Nash Motors was founded in 1916 by Charles Williams Nash (January 28, 1864 – June 6, 1948) who was an American automobile entrepreneur and former General Motors president that played a major role in building up General Motors and Co-founding Buick Motor Company.
Charles Nash was born into a poor farming family in Illinois. His parents separated when he was six years old and abandoned him. As a result of a court order, he worked as a farmhand in Michigan as an indentured servant under an agreement that was to last until he was 21. He had only three months of schooling per year while he was “bound out” to perform farm chores. At age 12, Nash ran away and became a farmhand on several farms in Michigan were he learned the carpentry trade. He moved to Flint, Michigan. In 1890 at the age of 26, he was hired by William C. Durant of the Flint Road Cart Company, which later became the Durant-Dort Carriage Company and the co-founderd General Motors. Charles Nash earned $1 per day as an upholstery stuffer. Within six months, he was promoted to superintendent of the factory. Within 10 years, Nash became vice president and general manager of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. By 1910, the Durant-Dort Carriage Company was building automobile bodies for the Buick brand of General Motors. Durant was president of the new General Motors Corporation and appointed Nash as vice-president of Buick on 13 December 1910.
In late 1912, William Durant was dismissed by the General Motors board and Nash was appointed president. Durant had acquired numerous money-losing operations that left the company financially overextended. Nash had restored GM to organizational stability and financial health. Profitability was restored with 1914 results at $7.2 million and doubling for 1915 as well as again doubling for 1916 with the automaker taking in nearly $29 million. His strategy of consolidating into large units, building up an international market had paid off, He also moved GM’s general offices from New York to Detroit. By late 1915 and early 1916, William Durant attempted to reassert his control over the company and Nash was caught in the power struggle between Durant and bankers. By May 1916, Durant had regained controlled the majority of voting stock. He offered Nash a $1 million annual salary to remain with the automaker.
After his clash with Durant, Nash resolved never again to work for someone else. Nash learned that the heirs of the Thomas B. Jeffery Company were anxious to retire. In 1916, Charles T. Jeffery sold the company to Charles Nash who renames the company, Nash Motors. Nash bought out the automaker in August 1916 with a down payment check of half million dollars and the total deal worth $5 million (some reports indicate the price was $9 million). One of the first major investors was Alfred P. Sloan, Sloan was the long-time president, chairman and CEO of General Motors. While Thomas B. Jeffery Company had total stock of $3 million, the newly incorporated Nash Motors became a major force with a capital stock of almost $24 million on 29 July 1916.
The Thomas B. Jeffery Company was a automobile manufacturer in Kenosha, Wisconsin that manufactured the popular Rambler automobile and Jeffery brand motorcars. In 1897, Jeffery builds a rear-engine Rambler prototype using the Rambler name previously used on a highly successful line of bicycles made by Gormully & Jeffery. With positive reviews at the 1899 Chicago International Exhibition and the National Automobile Show in New York City prompt the prototypes of 1901 (Models A & B) that used two innovations, a steering wheels and front-mounted engines. From 1902 until 1908, Jeffery Company moved steadily to bigger, more reliable models starting with the 1902 Model C. In 1903 Jeffery sold 1,350 Ramblers and doubled by 1905. In 1907, Jeffery was building a large variety of different body styles and sizes. Among them was a five-passenger, US$2,500 Rambler weighing 2,600 pounds and powered by a 40-horsepower engine. In April, 1910, Thomas B. Jeffery, died in Pompeii, Italy and in June of that year the business was incorporated under the name of Thomas B. Jeffery Company. In 1915, Charles T. Jeffery changed the automotive branding from Rambler to Jeffery to honor of his father Thomas B. Jeffery.
In 1917, Nash renamed the company Nash Motors. The 1917 Nash Model 671 was the first automobile to bear the name of the new company’s founder. Nash Motors became successful almost immediately, with sales totaling 31,000 trucks and cars by 1919. Nash negotiate procurement contracts with the United States Army during World War I that made the company one of the largest producers of trucks in the nation.
In addition to running his own company, Charles Nash also served as president of the luxury automaker LaFayette Motors. LaFayette was founded in 1919 and originally headquartered in Mars Hill, Indianapolis, Indiana, and made luxury motor cars, beginning in 1920. LaFayette innovations include the first electric clock in an motorcar. LaFayette remained separate, although Nash Motors was the principal LaFayette Motors stock holder.
In 1922, LaFayette’s facilities were moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in 1924, Nash Motors became full owner of LaFayette Motors, and the name was retired soon after. Its factories were quickly put into the manufacture of Ajax motor cars.
