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Rambler Emblem


 1900 - 1971

Thomas B. Jeffery

It was in 1878 that Thomas B. Jeffery, an Englishman who had emigrated to America, began manufacturing bicycles. Before long the Gormully & Thomas B. Jeffery manufacturing company was one of the biggest in the industry, with branches at Boston, Washington and New York, and the main factory on North Franklin and Pearson Streets, Chicago.

By the 1890s, there was even a branch factory in the centre of the English cycle trade, Coventry, and the company, whose products were marketed under the trade name 'Rambler', was rivalling the Pope-Columbia group for supremacy in the local market. Jeffery was a prolific inventor and pioneered the beaded-edge clincher tire on the American scene; in the 1890s, the company claimed 'Rambler bicycles for man, woman or child are safest and most luxurious - G & J Pneumatic Tires Make Them So'.

Bicycling for Girls from a Medical Standpoint

An added touch of luxury was the spring frame, which was promoted as having some therapeutic value, and a pseudo-scientific treatise by one Dr Tooker (Bicycling for Girls from a Medical Standpoint) was sent free with the company's catalogue. Another invention of Jeffery's was the 'railway velocipede', a pedal-powered vehicle for permanent-way inspectors.

In 1897, Jeffery began work on a motor carriage, which was built in the machine shop of his Chicago factory. It followed cycle practice in its construction, with a tubular chassis and wire wheels. The tiller-steered buggy, with its curious lozenge-shaped coachwork, was obviously unfit for series production, a fact betrayed by such minor considerations as the flywheel of the rearward-pointing horizontal engine being between the driver's feet.

By 1900, Jeffery had two cars ready to show to the public. The work of his son, Charles, the vehicles had tiller steering and twin-cylinder engines. One was bodied as a Stanhope, the other as a runabout, and they were shown at the International Exhibition and Tournament in Chicago and at America's first national motor show at New York's Madison Square Garden. Reaction to these cars, which in the summer of 1900 completed a round trip from Chicago to Milwaukee, must have been favourable, as Thomas Jeffrey sold his interest in Gormully & Jeffrey and bought a factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which had formerly belonged to the Sterling Bicycle Company, where Charles began work on further prototypes.

The first of these, the Model A, appeared in the following year. A more finished design than its predecessors, Model A had the engine in front under a bonnet whose sides were formed by the elements of the gilled-tube radiator. Unusually for that date, the car had left-hand positioning of the steering wheel. In the summer of 1901, Charles Jeffery completed a second experimental car, the Model B, a refined version of the Model A, which had, if anything, even more 'European' features than its predecessor.

The First Production Rambler

Old Thomas B. Jeffery, however, thought that these twin-engined runabouts were too radical in design for the American market, which was still demanding gas buggies. So, the Model C was developed. The Model C was a crude and spidery tiller-steered machine with a single-cylinder 12 hp engine under the seat, driving the rear axle via a central chain, and started by a crank beside the driver's seat that seemed to have strayed from a barrel organ. Finished in Brewster green with red striping, this first production Rambler sold for $750, and went on the market in March 1902, in Chicago.

Soon it was joined by a de luxe version, the Model D, costing $825 with 'hand-buffed leather top, rubber side curtains and storm apron'. Together, these cars sold 1500 units in the first year of production, putting Rambler in the 'big league' of production, along with the Curved-Dash Olds and the Locomobile Steamer. As 1902 progressed, so the design of these cars became more substantial: the cycle-type wire wheels were replaced with wooden artillery wheels in mid-year, and a clip-on dos-a-dos seat was available to convert the strictly-two-seater Rambler into an uncomfortable four-seater. A contemporary photograph shows that a determined family motorist could squeeze two small children into the lid of the frontal luggage locker to boost carrying capacity to six!

Another worthwhile addition to the specification was the fitting of mudguards, while the 1903 Model E boasted wheel steering and a 15 hp engine. Sales of this and the better-finished Model F totalled 1350. A clumsy looking tubular radiator distinguished the 1904 Model G, although, as the engine was still under the seat, the impressively louvred bonnet was a total fraud (or perhaps the louvers were for keeping the beer and sandwiches cool on picnics). Nine different models were offered that year, of which the most popular was the Model L, with side-mounted wicker baskets and a surrey top. Sales were up to 2342.

