By on April 4, 2013

Even though I was just a mere boy growing up during the ‘60’s in SoCal, I have no problem recalling the variety of impressions motor vehicles of all stripes made on me back then. Of course, I was especially into the noisier and flashier examples, be they airplanes, auto, boats, motorcycles, or trucks.

I distinctly recall the “Rambler” nameplate, but not because they were noisy or flashy—nor, did it seem, were their drivers. (There were a few exceptions to this—the most noteworthy being the SC/Rambler, AMX, and first production Javelin.)

n their stodgy quirkiness, they were memorable, nevertheless; and I have come to appreciate such qualities as actual attributes. I mean, they did indeed have a distinctive character—personality, if you will—that, while not exactly one I wanted to emulate, certainly gave me “cause for pause”.

Looking at the featured example—what appears to be a 1965 Classic Cross-Country Station Wagon, in mid-level “660” trim—tends to emphasize my point. Granted, the ’65 model received a redesign that helped update and integrate the styling a bit over the previous generation; but still, I find that the visual impact is less than the sum of its parts. By this, I mean that if you view a separate section of the vehicle, that section might indeed appear artsy (as the photos bear out). But when connected together, well, something gets lost in the translation.

Stodgy? Maybe. Quirky? For DEFINITES. Cool? Well, that’s still a subjective matter—but I say, at this point, YES!

That roof rack! The tailgate wind deflectors (Did those things actually WORK?)! The BADGING! Whoa, baby!

Added to all of that designed and manufactured funkiness, there’s always the “antiquing process” that each individual vehicle has been subject to.

The damage to the leading edge of the driver’s door speaks of inattention that would have, no doubt, resulted in much more extensive damage on any modern production car. On this unit, it resulted in something more akin to a “character line”.

I’m really digging the broken-out left side rear view mirror, though: “…becoss whass behind ees no importaunt!”. 


 Phil has written features and columns for a number of automotive periodicals and web-based information companies. He has run a successful Auto Repair Business in the past for many years (See “Memoirs of an Independent Repair Shop Owner” on this ttac site). He can be contacted through this very site, or

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25 Comments on “BODACIOUS BEATERS—and road-going derelicts: RAMBLE ON!...”

  • avatar

    Looks much like the green one parked in a field not far from my house. You always think you can get them started with a can of gas, a battery, and a tool pouch. I found them to be very reliable in their day.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t the most important distinguishing characteristic of this car that it had a fully reclining front bench seat, making it the king of the shagging-wagons?

    • 0 avatar

      I had the 63 version of this wagon. The license plate was HOT-169. I am not kidding!

    • 0 avatar

      If you had the wagon, you didn’t need the fold-flat front seat – but you got it anyway. My first car was a ’63 Classic 770 sedan with those seats, and the biggest feature was either the Borg Warner overdrive on the automatic, or the famous Nash weather eye, whichever impressed you most. “Respectable” people back then didn’t mention the utility of the front seats!

      Incidentally, the owner’s booklet was still in the glove compartment when I got the car in ’68, and it had a coupon for a shop manual for $5. I sent it in with a five dollar bill, and AMC actually sent me the manual. The car is long gone, but I still have the shop manual.

  • avatar

    The tailgate windows in these 60s wagons rolled down, so the wind deflectors kept the exhaust fumes out. As to whether they worked, we all didn’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning….

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly! We had a ’69 Impala wagon in our family and the rear window was always down in nice weather; no deflector and we’re all still here.

      Actually, Chevrolet exited the exhaust on station wagons behind the rear wheels, much like a current pick-up truck, as opposed to exiting under the rear bumper; I guess that was their version of a non-deflector deflector.

  • avatar

    Very nice indeed ~

    When new , we’d rather _walk_ than be seen in any Rambler but now that I’m old , I appreciate them and especially the built in economy and ruggedness .

    My Friend bought a new 1967 Rambler Wagon and still has it , it’s pristine and runs like a top .


  • avatar
    Brian P

    My mom had a ’66 Rambler Classic sedan, mouse grey, 232 Six automatic, that was the kid hauler for most of my early years. It succumbed to rust at an age that was pretty normal for the time in this area, and dad drove it to the junker in 1977. By that time, you could see the rear wheels when you had the trunk lid open due to rusted out wheel wells, it would pee coolant through the grille out of a small radiator leak a few minutes after you shut it down (very funny at the time), the windshield wipers were operated manually using a string run through the vent windows because the vacuum motor that normally ran them had stopped working, and the exhaust was run out in front of the rear wheel instead of behind because the back part rusted out and fell off.

    The Classic was mechanically much better than the ’77 Hornet that replaced it. The pre-emission-control engine ran better and made more power than the 258 Six in the newer car, and it never had the transmission woes that plagued the ’77. And it never sent a broken leaf spring through the floor pan. The ’77 (with only 25,000 miles on it) was replaced in ’83 with a Honda Accord, and there has not been an American-made car in the immediate family since …

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Great cars Ramblers… I had a mate whose dad had a ’66. But Even in 1974 they were only worth a couple of hundred dollars , thanks to the oil crises . So,being a marine engineer and having a spare boat motor handy ,he repowered the car with a diesel . A peugeot indenor four banger… It went OK,about the same as the rambler six but a lot more affordable and diesel could be bought anywhere, even at the marina… it wasn’t how fast we got to the pub, but the fact we could actually drive there that was important.

  • avatar

    My wife and I were on a babymoon trip through the West last year and happened to run across a big AMC/Rambler/Nash car club convention at the Nugget in Sparks, NV.
    (Hooray for pressing on to Reno after realizing the hotel we booked in Winnemucca was a dump).

    A very strange and dedicated bunch, those folks.

