Story
and photos by Brian Earnest
Lowell Johnson is either aNash guywith a fixation for Kaisers and Frazers, or aKaiserFrazer guywith a  soft spot for Nashes. Either way, every day is Independents Day for the Sheboygan, Wis., resident, who has an eclectic and very cool collection of wonderful orphans. One of the most recent, and most noteworthy, is his fantastic 1954 Nash Statesman Country Club hardtopa rare bird by almost any standard and a car that Johnson had kept his eye on for quite a while before he was able to buy it.
Im really a Kaiser guy. People know me for my Kaisers and Frazers, not really Nashes,” Johnson chuckled. “My dad had Nashes when I was a kid. He had a49 and a52, ’55, ’57, then he went on to Ramblers. I learned to drive on a Nash, and I took my drivers test on it. In the mid-’50s when I was learning to drive, I drove Nashes.”
Several years ago, Johnson saw the red54 hardtop change hands at the Mecum Auctions sale in Kissimmee, Fla. He missed out on a chance to buy it then, but he eventually saw the car for sale in South Dakota. “I kept talking to these guys in South Dakota in the middle of winter and finally got the car,” he said. “I got it in May and spent the next two months getting things to work.”
About 10 years ago, the car had been completely restored by a hobbyist in Arizona. From there, it had gone to a Florida collector who had apparently kept it in his own museum. While that sounds great, Johnson said museum cars arent always all they are cracked up to be. “I was suspicious. Ive been through these museum cars before,” he joked. “I think it was a private museum from an individual. It sat probably for close to 10 years, and thats how it got into the Kissimmee Auction.

It was a solid car. [The restorer] put it back together, but not for function, you know? The torque on the head was like 5 lbs. – things like that. And electrically nothing was working. It was rewired correctly, that wasnt the issue. It was just a matter of getting things to work, and I wound up replacing a lot of the electrical stuff.”
Whatever loose ends needed to be handled were more than worth it for Johnson, however, who knew how unusual the car was. Only 2,726 of the Statesmanbased Country Club hardtop coupes were built for the 1954 model year, and there would be no more after that. Survivors are few and far between, and cars as finished as Johnsons beautiful redandwhite specimen dont come along often.
I guess I had a pretty good idea [how scarce it is],” he said. “Its a very nice car. I only know of one other one that Ive ever seena hardtop like this. Its a greenandwhite one thats in a museum in Colorado.”
With the way Nash sales tailed off during the final years of the brand in the mid1950s, nice survivors of any kind from that era are not particularly common. Total calendar year production was more than 189,000 cars in 1950, but those salad days didnt last. In 1952, the company celebrated its 50th anniversary with a whole new line of restyledGolden Airflytemodels that replaced thebathtubNashes that had been around since 1949. Both Nashs own inhouse stylists and famed Italian designer Pinin Farina were called on to offer prototype designs. Farina went all out and submitted a fullsize, sheet metal car complete with an interior, but his ideas received a lukewarm reception from company brass, and in the end, the 1952 Nashes were a combination of the companys own design ideas with a few European touches from Farina.

The Rambler lineup was basically unchanged, but the lowertier Statesmen andseniorAmbassador received more traditional profiles, unique rearwardslanting C pillars and new toothy chrome grilles. The cars were still slabsided and had low fender openings, but they were definitely not as heavy and ponderouslooking as their predecessors.
By 1954, the Golden Anniversary design was three years old, and Nash added a few tweaks such as chrome headlight bezels and a new concave grilleBoth the Statesman and Ambassador menus came in Super and Custom trim levels, with the Custom models receiving new standard continentalstyle spare tire carriers.
The Statesman rode on 114.3inch wheelbases7 inches less than the fullsize Ambassadors. Overall length, with the continental kits, was 219 inches. The Statesman Custom line included twoand fourdoor sedans. The Custom level had those same two offerings, plus the Country Club hardtop, which was the most expensive of the five Statesman models at $2,468 without any addons.
The standard inline six engine displaced 195.6 inches and was rated at 110 hp. Among the Nashs selling points were front seat backs that folded down into a bed, the optional NashAllWeather Eyeheating and cooling system, HydraMatic transmission, power steering and brakes, overdrive and optional whitewall tires. Johnsons car has the automatic transmission and classy blackandwhite vinylandcloth interior. The bright Spanish Red exterior paint was available from the factory, but Johnsons car was originally Mist Gray on top.

I think it looks very unique. And the interior is unbelievable. Its been redone, but it was redone correctly. You can tell by the numbers that this is what the car was, and I actually have pictures of it before it was restored. It was basically a junker,” Johnson said. “Its got power steering and power brakes, which is pretty rare for a54, especially that level of car. I wouldnt want to drive it very far at over 60 mph. Its not overpowered, even though its got two carburetors. Its got a great power steering unit in itIts a very drivable car. Its fun, and, of course nobody has seen one forever, almost.”
The continental kit gives the Statesman Country Club coupe a look of sophistication and size that belied its status as the Ambassadors smaller and cheaper sibling. “It was the second line of Nash [ahead of the Rambler]. Ambassador was at the top,” Johnson noted. “It was probably in line with the middlepriced Fords or Chevys. Thats certainly where they had to compete at the time. Ambassadors were more in the Mercury, Buick class.”
Johnson fondly recalls the 1955 Nash he had in his younger days, and hes had plenty of cars and a variety of makes and models come through his driveway over the years. Hes owned a 1958 Chevrolet Impala since 1960 — “that was my first good car!” — and his fleet these days includes 1949, ’52, ’53 and61 Kaisers; a 1951 Frazer fourdoor convertible; 1967 AMC Marlin; and 1967 AMC Ambassador convertible. The54 Nash is new kid in the garage these days, so it gets plenty of attention.
I suppose because its new in the fleet its getting driven. Its got about 300 miles on it since I got it,” Johnson said. “The speedometer was zeroed and broken, so I dont know how many miles its got on it, but its got a brand new speedometer in it now. I drive all my cars. They stay a lot better that way.”

Johnson clearly has an affinity for collector cars that are orphaned, uncommon and fun to own, and his Nash hardtop fills the bill on all counts.
The car has had a bit of a nomadic past, passing through owners in Colorado, Arizona, Florida and South Dakota, but he expects it will stay in Wisconsin for quite awhile now.
Im pretty much a hangeroner,” he laughs. “Ive got cars Ive had for more than 40 years.
This car is fun, and you get a lot of good comments from people, and part of it is the color. I mean, how do you beat a red car?”

Written by stavrovoleg

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