In 1934, Nash re-introduced the LaFayette name, this time for a line of smaller, less expensive cars. In 1935, Nash introduced a series known as the “Nash 400” to fill the perceived price gap between the LaFayette and the Nash. By 1937, it was determined that this perceived gap wasn’t so important after all, and that Nash Motors was marketing too many models. The LaFayette and the Nash 400 were combined into a single model called the Nash LaFayette 400 for 1937, and the LaFayette ceased to be regarded as a separate make of car. For 1938, this became simply the Nash LaFayette, and the LaFayette line continued as Nash’s lowest-priced offering through 1940. For 1941, the LaFayette was replaced by the all-new unibody Nash 600.
During the Great Depression the Nash cars were popular providing high quality, durability, and the look of luxury at a relatively low price. The company also saw opportunity in the luxury car market segment and introduced the top-of-the-line Ambassador models in 1932.
Nash focused on producing one high-quality automobile for the upper medium price range, later adding a smaller, less expensive model, the Ajax. Nash based his profits on careful management, close attention to costs, and opportunities for expansion and focusing on long-term growth. Nash was a hands-on executive, who concentrated on developing more efficient purchasing and setting up accounting procedures that would specify the source of costs and profits.
Charles Nash retired as president of Nash Motors in 1932, but remained board chairman. Nash began looking for his successor, he turned to George W. Mason upon the recommendation of Walter Chrysler. In order to hire Mason, Nash had to acquire the Kelvinator Appliance Company were Mason served as the Chairman and CEO.
The Kelvinator Appliance Company was a home appliance manufacturer founded on September 18, 1914, in Detroit, Michigan, by engineer Nathaniel B. Wales who introduced his idea for a practical electric refrigeration unit for the home. It takes its name from William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, (June 1824 – December 1907) who developed the concept of absolute zero and for whom the Kelvin temperature scale is named. The name was thought appropriate for a company that manufactured ice-boxes and domestic refrigerators. The Kelvinator brand name is now owned by Sweden’s Electrolux Corporation.
Nash and Mason came to terms and the deal was announced in November 1936. The two firms merged to form Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. After twenty years of success in running his company, Nash turned it over in 1937 and retired from his company to live in California. He died in 1948 at the age of 84 in Beverly Hills.
Nash pioneered some important innovations; in 1938 they debuted the heating and ventilation system which is still used today, unibody construction in 1941, seat belts in 1950, a US built compact car in 1950. During World War II, Nash-Kelvinator greatly expanded to manufacture aircraft engines and parts. Nash-Kelvinator ranked 27th among United States corporations in the value of World War II production contracts.
George W Mason (March 12, 1891 – October 8, 1954), Mason served as the Chairman and CEO of the Kelvinator Corporation (1928-1937), Chairman and CEO of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation (1937-1954) and Chairman and CEO of American Motors Corporation (1954).
Mason began exploring the possibilities of aerodynamics for automobile designs and used of wind tunnel tests during World War II. With Nash’s all-new and radically styled 1949 Airflyte models, this was a adoption of aerodynamic principles in a low-priced mass-produced post-war automobile. The Airflyte’s design also extended its body over car’s front wheels, and these enshrouded front wheels remained a Nash hallmark until 1957.
Mason was fascinated with the concept of a small, inexpensive car, as a result, the automaker introduced three compact car lines.
- The Nash Rambler, produced from 1950 to 1954 in sedan, wagon and fixed-profile convertible body.
- The Nash-Healey is a two-seat sports car with the Nash Ambassador drivetrain and a European chassis and body that was produced for the American market between 1951 and 1954. It served as the flagship car for the automaker to promote the sales of the other Nash models. It was “America’s first post-war sports car”. The Nash-Healey was the product of the partnership between Nash-Kelvinator and British automaker Donald Healey. Later on, the car was restyled by Pinin Farina and subassembly began in Italy. A racing version, built with a spartan aluminum body, finished third in the 1952 Le Mans 24-hour race.
- The Nash Metropolitan was economy and subcompact car sold from 1953 to 1961. The Metropolitan was also sold as a Hudson when Nash and Hudson merged in 1954, and later as a standalone marque during the Rambler years, as well as in the United Kingdom and other markets.
General Motors and Ford Motor Company were in a battle for market supremacy that started in 1945 when Henry Ford II, with a desire to make Ford Motor company number one again. Henry Ford’s plan to dump thousands of vehicles into the market at discounted prices in attempt to gain top automotive manufacturing title from GM. General Motors responded by doing the same.
