Why I Fell In Love With Ramblers

1964 Rambler Classic 770 and 1963 Impala 4-door
Somehow they just look right together, don't you think?

Everyone has a story that explains their particular tastes in cars. My story of how I became obsessed with interested in Volkswagens would fill many tomes and likely make most question my sanity. (Let’s just say it involves camping trips in a second-gen Bugbox and a few road-trips in a metallic brown Rabbit that my mother hated and my father and I loved.) The story of my obsession with Ramblers is much simpler.

1964 Rambler Classic 770 and 1963 Impala 4-door
They were gutless wonders; both came with the small, economy engines. And we didn't care one bit.

My story begins with a little old lady who lived a few doors down the street from me. Like all little kids, at six years old I had an over-active imagination, and I think I was terrified of her at first. She lived alone in a house that was so meticulously maintained that it was hard to imagine what it might look like with even the smallest flower out of place. It was so perfect that it seemed out of place on our quaint little street; as such, I always hurried past it with a bit of apprehension.
That apprehension gradually faded as we got to know her. She was the sweetest little old lady imaginable. She loved kids, and was beyond thrilled when we’d come to her house for Hallowe’en, or when mom would make a bunch of Christmas baking and insist that we took some over to her.
When new, Ramblers were very popular with cartoon characters. (Image Courtesy of vintageadworld.com)

As we had the huge yard at the end of the street, we’d frequently host large backyard barbeques when family would come to visit, and my parents would invite her to join us. Despite her cute, grandmotherly appearance, she turned out to have the same lively sense of humour as the rest of my relatives, and easily fit in with the rest of the teasing and bantering that swirled around these occasions.
My dad had offered to help her with a few chores around the house, as he loved gardening as much as she did, and one evening when I was about eight years old he called to me and told me to come for a walk down the street with him. We walked over to the garage on the side of her house, and he boosted me up to peer through the dusty window. Inside was this impressive red-and-white beast, covered in years’ worth of dust and grime. The lines were unique, and being unable to see the grille or taillights, neither my dad nor I were able to hazard a guess as to what the car inside might be. He asked her at one point what it was, but she couldn’t remember, and couldn’t find the key to the garage to let us look.
As I got older (and taller), I would walk past the garage every day on my way home from school. Periodically, as curiosity continued to grow in the back of my brain, I would peer through the windows and try and find some distinguishing mark that would tell me what it was. In those pre-Internets days, the only source of information I could find was old car magazines, and none of the magazines at the library went back far enough to be of any help at all.
1964 Rambler Classic 770 and 1963 Impala 4-door
At the time, I could see every imperfection. Now I only see the best parts.

Then, when I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license, my dad thought it might be a neat idea for me to get a project car. I suspect he just wanted to keep me out of trouble and give me something to work towards, but the idea was almost mind-blowing to me. He told me he’d help me with buying the car and with some of the repair costs if something huge needed to be done, but the majority of the job would be mine. When he asked if I had any car in mind, the first one I suggested was that mystery car that had been sitting in the garage down the street since I was a child.
So off he sent me. Nervous as all hell, I approached the kindly old lady in whose garage it had been sitting for all those years, and politely explained my situation. My dad and I were looking for a project car to restore, and I had been walking past hers for almost a decade. If there were a car I was going to work on, I wanted it to be that one.
She loved the idea, much to my relief, and immediately agreed. She said she’d have to find the keys to the garage, and she hadn’t seen them in years, but she’d work on it and let me know when she’d tracked them down. I was so excited that I forgot to discuss a price with her. When I got home, that was the first question my dad asked, and I had to sheepishly say that I’d forgotten about it.
1964 Rambler Classic 770 and 1963 Impala 4-door
A cheap set of wheels for each car, and we were ready for the road!

It was a long few days of waiting. I didn’t want to pester her, but I could barely contain my excitement. Every time the phone would ring, I’d jump to answer it, and every time it was someone else, I’d be disappointed. Then, while out at a friend’s house, she called to say she had finally found the key, and we could come over at any time. My dad, in that classic fatherly way, made sure to wait until we had all settled down for dinner that evening before casually mentioning this fact to me. I don’t think I have ever wolfed down a meal as quickly as that.
It took some doing, but that evening we managed to haul the car out of the garage that had been its home for decades. It rolled fine, and appeared nice and solid. There were a few spots of rust, in places that I would later learn are the notorious rust-spots on Ramblers, and there were a few poorly-done repairs on the front fenders; other than that, it looked salvageable.
We spent an hour or so ensuring everything was properly attached, and then attached it to a tow-strap behind my dad’s old 2.3L Ranger. My parents had moved a few blocks away in the decade since I had first seen the car, so we had to drag it through suburbia and across a busy highway, but it all went through without a hitch. Oh! Ha! Hitch! Tow hitch! It’s a pun! Get it?
1964 Rambler Classic 770 and 1963 Impala 4-door
I still remember every detail of those curves.

