Superman, Nash-Kelvinator and George Mason
Q: I really enjoy your old car columns, and want to know how Kelvinator ever got involved in the Nash car building company? I really liked the old Nash cars that they used in the Superman TV shows in the Fifties. Thanks, and keep up the informative columns. Alfred L., New York.
A: "Great Caesar's Ghost," Alfred, what an interesting question. You didn't state your hometown in New York, but I'll bet it is Metropolis, and you read my work in "The Daily Planet.
We'll get to Superman a bit later. As for your question, Kelvinator came into the Nash's official corporate name following the merger of Nash and Kelvinator, the latter a maker of refrigerators and other refrigeration (we called our refrigerator a "fridgie" back in the Fifties.)
It all happened in 1936 when Charles Nash, the president and CEO of Nash Motors, realized he needed a successor. Nash felt his successor should be a man named George W. Mason, who was president of the successful Kelvinator Corporation since 1926.
Nash offered Mason the presidency of the Nash Corporation, but Mason turned him down as Kelvinator was really taking off and becoming the leader in the refrigerator business. Undaunted, Nash kept pursuing Mason, and Mason finally gave in when Nash put together a merger with Kelvinator, luring Mason into an agreement and thus forming the new Nash-Kelvinator Corporation.
Mason, it turns out, was a great car entrepreneur and marketing master, becoming the first to manufacturer American made compact cars, namely the Nash Rambler and Nash Metropolitan. When the Indy 500 invited Mason to utilize the Nash as the official pace car in 1947, he drove the car himself on the pace laps much to the delight of the crowd. His riding partner that year was none other than Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw, and he also had actor and race fan Clarke Gable come over and pose for some publicity photos.
Mason also provided 18 Nash cars for Indy officials, and a fleet of new Nash cars for the fans to see. Mason also had a large tent erected for entertainment and information on Nash automobiles. Thus, it is clear Mason knew how to promote, and do it very well.
As for the Superman series, the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, aka Superman, did drive Nash cars in the shows, including a Nash-Healy two-seater. I, too, loved the show that ran from 1952 to 1958, and especially all those great earlier episode Nash cars.
When watching Superman, it seemed whenever Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police department arrived, it was a Nash that brought the actor to that part of the set. Additionally, co-star Lois Lane drove a Nash Rambler Convertible in the show, so we'll accept the "indicator," based on Mason's excellent handling of promoting Nash at the Indy 500, that Nash-Kelvinator knew very well the value of providing cars for the series, and as it turned out, got "way more" in return from the early days of television exposure.
Sadly, Mason died suddenly on Oct. 8, 1954, following his successful negotiation of the merger of Nash and Hudson, which would then be called American Motors. He was succeeded by mentor George W. Romney, who would also go on to a successful career in politics as the Governor of Michigan for three terms from 1962-1969.
As for all those great Nash cars, my personal favorites in addition to the Nash-Healy that Superman drove were the "bathtub" Nash Airflyte models from 1949-1950, when a total of over 300,000 of these cars were sold. These large cars offered seats that turned into full size beds with a flip of a few levers. Additionally, the 1951 and 1952 Statesman, Airflyte and Ambassadors are similarly nice. I also liked the 1954 Ambassador Custom, another Superman favorite from my recollection.
The last Nash to appear on an AMC build schedule came in 1957 ala the Nash Ambassador. AMC, with Romney at the helm, made the decision to drop the Hudson and Nash names after that year.
Thanks for your question, and for reading my column.
(Greg Zyla answers reader questions on collector cars, racing or anything else automotive by writing him at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).