Mike Spangler’s “Graduation Party” car show was June 7 in Jefferson, Wis. Unfortunately, we were on the road that day, but we did make the same event back in 2011.
That was the year that a 1937 Nash Lafayette named “Walt” showed up at the Graduation Party. A man originally purchased Walt, but two of the car’s four registered owners have been ladies. Ann Marie Olson, of Madison, Wis., owned the car when we saw it four years ago.
Ann Marie said the original owner’s wife was the second owner. She inherited the car after her husband died, but never registered it for road use. Instead, she put it on blocks for 30 years. Her nephew—Walter Miller—continually asked if he could buy the car, but it wasn’t until his aunt also passed away that Walter got hold of the vehicle. It then took him 10 years to restore it.
“He made his own garage for his project car,” Ann Marie discovered. “After it was restored, he drove it around with a manikin in the rear seat.” Unfortunately, Walter suffered a fatal heart attack. His buddy, Ed, bought the car from the estate and had it for about three years. Since he didn’t drive it very much, Ed decided he was going to sell it and let someone else enjoy it. Around that time, Ann Marie was looking for a classic car of her own and bought it.
A 1937 Nash Lafayette isn’t a typical car for a young lady to drive, but it was exactly what Ann Marie was looking for. Her husband, Merle, likes AMC Javelins. When, Ann Marie went to car shows with him, he noticed a lack of excitement. Ann Marie told him that she wanted a car of her own, but she turned down his offer to let her pick one from his 16-car fleet.
“I told him I wanted a car with bubble fenders, running boards and suicide doors,” Ann Merle said, She got out the AMC Family Album—a book that Merle had given her for Christmas—and flipped through it. “I decided I was OK with any Nash made between 1933 and 1938,” she recalled. “Those cars met my criteria and I just kind of liked them for their classy appearance and gangster car look.”
“Walt” came up for sale late in the fall, but the Olsons decided not to buy the car then, since spring was a better time to make the purchase. Ann Marie used the extra time to check the car out with members of the Nash club in Pennsylvania. They told her that if it was Walter Miller’s Lafayette, it was a wonderful car. Ann Marie learned that it had broken down just one time and Walt had fixed it on the spot. “It’s a solid car,” was the bottom-line consensus.
Even though the weather was rough that spring, the Olsons went to Pittsburgh, picked the car up and drove it to Madison. Merle took the wheel, since Ann Marie didn’t know how to use a stick shift then. “Actually, I learned to drive stick on Walt,” she admits. “I’ve never driven stick on a modern vehicle, except for my motorcycle.” The Lafayette has a standard H-pattern shift gate and since it has overdrive, Ann Marie can cruise right along at 65 mph.”
Ann Marie found it fascinating to learn about the car. “In 1937, Nash expanded the Lafayette’s wheelbase so it could compete with other models of cars made by the Big 3 automakers,” she notes. “We test drove a couple of 1936s and they were smaller; the 1937 Lafayette is much roomier. Nash made it for the traveling family. The rear seat converts into a double bed if you have the holders. My brother is making the seat holding brackets for me right now.”
Ann Marie says she “gets into the era of the car” by wearing 1930s style clothing and costumes. “I love hats and I always wear gloves when I’m driving Walt,” she points out. “I named the parts car I just acquired Willy.” The parts car is of the same year, make and model and is in what Ann Marie describes as “pretty intact” condition. “We got it just across the border in Illinois,” she says. “Someone was trying to do a restoration on it and gave up, so now it’s mine, too.”