By 1953, independent automobile manufacturers were feeling the effects with the market flooded by inexpensive cars, Studebaker, Packard, Willys, Hudson, Kaiser Motors, and Nash were all unable to sell their vehicles at loss. The “1953–54 Ford/GM price war” devastated the remaining independent automakers. The smaller automakers begain conducting merger talks. Willys and Kaiser merged in 1953. Mason brought together Nash and the Hudson Motor Car Company to cut costs and strengthen their sales.
In 1954, Nash-Kelvinator acquired Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, in what was called a mutually beneficial merger. This merger occurred on May 1, 1954 to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). At the same time, Mason tried to bring Studebaker and Packard into AMC. He had informal discussions with Packard to outline his strategic vision. An agreement was reached for parts-sharing arrangements between AMC and Packard and the new 320 cu in (5.2 L) Packard V8 engine and Packard’s Ultramatic automatic transmission would be used in the 1955 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models.
The Hudson Motor Car Company made Hudson and other brand automobiles in Detroit, Michigan, from 1909 to 1954. The Hudson name was continued through the 1957 model year, after which it was discontinued. The name “Hudson” came from Joseph L. Hudson, a Detroit department store entrepreneur and founder of Hudson’s department store, who provided the necessary capital and gave permission for the company to be named after him. A total of eight Detroit businessmen formed the company on February 20, 1909 to produce an automobile which would sell for less than US$1,000.
Within months after the formation of American Motors Corporation, George Mason died on October 8, 1954, at age 63 of acute pancreatitis and pneumonia in Detroit, Michigan. AMC Vice President George W. Romney, succeeded Mason as Chairman and CEO. One of Romney’s first acts was to stop rumors that there were additional merger talks between AMC and Studebaker-Packard Corporation or any automakers. In July 1954, Packard acquired Studebaker.
Nash would focus most of its marketing resources on its smaller Rambler models, and Hudson would focus its marketing efforts on its full-sized cars. The Nash Metropolitan, which had been marketed under either the Nash or Hudson brands, became a make unto its own in 1957, as did the Rambler. The Ramblers quickly overtook Nash and Hudson as the leading line of cars manufactured by AMC.
By the end of 1957 the legacy Nash and Hudson brands were completely phased out. The last Hudson rolled off the Kenosha assembly line on June 25, 1957. From 1958 to 1962, Rambler and the Metropolitan were the only brands of cars sold by AMC. By 1965 the Rambler name would begin to be phased out and AMC would take over as the brand name until the 1988 model year.
Romney’s tenure was very successful as reflected in healthy profits year after year. In 1962, Roy Abernethy (September 29, 1906 – February 28, 1977) became CEO of American Motors Corporation. Prior to his tenure at AMC, Abernethy had been with Packard Motors and Willys-Overland. Abernethy replaced George W. Romney, who resigned from AMC to become Governor of Michigan. Abernethy served as chairman and president of American Motors Corporation till January 1967.
Abernethy believed AMC buyers would move up to newer, larger, more expensive vehicles. The first cars were the 1965 models. These were a longer Ambassador series and new convertibles for the larger models. During mid-year a fastback, called the Marlin, was added. Abernethy also called for the de-emphasis of the Rambler brand. The 1966 Marlin and Ambassador lost their Rambler nameplates, followed by the 1968 Rebel, and were thereafter badged as “American Motors” products. Ambassador Sales increased significantly, however the dated designs of the Rambler Americans hurt sales that offset any gains from Ambassador sales. The new models shared fewer parts among each other and were more expensive to build, with quality control problems and Consumer Reports negative ratings for AMC’s Safety sales slowed
Abernethy was dismissed on January 9, 1967 and Roy Dikeman Chapin Jr. (September 21, 1915 – August 5, 2001) became the new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Motors Corporation. Chapin’s father, Roy D. Chapin Sr., was one of the co-founders of the Hudson Motor Car Company. Chapin quickly instituted changes by selling the Kelvinator Appliance business in 1968, once one of the firm’s core operating units. Focusing on younger demographic markets, cutting the price of the Rambler and included making air conditioning standard on all 1968 Ambassador models. This made AMC the first U.S. automaker to make air conditioning standard equipment on a line of cars. Chapin was instrumental in introducing many successful lines of cars included the Gremlin, Hornet, and Javelin.
The Rambler brand was completely dropped after the 1969 model year in North America, it continued to be used in overseas markets and was last used in Mexico,1983. From 1970, AMC was the brand used for all American Motors passenger cars and all vehicles from that date bore the AMC name and the new corporate logo.