1902 Rambler 2-seater Runabout
1902 Rambler 2-seater Runabout, with tiller steering.

1904 Rambler built by Thomas B. Jeffery Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin
1904 Rambler built by Thomas B. Jeffery Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin. It featured a 25 hp engine.

1911 Rambler Tourer
In 1911 an estate agency used this photo as part of a publicity campaign to sell property. The car featured is a Rambler Tourer.

1912 Rambler Cross Country
1912 Rambler Cross Country, powered by a four-cylinder engine.

In 1950 the Rambler name was revived, for the new Nash compact
In 1950 the Rambler name was revived, for the new Nash compact.

A cutaway shot of the in-line side-valve six-cylinder engine, which was produced by Nash and Hudson in the 1950's
A cutaway shot of the in-line side-valve six-cylinder engine, which was produced by Nash and Hudson in the 1950's.

1963 Rambler 440 4-Door Sedan
1963 Rambler 440 4-Door Sedan.

1965 Rambler Ambassador 990 Station Wagon
1965 Rambler Ambassador 990 Station Wagon.

1966 Rambler Classic Sedan
1966 Rambler Classic Sedan.

1968 Rambler Rogue 2-Door Coupe
1968 Rambler Rogue 2-Door Coupe.

1970 Javelin Coupe
1970 Javelin Coupe.

1972 Gremlin X 2-Door Compact
1972 Gremlin X 2-Door Compact.

Theodore Roosevelt Rides In A Rambler-Surrey Type Two

From 1904 to 1908 Ramblers featured throttle operation by what seemed to be a subsidiary steering wheel. 1905 saw the adoption of a more-rounded - but still ugly-configuration of radiator and bonnet, under which lay an 18 hp twin-cylinder engine, with twin chains driving the rear wheels. The Presidential accolade was afforded to one of these cars when Theodore Roosevelt rode in a Rambler-Surrey Type Two in the Rough Riders' Reunion Parade at Louisville, Kentucky, on 4 April 1905. That model, complete with roll-down storm curtains, cost $1650.

The first closed Rambler appeared in 1906 in the shape of the Model 16, priced at $3000, and whose cooling system seemed to be something of a physical marvel: 'Every attention is paid to comfort and convenience, and a radiator is provided whereby the desired temperature may at all times be attained'. As the limousine came in, however, so the old surrey-topped tourers disappeared. Ramblers were moving up in the price stakes, a fact reflected in the drop in sales for 1906, down to 2765 compared with the 1905 total of 3807.

The slack caused by the change in image was only temporary: in 1907, Rambler announced their first four-cylinder model, the 40 hp Model 25, and they sold 3201 cars. By now, the mid-engined cars had acquired bodies which hinged upwards for ease of access to the mechanical parts. In 1908, Rambler spent considerable sums on image-building public-relations exercises, such as the spending of $25,000 on enamelled road-direction signs (on which the Rambler logo was bigger than the directions) in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois, and the presentation of silver watch fobs to all owners who had driven their Ramblers more than 15,000 miles.

Buffalo Bill Cody and Mark Twain

Over 200 were enrolled by the summer of 1908, when any owner planning a long tour was still considered newsworthy enough to be featured in the company's house magazine. Realising the publicity value of famous personalities riding in their products, the company also published photographs of Buffalo Bill Cody and Mark Twain in Rambler four-cylinder cars, which they described as 'dignified, silent, comfortable and reliable'. A sporting model, the 34A, was added to the line-up. It had extravagantly flared oyster-shell front wings, and the performance potential of the Rambler car was given in a news story that recounted how an irate Rambler owner had chased a horse-thief for thirteen hours from Kankakee, Illinois, finally capturing him in Rennsalaer, Indiana.

