This transatlantic hybrid, the 1951-1955 Nash-Healey, has been called one of the most improbable cars ever built -- perhaps because the idea for it was hatched on the Atlantic. Here's the story of the truly international sports car that brought together a race-winning British engineer, an Italian design maestro, and a far sighted U.S. auto executive in a hurry.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1953 Nash-Healey convertible
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The 1953 Nash-Healey convertible. See more classic car pictures.

In 1951, for his 60th birthday, George W. Mason received a small book titled It's Later Than You Think. Based on an old Chinese proverb, it so impressed the president of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation that he sent copies to many of his friends in the auto industry who were about his age.

"I remember the incident well because it was the job of the company's small public relations staff, which I had joined six years earlier, to locate and distribute those books," says John A. Conde. "In carrying out this and other personal assignments for Mason over the next year or so, our staff came to the conclusion that he had taken to heart the admonition contained in that title. Somehow, he knew he wasn't going to live much longer, yet there were many things he still wanted to do."

From that time until his death in October 1954, Mason rushed several projects to completion and accelerated others that were already underway when he read The Book. In late 1949, for example, he had asked William Flajole, an independent auto designer in Detroit, to create a tiny car. Based on Fiat mechanical components, this prototype toured the country the following year as the NXI, for "Nash Experimental International," in a company exhibit that pointedly asked, "Is America Ready for the $1000 Car?"

A few months later, Nash introduced the trim Rambler wagon and convertible Landau, the industry's first postwar compacts and the first in a long line of smaller, 100-inch-wheelbase models that would ultimately prove to be the company's salvation.

Then Mason surprised everyone -- including many of his own dealers -- with the 1951 announcement of the Nash-Healey, the first sports car offered by a domestic producer in more than two decades. For 1953, his engineers came up with an automotive air conditioning system that put the compressor under the hood for the first time and was simpler and far less expensive than competing units.

Meantime, the Rambler continued to build an enthusiastic buyer following, which encouraged Mason to go ahead with an even smaller model. This was the tiny, imported Metropolitan, which was introduced in early 1954. Available as a three-passenger coupe and convertible, it was styled closely along the lines of the well-received NXI, sat on a petite 85-inch wheelbase, and weighed less than 1,500 pounds.

It was built to Nash specifications largely by Austin in England, which supplied its 42-horsepower, 74-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine. A few months after the Met appeared, Mason concluded the merger negotiations with Hudson Motor Car Company that created today's American Motors Corporation, and he nearly brought Packard into the fold.

Although our story here concerns the Nash-Healey, it's important to note the profound effects of It's Later Than You Think on Mason personally. After all, the new sports car appeared the same year he discovered the little book.

Continue to the next page to learn more about this book's impact on George Mason.

For more information on cars, see: