Over the years here at CC, you just might have gotten the impression from me that Ramblers had something of an image problem back in the day. I haven’t been exaggerating; they really did. Rambler was a distant dead last among the five domestic manufacturers as well as all of the brands. And yes, that includes Studebaker. And who better to know about image than a ten year-old kid? Yes, kids intuitively know what’s cool and what’s not, and they were just as good at it in the pre-Snapchat age.
Today we are going to delve into this image problem full-bore, although with a Rambler six, full-bore means none too quickly. So this may be a leisurely journey, but hopefully you will understand why this 1962 stripper two-door sedan, the dorkiest car of its era, was so reviled, shunned and mercilessly taunted. Kids were crueler back then, but this Rambler mostly deserved their taunts, and worse.
The 1962 Rambler was the last to use the body of the 1956 Rambler. Seven years may not seem like much now to share a body, but back then it was an eternity. The world was changing so quickly back then. In 1956, the new Rambler might have been something of a revelation on the American car scene: the first successful “compact”, built on a 108″ wheelbase and with unibody construction, it was in a league of its own. It probably looked pretty decent, for the times. although its tall and boxy dimensions and some over-wrought aspects made it quite clear that it did not spring from GM’s design center.
But how would I know? In 1956, I was three years old and living in Austria. By the time I arrived in the US in 1960, it was already outdated, and by 1962, this body was a living fossil. And AMC’s desperate minor annual changes were hardly effective.
That applies particularly to the 1962, which got a long-overdue finectomy at the rear, but it was a mighty crude one. AMC’s Ed Anderson was clearly struggling to make it look contemporary. But the biggest change for 1962, and the most unlikely and perplexing one, was the addition of a two-door sedan! For what was obviously only going to be one year. All Ramblers, except the smaller American, had been only four door sedans and wagons since this body came out. And why a two-door sedan and not a two-door hardtop? Now that might have helped Rambler’s image a bit more, although with this body, it would have been trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
So what was the pecking order in 1962? Did you have to ask? Of course GM towered over the others in 1962, even though a much more exciting year was just ahead of it, with the new Corvette, Riviera and Grand Prix. But from the most expensive Cadillac to the lowliest Corvair, there wasn’t a bad one in the whole family. Well, the new Chevy II was a bit less than exciting, but still heads and shoulders above the Rambler.
The thing about GM, and to some extent Ford and Chrysler, is that their image flowed from the top down, and very successfully. If you could only afford a Tempest, its stylistic similarity to the Grand Prix was enough to keep it from possibly being a dork-mobile.
Obviously, Ford’s Thunderbird was an effective halo car for the whole brand. And as was the elegant Lincoln Continental. But I hate to break it to you Ford fans, in 1962, Ford styling and its image was not just in GM’s league. And it showed in its sales; Ford was struggling to maintain market share despite a proliferation of new cars, while GM had it’s all-time record market share in 1962. We won’t even mention Mercury.
Obviously, Chrysler was really hurting in 1962. The Imperial was so obviously a 1957 car that had made a few too many trips to the dermatologist. It was a hot mess, but still managed to exude some exotic mystique.
And although the new downsized Plymouth and Dart were a bit challenging, when our neighbor bought a red Dart four door hardtop just like this one, I soon came to appreciate its unique qualities, mostly in a good way. It was a lot more interesting visually than a ’62 Galaxie.
Which brings us to Studebaker. yes, we used to call them Stupidbakers, and we knew then that the company was battling a terminal illness. But in 1962, they threw two very compelling pitches in an effort to prove that they weren’t yet on the death bed. The Avanti was pretty mind-blowing, although seeing one in the fiberglass flesh was another story. And the GT Hawk was a clever disguise of the ancient ’53 coupe. They might have done something about the ancient bumpers, and the original air intakes next to the grille.
At least Studebaker had some halo cars. And they had genuine hardtops too, unlike Rambler. The new Daytona hardtop had a pretty warm 289 V8 and an optional four speed stick. Rambler could only dream about such things.
Here’s Rambler’s halo car in 1962: an Ambassador four door sedan, which now looked exactly like a Classic with some tinsel tossed randomly its way. Never mind that nobody ever really bought an Ambassador anyway; not in Iowa City anyway.
These Classic wagons were everywhere though. Among our European immigrant-university milieu, there was an extremely disproportionate number of Rambler wagons and Studebaker Lark sedans of the 1959-1962 vintage. All of them sixes, of course. And no, their/our dads didn’t give their kids gas-powered go-karts like this. The kind of dads that did do this drove a Pontiac Bonneville station wagon. Or at least a Catalina. And weren’t university geeks.
So yes, maybe I’ve been too deeply influenced by an excessive early exposure to the distinct nasal and fruity wheezing exhausts of feeble Rambler sixes attempting to overcome inertia and the sluggish torque converter of their Flash-O-Matic transmissions.
Speaking, of, I had a moment that was deeply etched in memory, and as fresh today as it was in 1962 when I rode my bike for the first time to the Rambler dealer, and looked under the hood of an American, and saw…a flathead six! In 1962! I couldn’t believe it. Any company that called its engines “Flying Scot” was not going to cut it with the younger set in 1962.
Well, that American was the only car dorkier than the Classic. Truly abysmal. it looked like something from an Iron Curtain country. or worse. I was embarrassed to be an American. If I’d known about the Rambler American, I might not have come to the US. Or at least so enthusiastically.
Although the Fairlane’s 145 hp 221 ci.in. V8 teamed with the two speed Fordomatic was probably not all that much faster than than a Rambler with the optional two-barrel 138 hp version of their six. But at least its exhaust sounded a lot better, and it had a V8 badge on the fender. Well, that and the fact that it looked a whole lot more contemporary than the Rambler, despite its silly finlets.
It might have said “DeLuxe” on the back end, but never has that word been more misused and abused. This was the stripper version of the Classic, and a look inside makes that painfully obvious.
To the best of my memory, this drab industrial gray interior might well have been the only one available on the DeLuxe. Check out the exposed screw heads that kept that vinyl-covered hardboard door car in place. There’s actually an armrest, so easy on the snickering. Believe me, this was the most embarrassing and depressing car to have to ride in in 1962, except of course that wretched American.
By this time, we loathed two-door sedans, because of course they looked dorky and of course because getting in and out meant that the front seat person had to let you in and out. How demeaning! The one redeeming quality of Ramblers, that they had four doors and the kids could get in and out themselves, was now gone with this ridiculous two-door sedan. Truth is, I didn’t know anybody that had one, and I’ve never had to demean myself to climb into one’s back seat. No wonder my self-esteem is intact.
Now of course it was infinitely cool to climb in the back seat of a bucket-seat Impala SS or Grand Prix, or even a Corvair Monza, but that was totally different.
Oh how we hated those letters. “Dumbler!” That’s how we read them.
I shudder to think how readily this could have been our car in 1962. It taught me an important lesson, that everything is relative. Compared to this, our stripper V8 Fairlane was a veritable four-door Thunderbird with a bit of imagination. But this would always just be…a Rambler. No amount of wishful thinking or imagination could ever change that.