(first posted 9/13/2013) Bellingham is a small city of about 80,000 people, located in the northwest corner of Washington State. On a recent trip there to visit an old friend, I experienced something that might be termed Curbside Classic Overload.
Old, patina-kissed cars and trucks graced nearly every side street, and if it wasn’t for the Washington license plates, I would have sworn I was in Havana or perhaps even Eugene, Oregon.
Bellingham has the same mild climate as Eugene, and the same laid-back small town atmosphere. The second-largest employer is Western Washington University, and the college town vibe follows you wherever you go. Bicycles almost seen to outnumber cars at times, and I got the distinct impression that it was still 1968 or 1969 in many parts of the city.
The most intriguing car of all was this 1962 Rambler Classic. After taking a wrong turn on my way to my friend Tom’s house, I saw the Rambler’s rear out of the corner of my eye, and decided that my long-anticipated bike ride with Tom would just have to wait a bit longer.
Sadly, the original paint and most of the exterior chrome are gone, but this is still one well-preserved Kenosha Kadillac.
Note the trailer hitch. Yes, Virginia, you can tow a trailer behind a unit-body car, even if it only has a straight-six motor. People used to do it all the time!
Though the car currently sports a vintage Washington State plate, a sticker on the windshield reveals a much different history for this car. That’s a city of New Orleans inspection sticker dating to 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina. It looks like this car got out of town right in the nick of time.
In contrast to the Rat Rambler exterior, the inside of the car has a much more original look to it.
The seats are by no means perfect, but they are in very good shape when you consider that the upholstery is over 50 years old. I think it’s safe to assume that these seats spent several years encased in those horrible transparent plastic seat covers that were so common in the 1960’s. They stuck to your skin on summer days, they looked hideous and the only real purpose that they seemed to serve was to ensure that the guy who ran the local junkyard would have a car with perfect seats when it finally passed into his grubby hands!
The grill and front bumper are also in great shape, though I doubt they were ever encased in plastic.
The Rambler’s current aerodynamic wheel covers and lack of exterior chrome made me think of some of the Salt Flats oddities that Kevin Martin has shared with us from time to time. Perhaps the current owner dreams of conquering Bonneville.
If the owner of this Classic wants to be competitive on the flats, he might consider a powerplant upgrade. When he drove past us later in the day, I heard what could only be a Rambler six. Personally, I hope the six stays under the hood.
I would have stayed and looked it a bit longer, but I had people waiting for me, and I got the distinct impression that my little blue Geo was starting to get jealous.
Welcome to the CC Contributariat Actually Mike!
P.S. nice rambler.
Thank you, Mr. Mann!
Yes, Bellingham has similarities to Eugene, although it’s a fair bit smaller. And cars like this Rambler are very much in demand and being seen on the streets more and more. Given that folks don’t drive all that much, it’s not an unpractical choice.
Yeah, I know what you mean. Driving an old car (even one as old as this Rambler) can indeed be a very practical choice in places where traffic isn’t heavy and cars aren’t the only way to get around. I’m living the “My Old Car Is My Only Car” lifestyle, and I’m loving it. There are much worse ways to prove how cool you are!
A very nice find. I can remember when these were still out in some decent numbers, but that has been a long, long time ago.
This car make me think about the staggering range of offerings for someone looking for a less-than-full sized car in 1962. There was the ancient Studebaker Lark, and the brand, sparkling new Ford Fairlane/Mercury Meteor. This Rambler sort of splits the difference between the two.
It’s tight unit construction was like the new Ford but its styling and dimensions (and suspension, and drivetrain) were more akin to the Stude – more 1950s than 1960s.
An uncle had one of these when I was a kid in the late ’60s, it’s shape always reminding me of a baby carriage.
And the wide eyed, separated headlights, as on the ’59 Olds, lends a touch of insanity to it’s face.
I hate to double-comment, but I need for the commentariat to educate me about something. Just what is the purpose of those chrome things that cover the top half of the headlights? I have seen those for years, and have never understood what they are supposed to accomplish. Could it really be that the guys who engineered sealed beams for years got it wrong, but in a way perfectly fixable by a 29 cent metal eyelid? I doubt it, but I’m sure someone out there knows.
I think the idea behind those was so you could run high beams without blinding an oncoming driver. OK, that’s the supposed idea. The real purpose behind them is bling.
I’ve never liked the eyelids either. Not even on nostalgia cars.
