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1962 Rambler American 400 Convertible

UPDATE: Reader Paul Perkins Photoshopped my car show pictures and improved the image quality.  Thanks, Paul!

I don't remember ever seeing a Rambler American before. Nobody in our extended family drove a Rambler. The only Ramblers I specifically remember from childhood had right-hand drive and were used by mail carriers. Government-issue fleet vehicles are not exactly the stuff of pistonhead passion!

So, when I saw this nicely-restored little '62 Rambler at the Cleveland Auto Show--in the old-school exhibit hall, of course--I was a little surprised by my reaction.

Rambler01

I wanted to take the darned thing home with me.

The Rambler American was the smallest car American Motors Corporation produced in 1962. It is an evolved version of the original "Little Nash Rambler" of 1950--the one made famous by the novelty song "Beep Beep"--and the history of it is rather fascinating.

1950 Rambler ad

The Nash Rambler was built on a 100-inch wheelbase--that is to say, it was roughly the size of today's Toyota Matrix. Though much smaller than the typical postwar American super-dreadnought sedan, the Rambler was given a high level of trim and amenities. The result was a car that was handy and economical, but not cheap.

Several other independent manufacturers rolled out their own compacts, with varying degrees of success: the Kaiser Henry J was stripped down to keep the price low, and came off as cheap rather than economical; the Hudson Jet was superbly engineered and equipped, but awkwardly styled and priced too high; the Willys "Aero" series was moderately successful at first, but was discontinued in 1955 when Willys' parent company Kaiser abandoned the US automobile market. The "Big Three" stayed away from compacts entirely, and imports weren't much of a factor at the time, so Nash and its successor, AMC, had the compact market pretty much to itself for most of the 1950s.

The Rambler was restyled in 1954, the year when Nash merged with Hudson to create AMC. After the merger, it was sold as both a "Nash Rambler" and a badge-engineered "Hudson Rambler." In 1956, AMC came out with a third-generation Rambler on a 108-inch platform. When a new platform is introduced, the tooling for the old version is normally discarded or recycled, but AMC saved the tooling for the 100-inch wheelbase Rambler. This proved to be a wise move.

In 1957, in an economy sliding into recession, AMC sold more than 109,000 Ramblers, but only 10,000 or so of the “senior” Nash models, and a mere 3,500 bigger cars with the Hudson brand name. Concluding that the name “Rambler” had more brand equity than either “Nash” or “Hudson,” AMC president George Romney decreed that all AMC cars sold in the 1958 model year would be Ramblers. The 108-inch wheelbase Rambler became the "Rambler Six" and, with a V-8 engine, the "Rambler Rebel;" the full-sized Nash Ambassador was re-labeled the "Ambassador V-8 by Rambler."

1958 Rambler American Reasoning that in a slow economy, a car which was even smaller and less expensive than the already small and inexpensive Rambler Six might have some drawing power, AMC pulled the tooling for the two-door '54-55 Rambler sedan out of storage, changed the grille pattern and reshaped the rear wheel well, and reintroduced it as the 1958 "Rambler American." It was a pretty low-risk move, since the engineering and tooling had been paid for long ago.

AMC was the only manufacturer to see its 1958 sales increase over 1957. The revived American accounted for 30,640 sales, or just under 20% of AMC's total output. AMC revived the station wagon version in 1959, and total sales of Rambler Americans nearly tripled, to 91,491 units. In 1960, after the four-door sedan was reintroduced, AMC sold 120,603 Americans.

The American was restyled in 1961. The platform underneath was essentially unchanged from 1950, and the engine was the same sturdy 90-horsepower straight-six flathead used in the 1950 original. The new sheetmetal followed the rectangle-with-rounded-corners style also found on the contemporary Corvair, Lark, and Falcon. It was slightly shorter in overall length than the '58-'60 version, but a more space-efficient design increased passenger and cargo room. The new lineup included a hardtop coupe and a snappy convertible.

100_1444

The one at the Cleveland Auto Show was a '62 Rambler American 400--"400" being what AMC called the top trim level that year. The sheetmetal was unchanged from 1961, but the "400" had a new overhead valve version of the straight six making 125 horsepower. That level of power a 2,692-pound car is no fire-breathing terror of the dragstrip, but the straight-line performance would have been good enough for an "economy car" in those days.

Rambler03

This particular example is equipped with an automatic--a Borg-Warner unit which AMC called "Flash-O-Matic."  Love those mid-century brand names!

The car is within a couple of inches of my GTI in all its major dimensions, but the driving dynamics of that 1950-vintage suspension, with its leaf-sprung live-axle rear end, are probably a world away from what the VW is capable of. There's no ABS, GPS, EFI, ECM, iPod adapter, or anything electronic beyond a transistor AM radio with a single speaker. The styling isn't flashy, but it's neat and clean and has a certain blue-collar honesty about it that I find attractive. I wouldn't take this car canyon-carving, but for summer ice cream runs with the top down, you could do a lot worse.

