Custom Sleeper: 1966 Rambler American 440

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The American served as the entry-level car for AMC between 1958 and 1969 and was the second incarnation of the Rambler compact from the Nash-Hudson days. Until the Hurst SC/Rambler was built in limited numbers in the American’s final year, the car had always been about economy, not speed. A racecar enthusiast decided to create his own Rambler American muscle car using a clean 1966 2-door hardtop as the basis. What resulted was this one-off sleeper referred to as the “Scrambler.” It’s located in Street, Maryland, a rural community north of Baltimore, and offered here on eBay by a third party. The bidding is up to $16,101 with a reserve that still must be satisfied.

The third and last generation of the American was from 1964-69. It was the final Rambler-named automobile sold in North America. The American would be replaced by the AMC Hornet in 1970, which was a little bigger and less boxy than the American. Perhaps inspired by the 1969 SC/Rambler and its 390 V-8, Ken Keir of Keir Race Cars in Maryland decided to build his own custom, V-8 powered American that used a clean six-cylinder unit from 1966 as the donor. Keir kept it as his personal car and then sold it to the current owner a couple years ago. That owner has decided to “thin the herd” and turned it over to a third party to sell. We’re told the car has traveled less than 1,000 miles since this build was completed in 2015.

This ’66 American was the top-line 440 model in 2-door hardtop trim. Some of what was done in transforming this car would be considered custom work, so you won’t find another one out there quite like it. These items would include things like the coil bracket being welded to the breather, the dipstick holder, a deep oil pan with a perimeter reinforcement, and so on. The seller says the rust-free donor car was disassembled and painted Flash Green Metallic, a Nissan color circa 2008. The seats were reupholstered to match the period while the door panels and headliner are original.

Keir decided to go with a professionally-rebuilt, blueprinted and balanced 304 cubic inch AMC V-8. It comes loaded with a bunch of “goodies” like Edelbrock aluminum heads, Comp Cams hydraulic camshaft, Holley 650 carburetor and Moroso air cleaner. The builder elected to go with an automatic transmission, a 727 Torque-Flite which has been blueprinted and runs a “Boss Hog” converter, yet it shifts like a typical automatic. While the car was used mostly for the show circuit, it was also known to do the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds.

If you pulled up in this car next to anyone in an SS 396 at a traffic light, they’d probably think you were just another guy in a ‘60s economy car. A few seconds later, they’d find out how wrong they were. A run-of-the-mill American, even a nice one, isn’t known to bring big bucks on the collector market. But how about this one, a custom-built American that defines the term sleeper and yet has a bit of the whiplash factor when you tromp on the gas? The seller has provided a video of the car in motion for your enjoyment.

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  1. RayT

    All that time and effort put into upgrades and the builder stayed with drum brakes?

    No, thank you.

    Like 21
    • Tony Primo

      Too much time and effort in the 304. It could have been so much better with some more cubic inches, 360, 390 or 401.

      Like 24
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    HA! I was totally unprepared for what lie under the hood, until I saw the shifter. Nice! I had this exact car many moons ago, it was a 6 cylinder and automatic. Just one of the many $100 beaters you could buy in the 70’s. I remember, if I took it on the highway, it would use a 1/4 of oil in 50 miles, around town, was okay. Nice freakin’ ride, here.
    @RayT, you know, everything disc brake today, and it does seem a bit foolish, but drum brakes aren’t like stopping with your feet ( wore out a lot of P.F. Flyers that way) drum brakes are adequate, even in stopping 80,000 pounds. I made my living with drum brakes, and properly adjusted, I never had a problem.

    Like 33
    • RayT

      I agree drums are okay, Howard A. Among the many other drum-braked cars in my life, I spent a fair amount of time driving a Vintage Bentley, and rather briskly to boot, and that had mechanical drum brakes. Eventually, they did fade, of course….

      My concern, I guess, is that a “Race Car Builder” might be expected to add some whoa to the go. If I was building one of these, that’s what I’d do, and I’m no pro by any stretch.

      YMMV, of course.

      Like 15
    • That AMC guy

      I still think for a car that is actually going to be driven discs at least in the front are a good idea. Certainly a lot easier to work on (I really hate wrestling with brake springs), and an easy conversion on these cars using either a Scarebird kit or later AMC parts. Also hard to believe with all the work done they kept the vacuum windshield wipers! Though I expect this car won’t experience much in the way of foul weather driving. Nice that the dash wasn’t butchered to install a modern radio. Don’t like the shifter though, would have been nice to keep the stock column shift so a peek inside would give no clue about what’s going on under the hood.

      It’s a relatively light car and a built-up 304 is no slouch. (Practically the same displacement as the popular Ford 5.0 V8.)

