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Sunday, October 31, 2010

1937 Nash

 Nash was imported from the United States in 1937 selling 1,484 passenger cars in the Dominion that year, its best showing since 1932.
It was the spring of 1916 when Charles Nash called reporters to his  office at General Motors. During the press conference the automotive mogul announced he was stepping down as president of the world’s largest automaker. When asked what he would do, Nash replied, “Go fishing.” Indeed he did—Nash reeled in the Jeffery Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin and prepared to place his own name on the radiator of his own car.

1917 Nash
Replacing Rambler and Jeffery, the first Nash automobile appeared in 1917. The man’s sterling reputation with the public for high quality was appreciated and Nash was an instant hit with buyers.  

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The Wisconsin manufacturer began exporting cars and trucks to Canada in 1921. The company advertised agressively, taking out full-page advertisements in leading magazines, including Canadian Motorist. Copy bragged, “Nash Leads the World in Motor Car Value,” and listed dealers in Fredericton, Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria.

In 1928 records show 2,440 Nash passenger cars being sold throughout the Dominion and that figure jumped by more than a thousand units to 3,459 in 1929. That would be the last of the good years as the Great Depression swept the world, though Nash had exceptionally deep pockets. Only 326 Nash passenger cars were sold here in 1935 but the outlook was encouraging as that number rose ever so slightly to 536 units delivered in 1936.
A Nash LaFayette 400 two-door, three-passenger Business Coupe cost $973 f.o.b. Toronto.

The 1937 Nash line was introduced on October 15, 1936. Gone was LaFayette as a separate make, the low-priced companion car was now the base model. The Nash LaFayette 400 shared styling with its larger kin but it rode on a trim 117-inch wheelbase and got around courtesy of a 90-horsepower Monitor-Sealed engine. Three- and five-passenger coupes, a two-door Victoria Trunk Sedan and a four-door Trunk Sedan made up the entry level Nash line. While a stylish Cabriolet was available in other markets, there appears to be no evidence it was sold in Canada.

Interior of the LaFayette 400 included a rich, dark mahogany look instrument panel embellished with chromium strips. The speedometer boasted large figures on a brushed silver dial.  Ad copy read, “Nash presents…a new kind of low-priced car! A car that will enable thousands of former small-car owners to drive a bigger, more beautiful, better-engineered car, yet a car that costs little more than the lowest-priced cars!” 

 The 1937 Nash Ambassador Six Victoria Sedan sold for $1,253, f.o.b. Toronto.
The Nash Ambassador Six was berthed upstream of the LaFayette 400. The larger Nash rode a 121-inch wheelbase. The extra length was positioned ahead of the cowl to showcase the 95-horsepower Valve-in-Head Twin Ignition six-cylinder mill. The Ambassador Six was dressier than the LaFayette, from stern to its hood ornament. Three- and five-passenger Coupes were available, a Victoria Sedan, A Cabriolet and a four-door Sedan. 

Interiors were finished in broadcloth fabric with tufting, braiding and edging of custom-upholstered seats. Ambassadors were fitted with a folding centre armrest both front and rear.  

The posh instrument panel of the 1937 Nash Ambassador boasted gold inlay on the speedometer.

The Six and The Six and Eight were dressed with a beautiful instrument panel that carried an oversized speedometer dial with figures etched in glass and inlaid in gold. This was flanked by a full compliment of gauges. Twin panels finished in oxidized silver  were laid over a background of rich, dark mahogany. Controls were located in the centre, between the silver panels. A nifty light on the speedometer indicated to the driver that long-range headlight beam was on.

 The most expensive Nash in 1937 was the Ambassador Eight Cabriolet with Rumble Seat. The price tag for the 3,620-pound ragtop was $1,701, f.o.b. Toronto.
Last but not least was the Ambassador Eight. The flagship Nash rode on an impressive 125-inch wheelbase and its Valve-in-Head Twin Ignition engine developed 105 horsepower. Once again, the extra inches were added ahead of the cowl to draw attention to the longer, more powerful engine. The Ambassador Eight was topped with an elegant hood ornament, one befitting such a beauty. Other niceties included a deluxe three-spoke “banjo” steering wheel and an exceptionally large, illuminated glove compartment. 

