- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2000

Who wouldn't be happy as president of General Motors Corp.?

Charles W. Nash, that's who.

Mr. Nash resigned from that position in 1916 in order to build cars under his own name. From 1918 Nash automobiles were manufactured and sold, merging in 1955 with Hudson to form American Motors.

Along with every other automaker Nash suffered through the Great Depression, but by 1940 it was on the rebound. Nash built a combined total of 62,131 cars in 1940. Included were low-price Lafayettes, Ambassador 6 and Ambassador 8 models.

One of the Ambassador 6 sedans was purchased by Wilford Hardesty in Akron, Ohio. Although he kept the car only two years, it made a lasting impression on his pre-school-age son Von.

Half a century after his father bought his 1940 Nash, Mr. Hardesty, now a curator in aeronautics at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, began searching in earnest for a 1940 Nash of his own. He didn't want a 1939 model nor a 1941 Nash.

After searching far and wide he found his 1940 Nash in nearby Silver Spring late in the summer of 1991. With a trunkback body, this next-to-the-top-of-the-line Ambassador 6 had been driven only a scant 50,600 miles and had spent the last two decades stored in a garage.

"It was in poor mechanical condition because of the long years of storage," Mr. Hardesty explains. "The body was in excellent condition except for a few dents."

The left front fender had suffered the most damage. Luckily, the previous owner had found a spare fender, which he gave Mr. Hardesty.

With a little coaxing Mr. Hardesty got the long-dormant, 234-cubic-inch, valve-in-head, six-cylinder engine to come to life.

"It was an oil burner," Mr. Hardesty said. "It badly needed rings."

Once he got the Nash home, "laying a smoke screen along the way" Mr. Hardesty concedes, the first order of business was to tear down the engine. Everything from the seven main bearings on up was replaced including rod bearings, pistons and valves.

The three-speed transmission needed no attention, but the clutch did. Mr. Hardesty installed a new clutch with an original low-mileage overdrive. "The overdrive kicks in about 65 or 70 mph," Mr. Hardesty said.

While the overdrive unit may allow Mr. Hardesty to run with the big dogs on the highway, he reports fuel economy of about 15 mpg. Fortunately, the gas tank holds 20 gallons.

"It doesn't have much pickup," Mr. Hardesty said, "but it has a smooth ride."

That's easily explained because the 3,385-pound car rides on a lengthy 121-inch wheelbase. Mr. Hardesty's Nash is 7/16 of an inch shy of 17 feet long but still can be turned in 37 feet.

Although the car was originally gray, Mr. Hardesty wanted a more substantial color. Looking over a chart of the colors that were offered in 1940, he selected a dark blue that seems to fit the car's character perfectly.

The original gray interior survives from the headliner on down. The only exception is the plastic part of the dashboard. "Working with a Nash enthusiast in the Pittsburgh area," Mr. Hardesty said, "we were able to mold a reasonable facsimile."

A teardrop-shaped horn button graces the center of the three-spoke steering wheel. Typical of the era, the back-seat passengers were treated to carpeting while the front-seat passengers made do with rubber floor mats.

With an extremely high prow-like engine hood, access to the engine is somewhat limited and awkward. Peering down into the engine compartment at the twin-ignition, six-cylinder engine, the most remarkable feature encountered is the Medusa-like distributor cap with a tangle of 13 wires snaking out. Nash had two spark plugs per cylinder.

"It's just a typical old vintage car," Mr. Hardesty said modestly. It does have the famous Nash "Weather-Eye" heating and ventilation system. The rest of the automotive world caught up with the "Weather-Eye" system a quarter century later. "It still works today," Mr. Hardesty said, "and works well."

Additionally, the push-button radio also functions. Radios with push buttons were relatively new in 1940. However, the days of the 11-ribbed, rubber-coated running boards were about over, as well as the split rear window, both of which are on Mr. Hardesty's Nash.

Each front fender features a half dozen notches at the rear to simulate louvers. They might have been pseudo-louvers, but they were only found on Nash automobiles.

Another Nash exclusive was the sleeping car option. The back seat folded up and away, allowing, with an optional mattress, a good night's sleep wherever the road ended at sunset.

You have to remember that sleeping accommodations weren't available at every exit on the interstate highway in 1940. In fact, the interstate didn't even exist.

The seven-year restoration of Mr. Hardesty's Nash was more or less complete in 1998. The odometer now registers 55,000 miles. Mr. Hardesty has driven his Nash on its 6.50x16-inch whitewall tires to two national Nash gatherings with no problems encountered. The first was a 500-mile trip to New Cumberstown, Ohio, the other being a 300-mile jaunt to White Plains, N.Y.

Mr. Hardesty concurs with a Nash slogan featured in 1940 advertisements: "Every line whispers, 'It's great to be alive.'"

"The 1940 Nash certainly made on impression on me," he concludes.

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