Too bad the sealed beam will probably never make a widespread return. Headlight lenses that never get cloudy with age — what a radical concept. 😉
Sarcastic answer: Maybe the headlight covers are so you can drive around with your high beams on all the time at night.
Ha – The same time as Syke.
Great post. Can you post a pic or to of the Geo? I assume it is the blue one in the background? First gen Geo Prizm’s are scarce in my area(even though at one time they streets were full of them and they were made with the same bullet proof toyota drive train as the Corolla.
To me the 90-92 Prizm looks better then the 88-92 Corolla(its sister car)
Yes, I second the call – maybe a COAL article on it if you have the time.
Yeah, I can post a pic of the Geo when I get home from work today. I’m happy to.
An article on my blue ’92 might not be a bad idea, even though NUMMI-manufactured cars have been covered here before. My Geo has been in the family since it was brand new. I’ll have to get to work on that…
Nothing wrong with an actual ownership experience article, especially when it covers that large of a timeframe even if the same/similar car has been covered before…
The Jealous Geo, on Halloween 2012:
I’d take a carbon copy of that one. Great color!
That car looks well taken care of for a car that at newest is 21 years old. I have always liked the first gen Prizm and still laugh at folks that turned it down and bought 90-92 Corolla and then proclaimed that they chose the Corolla due to it being a Toyota and that made it reliable. The transmissions(auto and manual), engine, brake system all were Toyota. The interior while having some Toyota influence did have some GM differences(aka radio). held up well and did not fall apart (ala Sterling etc) Because GM had to discount them because nobody wanted them at the original offering price, you could swing a good deal on a disguised toyota with all the reliability. If I had a 90-92 Prizm in such good shape as you do I would daily drive it also.
You have to make a COAL on this car as I like reading about an old car that is still with its first owner or kept in the family
Yeah, people sure paid dearly for that Toyota badge! I’ll get to work on a Prizm piece as soon as I can steal some time away from non-car related things.
I guess I’m just an anachronism but this is just about my favorite type of car. I don’t care if it’s a Rambler, Nova, Falcon, valiant or whatever. Six cylinder, three speed (preferred to slushbox but not imperative) and ready to just keep on chugging. Someone tell me why I’m wrong.
I know we have better cars today but I still think that way.
It’s the All-American Six. Absolutely the right car for its time and place, mid-century North America. Down Under too. From the ’39 Studebaker Champion to the ’83 Ford Fairmont, the right size, engine, tranny, chassis and seating for six. This Rambler is one of the best of its breed, great looking and just solid.
Too bad the AA6 is obsolete in this world, too slow, unsafe and inefficient. Though I do wonder what kind of performance and mileage it would get with today’s EcoBoost type of engine.
No, you aren’t wrong. You’re actually right on both counts.
The AA6 type of vehicles are great choices (for the right owner) and actually make for some of the most interesting CCs and car show finds.
I’d like to have one myself, but would prefer to have one new enough to have dual circuit hydraulic brakes. If not, then I might do a mild “rectification” to get there.
Three on the tree would be a hoot, too.
Had a 1962 & 1965 Rambler and liked them both Fairly easy to work on but they both died of unibody rust because of all the road salt we need to use in Wisconsin. Got about 14-19 mpg with the 3 speed automatic. Very reliable and fairly easy to find places to park them in town.Too bad the reunions on the front axle were so poorly maintained by the time I bought them. Almost hit a utility pole when the 1962 left the road. Scary.The push button the 1962 kept sticking in the dash. Not one of their better ideas to use plastic for that. Lit up at night. Orange for neutral/ start, red for reverse, and green fire D2,D1&low
Of course ypu can tow with a unitary car they are MUCH stronger than the cheap old fashioned 1930s tech BOF crap
Probably true, especially for smaller cars. Engineering for strong BOF small cars would likely involve a significant weight penalty.
The small BOF cars we actually got involved a lot more compromises in structure to achieve economy & performance than similar unit-bodied cars.
Ramblers such as this one were not uncommon where I grew up in Eastern WA. Many of them were still operating through the 1970s just fine. My neighbor had the wagon verison of this car, and did an in-car piston replacement right in his driveway (inline 6) which simply amazed me at the time. His wagon also had the overdrive unit behind the manual 3-speed transmission, and he reported getting highway fuel economy in the mid-20s.