Ad copy bragged, “Nash Ambassador Eight for 1937 establishes a standard of value never before approached in the fine–car field. In the flawless beauty of its flowing lines; in the graceful sweep of its fenders; in its imposing size, in its striking radiator design; you will instantly recognize an aristocrat among today’s fine cars.”

Standard equipment included two chrome bumpers with bumper guards, two taillights, a license plate light, two parking lights, a spare tire and wheel, front door arm rests, assist straps in four-door sedans, a roller shade on rear window, a rear compartment ash tray, as well as one on the instrument panel. A sun visor was standard as was a rear-view mirror a windshield wiper and a parcel compartment in the instrument panel.

When ordered with the optional bed, one's Nash became a roadside Hilton. Note the front seat is fixed.
The Twin-Ignition, eight-cylinder Nash engine cranked out 105 horses in 1937.
Optional equipment included mohair or leather trimmed upholstery, seats that made into beds, rear wheel shields (skirts), hot water headers with windshield defrosters, radios, electric clocks, cigar lighters, chromium wheel mouldings, twin horns. Other accessories were available as well but one would have to chat with one’s Nash dealers to know more.  

1937 would be an unforgettable year of change at Nash Motors. The company recognized the United Auto Workers as the sole union and gave workers a 20 percent hike in wages, after a strike. Charles Nash was 72 years old and had no heir apparent. He purchased Kelvinator, maker of refrigerators and home appliances, for the talents of its president, George Mason. The king of refrigerators had an automotive background. Stints at Studebaker and Maxwell appeared on his resume. 

The new company was called Nash-Kelvinator. It was the largest merger in business history. Jokes abounded that all Kelvinators would sport four-wheel brakes and Nash cars would have ice trays in the glove box.

A total of 1,484 Nash cars were sold in the nine provinces in 1937. It was the company’s best finish in five years.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.

1925 Chrysler Four

The 1925 Chrysler Four bore a heavy resemblance to the Maxwell it replaced. Pitched to businessmen who required the maximum amount of carrying space the Coupe promised to give “the utmost comfort for long hours behind the wheel.”
The Chalmers Motor Company of Canada Limited set up shop in Ford City, Ontario in 1916. The Maxwell concern also began building cars and trucks in nearby Windsor that same year. It made perfect sense for the two American automakers to do so, after all, a presence in the Canadian market gave them duty-free access to the entire British Empire market. A year later, both firms found themselves in trouble. Since the two brands did not compete in each other’s fields. a merger was attempted. They would share expertise and dealerships. The deal quickly went sour and the merger was never completed. The stalled-out company was $26 million in debt and bankers quickly brought in Walter Chrysler, who had just rescued Willys-Overland from bankruptcy, to work his magic at Maxwell-Chalmers. Chrysler rolled up his sleeves at the ailing automaker in August of 1920.

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Chrysler had a railroad background and moved to automobiles when Charles Nash hired him to be the works manager at the Buick Division of General Motors. Chrysler left GM in 1919 because he couldn’t get along with Billy Durant, the often irrational president. Chrysler was promptly hired to clean up the mess at Willys-Overland and get the company on solid footing. It took a year and then he was free to pursue other interests.

The Maxwell-Chalmers offer was exactly what Chrysler hungered for. He wanted stock options as well as salary so that he could eventually control the company. The 45-year old captain of industry yearned to put his own name on the radiator of a car, just as his friend Charles Nash had done after the latter stepped down from the presidency of General Motors in 1916. 

It took Chrysler four years to sort out the mess at Maxwell-Chalmers. The slow-selling Chalmers was sent to automotive heaven and millions of dollars were spent to make repairs to tens of thousands of faulty Maxwell vehicles. Mechanics were sent out into the field to fix everything from broken axles to gas tanks that fell off the vehicles.

From Cape Breton to Vancouver Island Canadians knew only too well that the Maxwells were poorly designed. They knew because Percy Gomery, a strong advocate of the Trans-Canada highway, attempted to drive one across the country in 1920. The trip was a disaster and unfortunately for Maxwell, a highly publicized failure at that.

