The Classic Cabriolet

The classic Cabriolet, or to give it its Sunday name, the Nash 1940 Saknoffsky Special Cabriolet, is recognized by both the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) and the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) as a classic.

Nash Ambassador 4081

The Saknoffsky 4081 Special Cabriolet was a factory custom upgrade of the Nash Ambassador 4081 Cabriolet, already an impressive vehicle for its day. The Ambassador already offered overhead valve engines, a feature shared by only Buick and Chevrolet at the time. The engines also had two plugs per cylinder, only otherwise available on Stutz and Rolls-Royce engines at the time.

Count Alexis de Saknoffsky

The task of transforming the Ambassador into the sporty "play car" fell to Count Alexis de Saknoffsky, a Russian immigrant with an already illustrious career. De Saknoffsky had studied engineering in Switzerland before working as a coach-builder in Belgium for Vanden Plas, working his way up to the position of art director. In 1928, the Hayes Body Company of Grand Rapids, Mich., brought De Saknoffsky to the United States on the leviathan liner with a two-year immigration permit. He continued designing for them, working on the 1930 model 78 for Marmon before Edward Macauley brought him in as a consultant on the 1931 Packard.

Custom on a budget

Although Nash wanted a custom model that would turn heads, De Saknoffsky wasn't given free reign. His remit was to transform the existing Ambassador while keeping expenses to a minimum. This he did, by stripping the original back rather than adding to it. He removed the vehicle's ubiquitous running boards, hood ornament, wing mirrors and door handles. He stripped the chrome from all but the grille and bumpers, cut the doors down, replaced the windscreen with a lower split shield and lowered the chassis on its springs. The result on the outside was a sleek, powerful and minimalist silhouette.

Inside, the Cabriolet boasted state-of-the-art heating, "Weather Eye" ventilation and a clock and tachometer on the steering column. Luxurious leather upholstery came in a choice of red, tan or blue. The blue leather interiors had chrome finishing, and the tan was a copper plating with a golden sheen. Red leather came with a choice of chrome or copper. All of the cars came with a dashboard plaque engraved with the buyer's name.

The Saknoffsky Special Cabriolet certainly turned heads. Even though only 20 vehicles were given the Saknoffsky treatment, it failed to sell out, and nine of those were later reconverted to standard models. Perhaps this lack of support for the special, which sold for close to $5,000, is not surprising, as the "standard" 1940 Ambassador Eight Cabriolet sold only 93 units in the same year -- even with a relatively modest price tag of $1,295.

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