5 Speed Manual? 1961 Rambler American

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We cover a lot of mainstream station wagons on BF, and even some non-mainstream examples such as Studebakers. But a Rambler American, like this 1961 subject? Few and far between! And that being the case, let’s take a look at what the one-half part of the Big Three and a half were offering 60+ years ago as far as suburban transporters go. Found in Newport, California, this all-American Rambler station wagon is available, here on craigslist for $7,500.

American Motors offered two and four-door body-style Rambler American station wagons in ’61, spread across three different trim levels, Super, Custom, and Deluxe. Total station wagon production equaled about 33K copies – a pretty fair volume though it paled compared to GM, Ford, and Chrysler’s output. Still, even with 33K units, they’re seldomly encountered today. AMC’s Rambler marque, surprisingly, came in third place in the ’61 production race with 377K vehicles, putting them behind number two Chevrolet and number one Ford, both who generated a 1.3M number.

I’m not certain which of the three trim levels this wagon is but one thing that I am certain of, and that’s its rust. It’s most obvious in the lower door panels and it looks like the type that only grows as you go digging. It’s unfortunate as the two-tone finish of butterscotch and brown makes for an appealing presence, and the paint doesn’t look very dated. The chrome appears to be pretty decent though the rear bumper has been pushed in a bit. The chrome reverse wheels, with baby moon hub caps, project a ’60s vibe – they’re a matter of preference but are fitting for this wagon.

The seller states that the engine is a 1963 edition of what is likely to be a 127 HP, 196 CI, in-line six-cylinder engine, mated to a 2004 Chevrolet five-speed manual transmission that originated in an S-10 pick-up. I’ll assume is a Borg-Warner five-speed manual though it could be a New Venture box too. The seller claims, “It runs strong and solid“.

The interior has undergone a switcheroo with some bucket seats that have been poached from somewhere else (it’s not said). They are in poor condition and will require reupholstering. Actually, the entire interior was redone at one point with door panels that match the seats. The cargo area has been carpeted and it shows pretty well but the details aren’t obvious from the included image. There is a replacement steering wheel in place but the original is included in the sale.

This wagon would be a good hot-rod project in my estimate – assuming the body rot can be reasonably brought under control. This is one of those “The world’s your oyster” project cars in terms of what direction you could take it. That leaves me with one thought, and that’s the price of entry. What do you think, priced right, or not quite?

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  1. 370zpp 370zppMember

    I like.

    Like 7
  2. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    Baby moons always work, but not so much butterscotch paint with brown roof. No woman would get in that car with you.

    Like 7
  3. Howard A. Howard AMember

    Hmm, a GM 5 speed, brilliant! The biggest draw’rback for all these classics, is they just aren’t highway friendly for today. 70, or even 65 for these, the motor is hammering away, and just not designed for high speed operation. The 5 speed changes that, not that I’d want to go 70( or more) in a ’61 Rambler anyway. I always liked the chrome wheels and moons,,,but not here. The styling is simply too goofy to have anything cool. Still a neat ride, fo sho’.
    Here’s a bit of fun for you Rambler nuts,,,I don’t see a dipstick, anybody know where it is? I do, as with Ramblers, it was paramount to check the oil daily, sometimes twice, if a trip was planned and also, while the oil filter location is nice, remember, it wasn’t a “full pressure” filter, like today, and still made a mess when changing it.

    Like 7
    • geezerglide 85

      Yep, how about right in the filler tube as part of the oil cap. I worked in a gas station in the 70’s and saw a lot of different ones. A lot of strange gas cap location too. Mostly on ’50’s cars

      Like 8
      • Phil Parmelee

        So did I. I started working at a very busy Clark gas station just a couple of months before the oil embargo started. That sure made things interesting! Worked there all through college and a little beyond, 73-78.

        Like 1
    • Bob

      That’s one I forgot!!! I was 17 working in my brothers gas station in 1963. Yes, attached to the filler cap.

      Like 4
    • Chuck Simons

      Made me think about that one…..That has been 50 years since I’ve seen one.

      Like 2
    • Jon.in.Chico

      My mom had a ’64 Rambler Classic 660 with the same engine, but with AT, also AC/PS/PB … it was an eighteen-mile commute to school from our rural farm … there was a small local yokel gas station/grocer about half way … my dad had a “credit book” there and I’d stop every couple days and put in a quart of Janoco recycled oil in it “on account,” being sure to get a receipt … later traded it on a VW Fastback …

      Like 0
  4. Deborah

    My Father was a welder,auto body inspector, 31 years at AMC …..We once had one of these don’t remember the year exactly… Watched them tear down AMC in 1989, 90 was sad to see it go …those men worked very hard …for not much pay in the 50,s 60,s 70,s your very lucky go own the Rambled ..