The money spent on repairing the cars and the brand’s reputation was well spent. The “Good Maxwell” did very well in the market place and with Chalmers out of the picture, the Maxwell-Chrysler Corporation was established. In June of 1925 the Maxwell name was laid to rest when it became obvious that the Chrysler name was hot and Maxwell was not. In fact, Chrysler was outselling Maxwell four to one, despite the higher prices for the former. The last Maxwell rolled out of the Windsor, Ontario plant decorated in flowers. The Chrysler Corporation of Canada Limited was established on June 27, 1925.

The Sedan was the most expensive in the Chrysler Four lineup. The 1926 version was “roomy and yet not bulky” and its interior appointments possessed “that charm and refinement which characterize all the models of the Chrysler Four.”
The Maxwell returned a few weeks later with a few cosmetic changes. Only now it was the Chrysler Four, a.k.a. Model 58. There was plenty of hoop-la surrounding the introduction of the ‘new’ Chrysler with its swoopier fenders, lower running boards and Chrysler radiator shell.  “In the Chrysler Four Walter P. Chrysler gives the motoring public a worthy companion to the Chrysler Six. Both are creations of a master automobile builder. Walter P. Chrysler has won for himself a place of esteem not enjoyed by any other manufacturer; and that esteem is based upon the recognition of the unvarying high quality of his products and the unremitting care that goes into their manufacture.”

The frame of the Chrysler Four was of rigid construction, thanks to four heavy cross members. Four-wheeled brakes were an extra-cost option.

“The Chrysler Four is decidedly more than merely a good automobile at an attractive price. It is an outstanding accomplishment in quality manufacturing, possessing in combination four qualities not obtained like degree from any comparably care that has ever been built: extraordinary performance, unapproachable beauty, exceptional quality and low price.”

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Under the hood of the 1925 Chrysler Four one found an engine that had conquered vibration though special rubber mountings that insulated the motor from the frame. The engine was a new 158-cubich inch L-head with a full-pressure oil system. It generated 68 horsepower. Advertising bragged, “58 miles per hour” and “5 to 25 miles in 8 seconds!” The quick getaway was courtesy of a semi-automatic spark control. A three-speed manual transmission was employed.

Four models were offered. The Touring car listed for $1,240 and was finished in Beige Brown Duco with natural wood wheels. The Club Coaches were painted Sheraton Gray Duco. Both models’ interiors were upholstered in hand-crushed dualtone Spanish leather. The Coach was also painted Sheraton Gray Duco and upholstered in plush. The Sedan was finished in plush “in an exclusive pattern” and painted Beige Brown Duco outside. The body and louvres were striped in Canterbury Blue. All of the closed cars featured bodies by Fisher. 

The 1925 Chrysler Four Touring rode on a trim 109-inch wheelbase like the rest of the ChryCo family.
The 181 employees at the Canadian factory turned out 7,857 Chrysler vehicles in its maiden year. The Chrysler Four was popular and made up a large percentage of the new company’s sales. 

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1973 Volkswagen Campmobile

With a 1973 Volkswagen Campmobile, families pulled off the road to enjoy the many splendours of Canada.
Question: How many elephants can you put in a Volkswagen Beetle? Answer: Five. Two in the front, two in the back and voila! one more in the glove compartment.

Canadians first saw the Volkswagen Beetle at the 74th annual edition of the  CNE  on June 10th, 1952.

VW jokes were popular and always brought a smile. Canadians told lots of Beetle jokes. The odd-looking passenger car brought chuckles because it resembled a certain hard-shelled insect.

The first Volkswagen Transporter was built on March 8th, 1950.
VW was keen to break into the North American market. In studying that market officials noted that Canadians were enamoured with small imports and were particularly fond of Austin and GM's British subsidiary, Vauxhall. Further analysis revealed that consumers in that country were extremely frugal and value oriented in purchasing automobiles.  Imports made up a large portion of new car sales in Canada. 

Volkswagen Canada Limited hung out its shingle in the Dominion on November 9, 1952. Canada was the West German company’s first overseas subsidiary. Sales were modest; the Toronto-based firm sold 94 Beetles by the year's end.

