Automotive History: Ramblin’ in the Southern Hemisphere

1965 Rambler Classic sedan red f

“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can”

So sang the Allman Brothers in 1973, and although the song was about a person, that second line sums up AMC/Rambler in a nutshell.

One of the lesser-known aspects of AMC is that they rambled down-under to play in the Australian and New Zealand playgrounds in the 1960s and 70s. And they didn’t step off a plane beautifully coiffured, they actually sent all their gear in big suitcases and got dressed once they arrived. They even wore their steering wheels on the correct right-hand side so that the other cars wouldn’t laugh at them in the sandpit! But despite doing their best, they were always the odd one out, never achieving the popularity of their playmates. Something similar happened back in America when big brother Ambassador grew a funny bump on his nose, and the other cars made fun of him! Cars can be so cruel…

The Grand Australian Rambler Assembly Experience began in October 1960, when AMC signed an agreement with Australian Motor Industries (AMI). Rumours that they first considered companies named AMD-through-AMH are completely unfounded–although it does sound like something AMC might do. AMI were also assembling Standard/Triumph and Mercedes cars and Ferguson tractors. It could be said that Rambler added a little hot dog to AMI’s bangers ‘n’ mash and bratwurst, but little did they know that kamaboko would be the sausage of their future.

AMI’s CKD kits came from AMC’s Kenosha factory. Rolling down Kenosha’s manufacturing line with other Ramblers, they progressed through engine, gearbox, front suspension and rear axle installation stages. They were then whipped off the line and posted to Australia incomplete. This was because the more parts that were Australian ‘local content’, the lower the import tariff. Thus AMI sourced many parts (seats, carpet, lights, heaters, etc.) from Australian suppliers.

1965 Rambler Classic sedan red dash

Look Ma! My steering wheel’s the same side as all the other cars here!  I fit in with all the other cars!…Oh crap, now they’re laughing at me because I wore my wipers on the wrong side… *sigh*

Fun fact: AMC’s AMI CKD kits didn’t include interior trim. Because AMC thus didn’t know how AMI would trim the kits inside, all AMI-bound Ramblers have no trim code on their door tag.

Funner fact: during the 1970s the Rambler Rebel and Rambler Matador were the official Government cars of the Australian state of New South Wales.

Funnest fact: ‘Rambler’ remained the Australian brand name until assembly ended in 1978. By that stage AMI was doing very well with Toyota, thank you, before ultimately becoming Toyota Australia.

“But, oh Kiwi Kurbside Klassic Korrespondent, what about AMC in NZ?” I hear you ask. Well on our Kiwi side of the ditch, AMC’s Nash predecessor had maintained a presence since the beginning of time, or shortly thereafter, whichever came first. Some 1950s Nashes (and Hudsons) were assembled in a Standard-Triumph(!) plant on our South Island.  Even-older NZ-new Nashes are seen occasionally–I found and shot a NZ-new RHD 1937 Lafayette here, as well as a beautiful NZ-new 1948 Ambassador here.

Rambler’s Kiwi konnection looked set to improve greatly in 1964, when Campbell Motor Industries (CMI) opened a brand new factory in Thames, New Zealand. The factory assembled CKD Ramblers, Renaults, Peugeots, the Isuzu Bellett, the Renault-based Hino Contessa, and a funny little Japanese thing named the Toyota Corolla. And that was just before lunchtime on Tuesday, you should see what CMI managed to do in the rest of the week (NB: probably more of what they did on the first 1.5 days)! Oddly, The Cars of American Motors by Marc Cranswick states that CMI’s AMC CKD kits came from Canada rather than Kenosha like AMI’s. It seems strange that NZ and Oz would receive kits from different places; can any CC readers shed any light on this?

Courtesy of

As soon as CMI opened their new plant, Rambler assembly commenced.  The Classic above was first registered here on March 26, 1964, making it one of the earlier Ramblers to be assembled in the CMI plant. Various Ramblii continued to be assembled there as the 1960s rolled into the 1970s.  In 1975, the Matador was the Rambler du jour when assembly ended upon CMI becoming Toyota New Zealand.

1967 Rambler

Courtesy of

Although not exactly commonplace, I remember a number of Ramblers still being around through the 1980s and early 1990s. Many were hotted up and ‘works-in-progress’, similar in appearance to the ’67 Classic above (which has a retro-fitted Chrysler 318 V8). Not surprisingly, this reduced the rate of survival, and Ramblers (especially the 1970s models) are quite thin on the ground nowadays in any condition. So I was delighted to find this red January 1965 Rambler Classic at a local swapmeet I attended and wrote about last year. Being sandwiched between other cars and backed into the shrubbery meant it was difficult to get decent photos of, and I only ended up with the three in this post.

1965 Rambler Classic sedan red fr

Rambler shows Mazda Bongo Brawny what it really means to be brawny: “I’m taking part of your parking space and there’s nothing you can do about it, ha! (But please don’t tease me for wearing my wipers on the wrong side)”

So what really caught my eye about this particular unassuming classic Rambler Classic? The fact that at 49 years old, it’s no garage queen–it’s clearly much-loved and still in regular use. The body wore plenty of scars, all of which were neatly repaired and covered with red primer/undercoat. With the original (darker) red being faded, the match was surprisingly good at first glance. Overall the car was very honest, wearing its age with pride, and serves as a fitting reminder of Ramblin’ in the Southern Hemisphere.

“And when it’s time for leavin’
I hope you’ll understand
That I was born a ramblin’ man…”