How did a Nash pace the Indy 500 one year? I really liked the old Nash cars that they used in the Superman TV shows sponsored by Kellogg's of Battle Creek, Mich. Also, how did Kelvinator become partners with Nash?
Q: Hello, Greg! I love your old-car articles, especially from the 1950s. My question is how did a Nash pace the Indy 500 one year? I really liked the old Nash cars that they used in the Superman TV shows sponsored by Kellogg's of Battle Creek, Mich. Also, how did Kelvinator become partners with Nash? Gary K., Michigan.
A: Gary, Kelvinator joined Nash after an official corporate merger of Nash and Kelvinator, the latter a maker of refrigerators and refrigeration units. It all began in 1936 when Charles Nash, then CEO and president of Nash Motors, needed a successor and new president. Nash chose George W. Mason, who was then president of the successful Kelvinator Corporation (since 1926). Nash offered Mason the presidency of the corporation, but Mason declined as Kelvinator was quickly becoming the top brand in the refrigerator business and second to only Frigidaire, which was owned by General Motors.
Unconcerned, Nash kept chasing Mason with more and more offers, and Mason finally relented in 1937 when Nash offered a merger with Kelvinator. Mason signed on, thus forming the new Nash-Kelvinator Corporation.
Mason turned out to be a great car entrepreneur and marketing whiz. As for the Indy 500, it is "understood" that the managers at the Indy 500 "invited" Mason to utilize the Nash as the official pace car in 1947. (With that said, I wouldn't be surprised if Mason arranged the deal, but let it be understood Indy invited Mason for the books.) Not surprisingly, Mason drove the car himself on the pace laps much to the delight of the crowd. His riding partner that year was none other than Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw, and he also had actor and race fan Clarke Gable come over and pose for some publicity photos. Gable was interested in auto racing, and his movie with Barbara Stanwyck called "To Please A Lady" centered on Indy racing and was released in 1950.
At Indy, Mason provided 18 cars for Indy officials, and a fleet of new Nash cars for the fans to see and sit in. Mason erected a large tent for corporate entertainment all while providing information on his Nash automobiles. Thus, it is clear Mason knew how to promote, and do it very well.
As for the Superman series, the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent (aka Superman) did drive Nash cars in the shows, including his Nash-Healy two-seater. I, too, loved the show that ran from 1952 to 1958, and especially all those great earlier episode Nash cars. When watching Superman, it seemed whenever Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police department arrived, it was a Nash that brought the actor to that part of the set. Additionally, co-star Lois Lane drove a Nash Rambler Convertible in the show, while Jimmy Olsen I remember seeing in a Nash Metropolitan.
Based on Mason's excellent handling of promoting Nash at the Indy 500, it is clear his knowledge of providing cars for the Superman series resulted in value yet unheard of during the early days of television.
Mason died on Oct. 8, 1954, after his successful negotiation of the merger of Nash and Hudson, which would be called American Motors.
Thanks for your great question and nice comments.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and answers reader questions on collector cars, nostalgia motorsports or anything else automotive by writing him at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840 or at email@example.com.