This weeks history article became part of the 4th largest car business in the US but sadly was lost when number four was swallowed up by number three! Rambler was one of the oldest brands and like many manufacturers, came from a bicycle maker. Thomas B Jeffery was the designer of the bicycles and the first cars. He was a part of the Gormully and Jeffery Manufacturing Company who made bicycles from 1878 through to 1900.
Jeffery had built his first prototype in 1897, a light single-cylinder powered vehicle. After a few years of testing and then showing them at early motor shows in 1899, Jeffery sold the bicycle business to concentrate on building cars. Even though the Rambler name lived on for a while on bicycles, he used it again on his cars. So, in 1900, the Thomas B Jeffery Company was founded to make Rambler cars. As he had sold his manufacturing base, he bought another bicycle company to use their facilities and the first cars started to come out of the factory in 1902.
With good orders coming in, the company shipped over 1,000 cars by the end of the year. The cars were like small horse-drawn carts with boat-style tiller steering systems – just like similar European models of the time, however, Jeffery had designed a steering wheel but felt it wasn’t suited to the motorists of the day! The cars also had a spare wheel and tyre attached – one of the first to do so and a real boon to early motorists who had to be mechanics as well as drivers.
The company grew through the end of the first decade and Jeffery’s son Charles joined him at the company in a management position. He was the one that dropped the Rambler name for the first time – in 1914 he renamed the cars Jeffery after his father. This lasted a couple of years until Charles Nash bought the company and renamed both the company and cars Nash. Charles Nash was another pioneer, being a co-founder of Buick and head of General Motors (GM) when William Durant was fired. After leaving GM, Nash bought Jeffery to start his own company.
Nash survived the 1920s and 1930s with cars that the American public wanted to buy and in 1937 the company merged with Kelvinator, the white goods manufacturer. Nash had retired and his successor George Mason was running Kelvinator after stints at Studebaker and Chrysler. One of the conditions that Mason had in running Nash was that it merged with his company. However, after the Second World War, Nash was beginning to get squeezed by what was becoming the big three of GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Mason needed a small car that could be built and sold cheaply. Steel was in short supply thanks to the war and the growing Cold War was still diverting equipment to the military. Mason released three new small cars to fill different segments of the market and one of them was the return of the Rambler name as the Nash Rambler. First introduced in 1950, it was a two door lightweight car powered by a 2.8 litre straight six with a flathead (otherwise known as an L Head) putting out around 80hp. The first model was also a convertible using a monocoque chassis with a station wagon and coupe coming later in its life as a Series 1.
The Series 2 came out in 1953 with more of the larger Nash model styling influences. A two door sedan and then later a four door sedan and station wagon were introduced. With the merger of Nash and Hudson to form the American Motors Corporation, the Rambler models were badged up as both Nash and Hudson. In 1956 a new Rambler model came out as a four door sedan and wagon – both badged as Nash and Hudson for a year until AMC returned Rambler to the status of a brand in the group with the other two marques being dropped.
Rambler was then given access to AMC’s V8 to make the precursor of the Big 3’s muscle cars – the Rebel. By the early 1960s, AMC was being run by George Romney, the father of Mitt Romney who ran for the Republican nomination for the 2008 Presidential election. Romney Senior wanted to restructure the brand with the Ambassador coming under Rambler to join the Classic – a renamed model that replaced the Rebel and Six. Romney also put in place a method of sharing components to reduce costs. When he left to become the Governor of Michigan, he was replaced by Roy Abernethy who reversed the strategy by going head-to-head with the Big 3!
Abernethy started to phase out the Rambler brand from 1966 in favour of the AMC name. 1969 saw the last US built Rambler car coming off the line – it had no model name and this came after the SC/Rambler that was built in low numbers as a special model of the Rambler American. Only about 1,500 were produced. AMC had contracts with overseas manufacturers to build cars from kits supplied from the US factory.
One was the Australian Motor Industries based in Melbourne who continued to build Rambler models through to 1978. They were basically AMC kits with the Rambler badge. The cars were also built in Mexico and other countries. As an aside, Australian Motor Industries also built Toyotas locally and were bought by Toyota as their local manufacturing facility, which has now sadly closed.
Image sources: Pixabay, Hemmings & Barrett Jackson