      Like 8
  3. Kenneth Carney

    My aunt had one before she passed away in the ’90s. Hers was painted about
    this color and was surprisingly rust free
    for the time and what it was. You just
    didn’t see too many of these in the early
    ’80s as they were either thrashed to death or devoured by a herd of tinworms. I think that hers had white top too. It ran a 232 cube 6 backed by
    a 3 speed manual trans shifted from the
    floor. It too was a 440 hardtop with the
    rare bucket seats in place of the regular
    bench seat. Gotta say it looked really
    sharp too. After seeing this car, AMC
    made a big mistake by not offering a V-8
    with this model when the big 3 were offering such engines in their compact
    offerings at that time. All I can say is
    just think what might’ve been if they did.

    Like 7
    • That AMC Guy

      AMC offered a V8 in the American starting in 1966. A friend had a ’66 wagon that came with a 290 from the factory.

      Like 8
  4. Jeff

    The obnoxious floor shifter ruins the sleeper look, that being said the car is Super Sano!

    Like 14
  5. bone

    I don think this was a 440 , unless the builder removed all the trim . I’d say this was a American 220 .

    Like 4
    • Rod

      220s were sedans not hardtops. This is a 440.
      AMC factory build scheduler. 1969

      Like 0
  6. Pat

    69 Scrambler had a 390, not the 360. 360 wasn’t available in 69

    Like 4
    • Pat

      Never mind, I misread

      Like 2
  7. Jim

    Looked nice….until I saw that it had been bastardized. I hate seeing cars like this “turned into” muscle cars. Would love to find one stock, but this would take too much time and money to get back to original.

    Like 5
    • karl

      I totally agree ! In a similar theme, – My mother had a 67 220 2 door , bought it in 1968 and had it until she stopped driving in 2001. In all that time it racked up only 74,000 miles. The floors had some minimal rust , but the body and everything else was good ; including a perfect interior. My parents sold it cheap for 1,500 to a girl who said she wanted an old car to fix up. Turned out she bought it for her husband who had a S/C rambler. He took the front fenders ,door panels and headliner for his car and dumped the rest . Imagine buying a perfectly good running antique car and taking parts off of it for a car you’re fixing up !

      Like 7
      • Dave

        Happens all the time. Say you own a 1969 SS 396 that needs a front clip and you find a cherry Malibu for a good price. Which car are you going to fix and drive?

        Like 6
      • KARL

        Well I wouldn’t tear a good car up to fix up another car , but I guess there are people that would . I would rather pay extra money for a part (or parts) to fix the one and leave the complete , but maybe not worth as much car alone.

        Like 1
  8. Mark

    Nice car. Someone is going to get a fun ride.
    AMC fits the motto dare to be different.
    By the way, a bit of a stretch calling it a sleeper… way just another 60’s economy car sounds like this thing.

    Like 6
  9. Steve R

    This is a really well though out and executed car.

    Not every car needs, nor should be restored to stock. It’s reasonably fast and is mild enough to be driven or raced. It’s a good compromise and should be able to do anything an owner asks of it.

    Steve R

    Like 9
  10. Angrymike

    I absolutely love this ! I’ve liked this body style since the early 80’s when a fren bought one as a beater. I always dreamed of making a hot car outa one of these, but would have went with the 390 or 401. The new owner will be a lucky guy !

    Like 5
  11. jerry z

    Stupid driving a car with that little power using a 3500 stall TC, need to drop it to 2500. Nothing like burning up a trans quick! But do like the car otherwise.

    Like 2
  12. Keith

    It had it’s day and I respect the old school vibe but too much $$$.

    Like 2
  13. Chunk

    304 is an odd and unfortunate choice; they’re not breaking 250 horsepower on that mill. An AMC 390 or 401 would have been my choice if I were keeping it ‘in the family;’ if I wanted serious power I’d go with a force-fed inline 6 like a Toyota 2JZGTE or a Ford Barra.

    Like 2
  14. Scott

    Sweet,mother use to have one.Just like I would have built one.Even consider swapping the 73 Challenger that’s 85% done that’s been a project in the making for 20 yrs or so,hasn’t seen daylight for 10 yrs.Always seemed like a cheaper/different alternative to a early Chevy ‘ll/Nova!I like it!!!

    Like 0
  15. Scott

    Almost forgot,nice video! Matching music to machine!

    Like 0
  16. Pete

    Suicide machine with drum brakes.

    Like 0
  17. Gus Fring

    Agreed, a 401 is the same engine, externally, and packs a BUNCH more punch. Why in the heck did he build a 304???

    Like 2
    • DON

      Maybe he couldn’t find a 390 or 401 and had a 304 already ?

      Like 2
  18. Driftwood10

    I have the 304 in my javelin. To the best of my knowledge edelbrock doesn’t make and nor have they ever made heads for the amc 304.

