Rebuilding cars like a tri-five Chevrolet or a Ford Mustang is made much easier by the fact that virtually every part for those cars is being reproduced. So what drives someone to restore a vintage car with parts that are next to impossible to find? “Everybody has ‘55 Chevies, Camaros and Mustangs. So I decided to do something different.”
Those are the words of Daryl Frank who restored a 1954 Nash Ambassador Country Club and shared his story of bringing this car back to its original beauty. And boy did he ever, but first he had to find four other donor cars to complete this one car. But to see this car it’s worth all the trouble he went through.
Like many owners of vintage cars, Daryl bought this one in response to an advertisement and was under the impression that it wasn’t all that bad. Once he got the car home, he realized it was going to need a lot more work than he had thought. He bought the car in 2008 and the last registration was in 1961 when the car was parked in a field after a rod went through the engine block. It got parked in that field and didn’t move until Daryl took delivery of it.
Unlike some other brands, Nash cars were built using a unibody design where the body and frame are essentially one welded unit. The advantage of this kind of construction is that the car is lighter and stronger plus you can build a lower and more streamlined design. The disadvantage is that sheet metal panels are structural and nobody builds replacement unibody parts for these Nashes.
So the first thing that had to be done was to fabricate replacement panels to put the structure of the car back on track. The car was in a shop for over a year and two months in Denver with these panels being fabricated and welded into place.
“It’s not like on TV where it takes two weeks!”
Nope. And these kinds of things cost real dollars as well so as the work progressed, the budget was further and further stretched until it broke. At this point comes decision time - you’ve already invested in the car so you can either cut and run or keep going. Fortunately Darly persisted.
Among the reasons to keep going on a car like this is its rarity. In 1954 Nash only made 3,581 of this body style - a two-door hardtop. Of those the vast majority were made in Kenosha, Wisconsin which is where Nashes were built. But they also had an assembly plant in the seaside city of El Segundo, California and this one is one of only 213 of this type that were assembled there.
Plus the Ambassador Country Club is sort of a working man’s Cadillac, according to Daryl. Who would argue - with styling help from the famed studio of Pinin Farina in Italy the car was both beautiful and fairly advanced. You see the influence in things like the curved armrests and padded dash insert, which was a safety feature.
And this Nash shares many of the advancements including factory seat belts. But only on the passenger side - the thinking at the time was that the steering wheel was all the seatbelt the driver needed.
And even decades later these cars remain strong, reliable performers. Originally the car had the 252 inline six-cylinder engine but, as mentioned, someone had driven a rod through the block so Daryl found an engine from a Nash Ambassador LeMans which sported two side-draft carburetors for an additional 10 horsepower and that’s what moves this big car today. It’s bolted to a GM four-speed Hydramatic transmission which was an option back then.
And while on the subject of options, this one has the famous bed-in-a-car which was a $14.50 option. Yep, you can fold down the front seat such that it creates a bed with the back seat. Fathers didn’t want their daughters going to drive-in movies with guys who had Nashes for obvious reasons.
This also has the fancy speakers on the dashboard which was a pricey $78.82 option at the time. Oh, and you could get mosquito netting for the windows and even an extra mattress to put on top of the seats so this isn’t just a car - it’s almost an RV.
The El Segundo plant was a second assembly line that was to help them satisfy demand following WWII when demand on the left coast was skyrocketing for new vehicles and appliances. With all the aerospace workers in the area, Nash bought a 475,000 sq. ft. building from the government’s War Assets Corp. for $1.5 million.
Combining materials shortages and the demand for laborers from all over, it wasn’t until November of 1948 that the plant began rolling out Nash Airflytes. By 1954 when Daryl’s car was built the plant had satisfied a lot of customers but the company, in general, was suffering along with other independent automakers in the shadow of General Motors. A month after Daryl’s car was built the company had successfully merged with Hudson to become American Motors.
Daryl’s car was still purely Nash as evidenced by the serial number plate on the car which reads Nash-Kelvinator. Incidentally Nash had merged with Kelvinator appliances in 1938 when George Mason, Kelvinator’s president, was hired to run Nash. This turned out to be a brilliant move as the car company used the refrigerator company’s technology to provide the first in-vehicle air conditioner.
With all that history you can see why Daryl Frank is proud of the restoration of this unique vehicle. Daryl says that the Nash club is a great resource full of wonderful members that host some great events. Nashes still run like clocks with plenty of new original stock (NOS) parts available to keep them running. Members come to the meets from near and far showing how reliable these cars continue to be.
Sure it would be easier to resto-mod a ’57 Chevy but I, for one, think the world is a better place with cars restored to original condition like this for us all to enjoy. That’s the beauty of this hobby - there are almost no wrong answers but there sure is a lot of eye candy.