The ad and the photo of the 1958 American came from the archive at John's Old Car & Truck Pictures.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

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We had a white '63 or '64 Rambler American 2-door. It was a good little "run-around" car, definitely not flashy, but did the job. It wasn't the best on the then-new interstates (We had it until 1970 or so), but was a good grocery-getter. I guess that's all these cars ever tried to be.

Dad had a green '59 Rambler station wagon that ran great until the farmer on the John Deere pulled out in front of us. Broke the rear wheel right off of the tractor before it flipped over, the farmer jumped just in time. The rest (And the car) is history.

-The flathead sixes were interesting. The exhaust header was an extension of the exhaust pipe that clamped into a semicircular cutout on the head. The OHV version was essentially the flathead with a new head but it had a long and interesting production run.
-There was a significant flaw in the front end design. I remember seeing quite a few of the "60ish" Ramblers slumped over on a collapsed front wheel assembly, usually the right. I have no idea what the problem was.
-I owned a couple, including the 400 convertible. The station wagons were the best as the seats folded flat for sleeping.

...the last picture has the wrong alt-text: it should read 'Beep-beep-beep!'..

I found a 1964 Rambler American 440H when i was in high school, just before i was turning 16, talked my dad into looking at it, because at the time i didn't know what the car was, sure enough he went an looked at it, and by the afternoon we had a 1964 rambler american 440 sitting in the driveway. My uncle would refer to it as a "mut" because of the parts were all gm, could have been ford, dodge, chevy who knows lol. but what did he know he restored VW beetles! anyways this was one of my all time favorite cars. even over the common muscle cars like camaros, gto's etc. you see those about a dime a dozen. How many ramblers do you see on the road?

I grew up with an uncle who was a Rambler salesman, and a father who bought a few of them - usually well used ones. The first family car I remember was a green '53 Nash Rambler station wagon with the flathead six. This was followed by a '56 Rambler Super - the "new" larger 108" wheelbase model, which had the OHV six and an oh-so-fifies two-tone paint job, green and white. Later, my dad had a "work car" - a red 2-door '61 Rambler American - the squared up style shown above, again with the flathead six. All of those cars had three on the tree.

Front end problems - the kingpins broke regularly on Ramblers. I was with a friend's family in their '59 Rambler wagon when the front end collapsed. The Rambler Americans were also prone to shimmying a lot unless the front end, tires and alignment were perfect.

There's a white Rambler wagon of some sort that hangs out by a friend's house... it's in pretty good condition. I even see it run around from time to time. Then again, there's also a white Plymouth Valiant wagon running around in Reno that I need to get a picture of, so there's also that going for me, too.

Friend of mine in high school had one of these (not a convertible) and every Thursday we'd go out for pizza for lunch in it. I don't remember much about it. Always liked it though.

Isn't that the car from Third Rock From The Sun?

Steaming Pile, you got it! Same color, too!

I remember that the V-8s had all forged cranks, and use...I think Plymouth valves?

Since you've started this early Sixties American compact thing, how about keeping it going with the Lark and other Studebakers (like the Daytona, those were really small too). Then you could branch out to the stellar BOP compacts.

My first car was a white '61 Rambler American station wagon. Utterly bulletproof little tank. I paid $100 for it with 140,000 miles on it. Drove it to high school for three years and sold it to another high school kid for $100 with 180,000 miles on it. Saw the darn thing cruising around town several years later, still full of high school kids.

That was back when having a station wagon got you the hairy eyeball from your GF's dad and having a car of any kind was a major status symbol! [sigh]

Dad bought a new '59 Ford which turned out to have a mis-cast block with water channels half as big as they should have been. Ford refused to do anything whatever to make it right -- and Dad never bought another Ford product, despite his father having been a Ford dealer!

After that we had a succession of AMCs. We had a '59 American station wagon, two-tone green with the OHV six and an automatic transmission with pushbutton controls. It was an extremely good car, and carried two adults and three kids around north Texas and southern Oklahoma with no problems for three or four years. It was a little cramped, so the next few cars were Ambassadors, two station wagons and a sedan. (Dad also bought several Corvairs, all 1964 or earlier, including a '63 convertible for me.)

For a while we had a '53 (or '54?) "bathtub" American with factory air conditioning! The flathead six had a problem with that, especially since the car was black and white. One of the reasons Dad liked AMC cars was that all but the cheapest came with high levels of optional equipment -- air conditioning was normal, if not standard, from the mid-Fifties on.

I later had a '65 American 440, white, with no air conditioner and black interior upholstery. I drove it until '72, when I bought a Gremlin :-). I wish I still had that car. The thing I remember most was having an upper ball joint go out; the car parts place in Las Cruces, NM couldn't find a listing for that model, until I looked closely at the catalogue and found "AMC 58-67 ALL"... AMC didn't spend a lot of money re-engineering parts for different models. When I tired of the poor braking performance on my Gremlin, I replaced spindles, brakes and all with units from ex-San Jose PD Matadors. They fitted perfectly.

Regards,
Ric

Heheh, Turbodave is right about the shimmy. It was part of the charm, but you learned that a quick swerve would bring it out of its little fit -- exciting if you were driving very fast though. Never heard of a kingpin breaking and they were bronze pins a good inch in diameter. They did need changing pretty often but it was an easy operation. Bad set of castings causing the broken ones perhaps? Also, my '61 had the OHV six, original equipment far as I know.

