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Home > Featured Auto Makes > Nash - Lafayette - Jeffery  (Part  1 2)

Nash - Lafayette - Jeffery   Part 2: 1916-1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

In 1922, this company introduced the first engine to be mounted on rubber, reducing vibration almost to zero.

It probably was opportune for all concerned, and for the sur­vival of a grand old automotive firm, that Charles W. Nash came forward in 1916 with an offer to purchase the Thomas B. Jeffery Co. at about the time the heirs of its great founder decided to retire. On July 13, 1916, Nash who had resigned as president of General Motors a month earlier to build a car under his own name, acquired the inter­est of the Jeffery Co. lock, stock and barrel. Only 16 days later, the Nash Motors Co. was incorporated under the laws of Maryland; on August 16, it was admitted to business in Wisconsin and by September 6, the new owner assumed active charge.

Swift, decisive moves of this kind were typical of Charles Nash, a born leader who had risen from nothing to become vice-president of the Durant-Dort Carriage Co. in 1910; had assumed presidency of Buick at the age of 46, and then in quick turn taken charge of the Oakland Motor Co., the Olds Motor Works and the General Motors Truck Co. before succeeding Thomas Neal as boss of General Motors.

During the first 18 months of Nash’s reign, things continued much as before and the Jeffery was in steady production although it now bore a Nash nameplate. Two Jeffery chassis were available in 1917, with a four- and a six-cylinder engine, these being offered in a choice of eight body styles. The year’s output was over 6,500 cars. In addi­tion, some 3,000 Jeffery-Nash trucks took to the road--a large propor­tion of these being the famous Quad truck, a two-ton vehicle with four-wheel drive, used extensively on the Western Front during World War I. In fact, by the end of 1918, Nash had built over 20,000 Quad trucks for the Army and made a valuable contribu­tion toward victory.

In the meantime, designing, producing and testing of the first true Nash car continued apace, and the first example of this brand new automobile, known as Model 681, was announced in the fall of 1917. Charles W. Nash was, of course, familiar to countless Americans who naturally expected great things from any automobile bearing his name; nor were they disappointed. That it proved to be exactly what the public wanted was reflected in the sale of 10,283 cars for 1918 with orders still piling up. Finished in Nash blue, penciled with gold and upholstered in “buttonless” black leather, the Model 681 touring job was as pretty a machine as anyone could wish to see. Furthermore, so advanced was the de­sign of the six-cylinder, overhead-valve engine with a balanced crankshaft and a hot-spot intake manifold, that it was retained for decades.

The first Nash engine had a bore and stroke of three and one-half by four and five-eighths inches giving a rated hp of 29.4, but the following year this was re­duced to three and one-quarter by five inches with a 25.3 hp rating, after which the displacement remained identical for a decade. Other progressive features of the Model 681 were an under-slung chassis with low center of gravity and a transmission unit--built with the engine.

A parallel success was Nash’s venture into the truck-building field, for during 1918 more Nash Quad trucks (11,490) were built than passenger cars, and the com­pany became the world’s largest producer of commercial vehicles. Nash had come to stay, and with the peerless “Charlie” Nash at the helm--for years a magic figure in the industry--anything else would have been surprising.

In late 1919, Nash acquired a half-inter­est in the Seaman Body Company of Mil­waukee, which for years had built various types of coachwork for Nash, Jeffery, Rambler and other manufacturers. From then on, the Seaman firm concentrated ex­clusively on Nash body construction and had enough orders to keep going in­definitely on full time. Within a few months this firm, now renamed the Seaman Body Corporation, bought a 15-acre plot in Detroit and upon it erected a new build­ing, which would eventually become the Nash-Kelvinator plant.

Nash passenger car output for 1919 was nearly triple that of the previous year, though conversely truck production de­clined by two-thirds.

In 1921, Nash came out with a new Four, assembled for the first time in Milwaukee where Nash bodies previously were built. This also was a valve-in-head job, offered in four body styles and modestly priced from $1,195 for the roadster. Profit for that year was $7,000,000 after tax deduc­tions, on net sales of $57,000,000, and these figures make interesting comparison with the $16,220,000 net profit for 1951 on net sales of $401,000,000. The fantastic rise in labor, raw material costs, and taxes over the three decades is clearly reflected. Whereas then the firm’s 1921 clear profit was one-eighth of sales, in 1951 it was less than one-twenty-fourth, or three times smaller.

Despite the 1921 recess, Nash passenger car sales held at 20,850 units, although truck production slumped to almost noth­ing and never did recover between then and 1930 when Nash trucks were dropped.

An outstanding Nash contribution for 1922 was the first rubber-mounted engine in­troduced on both the Nash Four and Six models. This feature, current on all modern cars without exception, reduced idling vibration to almost nothing, while it also ab­sorbed the roughness induced by flat-out driving. Nash made the most of it in a deliberately conservative advertising and sales promotion program which primarily extolled the mechanical beauty and refine­ment of its engine.

That year, too, Nash engineers back from a trip to Italy and France, reflected Euro­pean influence in the Model 46 Nash Carriole--a close-coupled four-passenger coupe offered on the four-cylinder chassis.

During the next two years, production of the Nash Four and Six continued with only detail improvements and with the ample choice of body styles widened to include a Model 698 Four-Door Coupe, priced at $2,090.

After a proposed merger with the Pierce-Arrow Company failed to material­ize in 1924, Nash acquired instead the trade name and manufacturing facilities of the LaFayette Motor Car Co., which had been transferred two years earlier from Indianapolis to Milwaukee. This luxury automobile of strictly limited appeal, in­troduced in 1920 at $5,000, had sold a few thousand units in five years at not less than $4,500 and was then in the hands of the receiver. Price had proved too great a stumbling block, even for the designing genius of D. McCall White who used such niceties as roller-bearing tappets in the V-8 engine, aiming generally at “sim­plicity, lightness and aircraft principles of design.” Asked to assume presidency of this dying firm, Charles Nash did so and installed as sales manager E. C. Howard, formerly in a similar position with Cadillac.

Far too shrewd to continue operations with a doomed proposition, Nash sus­pended production of the LaFayette for a decade, and then used only the name to re-enter the field in 1934 with a low-priced car of entirely different design.

A further acquisition by Nash in 1924 was the old Mitchell automobile plant at Racine, Wisconsin, though the transaction did not include use of the name. One of the industry’s pioneers, Mitchell had gone under two years before.

Within months, the Mitchell plant was converted for production of a new car manufactured by the Ajax Motor Co., a Nash subsidiary, and announced June 1925. Charles Nash asked for a simple four-letter name to distinguish this new product, but no one came forward with any bright suggestions, whereupon he pulled the name Ajax out of thin air and company officials agreed that it was fine.

Not so fine, however, was the fate of the Ajax, a six-cylinder job offered in both sedan and touring car form at $995. Per­haps its too-great similarity in appearance to the Nash was a damaging factor, but at any rate it lingered for only a year, garner­ing some 10,693 customers before being discontinued and succeeded by the Nash Light Six, built at the same plant. Ajax sales were by no means a flop in the true sense of the word, yet measured against the Nash output for that year of 96,121 units, they didn’t mean much.

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