Q: Did a Nash ever pace the Indy 500? I say yes, my retired friends here at the nursing home say no. We are all car crazy and racing fans. Can you tell us more about Nash and that era of the automobile? Elwood K., Worchester, Mass.
A: Elwood, you win! Nash was the official pace car of the Indy 500 in 1947 and was driven by George W. Mason, president of Nash-Kelvinator. Mason was a marketing genius who utilized Nash automobiles in the “Superman” TV series, too.
As I’ve touched on in the past, Kelvinator and Nash formed a corporate merger in 1937 when Charles Nash, then CEO and president of Nash Motors, merged his company with George W. Mason’s Kelvinator Corporation, known for refrigeration. Mason thus began a major marketing campaign that to this day is respected as both novel and very effective.
Concerning the Indy 500, it is “understood” that Tony Hulman, then president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, “invited” Mason to have his Nash as the official pace car in 1947. In reality, and knowing of Mason’s marketing whiz, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mason arranged the deal with the Hulman family, as he knew of the marketing benefits pacing the Indy 500 would do for his Nash automobile. Incidentally, when Mason paced the field in 1947, it marked the first time an Indy 500 pace car was not a convertible, again giving credence to a possible Hulman-Mason “agreement” for the betterment of both companies.
On race day, Mason drove the car while his riding partner was Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw. He also had actor and race fan Clarke Gable pose for some publicity photos. Gable was very interested in auto racing, and his movie with Barbara Stanwyck called “To Please A Lady” centered on Indy racing and was released in 1950.
But the Indy 500 was much more than just a pace car experience for Mason. He provided 18 Nash vehicles for all the Indy officials and also a fleet of new Nash cars displayed in a large tent for fan and corporate entertainment. Mason was way ahead of the curve when it came to corporate entertainment, all while providing information on his Nash automobiles.
Additionally, Mason utilized “Superman,” as Clark Kent (aka Superman) drove Nash cars in the shows, including a Nash-Healy two-seater. The earlier episode Nash cars were utilized by Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department who always arrived in a Nash. Co-star Lois Lane drove a Nash Rambler convertible, while photographer Jimmy Olsen roamed in a Nash Metropolitan.
Mason died on Oct. 8, 1954, after his successful negotiation of the merger of Nash and Hudson, which would be called American Motors. Thus, Mason is the godfather of American Motors, too.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.