1953 Volkswagen Transporter for Canadians.
The following year, the strictly utilitarian truck line was added to the mix on dealers’ showroom floors. A total of 584 Transporters were sold, along with 1,160 passenger cars. The weird looking vehicles with their distinctive air-cooled engines whine quickly won a place in the hearts and driveways of folks in all ten provinces, the 1954 sales totals added up to 2,776 Beetles and 786 Transporters. Those figures simply exploded to 5,881 sedans and 1,509 of the trucks in 1955. Transporters and other Type II vehicles began rolling out the door of the new Hanover factory in 1955. The first of the Volkswagen Campers appeared on this side of the Atlantic in 1957.

Canadians had been eager to discover their own country ever since the Trans-Canada Highway united the nation in 1962. The asphalt ribbon stretched more than 7,000 kilometres across the Dominion, from St. John’s to Victoria. The VW Camper couldn’t have come along at a better time in Canada's history.

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VW advertising employed wry humour in 1968. 

Volkswagen Camper sales totalled 626 units in 1969. That figure rose to 787 units in 1970 and nearly doubled to 1,151 in 1971. There was a modest increase in sales as the total reached 1,364 units in 1972. With huge oil reserves in Alberta, there was no OPEC-induced energy crisis in Canada in 1973. Gasoline flowed freely and Campmobile sales soared upward to 1,623 units in 1973. That constituted a 19 percent increase over last year’s sales.

 A VW Campmobile was no fair weather friend. A robust gas heater made it the perfect winter camping companion, too.

The 1973 version of home-away-from-home was highly a refined package. On its pert 2 400-millimetre (94.5-inch) wheelbase, the motel on wheels rolled along nicely courtesy of a powerful, air-cooled, pancake four-cylinder engine that generated 65 horsepower. Weighing in at 1 495 kilos (3,296 pounds), advertising promised that the Campmobile would deliver  11.3 kilomtres/litre (25 miles to the Imperial gallon of gasoline) when equipped with the fully synchronized four-speed manual gearbox or 8.85 kilomtres/litre (21.8 miles per Imperial gallon) when the VW was mated to the optional automatic transmission. Not that one would want to go that fast; top speed was pegged at 125 kph (78 mph) with the standard gearbox and a comfortable 120 (74 mph) with the automatic transmission.

Dinner for two was cozy in a 1973 VW Campmobile.
 Advertising bragged confidently, “Once you step into a VW Campmobile you may not want to leave.”  The rolling home boasted all the comforts of a modern bungalow. It was replete with a stainless steel sink, a 45-litre (1.6-cubic foot) icebox and a two-burner stove; closets galore, storage lockers and cabinets. There were sleep arrangements for two grownups and three kids. The 110-volt electrical system featured a breaker. Its stylish interior was paneled in birch and seats were upholstered in a longwearing, gold fabric. Colour-coordinated curtains-complete with tiebacks and rods-covered all the windows, including the bay windshield.

A pop-up top allowed a 165 cm x 55.8 cm (65 inch x22 inch) folding cot to stretch out on the roof and a hammock, strung across the front seats, provided another bed. Bench seats folded neatly and when that surface was added to the space above the engine deck; it created a full-sized bed for two adults.

 Oodles of cupboards and storage space was a hallmark of the Volkswagen Campmobile.
If the family required more space, an extra-cost, lightweight, waterproof poplin tent with vinyl flooring could be had. With poles colour-coded for quick assembly, the completely sealed tent attached tightly to the drip rail of the vehicle or it could stand independently. An auxiliary gas heater kept the cabin toasty warm during winter outings. 

Despite the success of the Campmobile, 1973 was a difficult year for Volkswagen in the Canadian market. Internal memos from VW Canada show there was a severe shortage of vehicles to ship from West Germany during a large part of the selling season. Equally problematic was the ever-rising Deutch Mark. Currency fluctuation forced the company to hike prices on its vehicles four times during the year. The retail cost of a new Volkswagen rocketed an astonishing 36.2 percent during the year. The twin bugbears prompted sales to slide downward to 31,772 units from 34,511 units in 1972.

If there was any comfort at all, competitors fared even less well. With subsidiaries Audi and Porsche figured into the corporate total, VW could still claim the Number Ten spot with a healthy 15.7 percent of the Canadian import market and a 1.2 percent increase overall in domestic sales.

Copyright James C. Mays 2005
All rights reserved.