Sales were up again, to 3597, but slumped again the following year to 1692. However, at the 1909 Chicago Motor Show, attended by 200,000 people, more Ramblers (160) were sold than any other make. A major advance on the 1909 Ramblers was the option of a detachable spare wheel, the first time that such a fitting had been available on an US car. The company was obviously determined that 1910 was going to be a better year for sales, but cloaked the fact in the proud statement that for 1910 production would be limited to 2500 cars 'to assure maximum quality'.

President Howard William Taft

That they were still desperate for customers was demonstrated when one client traded in six cows for his Rambler. Once again, however, the firm was hitting the headlines, with President Howard William Taft riding in one of the very first rqr o-model Ramblers in November 1909, when visiting the hamlet of Rambler, near Augusta, Georgia. There was a bitter blow on 21 March 1910, when Thomas B. Jeffery collapsed and died while on a European tour. Three months later, the company was incorporated under Wisconsin law, with capital stock of $3,000,000. By now, Rambler had left the old gas-buggy image far behind, and the 1911 models, which sold over 3000, were substantial cars with some clever mechanical details, like a locking petrol tap 'to prevent the use of the car without the consent of the owner'.

The model 63 coupe had a 'steering column that may be adjusted at any angle to suit the comfort of the operator'; this car seated four, three facing forward and 'one had a commanding view of the road behind'. The company stressed the safety built into their products: 'Each car is required in test - to come to a full stop within fifty feet at 18 mph'. Comfort and durability were important, too. The use of big wheels and tyres 'provide not only added comfort, but tests have shown that tyres even an inch larger in diameter and half an inch greater in width will last twice as long'.

In 1912, three Model 73-4CC Ramblers - the CC stood for 'Cross-Country' - covered 320 miles in one day, from Chicago to Toledo, on a company demonstration. Sales for 1912 were 3550; for 1913, they rose to 4435, and in that year Rambler standardised electric lighting, with the side-lamps faired into the scuttle, and offered a 10,000-mile guarantee with each car. The cars were not the whole story for 1913, as early in the year Rambler introduced a range of trucks under the Jeffery name which proved so popular that within twelve months commercial-vehicle production had out-stripped cars by more than 1100 units.

The Jeffrey Quad Truck

For 1914 the cars were known as Jeffrey, and the company was pioneering mass-produced four-wheel-drive with the famous Jeffrey Quad truck. The change of image seems to have been the right move because, in 1914, the Jeffery company built 10,417 cars and 3096 trucks. The fact that the purple-penned Ned Jordan was helping to market the company's products may have had something to do with it as well. The production of cars had tailed off again when Charles W. Nash resigned from General Motors in 1916 and bought out the Thomas B. Jeffery Company. It picked up again immediately after the takeover, but the Jeffery name was dropped for all time in the summer of 1917, to be replaced by the Nash image and superscription.

The Rambler name is Revived by Nash

However, the Rambler name was revived, 37 years after its decease, for the new 'compact' introduced in 1950 by Nash Motors, and was used as a model name a for some years-after the merger between Nash and Hudson which created American Motors in 1954, some Hudsons were also called Ramblers (or vice versa). It was soon patently obvious, however, that the Rambler name had far more pulling power than that of either Nash or Hudson and, by 1955, Ramblers were outselling all other models in the combined range, and had become virtually a separate marque-by 1956, and three-quarters of the group output of 104,199 cars were Ramblers.

A new Rambler series appeared in 1956, powered by a 120 hp ohv six-cylinder engine. The ugly, typically 1950s lines of the latest body-shell were accentuated by eccentrically conceived two-tone paint jobs, applied in a broad side-flash which curved down to the rear wheel arch and simultaneously swooped up and over the rear window pillar. There was a new pillarless 'hardtop sedan', which was also available as a station wagon, said to be the first car to have combined 'the appeal of the station wagon and the hardtop convertible', a statement of dubious validity since the hardtop sedan was not a convertible!

Another 'unique feature' whose merits were mainly existent in the eyes of the publicity department was focused on station wagons: 'a roll-down rear window which eliminated the irksome upper tailgate found on competitive wagons'. It was in 1956 that the two-millionth car rolled off the Kenosha production line, a record achieved since 1941, when the Nash 600 had been announced, with its 'unitised' body-shell. The AMC group's concentration on the Rambler line was the result of the passionate belief of George Romney, President and Chairman of American Motors, that the compact car was the car of the future.

