Thursday, May 21, 2009
The Nash-Healey was a two-seat sports car produced for the American market between 1951 and 1954. Sometimes erroneously described as the first American sports car built since the Great Depression, it was in fact the Anglo-American product of a partnership between the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and British engineer and auto maker Donald Healey. An additional European contribution to the enterprise began in 1952 when the coachwork was restyled and manufactured in Italy.
The car served as a halo vehicle to promote the sales of the other Nash models.
Donald Healey and Nash-Kelvinator CEO George W. Mason met on the Queen Elizabeth, an ocean liner going from the United States to Great Britain. Healey was returning to England after his attempt to purchase engines from Cadillac, but General Motors declined his idea. Mason and Healey met over dinner and a production plan ensued during the remainder of the voyage. The two became friends because they were both interested in photography. Mason had a stereo (3-D) camera that intrigued Healey.
The Nash corporation already had many inroads into Europe with its appliance division, Kelvinator, named after Lord Kelvin (William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin), who pioneered modern refrigeration.
Nash Motors supplied the Donald Healey Motor Company with the powertrain components: the Ambassador’s long, heavy and bulky inline six-cylinder OHV engine (first the 234.8 cu in (3.8 L) and later the 252 cu in (4.1 L)) and three-speed manual transmission with Borg-Warner overdrive, plus torque tube and differential. Healey fitted a lighter, higher-compression aluminum cylinder head in place of the cast-iron stock item and also, on the smaller engine, installed the twin 1 ¾” SU carburetors that were popular on British sports cars at the time. (Nash would supply the 252 with American-made twin Carters). Healey designed and built the chassis and suspension; designed the aluminum body in its original pre-1952 form; and assembled the finished product. Until the 1952 restyle (see below), Panelcraft Sheet Metal Ltd. of Birmingham fabricated the body.
The chassis was a widened and reinforced Healey Silverstone box-section ladder-type steel frame. Independent front suspension, also Healey Silverstone, was by coil springs, trailing link and sway bar. Coil springs replaced the Silverstone’s leaf springs at the rear, while the beam axle was located by Panhard rod. (The Healey design elements later saw service on the Austin-Healey 100 sports car.) There were drum brakes all round. Wheels were steel, dressed up with full-diameter chrome hubcaps and 4-ply whitewall tires. The Healey-designed interior featured luxurious leather upholstery, foam rubber cushions, adjustable steering wheel and a cigarette lighter.
Completed vehicles shipped to the United States for sale through the Nash dealership network.
A prototype was exhibited at the Paris Motor Show in September 1950. The production model debuted at the February 1951 Chicago Auto Show. The only colors available were "Champagne Ivory" and "Sunset Maroon", and the suggested retail price (MSRP) of US$3767 F.O.B. New York City proved uncompetitive.
1952 Pininfarina-styled Nash-Healey roadster
For 1952, Nash commissioned Italian designer Pinin Farina to revise Healey's original body design. The restyled car appeared at that year's Chicago Auto Show.
Carrozzeria Pininfarina in Turin built the bodies which, save for aluminum hood, trunk lid and dashboard, were now all steel. The aluminum panels, plus careful engineering, reduced curb weight.
Shipping costs were considerable: From Kenosha, Wisconsin the Nash engines and drivelines went to England for installation in the Healey-fabricated frames. Healey then sent the rolling chassis to Italy, where Pininfarina's craftsmen fashioned the bodywork and assembled the finished product. Finally Farina exported the cars to America.
1953 Pininfarina-styled Nash-Healey "Le Mans" coupe
1953 saw the introduction of a new closed coupe alongside the roadster (now termed a "convertible"). Capitalizing on the 3rd place finish at Le Mans by a lightweight racing Nash-Healey purpose-built for the race (see below), the new model was called the "Le Mans" coupe. Nash had already named the powerplant the "Le-Mans Dual Jetfire Ambassador Six" in 1952, in reference to the previous racing exploits of the lightweight competition cars.
Many judge the 1953-54 Farina-styled Nash-Healeys to be grosser than the 1951 models. Nevertheless the 1953 "Le Mans" model was awarded first prize in March of that year in the Italian International Concours d'Elegance held at Tresa, Italy.
In light of meager sales for the preceding years, Nash delayed introduction of the 1954 models until June 3 and discontinued the convertible, leaving just a slightly reworked "Le Mans" coupe, distinguished by a three-piece rear window instead of the previous one-piece glass.
Nash cut the POE price by more than $1,200 to $5,128, but production ceased in August. A few leftover 1954s were sold as 1955 models.