The first AMC we had was a new 61' Rambler American, black two door. I don't remember much abouth that car as I was quite young. My dad then bought a new 67' AMC Rebel 440. Great car and I drove that thru highschool and college when I gave it back to him. The body was rusted up pretty good but it still ran good. He also bouth a new 69' Javelin for my mom with white leather interior. Man I wish I still had that car. I had a 73 Hornet that I rna into the ground. Them was the days!!!!

In 1965 my Dad bought a 64 Rambler American station wagon with a 6 cylinder engine. In 68 when he got back from Vietnam we moved from Albany, Ga to Tacoma, Wa., towing a 52 Chevy pickup. Both vehicles were heavily loaded, including 2 adults and 3 kids. 3 years later we moved from Wa. to south Florida, again towing the truck. We did some sightseeing on both trips, logging over 6000 miles each time. The only trouble we had was when the generator brushes and u-joints had to be replaced on the return trip. My Dad sold the car in 1978 with over 200,000 miles on it and still going strong.

If you like the Rambler American you should check out the Rambler Scrambler sometime. It was a 2 door sedan with a 390 and a 4 speed Hurst tranny.

http://local.aaca.org/westernpa/scrambler/scrambler.html

I am not certain about the 1962 model, but I know from firsthand experience (actually working on one) that the 1961 model was technologically backward even in its day. Not only was the engine a flathead, but it had a bypass oil filter. The car had vacuum powered windshield wipers, and a manual transmission that was not synchronized in all forward gears. My friend who had borrowed the car from a co-worker called it a "lovely piece of vintage junk."

Nuff said.

My mother brought a brand new '61 Rambler American in April 1961; it was a straight 6 with overdrive and about no other accessories -- including no radio! It was marketed with this neat feature -- you could recline the front seats to basically make a giant bed in case you needed to stop somewhere and sleep in the car.

It certainly wasn't a performance car, but it wasn't too bad -- you could drive 85 mph all day long on the southwest freeways (in overdrive) and it would get about 25 mpg.

She drove it into the ground.

The one other thing I remember about it -- since we didn't have air conditioning, we bought a "swamp cooler" that set on the hump in the front, and actually worked reasonably well in the dry southwest. I even remember buying dry ice on one occasion, which made the swamp cooler work almost as well as a real air conditioner.

My Dad had the station wagon. In the summer of '64 or '65 - about when I was six, we drove from California to Green Lake, WI for a church conference. We kids all slept in the back. Mom drove overnight through Nevada and we kept hearing the thump of runover jackrabbits. My parents always looked for a gas-war to buy the cheapest gas, and it seemed like they were everywhere. Somewhere in the Mid-West during a storm we saw a lightning strike as we drove along. I saw the bolt hit the ground between us on the road and a house out in a field - it made a huge CRACK sound and smoke curled up. Great science!

I got a tan and brown '61 from my grandfather when I graduated high school, and to quote Ben: "you could recline the front seats to basically make a giant bed in case you needed to stop somewhere and sleep in the car",

Or if you were a teenager and needed to do something else.

I "went to town" a lot in that car.

On July 3rd I bought a red 62 AMC Rambler 400 Convertible off of Craigs list here in Kansas City. Had never seen one before. It is a solid old original, no rust, bad top, new brakes and runs very
nicely. Worth a new red paint job, top and front seats. Runs well for a 6 cy. A novelty car.

I was a junior in High School when my Dad bought me a brand new 1962 Rambler American 400 Convertible. It was a teal color with metallic paint flecks in the paint that really made it shine. The interior was vinyl in a matching color -- bucket seats and automatic transmission. The convertible top was white. I LOVED that car...and so did all my friends.

Now I drive a dark red 2001 Malibu LS with a sun roof and gray leather interior. I bought the Malibu because it really reminded me so much of my Rambler. Not into convertibles that much anymore, but do love the sun roof. Husband keeps trying to get me to trade up for a newer model, but I've never had to do anything but normal maintenance on my Malibu and it only has 58K miles on it. I love this car and have an emotional attachment, I know. LOL

Thanks for the great memories.

I love hearing these old stories, but wont someone post an old picture of these cars. I love the old photographs of the new car in the driveway of a simple 1960's home while the proud father and children stand next to it (mother of course is usually the photographer). Someone out there must have a picture of a 1961-63 Rambler Convertible taken during these years. Please share...

I am considering buying a 61 4 door as a project car. I can buy it reasonably and am wondering what I should look for. What are the major problems that may make this a money pit. This car is in upstate ny so naturally I think about frame problems, where do they show frame issues?

Any help is appreciated

i happen to have a 1962 red american conv. its been ten years since doing over .
now that it has sat for 2 years under cover squirrels have eaten the interior.
my 13 year old nephew and i will start complete restore this spring.
can't wait

i love rambler americans i got mine for 34 years itis a daly drive and igot a trofe every time tha itake to the car show

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