fever delirium, but I’d call it more strange than ugly ; it’s not ugly like a Chevy Monza hatchback or a 1977 Datsun F10. But even for those who call it ugly, ugly alone should not put an otherwise decent car on a “worst car” list. Not when there were so many cars throughout history that put their owners financial security and even lives in danger.

  13. David Sparks says:

    Thank You for this very interesting and informative article !!! The movie The Desperate Hours(1955 Humphry Borgart) has one of these babys in it and I guessed it as a Nash… Sparky

  14. Nash says:

    God well, my name is Nash, and I love the looks of the car. Kind of friendly, and also it was designed by pinan firrina! So clearly we have opposit views. I have to disagree with your criticism.

  15. Timothy S Hill says:

    The 51 Nash Ambassador is soooo ugly. I just fell in love with her what a true orphan. I found one that was forgotten in the back of a warehouse in Baton Rouge La. completely intact and aged perfectly by father time. It came from a missouri barn where it had sat since the late sixties and was driven till its last registration of 1990 with just basic cleaning tinkering a carburetor overhaul and a electric fuel pump it started and purred right up. I got all the systems gauges, lights,signals, brakes, etc came back online no fuss with the exception of the wipers. Her name is Miss La Noir as she is a star in many of those era films she is running and driving I have some interior to redo but soon it will be roadable.She rides as good as my 55 Caddy did but doesn’t feel heavy. Yup she has a face only some can love and I do hey she is n the newest movie of cars and you can stop and take a comfortable nap all 6 foot of ya lol…..

  16. Llewellyn Keller says:

    I keep seeing the word “lemon” misused. A lemon is an unreliable car that breaks down all the time. It is not the correct label for a car that is ugly, sold poorly, or is otherwise undesirable. As a kin in the 60s, I saw a lot of Nash Airflytes still on the road, and thought they were the ugliest cars ever made. But lemon? No

  17. Tom Hanley says:

    The Nash was certainly no lemon and people who write such books generally know nothing about cars. I owned a ’51 Nash Statesman Airflyte and loved it. It was a great car and history has shown that it was reliable and well-designed vehicle.

  18. Enjoyed all the posts. When I was a child, my dad had a 1950 or 51 Nash Airflyte. It was blue and when we got the OLDSMOBILE I was telling everyone that the Nash was mine (I was 4 at the time). I do recall a trip from California to Nebraska for a family visit. We stopped a lot and dad had extra water in the car when we over heated. I read years later (and It made me laugh) The Nash Ambassador – it would do 0-60 in 90 seconds. But I thought it was beautiful. Kind of looked like a car version of a sow bug, or at least a banana. I was born in 1953. Have a friend born in 62. To him all cars from the 50’s are ugly. From my perspective thinking from what was going on at the time, I still like the look of the Nash. (My first Car)
    Steve – thanks for this blog
    Floyd Riggle

  19. Raul says:

    I have a 1949 Ambassador “Custom” , 4dr. It was my daily driver for over 5 years in Los Angeles traffic. It was very reliable even with it’s 6 volt positive ground electrics. It had a good turning radius due the front wheels were inset closer than the rear. It was very solid and very quiet. Great gas mileage, very fast and very unique. The only adjustment I had was cleaning the Firestone wide whites. I use to wash the car in neutral so I can roll it forward to get to the other half of the white wall. Always got a thumbs up while driving. Drove it in the Desert Storm Parade in Hollywood in front of a large crowd. BTW the Pinin-Farinna designs began in 1952.

  20. Jack Bierly says:

    Other tan the limited turning radius why was it a contender for world’s worst? Case not proven.

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