To create a racing pedigree for the marque Donald Healey built four lightweight Nash-Healeys for endurance racing Like the road cars, they had Nash Ambassador engines and drivelines. However the engines were not to stock specification (power output was increased by fitting higher-compression aluminum cylinder heads, special manifolds and twin SU carburettors), and the cars had spartan, lightweight aluminum racing bodies. Three open versions were built, and one coupe. They looked completely different from the production Nash-Healeys, none of which ever competed at Le Mans or in the Mille Miglia.
These specialist race cars competed in four consecutive Le Mans races and one Mille Miglia.
Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton debuted the prototype at Le Mans in 1950. It was the first-ever Le Mans entry to have an overdrive transmission. Not only was the car one of the 29 finishers from the field of 66, but it finished in fourth place. This outstanding achievement sealed Healey’s contract with Nash for a limited production run of the road cars. Roger Menadue, head of Healey’s experimental department, played a significant role in the success: He filed slots in the backplates of the brakes and extended the adjusting mechanism to a small exterior lever. Thus in a matter of seconds he could adjust the brakes during pit stops without jacking the car up—an innovation that was said to save as much as half an hour at each stop.
In the 1951 race Rolt and Hamilton (who would win two years later in a Jaguar C-Type) took fourth in class and sixth overall behind a Jaguar, two Talbot-Lagos and two Aston Martins. They finished immediately ahead of two Ferraris and another Aston Martin.
Scale model of the purpose-built lightweight Nash-Healey that placed third in the 1952 Le Mans 24-hour race
In 1952, when only 17 of the 58 starters finished, the entry driven by Leslie Johnson—a driver with the flair of Nuvolari, said Louis Chiron—and motoring journalist Tommy Wisdom took third overall behind two factory-entered Mercedes-Benz 300SLs; also first in class, ahead of Chinetti's Ferrari, and second in the Rudge-Whitworth Cup for the best performance over two consecutive years. In addition they won the Motor Gold Challenge Cup. The drivers said the car was more nimble through the corners than its more exotic competitors. It delivered 13 miles per US gallon (18L/100 km; 16 mpg-imp) and the engine needed no oil or water during the entire 24 hours. The car had been built from scratch in a fortnight, Menadue and his assistant Jock Reid fabricating the body in less than a week, by eye, without any drawings. Healey said: “That’s an ugly bugger, isn’t it, Roger?”
1952 Le Mans racer (model)
The same year, Johnson raced the car in the Mille Miglia, the thousand-mile Italian road race that would be banned as too dangerous five years later. Daily Telegraph motoring correspondent Bill McKenzie rode as passenger. They finished a creditable seventh overall to Bracco's winning works team Ferrari, the works Mercedes-Benz 300SLs of Kling and Caracciola, and three works Lancias; they also took fourth in class. The coupe driven by Donald Healey and his son Geoffrey crashed out.
For the 1953 Le Mans race the factory partnered Johnson with Bert Hadley in one of two cars with redesigned bodies. Johnson started from 27th place. Although he and Hadley advanced steadily up the race order they were 11th at the finish, 39 laps behind the winning Jaguar, despite an average speed of 92.45 miles per hour (148.78 km/h)—higher than the previous year’s run to third place. However they beat both of Donald Healey's new Austin-Healey 100s. The second Nash-Healey of Veyron and Giraud-Cabantous retired after nine laps.
This concluded the factory's race program with the lightweight competition cars. The 1952 Le Mans/Mille Miglia car passed into private ownership and raced in America.
In the wake of the heavily publicized 1955 Le Mans disaster, Nash adopted a new advertising slogan - "The only race we're interested in is the human race" - and abandoned all sporting pretensions in favor of a new subcompact car: the Nash Metropolitan.
507 production Nash-Healeys were built in the four-year model run:
1951 - 104 (roadsters) lhd N-Type plus 1 rhd G-Type G525
1952 - 150 (roadsters)
1953 - 162 (roadsters and coupes)
1954 - 90 (coupes only)
For contextual comparison, the Nash-Healey is framed in U.S. auto history with the 1953 Kaiser Darrin, 1953 Chevrolet Corvette and 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
Clark Kent, played by George Reeves, drove a 1953 Nash-Healey roadster in four episodes of the American 1950s television series Adventures of Superman. Dick Powell owned the car.
Nash-Healeys also appeared in several Hollywood films of the fifties, including Sabrina, The Fast and the Furious and On the Beach.
Article written by John Conde (AMC public relations department) September 8, 1975
Article written by Richard M. Kauffman (Nash-Healey Car Club president) October, 1970
Postage stamp with the 1952 Nash-Healey issued by the USPS in 2005
Posted by Palmer at 1:25 AM