As World War II drew to a close, many economic observers were expecting a postwar America much like the prewar years, with slow growth and thin employment—and with a massive war debt to boot. The Motor City’s automakers, Ford and General Motors included, went to work developing small, low-priced cars suited for the anticipated conditions, but these designs barely got off the drawing board when the U.S. economy took off like a rocket. The automakers could sell all the full-size cars they could make, as things turned out, and the the big shift to smaller cars never materialized.
But Nash-Kelvinator and its CEO George Mason continued to press the case for rationally sized cars, and in 1950 the company launched the Rambler, America’s first postwar compact. The Rambler led the first wave of postwar American small cars that included the Henry J, Aero Willys, and Hudson Jet, and it laid down the baseline for Detroit’s compact car movement of 1960.
Two months later in June of 1950, a handsome two-door wagon was added to the lineup, and for the 1951 model year a two-door Country Club hardtop was rolled out as well. Eventually, there would be four-door sedans and wagons, too. All models featured premium upholstery materials and the full complement of standard equipment, as Nash labored to avoid the dreaded cheap-car image that, in Mason’s view, traditionally stunted the sales potential of small cars among America’s consumers.
The original Rambler package was continued through 1955, when the body shell was treated to a styling update, with conventional open front wheel arches replacing the odd Airflyte-era skirted front fenders (below). When Nash and Hudson were merged in May of 1954 to create American Motors, the Rambler was sold with both Nash and Hudson badges for a time. The platform (but not the Rambler name) was then discontinued for two years, but in 1958, George Romney—Mason’s successor as American Motors chairman and CEO—hauled the tooling out of mothballs and put the model back in production. The Rambler American, as it was now known, remained an essential part of the AMC lineup through 1969.