F olks from Maine to Alaska and Florida to Hawaii got their first peek at the 1957 Nash Ambassador on Oct. 25, 1956. Once they got into the show rooms, consumers were treated to a radically changed senior Nash, billed this year as the “world’s newest and finest travel car.” Gone was the lower-priced, slow-selling Statesman. Gone were all six-cylinder models. Every big Nash was an Ambassador dressed in Super or upscale Custom trim. The top-of-the-line models wore Country Club badges and were even more refined.
Although the basic body shell had not been changed since 1955 (some will argue 1952), the face lift achieved by the stylists was quite effective. Those inboard headlamps ‘ a European trait inspired by the Nash-Healey ‘ had migrated from the large oval grille back to the more traditional position on the fenders. If that wasn’t change enough, voila, they were doubled to create stacked quad lamps ‘ an industry first ‘ one proudly shared with another luxury make. Fenders were capped with turn signals sheathed in chrome spears.
A massive ovoid grille was filled with a tightly knit tartan-weave pattern, double-edged in chrome. At the center of the grille rode the proud Nash emblem, underscored by an unmistakable gold “V.” The stand-up hood ornament mounted on the prow was distinguished: twin jets sharing a chrome band, poised in flight. Another distinctive touch was the slightly recessed hood that permitted the cowl intake of fresh air, yet another hallmark of Nash Motors’ independent thinking and superior design.
For the first time since the 1949 models, the front wheel wells were opened fully. That dropped the turning circle from 45 feet, 10 inches to a more modest 42 feet, even though the car still rode on a 121.3-inch wheelbase and measured 209.3 inches in length ‘ without the installation of the optional continental spare. Wheels themselves were now downsized to 14 inches.
The flanks of the envelope were slab-sided with the more expensive models carrying Z-streak or “lightning streak” chrome trim that lent itself perfectly to optional two-tone and tri-tone paint applications. Although it did not sport fins like many of the competing cars, designers had subtly opened up the lines at the top of the belt line above the rear wheel well to create a generous and powerful fuselage look in the hind quarters.
Despite the fact that the roof line had been carefully chopped by a full 2 inches, the greenhouse was vast. It was cleverly set off with a Euro-look indent that framed the door tops, making the car look dramatically lower than it actually was. Nash carried a wraparound windshield and could boast it was the largest one in the industry. At the rear, huge lollipop taillamps rode atop long-stemmed, extra-cost back-up lamps. Another popular extra-cost item was the continental spare that looked particularly at home on the large Nash and gave the Travel King added sophistication and pizzazz.
In April of 1956, American Motors Corp. had dropped the Packard-sourced V-8 engine and ‘ with great fanfare ‘ introduced a V-8 of its own design. The thin-wall cast engine measured 327 cubic inches and used the most modern technology the world had to offer. Created in-house by AMC’s engineer David Potter, the 255-horsepower mill was a thing of joy. Prospective customers were invited to “step on the throttle and ‘ get that feel of surging power ‘ unbelievable smooth power.” Gone was the extra-cost Packard Twin-Ultramatic transmission; the new corporate mill was mated to GM’s more reliable Hydra-Matic shifter.
With color schemes and materials chosen by the famed Helene Rothier, Nash interiors were as sumptuous as interiors could possibly be. All were dressed in luxurious vinyls, fabrics and leathers. For the fifth year in a row, Nash could rightfully claim its passengers rode in the largest and widest cabins in the industry. Six football fullbacks could ride all day in the roomy Nash, seated on firm, supportive cushions, and not experience the least bit of road fatigue. Front seats folded flat to create Twin-Travel Beds ‘ turning any Nash into a convenient roadside Hilton. The extra-cost All-Season Air made travel most pleasurable, as heater and air-conditioning were available in a single unit.
The instrument panel was as wide as the open prairie and made use of an attractive engine-turned overlay to set a dignified and posh tone for the driver. The instrument cluster was mounted in the center of the panel. A large speedometer containing gauges and idiot lamps was to the left, while radio and heater controls were found in the middle and the clock to the right. Duo-Coustic speakers flanked the panel at the ends. Always different from its competitors, the expansive Nash glove box was mounted in the center of the panel, beneath the heat and air conditioning controls. The classy storage compartment didn’t merely open, it slid in and out ‘ like a drawer ‘ on ball bearings.
Options for one’s Nash Ambassador were as plentiful as clover in a summer field. They included such niceties as power steering, power brakes, power-lift windows, windshield washers, a radio, the Airliner seats that reclined to make the Twin-Travel Beds, the fabled Weather Eye heater and defroster and the All-Season Air Conditioner with Solex glass. One could order an electric clock, leather seat trim, padded sun visors, seat belts and the continental-mounted spare. Back-O-Matic lamps were useful, as was an oil filter and an oil-bath air cleaner.
Despite two-tone and tri-tone color schemes in 32 hues ‘ 15 of them new for 1957 ‘ people didn’t rush to buy the natty Nash. Advertising did its best, using models decked out in tuxedoes and evening gowns to give the Nash added status. Unfortunately, the times were changing, and the public was no longer enamored with big cars.
The grand name would be laid to rest with the last Nash rolling off the line in June of 1957. After 40 years, the name had outlived its usefulness. The Nash legacy and heritage would live on in the spirit of the Rambler, a car that captured the public’s imagination.