If you're looking for a hot rod project that'll be quick and easy to build with plenty of parts available cheap, talk to Don and Melissa Fitzgerald before deciding on a Nash Rambler. Luckily, that's not what the Fitzgeralds expected when they started with this bright-red '52 convertible. And, luckily, it's not Don's first project car-just the most complicated and the most unusual.
In 1949, car and refrigerator manufacturer Nash-Kelvinator modernized the looks of its entire automotive line-up. Notable styling changes included unibody construction (Nash was the first major U.S. auto manufacturer to go down that road), integrated front and rear fender skirts, and a progressive aerodynamic profile. The compact Rambler was introduced in 1950; the first model was the two-door Landau convertible.
The Fitzgeralds were at the Goodguys West Coast Nationals in 2001, where Melissa spotted a Rambler convertible and fell in love with its unusual "bathtub" body style. When they got back to Virginia, they started looking for one of their own to build into a mild custom. The search was expedited by the Internet, and this '52 turned up in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, a year later. The price was low and the condition was poor. When Don got it apart, he found expired license plates and even an aluminum cooler top bolted to the floorboard to cover numerous holes-not something you'd want to find in any project and especially on an early unibody car.
Some of the elements that make the car cool are the same that added some challenges to the buildup. The toughest challenge was building a tube chassis and getting it back into place to maintain the unibody construction. The factory front subframe and the rear boxed frame were grafted into the body at the inner wheelwells. Don removed the stock tubing and replaced it with custom 2x3 rectangular tubing, welded at the rockers, floor, and wheelwells. The back end of the 'rails kick up over the rear axles. The suspension includes a Fatman Fabrications IFS setup and an S-10 rear.
Luckily, Don found a Nash shop manual with detailed frame information, and that identified all the geometry points from front to rear. That manual became Don's map throughout the build and was invaluable when it was time to rebuild the retractable top. Unlike conventional convertibles, the Nash retains complete window frames and pillars, similar in looks to the Ford B-400s. The cable-driven top is electrically operated, via a large starter motor mounted behind the rear seat, and runs alongside guiderails.
The drivetrain includes a dressed-up crate small-block, and the interior is full of well-matched medium-tech touches, all described in the spec section of the this story. With help from Melissa's dad, John Rinehart, Don had the Nash built and on the road in three and a half years. The Fitzgeralds have been showing off the Rambler all around the Southeast, where it's been getting a lot of attention from spectators who love it, even if they don't know what it is. Don says the guys from Barrett-Jackson know exactly what it is and have encouraged them to auction the car. That'll have to wait, because right now they're having too much fun driving it and showing it.
We repeat, if you're looking for a cheap and easy project, a '52 Rambler ragtop isn't the way to go. On the other hand, if you want a cool, one-of-a-kind ride, this isn't for you, either, because there's a cool red one already out there, and it's getting a lot of attention.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Don & Melissa Fitzgerald
1952 Nash Rambler Convertible
ChassisDon didn't make things easy for himself by rebuilding a unibody car, but the result is one of the most aggressively stanced Ramblers around. Don, with help from his father-in-law, John Rinehart, replaced the factory 2x2 'rails with handbuilt 3x2 rectangular tubing and welded them back in place. He added a Fatman Mustang II-style IFS with tubular A-arms, with the factory springs, plus front and rear Gabriel shock absorbers. The '85 S-10 rear rides on Chassis Engineering leaf springs and runs 3.08 gears. Steering is a narrowed rack-and-pinion. Brakes are 11-inch discs in front-with a power booster from MP Brakes-and 11-inch drums in the rear.
DrivetrainA Billet Specialties air cleaner and accessories brighten up the engine compartment. Don chose a GM Performance 330-horse 350 small-block with Vortec heads, fed by a four-barrel Holley 600 carburetor on a polished Edelbrock manifold, for driveability. A Mallory ignition with Taylor wires fires up the small-block, and a U.S. Radiator keeps it cool. Stock GM ram-horns manifolds squeeze past the inner fenderwells and run to a custom aluminized exhaust with mufflers from Stainless Works. Andy Bryant assembled the Turbo 350 automatic, matched with a GM Performance torque converter and modified with a B&M shift kit.
Wheels & TiresThe wheels had to complement the period and the low-key style of the rest of the exterior, and 15-inch steelies from Newstalgia Wheel, painted to match the body and accented with caps 'n' rings, get the job done. Coker provided the P185/70R15 wide-white radials.
Body & PaintWhat's the point in making a lot of mods when you already have an unusual body style? Don smoothed the cowl, removing the small air induction vent in the center, and got rid of the outside mirrors, flying lady hood ornament, side emblems, and the chrome trim strip that ran along the entire perimeter of the low beltline. The remaining chrome was redone at Advanced Plating, and a bronze tint was added to the glass. The Rambler Landau convertible tops were canvas from the factory, but Kings Upholstery in Roanoke upgraded to dark-brown Mercedes top material. Don and his father-in-law did all the bodywork before Jay Keaton shot the Boyd Red from DuPont Hot Hues. The finish gets a little flashier in the engine compartment, where some gold pinstriping and a Von Dutch-inspired flying eyeball dress up the inner wheelwells and firewall.
InteriorThe only Rambler with an Italian leather interior (we're guessing) is modified with '95 Monte Carlo seats, upholstered in medium-brown hide from Kings Upholstery. The treatment extends to the custom door panels and center console, and floor pads surrounded by German two-tone multi-loop carpet. Polished aluminum accents were added throughout the interior, and the aluminum mesh speaker grilles in the rear armrests and rounded kick panels were incorporated into the design. The Nash dash was clean to begin with, but it's even more so with the pushbutton radio eliminated. Don had the stock gauges converted to 12-volt, and he swapped the stock wheel and column for a LeCarra Mark 10 on a GM tilt column.
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