I remember a whole slew of these 1960s Ramblers coming through the junkyards back in the early 1980s, and most of them looked pretty darn good still other than having faded paint. You couldn’t give these cars away back then.
I grew up in Western Washington in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and there Ramblers all over my neighborhood. My family had a 1955 Hudson Rambler, and later a 1964 American Wagon. The next-door neighbors had a 1962 Classic very much like the featured car, except with the original paint. They later replaced it with a 1965 or 1966 Classic two-door. I could go on and on, but my point has been made! These are the cars that practical people drove. As someone else said here previously, they were the Toyotas of their day. It should come as no surprise that the son of Rambler-driving parents currently gets around in an old Geo Prizm.
This Rambler Classic is one of the very best cars I’v owned in my 87 years. Visibility is second to none it is as though one were sitting in an airport control tower. It delivered a consistant 20-mpg in mixed city and highway driving and it had many first. The first car with sealed ball joints in the suspension. The first and I think only car to have a ceramic-coated exhaust system and the first to have a two-year charge of antifreeze. The transmission is operated by push buttons also possibly a first but am not certain. The suspension had coil springs on all 4 wheels with a simple “A” frame rear suspension. The combination worked well and provided a very comfortable ride on a 108 inch wheelbase.
The engine was a redesigned flat head (L head) that was now fitted with overhead valves operated by push rods. The only thing missing was front fender liners. All in all, this Rambler is a very attractive, and satisfactory combination and fun to drive. I still miss having this car. Lastly George Romney was President of American Motors when this model was introduced.
Thanks very much for sharing the memories, Mr. Jaffe. You make some very good points about the overall quality of the Romney-era Ramblers.
I’m glad you brought up the pushbutton Flash-O-Matic. This Rambler has the push-button setup, but I forgot to say anything about it. The interior shot is a little fuzzy, but you can see the pushbuttons on the far left of the dashboard. And besides, there’s no shifter on the steering column or sprouting out of the floor!
Thanks, Mr. Jaffe and Mike!
That explains it. I was expecting to see three on the tree, but there was no shifter on that column.
Being an AA6 with auto, this would be a very practical (dare I say fun?) choice for a “car optional” city.
If I wasn’t already in a LTR with a Geo, I might consider an old Rambler….
And BTW, how do you pronounce “PRNDL”?
Never mind. According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s “Prindle.”
Next question: Can you drive a stick?
Why PRNDL? I’m a Chevy guy at heart. The two most favorite cars my dad had growing up were Impalas w. PG. First was a ’63 Sport Coupe w. 327. Second was a ’69 Custom Coupe w. 350. Sadly, I was too young to drive either one.
I’m a fairly new CCer, and some of the really cool user IDs were taken. Hopefully, if I consult the Urban Dictionary, I won’t regret my choice. 🙂
And yes on the stick shift, although none on the tree, so far.
You remind me of an early childhood car memory. At a very young age, I decided to use the shift quadrant as a name for the car. My mother drove a PRNDL but my grandma had a PNDSLR. Or, more commonly known as a Pontiac Catalina with a Roto HydraMatic.
@PRNDL: No crime in being young. Just wanted you to know that there is an alternate way to say powerglide. The powerglide at my house backs up a 283/2bbl and it’s pronounced PNDLR which might be pendler or something. When enough of us youngsters had downshifted to reverse at speed they began to pronounce it your way. We who did that can tell you that it’s a tough trannie. I did it at about 50mph. Killed the engine and made my heart stop. Started it up again and drove home with a lot more caution.
Hope you continue to enjoy old cars for many years to come.
I too forgot to mention other safety first on the 1962 Rambler. It had anchors in the floor for seat belts ahead of the government requirement. It also had a split master brake cylinder so that the hydraulic system could not fail catastrophically. Hydraulic pressure went to the right front and left rear wheel from one half the cylinder and the left front and right rear from the other half.
If I’m not mistaken, General Motors didn’t get around to installing dual master cylinders on their cars until 1968, six years after American Motors. I know for certain that they didn’t in 1966. When a wheel bearing went bad on my ’66 Pontiac Catalina and the wheel came off, I lost all braking power and had to slide to a stop from 55 MPH! Luckily for me, I was on an almost-deserted freeway when it happened, and I was able to ease the car over to the shoulder. The sad thing is that I almost bought a ’66 Rambler Classic instead of that Pontiac.