    Like 8
    • Jimmy Novak

      Actually, AMC paid the highest wages in Wisconsin for years. But you worked darn hard for your money.
      Unless, of course, you knew someone in management or you were on the UAW board, in which cases you just had to walk around and look important.

      Like 1
  5. Big C

    A cheesy paint job hiding the cancerous rust. With a ripped up and dirty 1980’s interior. All for $7500. Nyet

    Like 2
  6. Steve

    I miss AMC.

    Like 7
  7. Norman K Wrensch

    3spd with over drive was a popular option in a Rambler, that would of made more sense then the 5 spd

    Like 2
    • JustPassinThru

      I expect the transmission failed. A Warner Gear unit…the Postal Service was saddled with those transmissions in DJ-5s, and gave it the epithet of “Mickey Mouse.” A little kid in that era, I remember my mother struggling with one in her 1962 Rambler Classic. The transmission would back up okay cold, and initially move forward…but at the first stoplight, once stopped and idling (in D) and then, stepping on the gas…it wouldn’t dig in. Spin free for 60 seconds or so, and then engage with a bang.

      Repeated dealer visits wouldn’t cure it.

      I SERIOUSLY doubt there’s any Warner Gear units left, ANYWHERE, if the transmission had a catastrophic failure. They were not good or valuable transmissions. The Postal trucks were the last wheeled vehicles to use that thing…AMC switched to Chrysler transmissions for private-sale vehicles, years earlier.

      So, to keep things running…probably modified a bell housing to get the S-10 transmission to bolt up. Getting the transmission pilot bearing to fit, would have been a real challenge.

      Like 0
  8. Norman K Wrensch

    I was just thinking if I remember right a 61 AMC would of had a torque tube drive line, so putting in a S10 five speed would of required the rear end a torque tube to be replaced also. Making the 3spd and over dive a much easier job.

    Like 4
    • Bob19116

      AMC’s compact Rambler American had an open driveshaft. It was their intermediate sized cars (Classic, Ambassador, Marlin) that had torque tubes until 1966. I see it has a dual master cylinder but I thought AMC switched to dual master cylinders in 1962. Am I wrong or was it modified to the 1962 version? Also, the old Nash 6 cylinder with the oil filter up top also had a combined oil filler tube and dipstick. So, the dipstick is part of the red cap at the right side of the engine picture.

      Like 1
  9. BrianT BrranTMember

    This could be a fun little cruiser.p

    Like 3
  10. Chris Cornetto

    A goo box here, and a uni body goo box at that. The 5 speed is creative. I wonder what was done for the rear and torque tube. Is it an abomination or done well so at any speed above 30mph your not vibrated out of the car as anything loose rattles and drops off. The paint is nice and thick like cake icing. One can only wonder what lurks beneath in the frame rails and so on. The inside is well, missing the cool seat that becomes a bed, likely due to the shifter location or a band of fuzz munching critters consumed it. No one that hasn’t dropped acid is going to pay 7,500.00 for this. Sorry like many old cars nowadays, it’s nice to dream of that big payout and that’s not happening here. I think in reality, maybe 2,500.00 if your lucky. I am most certain lots of these big priced projects do not move.

    Like 3
  11. rob f

    Hi, my dad in 60′ traded in 56′ chevy hdt. for…59′ rambler wagon black (mom was pregnant#4) new! had that car till’ 69′! at recess kids..chevy or ford? of course I said rambler!!…I got the last laugh!!! well..the tailgate rusted off. the acid comment was funny..I didn’t drop then..saw how they were! when I showed up a 58′ Roadmaster 4dr/hdt they were freaking out!…drove around for an hour. at his apt. he had 4-way…I didn’t know? ..yes, I did…took my key’s say’s your not going anywhere today. he had a 52′ chevy deluxe conv. ivory knobs/canvas top w/zip-out window! make sure you plan your trip!!

    Like 0
    • BCourtenay

      Rambler was into unibody very early. They had a name for it, I just can’t remember. A lot of them did not survive due to rust. Had a scoutmaster when I was young and we would stuff a lot of camping stuff and strap a bunch more on top and a bunch of us kids. No seatbelts were required. It traveled a lot of trails in the pine barrens in south Jersey. I am 71 and I speak to him regularly he is well in his 90s. I will forward this ad to him.

      Like 1

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