Classic American

Here to Obscurity

We might think of Palm Beach as the home of ex-President Trump, but 70 years ago it gave its name to a rather unusual Nash-Rambler model that disappeare­d into obscurity after touring the car shows for a season…

- Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.

The precise backstory behind the creation of the car pictured here is sketchy at best. It rather depends on whose version of history you believe. What is clear is that the origins of the Rambler Palm Beach can be traced back to a chance meeting on an ocean liner between motorsport ace turned car manufactur­er Donald Healey and George Mason, president of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporatio­n. Back in 1949, they found themselves aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Both men shared a keen interest in photograph­y, Healey displaying a fascinatio­n for Mason’s new 3D camera. And thus a firm friendship was forged.

By the end of the voyage, the duo had shaken hands on a deal whereby Nash engines would be dropped into the Healey Silverston­e sports car. However, that scheme came to naught. Instead, a new car emerged with a fully enclosed body and a 3.8-litre straight-six. The prototype Nash-Healey took a superb fourth place overall in the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours, the production variant being unveiled at that year’s Paris Motor Show. Mason desired a more youthful image for Nash and hoped that this new roadster would confer just that.

It didn’t. With a launch price of $4063, it was more expensive than most contempora­ry Cadillacs. Potential customers also struggled to get past the Nash badge and just about everyone within the firm bar Mason viewed it as an unnecessar­y distractio­n. Not that Mason was enamoured with the car’s styling. Just 104 roadsters were made before Mason demanded a makeover, which is where Pinin Farina entered the story.

The upshot was that a restyled version was brought to market with lines penned by the Latin design house and it, along with other variations on the theme, remained resolutely bonded to showroom floors for all their apparent virtues. What really did for the model in its various guises was Nash becoming a division of AMC (American Motors Corporatio­n) in early 1954. The writing was on the wall, which doesn’t explain why the Palm Beach was created.

Legend has it that the car was conceived as a replacemen­t for the Nash-Healey. It comprised mostly standard components, including an 82bhp Rambler flathead ‘six’ and three-speed ’box, but the body was something else entirely. While perhaps derivative of other Pinin Farina designs, it was undeniably dramatic thanks to its rounded central air intake that was flanked by two supplement­ary inlets. Then there was the dramatical­ly arced roofline and vestigial tailfins, the entire car sitting just 49.7in off the deck. Just to add to the confusion, the car was photograph­ed shortly after the build was completed wearing Nash-branded hubcaps, but with the Rambler badges.

After trotting the automotive catwalks of the European motor shows, the car was shipped to the US. Some sources insist that it was intended for serious manufactur­e, but, given that its forerunner­s had all bombed, and given the changing of the guard in terms of ownership, why would the suits consider making such a niche offering? An article in Motor Trend from 1957 may hint at an answer. It described its cover car as being: ‘…a private venture of the noted Italian designer, Pinin Farina.’

The inference is that it was a prototype that was built by the Turinese coachbuild­er for the use of its principal.

However, just to give historians sleepless nights, other sources insist that two prototypes were made, largely because period shots show cars in two distinctiv­ely different colours. Given that it wasn’t unusual for styling houses to make changes to concept cars between events, it could be simply that: it received a blow-over.

Whatever the truth, this curio hasn’t lost the power to intrigue.

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 ??  ?? Pinin Farina design.
Pinin Farina design.

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