I spend a fair amount of time searching the crevices of the internet for needle in a haystack low mileage original classic cars so when I saw an ad that started with ‘4,052 original miles…’ My interest was immediately piqued. Here was an ad for a 1962 Rambler Classic station wagon that had a very short description and a few bad cell phone pictures that showed a dirty and dusty car but not much else. Surely this is a mistake I thought. The odometer had to have turned, nobody would sell a car with such a low mileage claim without at least washing the car.
A phone call to the seller revealed that car was in a salvage yard in Bemidji, Minnesota. The story he told me was that he received a call from the owner who needed to get it out of her garage. Upon arriving at the residence, an elderly woman opened up the garage revealing the Rambler buried under debris. When asked about the history of the car, the heavily accented woman gave a confusing story about the owner having lost his license. Why or when he lost his license is a mystery. What is known is that the woman had the same last name as the original owner. An hour of moving objects and debris form the garage freed the Rambler where it was then towed to the salvage yard.
A few more back and forth phone calls and emails with the salvage yard convinced me that the Ramblers mileage claim was legitimate so a contingent agreement was made and I was on my way from Chicago to Bemidji to finalize the purchase.
‘Time Capsule’ is term frequently used and often overused but upon seeing the Rambler wagon for the first time there was no better way to describe this car. Like a Minnesota winter it was frozen in time! The front seat still had the protective plastic from the factory and there were also cardboard inserts in the headliner that I’m assuming were also used as some type of protection. An undated oil change sticker shows service at 2,325 miles.
The artifacts that were found in the car really begin to give some clues as to how the Rambler was used. The cargo area had several layers of blankets and was lined with newspapers from 1965. A boat oar and the fact the car had a trailer hitch showed that the wagon was likely used for towing a boat. Inside a box, there were egg cartons, a beer can, a peach can and a bar of soap wrapped in newspaper. Is it possible the owner actually took advantage of the famous Rambler beds and slept in it?
The registration card in the owners manual gives more clues about the beginnings of the Rambler. Sold by Bemidji Implement and Rambler to Ronald Maltais on September 8, 1962 the Rambler Classic wagon had the entry level Deluxe trim. With no radio or clock and a three speed manual transmission, the only option I believe the car has is a heater which would be a wise choice living in Minnesota. Hopefully Mr. Maltais negotiated a good price as the introduction of the all new 1963 Ramblers were only a few weeks away! The salesman was 23 year old David Fankhanel who along with his brother Walter took over ownership of Bemidji Implement and Rambler after their fathers passing in 1958.
Other than than the foggy story about Mr. Maltais losing his license a few years into ownership, it’s a mystery as to why the car was never used or why the family just didn’t sell it- that is, until 1993 when the car was registered to Laverne Maltais. Now Laverne was Ronald’s brother (yes Laverne was a man) and by 1993 he was getting along in years so driving an old car with no power options and a manual transmission may have proved difficult for Laverne. The back of the manual shows a likely oil change in 1993 at 3,996 miles just 56 miles less than when I purchased the car in April of 2017. It was another 23 years of storage for the Rambler before the woman whose last name was also Maltais sold it the salvage yard in late 2016 ending 54 years of family ownership.
The salvage yard owner didn’t want to do much to the car as he wanted it to preserve it for the next owner but he did flush the gas tank, change the oil and install a new battery. The Rambler started fairly easily and he drove it a few hundred feet in the yard to make sure it ran and stopped OK. Of course I knew it would need to be looked over completely and needed new tires so I had it shipped directly to my local mechanic for initial service. I also ordered Coker BF Goodrich Silvertown tires which replaced the exact tires that were on the Rambler when purchased in 1962.
Another gas tank flush was performed, coolant flushed, brakes cleaned, sending unit replaced and a clutch adjustment was needed to get the Rambler roadworthy. The first 50 miles or so of driving were interesting as parts were moving for the first time in years but overall the Rambler was driving extremely well!
Now the fun part of cleaning and detailing began. Luckily I found Mike Phillips forum on removing oxidation and restoring single stage paint. I won’t go into the details of how it’s done but I highly recommend anyone who is working with stage one paint to read his process. As the paint finish was being resurrected one section at a time I was also cleaning the interior with great results. The door panels were stained with mildew but with a good simple green cleaning they now look like new. The seats were protected with the factory plastic and blankets so they didn’t need much. The engine bay was also carefully cleaned but the patina left as I think it’s important to leave the car as original as possible.
In July I drove the Rambler to Kenosha for the AMC Homecoming that is held every 3 years on the shores of Lake Michigan. This is a fantastic event with hundreds of AMC’s on display and being only 50 miles from my house it was a no brainer to head up there for the day. After parking in my spot, the first person I spoke with when I got out of the car was a gentleman who had worked at American Motors from 1960-66. He told me he worked on the wagon assembly line and that the wagon bodies came by train from Milwaukee and then were assembled in Kenosha. He remembered one of his jobs was assembling the aluminum trim on the window frame- hard to imagine but there was a good change the gentleman I was talking to helped build the Rambler 55 years earlier!
Unfortunately I had some fuel starvation issues on my drive to Kenosha and was worried about making it all the way back to Chicago but luckily a friend of mine lives fairly close to Kenosha so I brought it to his house following the show then brought it over to an outstanding mechanic that he recommended.
Having the fuel issues where I did turned to a blessing. While the Rambler had been driving nicely up until the fuel starvation, it still needed some attention after its long slumber and the mechanic who my friend set me up with did an amazing job to get the old wagon back to how it drove when it was purchased in 1962.
The gas tank still had sediment in it causing the fuel problem so he pulled the tank, pressure washed it and cleaned it with muratic acid. The fuel lines and fuel pump were flushed and the fuel pump filter replaced. A second fuel filter was added near the gas tank. The carburetor was found to have a small leak so it was rebuilt. Inner and outer axle seals were replaced, new rear brake shoes were installed and rear axle bearings were repacked. Another clutch adjustment was made along with the transmission and differential oil changed.
Since the fixes were made following the Kenosha show I have full confidence that the Rambler can be driven anywhere without issue. It starts without hesitation and runs, shifts and brakes beautifully. The idle is so quiet its sometimes difficult to even hear it at a traffic light. The unibody construction is rattle free and a testament to how solid these Ramblers were built. Driving back from Kenosha, I got caught in a thunderstorm and had to put the vacuum wipers to work for the first time and they worked perfectly- today’s variable speed wipers have nothing on the wipers of a ’62 Rambler!
Not really knowing how the Rambler was stored all these years I have to think that the cooler, and in the winter very cold climate helped preserve it. The originality is amazing right down to the belts, hoses and spark plugs. The ceramic coated exhaust which actually had a lifetime guarantee from AMC is also original. The paint has some chips and a couple of very small thin spots on the hood but otherwise is like new. There are only a couple of minor blemishes on the chrome. The only issue with the interior is the rubber floor that has some cracking in areas. The cargo area is like new without the scuffing that is typically seen on station wagons.
I know that there are still cars out there that are stored away and forgotten like this 1962 Rambler but the chances of me finding another one like this is nearly impossible so this is my once in a lifetime find!
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