    Like 1
  19. Karl

    I sure agree with you guys on the 304 but if you went with a good 401 making a conservative 400 HP those skinny little rears are going to have to go, then tuning the trans so it shifts harder and in no time you have a true muscle car with no resemblance to any kind of sleeper. Where do you stop? I always seem to have a big expensive problem with this!

    Like 2
  20. JCAMember

    Nice, clean car. Someone spent a lot of sweat equity here and it shows. Personally, I would have gone with a manual trans and disc brakes if I were dead set on the 304 though. Either way, you can’t go wrong with this car, you’re buying it at a discount to what was spent on building this unique project.

    Like 4
  21. K. R. V.

    Ok this is very similar to the first car I ever drove! At 11, years old my wonderful Dad bought Mon a new American 220, that was as basic as could possibly be with an automatic and AM radio. Power, if you could call it that was from a flat head six, I think was a 190? All I know is Dad let me drive it up an down our dirt road, where we were the only home on at the time, plus around the huge grass covered years we had, after I cut it of course! But I could try to spin a wheel, on BBC wet grass and the amazing AMC traction control at the time did a fantastic job preventing even one tire from spinning! It was a gold an tan bench seat beauty! That the three of us at the time draw straws, to see who was riding with Mom to the beach house in the beginning of summer vacation and back in the fall, in the American, while the winner rode home with Dad, in his 64 Inperial Crown Coupe!

    Like 3
  22. CharlieMember

    My mother had a ’68 Rogue with V8, vynal roof, red, FAST, and handled well for 1968. On 3 mile, twisty. 35 mph downhill, wished for disc brakes. but downshifting worked just fine. She liked it because it “went right along”, easy to park, and she could see all 4 corners of it. She learned to drive at 55 and never mastered the idea of downshifting so went “the long way around ” rather than lose the brakes on the short way home.

    Like 0
  23. Gene Dikkers

    Having owned several AMC products, i have experience in preparing the 8 cylinder engines for street and competition. The 304 is a very good choice for this vehicle. It will allow 87 octane fuel and when driven on highway can generate an honest 20 mpg, while providing decent performance. I had built 401 in a car very similar, when I could still purchase Texaco 100 octane Sky Chief fuel. The vehicle was scary fast, got about 9 miles per gallon. If not driven carefully, well let say it was a dangerous vehicle.

    Like 3
  24. Al

    Sure it doesn’t have disc brakes but so what. The people that complain about drum brakes just don’t know how to adjust them right. Unless your going to track the car on a road course there just find. Even at a drag strip they’ll do. Matter of fact drum brakes can be backed off at the strip and gives less drag the disc brakes.

    Like 0
  25. Troy s

    Not overly familiar with Rambler/AMC, friend in high school had a pink Rambler of some sort with a pushbutton controlled automatic and 6 cylinder. Hated that car.
    I can see why the SC looked pretty good and just a bit of Chevy II, with that small snorkel scoop making quite an impression. This car doesn’t fool anybody in the know, the sleeper look is almost expected in a car like this, so would the exhaust note.
    Thirteen four in the quarter mile is good news, may only have 304 cubes but it’s working. More cubes and I would expect bigger burnouts and other unhelpful holeshot tricks.

    Like 0
  26. R.Lee

    When I was 15 I bought a 68 Rambler blue with the 199 Poised Power 6 cylinder, 3 on the tree,. The car was almost indestructible. The Poised Power 6 could not kill it. Dad thought the car would be good to learn how to drive a stick shift. So with snow tires and dirt roads on the farm I learned quick about slippin the clutch.

    I was working at the Salvage yard in south St. Louis, J&S Auto Salvage Schirmer and Broadway. The owner John Sweeny sold me an engine to see if I could make it work in the 68. 69 Ambassador was the donor 390 and a Javelin 4 speed. Linkage work for clutch, spacer motor mount blocks for exhaust manifolds to clear. And propeller shaft work was the only part that I paid to have done special.

    For a 16 year old with a front end heavy car with standard brakes,
    man power steering, was sure a handful. In hindsight the car would have been better with an automatic.

    The car for sale is a one of a kind engine transplant that was not taken on to frequently because of the lack of speed parts for any AMC, AMX back in the old days. Looks to be a quality build that could be personalized to someone else’s taste. 304 is Kool for a car of this weight class, but 343 or 360 would give it higher status. And can be achieved by the next owner after grenading the 304.

    Like 0
  27. V8roller

    I have a 63 Ambo 990 with drums. But they are big drums whereas the stock 440 has little drums, so hmmm. Perhaps they were swapped.
    The vac wipers are fine provided there is a vac pump on the engine. My 327 has a vac pump, not sure about this one.
    Nice looking car though. Good that they took the trouble to refurb the interior.

    Like 0

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