I would also consider that push-button tranny a safety feature. With the buttons over on the left-hand side, there was no way a bratty child or an angry girlfriend could mess up your transmission from the passenger seat!
The dual master cylinder was federally mandated starting with 1967 models. Not sure when AMC started, but my 63 Cadillac was also equipped with a dual master cylinder. I owned the car in 1979 in the salty midwest, and when one of the brake lines gave way, I considered myself quite fortunate to be driving one of only two 1963 American cars made with a dual master cylinder.
Both Cadillac and American Motors introduced the dual master cylinder braking system in the 1962 models.
My dad told me that those headlight covers were from ww2 jeeps its so that your headkights could not be seen from above
The WW2 blackout shades were a slit. There isn’t much sense in illuminating the ground if you want to hide. There is still danger of that with the slit but it cuts a lot of the light. Like JPC I have seen these lids for years and think the main thing is cosmetic.
I love Bellingham. During a vacation I left my wallet on the roof of my ’91 Corolla and drove off. Wallet gone and couldn’t be found. Next day I went to check at the police station lost and found and sure enough, some fine Bellinghamer had found it and turned it in.
Nice CC write up Mike. It brought back memories of a kinder, gentler time.
A poetic article about a very practical car. I think Ralph Nader would be proud to drive one.
Assuming that he eventually got a driver’s license! That’s one thing he was infamous for, back when “Unsafe At Any Speed” came out. He was the auto safety expert who didn’t drive.
The car has a year-of-manufacture plate. This is allowed in Washington under the same rules as a collector vehicle plate – one plate is okay, and the car should only be driven for testing or for old-car events. The latter restriction is not harshly enforced afaik – when I was still working there was one period of three months or so when I saw a 1950 Ford pickup with a collector vehicle plate parked in the same downtown block every morning. (But who knows, maybe his modern car was in the body shop or something…)
What I wouldn’t mind seeing on this particular car would be a pair of those old “WASH 63” plates that all the older cars had when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. Those plates were pretty common for quite a while, since Washington State stopped issuing a new plate every year beginning with 1964, when they switched to stick-on tabs. A year-of-manufacture plate doesn’t really work on a car unless it actually looks new! The DeSoto below has a WASH 63 plate, but you’ll have to click on the picture to see it clearly.
I just started restoring my 1962 Rambler Classic. It is black without any of the chrome down the sides. It has the small hub caps that just cover the lug nuts.
Does anybody have any idea on how I can find details on original interior? I think I might have samples of the original material for the seat, but am not sure. Any other restoration detail would help too.
History – Car was purchased by my grandfather, handed down to my father. I drove it as my first car (high school). As I saw the surface rust starting on it a couple of years ago and that it was looking kinda sad, I convinced my dad to pass it on to my son. We are not restoring it back to a ‘near new, but still a driver on a good clear day’
Hey, that’s the kind of story we love around here. Got any pictures of the Rambler to share with us? Does it have a pushbutton automatic, or is it three-on-the-tree? It sounds like the perfect father/son project.
I’ll admit that I’m not much help when it comes to restoration advice, and I don’t have any other interior photos that turned out well enough to be of any use.
Here is a picture of the 1962 Rambler before I picked it up from my childhood home (TX) and brought it to Nebraska. It was starting to get surface rust from many years under Pecan trees. It is also has a few scratches from bicycles, but overall in good shape. I have had it since 2009 and just started the restore. You may notice in the back that there was a 1964 Rambler that we used as a parts car. I was amazed that we could get parts to fit (not perfectly sometimes) between the two cars. We had swapped out the front seat, carb (I think), and radiator. Some other parts too. I grabbed the original seat and carb so I can get the 62 close to original.
It is a 3-on-the-tree. I remember those big deliberate movements when you needed to shift. I remember the vacuum driven wipers and learning how to manipulate the clutch when you couldn’t see through a down pour about half way in the intersection and half way through a left hand turn.
Hey, not bad. A plain and simple Rambler, made to last. I’ll admit I’ve never had the pleasure of driving a car with vacuum wipers. My mom’s ’64 American 330 wagon was a pretty basic car, but it had electric wipers.
always thought these resembled the fintail Mercedes of the same era
My 6th grade teacher had a 2 dr. with an E-stick. Remember seeing an article I think in Popular Science about this unusual semi-automatic and remember asking him about it. Seems like the same color paint as the car in the post.