Nash Palm Beach: Remembering the One-Off Rambler Dressed in a Tailor-Made Italian Suit

Nash Rambler Palm Beach 6 photos
Photo: American Motors Corporation
Nash Rambler Palm BeachNash Rambler Palm BeachNash Rambler Palm BeachNash Rambler Palm BeachNash Rambler Palm Beach
Based on the first successful American mass-produced compact, the elegant Palm Beach could've been a worthy successor to the Nash-Healey and a thorn in the side of the Chevrolet Corvette.
Founded in 1916 by former General Motors president Charles W. Nash, the Nash Motors Company survived on the market for less than half a century, merging with Hudson in 1954 and forming the American Motors Corporation (AMC).

During its relatively short history, Nash pioneered unibody construction as well as features like the heating and ventilation system, unibody construction, and the two-point seat belt.

Nash developed relatively affordable family cars, which were reasonably successful during the 1920s and 1930s. However, by the 1940s, the Kenosha, Wisconsin-based company's outdated models were heavily outsold by the Detroit Big Three's newer, more stylish vehicles.

In desperate need of an all-out refresh, the company's CEO, George Mason, hired Edmund Anderson, a former GM designer, to revamp Nash's struggling model line.

Mason, who himself was an innovative designer, together with the new Anderson-led styling department, developed the company's first all-new post-WWII car, the ground-breaking, aerodynamically-focused Airflyte, in 1949.

A year later, the Airflyte aerodynamic design was scaled down to a smaller platform that became the Nash Rambler - America's first successful compact.

Finally, in 1951, the company introduced a three-seat GT-style luxury sports car developed in collaboration with the British Donald Healey Motor Company.

Pushing the boundaries of style with help from Pinin Farina

Nash Rambler Palm Beach
Photo: American Motors Corporation
During his frequent travels to Europe, Mason became friends with in-vouge Italian designer Batista "Pinin" Farina, who convinced him to become a styling consultant for Nash.

Though he had some promising contracts on the horizon with the likes of Ferrari, Farina (who would legally change his name to Pininfarina a decade later) accepted the role and helped redesign the Nash-Healey sports car for the 1952 model year.

The Italian design maestro also submitted several proposals for Nash's passager car lineup, but his most intriguing Nash project became a gorgeous Rambler-based concept car.

From affordable compact to stylish flagship sports car proposal

Nash Rambler Palm Beach
Photo: Gooding & Company
Though redesigned by the Italian stylist in 1952 and subsequently built in his facilities located in Turin, the Nash-Healey wasn't as successful as the company hoped. By the end of the 1954 model year, the first under the newly-formed AMC, the model was dropped.

AMC continued to sell cars under the Nash brand, and Mason, who was now CEO of the new corporation, commissioned his Italian friend to design a new sports car that could revive interest in Nash.

With a focus on low production costs, Mason and Farina decided to base the new car on the existing Rambler, an affordable compact that had nothing sporty about it.

After receiving a modified chassis equipped with the stock Rambler drivetrain, Farina and his crew worked their magic and designed an all-new body.

Entirely handbuilt, the new low-slung structure blended gracefully curvacious proportions with sharp, Jet-Age-inspired lines.

From every angle, it was a joy to behold. Compared to the existing Rambler and Nash-Healey, it was miles away in terms of elegance, both on the outside and on the inside, where the interior was completely redesigned using high-quality materials.

Not as fast or as powerful as it looked

Nash Rambler Palm Beach
Photo: Gooding & Company
Since the main focus of the project was low production costs, the concept christened Palm Beach after the town north of Miami, Florida, was all Rambler underneath.

Although the ladder-type frame received some minor modifications to improve rigidity, the suspension, brakes, and steering were carried over from the mass-produced compact.

The powertrain, comprised of a 196 cubic-inch (3.2-liter) flathead straight-six coupled to a 3-speed manual, was also borrowed from the Rambler. The only modification it received was a single Weber sidedraft carburetor so that the engine could fit under the new, low-slung hood.

The carb didn't improve the stock 82-hp output, so while it was lighter than the Rambler, the Palm Beach was not a particularly fast sports car, even by early-1950s standards.

Drawing universal praise after its debut

Nash Rambler Palm Beach
Photo: Gooding & Company
The Rambler Palm Beach was first shown to the public at the 1956 Turin Auto Show, where it sat alongside the Alfa Romeo Super Flow I and the Lancia America in the Italian coachbuilder's booth.

A fully functional, production-grade concept, it was met with a positive reaction from attendees and the local motoring press.

For the next few months, the gorgeous car toured Europe's most prestigious car shows, earning more praise from those in attendance, as well as the journalists who reviewed it.

Finally, in 1957, it made its debut on American soil at the Henry Ford Museum's annual spring sports car show, wowing the crowd, who dubbed it a worthy rival for the Corvette.

The show car continued to receive extensive coverage in prestigious magazines, such as Motor Trend, which featured it on the cover of its August 1957 issue.

A production run was considered

Nash Rambler Palm Beach
Photo: Gooding & Company
Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the car, AMC was already gradually phasing out all Nash products. A production run of Palm Beach was under consideration, but in the end, management decided not to pursue the idea.

Unlike other concepts from the era, the 1956 Nash Rambler Palm Beach dodged the crusher.

Chairman and CEO of AMC, Roy Chapin Jr., kept the car in his personal collection, and eventually, he sold it to famed collector Joe Bortz.

Although it switched owners a few times, the Emerald Green one-off is still around today. In 2011, the last time it went under the hammer, it fetched $528,000 at the Gooding & Company Scottsdale auction.

While it never made it into production, the Rambler Palm Beach is a fascinating example of Italian-American coachbuilt greatness that will continue to inspire future generations of stylists and enthusiasts.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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