The Humble Rambler

The author’s 1965 Rambler American still carries its original interior and 196-cid engine.

Recent discussion of the supposed “graying” of car clubs got me thinking about my own entry into the hobby — and my appreciation for a certain old Rambler that turned out to have a background in the movies.

At 37, I suppose I’m too old to be grouped in the “punk” category — and I like to think I’m still a bit too young to qualify as a geezer (to use the lexicon of a recent Old Cars Weekly feature).

Nonetheless, I can understand why a big percentage of the guys buying and restoring old cars are retirees. It’s a simple fact that old cars can be expensive. I realize not all retirees are rich, but even if money is tight, an older fellow shelling out bucks for an old heap probably avoids the guilty notion that he’s neglecting buying back-to-school clothes or saving for his kids’ college. I write as a dad of three daughters, the oldest of whom is 9.

That’s why I think the hobby collectively needs to put more emphasis on “the low end” of the market. We need reminders of how inexpensively you can acquire a collectible old car. It might sound idealistic — and I believe in free-market capitalism as much as the next guy — but I also hope we will always have sellers who like helping sustain the hobby by selling affordable cars at reasonable prices.

Granted, the young guy with only an eye for Camaros, Corvettes or Chargers — or whatever other mighty muscle car he envisions driving — might tend to regard my four-door 1965 Rambler American as little more than a boring relic. I say that’s his problem. I’ve had countless hours of fun in my old Rambler, a solid specimen with a fresh paint job, nice interior and no rust issues. It also has a dependable little 196-cid straight-six-cylinder engine attached to an automatic transmission.

I bought the car in basically its current condition for less than $2,000. I did perform some minor rust repair in its trunk pan — the only place it had any significant trace of rust —  and I’ve bought things it needed, such as emblems and trim pieces. My total investment in the car has no doubt pushed past the $2,000 mark by now, but the lesson I’ve learned is that a guy doesn’t have to break the bank to get into the hobby.

My father can testify to the same thing. A year or two ago, he bought a four-door 1941 Plymouth Special Deluxe — again, a solid car that runs and drives just fine — for about the same price I paid for my Rambler. He made some minor mechanical fixes and cosmetic improvements to the old car, such as covering its faded black paint with gray primer. I’ll bet anyone who saw my dad tooling down the road in his old Plymouth would have guessed he had paid at least twice the amount he has put into the car. A few months back, he sold that car to a younger guy who fell in love with the old Plymouth.

Meanwhile, my interest in the Rambler marque and the whole history of American Motors grew exponentially once I bought my Rambler in 2007. I have developed an interest in Nash automobiles manufactured prior to the mid-1950s merger with Hudson that formed the American Motors Corp.  I never realized until owning my Rambler, for example, that Lois Lane always drove a Nash in the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV series. That’s useless information, perhaps, but such trivia tidbits are just plain fun.

I also learned some interesting TV history about my own Rambler after acquiring it. Researching its background, I called a North Carolina gentleman named Matt Hinson, who had owned the car previous to the seller from whom I bought it. I asked him what he knew about the car’s history. “Well, you probably know it was in a TV movie,” he said.

“Say what?” I asked.

He proceeded to inform me that my car had been previously owned by a film studio called Screen Gems, located in Wilmington, N.C., the same city where Hinson lived. The car had passed from the studio to a not-for-profit foundation, from which Hinson bought it. I did a little research and learned my Rambler was used in a 2001 TV movie that aired on ABC called “Amy and Isabelle.” In the movie, actress Elisabeth Shue drives the car. I have posted a clip of my car during its “movie days” on YouTube.com.

The national AMC Rambler Club — or AMCRC — provides all kinds of useful help to folks interested in Ramblers. The club president, Brian Yacino, is a virtual fountain of information on all things Rambler. I learned from Yacino, for example, that the standard engine in 1965 Rambler Americans was a flathead 196-cid six-cylinder (technically 195.6 cubic inches) that had remained virtually unchanged since its first use in the 1952 Nash Statesman. But my own Rambler has the optional overhead-valve engine of the same size.

In 1965, AMC sold 112,878 Rambler Americans, according to Yacino’s AMCRC figures. The body style was virtually unchanged from 1964, when AMC sold an even greater volume of Americans — 163,661.

It’s nice a guy doesn’t have to be rich to own and enjoy old cars. As for me, my tastes have changed, even as a spectator at car shows. I’ll skip past a shiney GTO with a big-block V-8 in order to check out a plain-Jane Studebaker Lark hiding amongst the hot rods. Speaking of which, I’m thinking a Lark one day would be fun to own. And did you know the family that owned “Mr. Ed” — the horse in the old TV show — drove a Lark?

Anyway, I have “rambled” enough. If you want to see my Rambler on YouTube, it’s at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3aDQAidhtY

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