My mother once told me that less affluent countries often live off the unwanted scraps of more established powers. There’s a lot upon which she could substantiate her claim, but when taking the stylish, Dick Teague designed 1966 Rambler American into account, she might have to make a stronger case.
My mother was born in Iran in 1952 and lived there until 1975, when she left for London and two years later, the United States. She, along with her strong opinions and sharp wit, lived through twenty-three years of modernization carried out at break-neck speed. While the dictatorship she lived under is famously guilty of many excesses, it was also responsible for bringing dramatic development to its subjects.
The Rambler American is one of the more iconic pieces of this part of Iran’s history. Several days’ worth of AMC Week posts have taught me that, as far as US buyers were concerned, the company’s cars were the preserve of the most stingy, self-denying members of the American motoring public. They handled poorly, had plain looks and were genuinely unfashionable.
All this would corroborate my mother’s assertion, but in terms of styling, the Rambler American had more timeless, international appeal and confirmed the more optimistic aspects of the Shah’s promises of development.
My mother’s eldest brother owned a Rambler American throughout the late sixties and early seventies–my mother’s late teens and early twenties–while working in Southern Iran as an oil industry engineer. Some ten years later, he and his family would flee from an Iraqi artillery onslaught in their Toyota Cressida, abandoning both their town and their home to brutal house-to-house combat, but no one could have guessed that would ever happen during the Rambler days.
The 1966 Rambler American was built in two trim levels in Iran from 1967 until 1974; the Aria being the more upmarket variant, with A/C and an automatic, and the Shahin, more basic. Aria and Shahin are female and male names, respectively, meaning “Aryan,” and “Falcon.” Both were powered by AMC’s 195.6 CID six and despite their rarity, remain a symbol of the modernism characterizing Iran during the “good ol’ days” of the seventies (and fifties and sixties). The other car embraced by Iran’s first homegrown car manufacturer, the flimsy Hillman Hunter (part of the Rootes Arrow series), more convincingly substantiated my mother’s claim that the third world’s industries often have the commercial rejects of their imperialist bosses shoved down their throats. The less said about those cars, the better, but the Rambler is altogether more interesting in its competence, representing both the truth of my mother’s argument but also the benefit to being on the good side of a wealthy superpower. Sadly, the Rambler ended production after seven years while the Hillman was built for over three decades. Finding an Aria or Shahin (the four wheeled variants, not persons bearing the names) in Iran today is rather uncommon.
Dictators get a bad rap, often deservedly, but those of whom hide an army of technocrats behind their cult of personality are often denied credit for the prosperity they bring to their countrymen. Two businessmen who, through corrupt dealings with the Shah, started Irannational (later Iran Khodro/IKCO), brought motoring to hundreds of thousands of middle class Iranians.
These days, most Iranians are under 30 years of age and do not remember the Rambler. For Iran’s post WWII baby boomers–they exist in Iran, also–the Rambler American is a symbol of the Good Ol’ Days and egardless of their political leanings today, the Aria and Shahin speak to a time when life was simpler and prosperity was easier to achieve. In this way, the Rambler American means the same thing to the people of both Tehran and Tulsa.