Here is a quick word association for those under the age of fifty – Rambler. What is the first thing that came to mind? Was it the boxy, fuel-efficient, grandma driven American or the stately, powerful Ambassador, the greased lightning Rambler Scrambler or the Dodge Chargers forgotten cousin Marlin?
How many thought of the Rambler Rebel or the Nash Rambler convertible of 1950 first? Would it be a fair assumption that no one thought of the Rambler Cross Country of 1912?
The Rambler legacy is a long and surprising one. Its story is that of more than a half century of American automotive history.
With a degree of certainty the case can be made that it was the two-wheeled craze that swept the nation in the closing years of the nineteenth century that served as a foundational element of the automobile industry in this country. George Pierce of Pierce-Arrow fame manufactured bicycles before venturing into automobiles, as did Colonel Albert Pope, manufacturer of the Pope-Hartford and even the legendary Wright brothers made a name for themselves with bicycles.
By 1898, numerous newspapers noted that bicycle mania appeared to be waning and several manufacturers, including George Pierce and Thomas Jeffery, manufacturer of the Rambler bicycle, were experimenting with motorized vehicles. Two years later, at the automobile shows in New York as well as Chicago, Jeffery displayed two very advanced vehicles promoted as Ramblers.
From this simple beginning, Thomas Jeffery moved from being the second largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States to producer of automobiles. Plans were for initiation of production to commence in 1901, but concerns over the publics acceptance of an automobile with front mounted engine as well as left hand drive and a steering wheel led to a redesign of more conventional configuration.
From its initial introduction in February of 1902, the Rambler was so well received that by the end of the year 1500 units were built and sold making the Kenosha manufacturer the second largest in the nation, right behind Olds. The popularity of the Rambler reflected the near constant evolution of the vehicle and by 1904 production had surpassed 2300 cars annually.
Keeping pace with the technological advancement of the car was its promotion, due in large part to the efforts of Edward Jordan, an advertising genius immortalized with powerful prose used to promote the Jordan during the early 1920s. “The Right Car at the Right Price “ and “June Time is Rambler Time” became as well known as “see the USA in a Chevrolet” a half century later.
Adding to the Ramblers popularity was association with events and personalities that generated headlines. Teddy Roosevelt rode in a 1905 Rambler in April of that year at the Rough Rider’s Reunion in Louisville, Kentucky. In April of 1906, cars emblazoned with “Rambler – the car used for relief work in San Francisco Fire” and a red cross were utilized in the city and surrounding areas in relief efforts after the great earthquake.
When the San Jose, California, police department initiated full motorization of their police department in 1907 the city purchased Ramblers. Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill toured in 1908 Ramblers. At the 1909 auto show in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune noted that more Ramblers were sold more than any other make.
With the death of Thomas Jeffery in April of 1910, the reigns of control passed to his son, Charles, and the company reorganized under the name Thomas B. Jeffery Company. With the passing of Jeffery, the era of the Rambler drew to a close, and though it continued to be a strong seller in 1914 the Rambler was renamed Jeffery.
The second generation Rambler arrived on stage in March 1950. Recognized as the first successful American compact car of the post war era the diminutive Nash Rambler convertible, with a 100-inch wheelbase, was a fuel frugal, sprightly performer. Two months later a six passenger, two-door station wagon joined the convertible as a companion model.
In June of 1951, Nash unveiled the third model in the Rambler series, model 5127. Introduction of the Rambler hardtop “Country Club” gave sales a further boost with the wagon, accounting for more than 22 percent of sales, continuing to be a popular model.
The Rambler would shed some of its small car look and appeal in 1954 with the introduction of a four-door sedan and wagon on a 108-inch wheelbase. This trend towards larger, as well as more powerful, culminated with the incredible Rambler Rebel of 1957.
This limited production vehicle was available in one color scheme, light silver gray with a hint of metallic. Powered by the Ambassador 327 c.i.d. engine the four door hard top Rebel was more than the fastest family car available that year, it was one of the quickest cars period. A Motor Trend found that only the fuel injected Corvette bested it in a 0 to 60 test.
Though seldom seen today the Ramblers of the late 1950s proved to be quite popular offering tremendous value for the dollar. As evidence, in 1957 American Motors produced 118,990 cars. Of these 114,084 were Ramblers with the balance being Nash and Hudson models.
In 1958, the small 100-inch wheelbase model returned as the American two-door sedan. The following year a two-door station wagon became the second offering in the American series and sales leapt to 368,464 cars, a new record for an independent auto manufacturer.
Throughout the early 1960s, the Rambler marquee continued to present an alternative to the offerings of the “Big Three” manufacturers. The management at AMC had no problem taking on the giants in the industry and so when Ford introduced the Mustang they countered with the Rambler Marlin.
Making the most from limited resources was the hallmark of the successful independent and the Marlin was no exception as it was really a Rambler Classic with fast back styled roof and unique taillights. In an effort to boost lack luster sales the Marlin became a stream lined Ambassador, a six passenger family sports car for 1967. It was to no avail and the Marlin was replaced for the 1968 model year with the Javelin.
The swan song for the Rambler came in 1969 with the Hurst/Scrambler option package. A patriotic color scheme and asphalt scorching performance courtesy of the shoe horning of a 390 c.i.d. AMX V8 coupled to a close ratio four speed transmission and 3.54:1 rear axle ensured the Scrambler would be noticed on the road, on the track or even when parked.
As the price of gasoline soars to record heights and muscle car prices skyrocket towards the stratosphere perhaps its time to rediscover the oft-overlooked Rambler, the independent with a pioneering spirit. For the truly adventuresome enthusiast, there is always the Rambler that was king of the road before old glory became a forty-eight star banner.

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