    Really cool cars, though. I got to see a Pininfarina-designed Austin Healey, a bunch of Nash Metros and more Javelins than you could throw a javelin at. They also had some of the best looking wagons, man…

    • 0 avatar

      I was staying at the Siena casino/hotel while the AMC club was displaying their cars last June at the National Automobile Collection, across the street, but couldn’t take in the show, as I had a plane to catch and only saw the AMC cars on my way to the airport. Looked like fun.

      During the summer of 1966, I got a summer job at an American Motors dealer in San Fernando, CA. I applied for a car washing job, they told me it was filled, but asked if I would like to sell cars, and I told them, Heck Ya. It involved a demo and very little money. For the first month, I drove a series of funky used cars (’65 VW Squareback, ’65 Mustang 2+2, ’58 Lincoln two door, ’64 T-Bird triple black convert, ’65 Fairlane) until they gave me a red Rambler American 440 hardtop 232 A/T. On weekends, the dealer campaigned a yellow and black new American Rogue 290 V8 four-speed at the San Fernando drags. Again, very little money, but mostly a lot of fun working there.

  • avatar

    My great-uncle George was a loyal Rambler owner the last 20 years of his driving life. He immigrated from Germany after WWII and became a master chef at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, so he made pretty good coin, had no kids and traded for new every year. As befits his Teutonic origins he drove insanely fast and scared the living scheisse out of us all.

    I dimly remember his incredibly ugly ’61 Ambassador Custom, but I really liked the ’65- ’68s (I think) with the over-under headlights. Whatever…. he could’ve had pretty much any car he wanted and he always went Rambler.

  • avatar

    The old man had a 62 Classic. Very modern, with push button transmission. The front seats reclined all the way, so you could camp out in it. After five Wyoming winters, and several trips to the East coast, it was time for a new engine. I think he bought one from a J.C. Whitney catalog. Eventually we made down to Florida, and it finally gave up the ghost. We towed it by rope using a 65 Dodge pick-up truck (three on the tree and slant six), and pushed it into a sink-hole in the woods, somewhere. Those were good days.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! That’s what happened to my ’63 Classic. It blew a main bearing on the freeway, and my brother-in-law towed it on a rope with a Dodge. He borrowed his Dad’s 1936 stakebed that was originally used to haul granite slabs for the family headstone business. I should have taken that as an omen. My mechanic said it needed a new motor, and the front bumper and grille needed replacing from the towing damage, and instead he sold me a ’62 Buick LeSabre.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    Love the Gumball Rally reference.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    IIRC the tailgate wind deflectors were meant to keep grime off the rear window. Of the wagons we had as a kid the only time the old man would spring for the deflectors was on his 1960 Bonneville wagon. My memories of Rambler wagons center around a pink , slightly older one that my cub scout troop leader owned . A Kennedy fan , she drove us out a couple of times to see J.F.K. when his plane landed in Houston . The last time was the day before he flew off to Dallas , November 21 , 1963.

    • 0 avatar
      CV Neuves

      To me the “tailgate wind deflectors” look rather like a device that guides the wind onto the rear window, probably to remove raindrops.

      • 0 avatar

        Well yes, it’s to keep the back glass clean. That flat back on most station wagons creates a low-pressure zone that sucks all of the dirt-laden road spray from the rear tires right back onto the glass (this was a major problem while road-tripping my 1969 Cadillac ambulance, believe it or not – I always wished that it had a rear wiper/washer setup).

        Virtually all of the 1960s station wagons in my nabe growing up had these deflectors on them, sometimes carefully hidden within the back edge of the roof rack.

    • 0 avatar

      In the Hemmings Classic Car issue #41 Feb. 2008 is a cover story of the 1967 Ford Country Squire, with the deflector system designed into the rear of the car. The writer says the idea behind them(and I’m paraphrasing) was to mix sufficient fresh air with the assumed CO that would enter the rear of the cockpit when the tailgate window was open. As someone else has written here, I always thought the main reason for these vents was to give the rear tailgate window sort of a air wash and minimize the grime and road dirt from driving in the rain. It would be nice to hear from an designer/engineer who thought this feature up. Also, I’m sure other makes and models used this feature.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, our ’67 Country Sedan (based on the Galxey 500) had it too; it was fun to roll your toy cars down its fender flanks and around the wind deflectors in the D pillars.

        It could be that both answers are right, but the CO concern is why later wagons like my Taurus no longer have a tailgate window that can be opened from the inside, just outside with a key or not at all.

  • avatar

    Funny thing you should mention Rambler wagons ~ SWMBO bugged me to get one for our Foster boys so I found a nifty 1959 Rambler ‘ Cross Country ‘ 9 passenger (flip up third seat) with factory tri tone paint job , roof rack , OHV L6 and overdrive , factory AC , the ‘ Westerner ‘ interior and on and on…. iot was pretty sweet if I say so my ownself .

    She turned it down flat so I got her a ’84 European spec. Mercedes diesel Wagon that she now says goes way too fast (like that’s my fault) .

    A buddy has a few ’61 Rambler American 440 Coupes ~ one is fully kitted out to go much faster than is prudent and has a lime green metallic interior , fried piston hood ornament etc. (Tom , don’t _EVER_ change !)

    ~ you’re right : AMC folks are an interesting and dedicated bunch ~ .


  • avatar

    I had a ’64 Classic 770 hardtop coupe…black with a silver roof, red vinyl interior, the full console, buckets, the 287 V8 with “Flash-O-Matic” 3-speed auto, radio, heater, PS, PB…and the vacuum wipers. Pretty loaded car. Very well put together.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My AMCs were Jeep Wagoneers. They have a very devoted following. Jeeps and AMCs were slammed for poor build quality. I found them to be better in some things and worse in others. Certainly no worse than Big 3 cars of the 60s and 70s.

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