In 1970, American Motors acquired Kaiser Jeep. This added the iconic Jeep brand of light trucks and SUVs, as well as Jeep’s government contracts of military Jeeps and the DJ-Series postal Jeeps.
Kaiser Jeep was the result of the merger between the Kaiser Motors, an independent automaker based in Michigan, and Ohio-based Willys-Overland Company. Willys-Overland Company was founded in May 31, 1908 by John North Willys when Willys purchased the Overland Automobile Company. In 1912, it was renamed Willys-Overland. Overlands continued to be produced until 1926. In 1926, Willys–Overland introduced a new line of small cars named Willys–Overland Whippet. Whippet production ended in 1931. In 1936, the Willys–Overland Motor Company was reorganized as Willys–Overland Motors. Willys-Overland had survived World War II by producing the Jeep vehicle for the armed forces, and Jeep was considered the crown jewel of Willys-Overland.
Kaiser Motors (formerly Kaiser-Frazer) Corporation made automobiles at Willow Run, Michigan from 1945 to 1953. By the end of 1946, over 11,000 Kaiser and Frazer cars were produced. During the summer of 1948, the 300,000th car came off the production line. In 1950, Kaiser-Frazer began production of a new compact car, the Henry J and ended production of the Frazer automobile for 1951 model year. In 1952 and 1953, Kaiser-Frazer provided Sears, Roebuck and Company with Allstate-branded automobiles that sold through selected Sears Auto Centers and the Sears catalog. The cars were based on the Henry J models that Kaiser-Frazer dealers were selling.
In 1953 Kaiser-Frazer name was changed to Kaiser Motors Corporation. Kaiser worked out a deal to purchase assets of Willys-Overland. The purchase was made by Kaiser-Frazer’s wholly owned subsidiary company, Kaiser Manufacturing Corporation. After completing the Willys-Overland acquisition, Kaiser Manufacturing Corporation changed its name to Willys Motors, Incorporated. During late 1953 and 1954, Kaiser Motors operations at Willow Run Michigan were closed down or moved to the Willys facility in Toledo, Ohio. U.S. production of Kaiser and Willys passenger cars ceased during the 1955 model year, but production of Willys Jeeps continued.
The company changed its name to Kaiser Jeep Corporation in 1963. Kaiser decided to leave the automobile business and the company was sold to AMC, Kaiser Jeep became “Jeep Corporation,” a wholly owned subsidiary of AMC. Included in the sale was the General Products Division, which Kaiser had purchased from Studebaker in 1964. After 1970, the General Products Division with military and special products was reconstituted as American Motors General Products Division, later reorganized as AM General, best known as the manufacturer of the Humvee and civilian Hummer H1.
Also in 1970, AMC consolidated all passenger cars under one distinct brand identity and debuted the Hornet range of compact cars. The Hornet and the later Gremlin shared platforms. The Gremlin subcompact, sold more than 670,000 units from 1970–1978. The Hornet became AMC’s best-selling passenger car since the Rambler Classic, with more than 860,000 units sold by the time production ended in 1977. The new mid-sized AMC Matador replaced the Rebel in 1971 and in 1974, The Matador model line included a sedan, station wagon and two-door hardtop. The models received praise for its design. The full-sized Ambassador was discontinued as AMC’s flagship line after the 1974 model year and AM General subsidiary began building urban transit buses.
The AMC Pacer, introduced in March 1975 was a subcompact. The AMX nameplate was revived in 1977. It was a sporty appearance package on the Hornet hatchback. For 1978, the Hornet platform was redesigned with an adaptation of the new Gremlin front-end design and renamed AMC Concord. Gremlins borrowed the Concord instrument panel, as well as a Hornet AMX-inspired GT sports appearance package and a new striping treatment for X models. The AMC Pacer hood was modified to clear a V8 engine, and a Sports package. With falling sales of Matador Coupes, sedans and wagons, their production ceased at the end of the model year with total sales of 10,576 units. In 1979, the Spirit sedan replaced the Gremlin. A new fastback version of the car, the Spirit Liftback, proved successful. In December, Pacer production ceased after a small run of 1980 models. Concords received a new front end treatment, and in their final season. On May 1, 1979, AMC marked the 25th anniversary of the Nash-Hudson merger with “Silver Anniversary” editions of the AMC Concord and Jeep CJ in two-tone silver (Jeeps then accounted for around 50 percent of the company’s sales and most of their profits); and introduced LeCar, a U.S. version of the small, fuel-efficient Renault 5.