When we had the car safely in its garage, we realized that, once again, we still hadn’t discussed a price… although this time both my father and I had forgotten, so it wasn’t only my fault. We immediately drove back to our former neighbour’s house to have that discussion with her. When we explained why we had returned, she appeared absolutely aghast at the very concept. Insisting she couldn’t possibly charge me any price for a car that didn’t run, she would hear no further discussion on the matter.
Ironically, she had to relinquish the point eventually. The forms to transfer the ownership from her to me did not allow her to transfer the car for no charge unless we were related. As such, I officially purchased the car for one dollar.
The story of the build-up — and of the Impala — is a tale for another time, but like that mysterious red-head that you encounter unexpectedly for a fraction of a moment, and can never forget again for the rest of your life, that Rambler got into my blood, and I’ve never been able to escape it.
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  1. Maymar Avatar

    It didn't captivate me quite as long as you, but for several weeks, I was haunted by a $850 Craigslist Rambler (a '66, I think). Just sitting there, showing itself off every day, seducing me with the thought of Jeep 4.0L swaps, its crisp lines, and relatively compact size. Of course, I didn't (and still don't) have money I can rationally put towards a project car. Then again, I also find myself frequently thinking of a trio of forgotten Fuegos. I think the only car to consistently hold my constant desire was my grandparents' '86 Crown Victoria (a.k.a. The Big Ford Car).
    Still, great story, and I look forward to the rest.

  2. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

    Here's a Rambler for hoons:http://ateupwithmotor.com/sports-cars-and-muscle-
    And if anybody doesn't know where the Rambler came from:http://ateupwithmotor.com/compact-and-economy-car

  3. tonyola Avatar

    Can't say I've had a lot of experience with Ramblers – I've briefly driven a couple of old Americans and Classics. The only AMC car I ever got really familiar with was Dad's 1975 three-on-floor stickshift Pacer. That was quite enough. Having to borrow it when my '65 Mustang convertible was laid up has left scars on my psyche for life. It didn't matter how '70s surfer-cool I looked – lean, tan, long blond hair – it's hard to make a good impression on people when you roll up in a white/blue Easter egg with windows.

  4. AteUpWithMotor Avatar

    I believe the kids today call that nerdcore…

  5. Lotte Avatar

    Wow, I can't wait for Part 2! You know, us young'uns don't get that anymore, especially if they are the apartment-habiting, less well-endowed types. Do tell more about what happened after you got it!

  6. Mike_the_Dog Avatar

    Great story! I hope you don't keep us waiting too long for part II.

  7. CptSevere Avatar

    Now you would be the coolest dude yet.

  8. CptSevere Avatar

    Years ago I had a roommate with a titty-pink '60 Rambler station wagon that was a lot of fun, I think I've written about it both here and at, well, you know. We don't use that (R) word anymore. That got me going on Ramblers. I like them a lot. Well, way after that, I was roped into helping out with a low-budget (hell, no budget whatsoever) movie called Worse Case Scenario, filmed (digitally) in that hotbed of film production, Salt Lake. I was the vehicle wrangler, mechanic, motorhome pilot, gun handler, special effects dude, generator owner/operator, I think I even was onscreen for a line or two. Well, the script called for an early sixties Rambler sedan which was the main character's car, and a buddy of mine had a '64 wagon. I conned him into letting us use it if I fixed the slipping transmission, which involved tightening up the bands using the set screws on the case. Took me ten minutes (I have a very old Chiltons, yeah I cheated). Everybody involved with the production fell in love with the car, including the actors (unknown hacks). I tuned the car up, detailed it, and my buddy got it back in better condition than when I borrowed it. Good karma all around. It was great fun taking care of that Rambler for a month, and it was seriously a major character in the film. I don't think the movie ever got to even an indie festival, but we put it in the can, the car lived, and that's all I cared about. That Rambler was a car with a lot of heart, and even the non-motorhead members of the production knew that.

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  10. CaffeineFuelled Avatar

    Perhaps we should take Yoda for a road trip in September (with trailer) instead of Oliver… and bring back the Rambler and bike…?

  11. […] in those days I was driving my pride-and-joy ’64 Rambler, and we had configured that car for pretty much any eventuality. I had a heavy-duty cooler mounted […]