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‘With the 600, which arrived in 1940, Nash can reasonably make claim to being America’s first mass-produced unit-construction (“unibody”) car. The Lancia Lambda of 1922 is generally credited as be the world’s first unibody car but when determining America’s first the water gets a little more muddy. The Chrysler Airflow and Lincoln Zephyr can make a partial claim to be America’s first unibody but their efforts fell just a little short of the Nash. The Airflow and Zephyr still had a frame but it was welded rather than bolted to the body. So in a sense the frame was integral to the body but it did not offer any of the weight savings associated with a true uni-body design. A person could in theory separate the frame from the body by removing a few spot welds.
The Nash was different with a body structure that included gussets welded within the body structure to strengthen it. Over 8,000 spot welds were used in the construction of the uni-body. Additionally, the front and rear inner fenders were not removable and contributed to the body rigidity. The result was that the 600 weighed about 400 lbs less than the Big Three cars. Although a bit shorter than them, with a modest 112″ wheelbase, it also had a wider body than the comparable Chevrolet, as it was a more modern design. It weighed about the same as a Studebaker Champion, but that car was narrower, and not as roomy inside. The 600 was arguably the most advanced car design and construction in the US at the time.
The light weight of the Nash made it quite spirited for the day even with a 172.6cid / 2.8L flat head straight six engine. This engine produced 82 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. The transmission was a manual three speed on the column that could optionally be fitted with overdrive. Fuel economy was another strength with up to 30 mpg claimed.
Legend has it the original 600 was named for 30 mpg and a 20 gallon fuel tank. So, 600 miles to a tank. Later advertising revised this to 500 to 600 miles to a tank.
The uni-body was not the only advanced feature found on the Nash 600. While leaf springs were still a mainstay of the industry especially at the rear the Nash featured coil springs at all four corners. The front suspension also featured a sliding-pillar design that was licensed from Lancia. This allowed for independent front suspension and resulted in excellent handling as well as ride quality. Unfortunately, the design required regular lubrication and soon proved to be a challenge for mechanics as well as owners more familiar with solid front axles. Nash swapped to a more conventional double wishbone design for the later cars.
Nash offered an option for the rear seat to convert into a bed.
Given all the advanced features the Nash 600 has a curiously low profile among collectors. Perhaps if it were built and sold by one of the Big Three it would better known.’