Nash: Rambler (1950)

Nash may be barely remembered today but this snappy little company fought hard for its small space of the US car market from its Kenosha, Wisconsin, base. It frequently showed its larger rivals how to do things, and never clearer than in its two-door Rambler, first released in 1950. Its unique selling point was that it was small and economical, yet had enough space for five. Yes, it was America’s first compact car, at a time when the Big Three were churning out ever larger machines, complete with grandiose accoutrements like tailfins.

Nash niftily avoided the ‘small and cheap’ label by only selling relatively upmarket versions, while performance was decent enough for-the-day from its 82bhp 2.8-litre straight-six; in 1951 we recorded a top speed of 81mph. In 1954, the Rambler became one of the first cars to feature a modern air conditioning system which didn’t take up vast amounts of space like on the Packard 180. But the size was the key, not least because some Americans could by then afford a second car, and a compact was just fine for that. The Big Three fought back, eventually, with Chevrolet’s Corvair which was troubled but huge-selling. Ford meanwhile responded with the similarly successful Falcon, and the Falcon’s bones gave us a little car called the Mustang.

So what happened to Nash? It merged with Hudson to create AMC in 1954, and the Rambler helped the new company to forge a new identity and strategy as a creator of attractive compact cars, and Rambler became a brand in its own right in 1958. The last Nash-badged car was built in 1958, while the Rambler name continued to 1969 in the US and 1983 in other markets like Mexico and the UK. A total of 4.2 million Ramblers or Nash Ramblers were made.