I recently bought a 1967 AMC Rambler American for a “beater rally” that will take the car from New York to New Orleans (www.baberally.com). The 1,500 mile trek is not that extraordinary, but when you consider that it must be done in a $250 car, it takes on a whole new dimension. Also, the more you break down, the greater your chances are of winning.
I found my car through the local paper; the phrase “runs good” caught my eye. It was a long shot if it would go the distance, but I had to go and at least kick the tires (if there were any). The car was located in a small town southwest of Canton, OH.
When I saw the Rambler, I was amazed. It had some rust problems in the trunk, floorboards and the rear quarters, but the rockers and doors were solid thanks to rust proofing. Under the thick coating of dust from setting in a garage so long, I knew that I had something special. It had the usual used car story — the car was bought new by this guy’s aunt and she drove until she was too old to drive and he drove it from 1991 till 1993. It had 89,000 miles on the odometer. It started and I was able to drive it slowly around the block.
When I picked the car up later that week, instead of towing it like a sensible human being, I decided to drive it the 40-plus miles home. I first took the car to the coin-operated car wash down the street to wait out the afternoon rush hour traffic. The thought of four-wheel drum brakes and learning how to drive “three-on-the-tree” in stop-and-go traffic is not my idea of high adventure. Under the hood, it was covered in a thick coating of oil with a sticky undercoating as a foundation. As the degreaser and quarters worked their magic, it revealed a number of maintenance stickers for various oil and coolant changes through out the years. As I cleaned out the trunk and interior, I found numerous receipts for parts and service that spanned almost 40 years. There was even a receipt from Ed’s Radiator Exchange that used the motto at the bottom “Come Get Tanked with Us.” It was like opening up an aftermarket time capsule.
To my amazement, the 199cid straight-six engine did not miss a beat on the journey. The temperature stayed stable the entire time and the oil pressure light did not come on. The brakes took a few stops to shake the rust loose from the drums, and when I equalized the tire pressures in the front bias-ply tires it actually stopped in a straight line. When I rolled into my driveway, I was impressed.
As I popped the hood to look for fresh leaks, I took some time to peel back those old service stickers that were embedded in the rust proofing. I came to the conclusion that my lucky journey had nothing to do with luck. The reason why I made it back home was because of simple preventive maintenance the previous owner had performed and the shops that took the time to recommend during the past 39 years. It is rolling proof that preventive maintenance can make a car last long. Will the car make it the 3,000 mile round trip from the Big Apple to the Big Easy? Find out in the June issue of Brake & Front End.