Chapin gave up the CEO title in late 1977, but stayed as chairman until he retired in October 1978. He remained on AMC’s board of directors until 1987, when Chrysler acquired the company. On 21 October 1977, Gerald C. Meyers was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. In 1979, with declining profits and lacking both capital and resources, Meyers formed a partnership with the French state-owned Renault and signed an agreement that called for AMC dealers to sell Renault cars in the United States while Renault would market AMC cars in Europe. Renault, which bought 22.5 percent of AMC stock. A year later Renault became the principal stockholder of American Motors. In January 1982 the company’s former president W. Paul Tippett Jr. replaced Gerald C. Meyers as CEO, and Jose Dedeurwaerder, a Renault executive, became president. Dedeurwaerder brought a broad perspective at this critical time, he is credited with streamlining many of AMC’s arcane management techniques. He also instituted important improvements in plant layouts, as well as in cost and quality control. Renault, having increased their stake in the company several times to keep it solvent, eventually owned 49% in 1983.
New ownership and management heralded a new product venture, a line of modern front-wheel drive cars, designed by Renault, to be produced in Kenosha Wisconsin. In August 1979, for the 1980 model year, AMC introduced new four-wheel drive versions of the Spirit and Concord, calling the collective line the AMC Eagle. Featuring an innovative full-time four-wheel drive system, Sales started strongly but declined over time. In 1980, all AMC cars received a new rust-proofing process called Ziebart Factory Rust Protection that included a deep-dip bath in epoxy-based primer. While the two-wheel drive Spirit and Concord were both discontinued after 1983 as the company concentrated on the new Renault Alliance. Introduced in 1983, the Alliance was a front-wheel drive Renault 9 compact car restyled for the American market produced in Kenosha. The car was badged as a Renault and some cars carried AMC badges. It was available as a sedan with two or four doors and later as a convertible. The hatchback, introduced in 1984 and badged as the Renault Encore. In 1983 with the introduction of an all-new Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer models for the 1984 model year was very popularity and these Jeeps pioneered a new market segment defined as the sport utility vehicle (SUV).
For the final 1987 model year, a higher-performance version of the Alliance 2 door sedan and convertible was sold as the Renault GTA. The Encore models were renamed to Alliance Hatchback in 1987. Alliance and GTA production ended in June of that year while the Renault 9 and 11 models continued through the 1988 model year in Europe. The Eagle survived as a station wagon into the 1988 model year. All the company’s remaining output was branded Renault or Jeep. The last AMC Eagle was built on December 14, 1987.
During the transfer of management from Paul Tippet to French executive, Pierre Semerena, problems occurred. The new management signed an agreement to build Jeeps in the People’s Republic of China, Beijing Jeep was established by AMC in 1983 to produce Jeeps for the Chinese market. AM General Division, a significant defense contractor, being managed by a partially French-government-owned firm. The U.S. government would not allow a foreign government to own a significant portion of an defense supplier. As a result, in 1983 the AM General was sold to LTV Corporation and established it as a wholly owned subsidiary of the LTV Aerospace and Defense Company. In 1992, LTV sold AM General to The Renco Group who began marketing the HUMVEE to the civilian market under the Hummer brand. In 1999 they sold the rights to the Hummer brand to General Motors who continued production of the original civilian Hummer until June 2006 when it ceased production. On August 20, 2004, it was announced that MacAndrews & Forbes company would buy 70% ownership of AM General from the Renco Group.
AMC’s major stockholder, Renault, was experiencing financial trouble in France. In 1986, under pressure from Renault executives, Renault’s new president, Raymond Levy set out divest the company of its investment in American Motors and in 1987, Renault announced that it would withdraw from the American automobile market. Renault owned 46.1% of AMC’s outstanding shares of stock.
On March 9, 1987, Chrysler agreed to buy Renault’s share in AMC, plus all the remaining shares, for about US$1.5 billion. AMC became the Jeep-Eagle division of Chrysler. It was the Jeep brand that Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca really wanted. The buyout included other attractive deal for Chrysler. Among them was the world-class, brand-new manufacturing plant in Bramalea, Ontario. Additional acquisitions were the AMC dealer network which strengthened Chrysler’s retail distribution – many AMC dealers switched to selling Chrysler products.
AMC was renamed to Jeep Eagle Corporation August 25, 1988 and was fully merged as of March 29, 1990.
Chrysler announced the discontinuation of the Eagle brand in September 1997, the marque was phased out in stages through the end of the 1998 model. The last 1998 Eagle Talon rolled off the line shortly thereafter the Eagle brand was discontinued. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee would not be released until 1992 for the 1993 model year, the same year that Iacocca retired.
The AMC name disappeared with Chrysler’s acquisition.
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