George Romney

Romney had joined Nash-Kelvinator in 1950 as General Manager, having made a name for himself during the war as manager of the Automotive Council for War Production, which co-ordinated the activities of the American motor industry to maximise the output of military material. It was Romney, too, who had been responsible for the re-introduction of the memorable and respected Rambler marque name. During the mid 1950s it looked as though Romney's promotion of the compact concept had been an unlucky gamble, as American Motors reported four consecutive years of heavy losses.

In 1957, despite a loss of $11,833,280 on sales of $362 million, there were signs that there were good times around the corner. That year, Rambler became a separate marque once again, and the old habit of labelling a Rambler by the Nash or Hudson names died. So, too, did the Nash and Hudson cars, as the 1957 models gave way to the '58s. In any case, the Hudson Hornet and Nash Ambassador lines had become virtual dead letters long before: out of 118,990 cars built in 1957 by the three components of American Motors, 114,084 had been Ramblers. That year, too, a more powerful Rambler option was added to the line, in the form of a new 190 bhp V8 engine.

The Rambler Rebel

There was a limited-edition, 255 bhp Rambler Rebel with a 327 cu in version of this power unit. Only 1500 or so Rebels were built, distinguished by a color scheme of silver with 'gold anodised spears'. More than 100 improvements were made to the 1958 models, although the utility of some of the changes is questionable: the body-shell underwent a major face (and posterior) lift, with a new radiator grille, marginally less vulgar than the last, quadruple headlamps, and lethally pointed tailfins. Other changes included a 'step-on' parking brake and a deep-dip rust-proofing system, with all body-shells immersed in a 15,000 gallon tank of primer before painting.

The Rambler Super Cross Country Wagon

Sales rocketed, with 186,227 Ramblers sold, resulting in a profit of $26 Million. The best-selling model was the 127 hp six-cylinder Super Cross Country station wagon, while there was a new de luxe Rambler Ambassador range (reviving an old Nash model name) with a 270 hp V8 engine and a new production version of the Rebel pillarless hardtop, with a 215 hp V8. The compact Rambler was growing up into a big car, with a 108 in wheelbase on the standard models and 117 in on the Ambassadors. So, a new 'compact-compact' appeared in the range, on a 100 in wheelbase.

The Rambler American

It was a case of deja vu, as the new model was simply a revival of the old Rambler which had been discontinued two years earlier, with a body shape which, in its essentials, dated back to 1953. Renamed the Rambler American, this 'new-old' model was a great-one could hardly say immediate-success. Available in any body style you liked, as long as it was a two-door sedan, the American sold 42,196 in the 1958 season. Rambler were still marketing the ugly motorised roller-skate, the Metropolitan, built by Austin in England, but this was really outside the mainstream of events.

Rambler's rapid rise up the sales charts had been aided by a recession in the American economy in 1957-58 but, although the nation's financial troubles were passing in 1959, Rambler sales continued to rise. Indeed, in 1959, Rambler became the most successful 'independent' motor-manufacturing company in the history of the American automobile industry. A total of 368,464 cars was sold, net sales amounted to $869,849,704, and profits of $60,341,823 were recorded. Yet, in direct contrast to the normal custom of annual model change, the 1959 Ramblers were little altered from the previous year's models, except that a two-door station wagon was added to the American range.

Rambler claimed: 'the high resale value of the Rambler American is indicative of the buyer's preference for simplicity and economy'. Just in case the buyer wanted something other than simplicity and economy, however, the V8 Ambassador Series 'incorporated the luxury, comfort and performance of larger US cars with compactness of design'. The 1960 models had only minor styling alterations (although a four-door sedan was added to the American range) and, again, sales records were broken, with an output of 434,707 cars, making Rambler fourth in the US sales league.

Sales Pass The Billion Dollar Mark

Sales passed the billion-dollar mark for the first time, reaching $1,057,716,447, with profits of $48,243,361. To cope with the increased demand, the Lakefront plant at Kenosha was added to the production facilities as part of an expansion programme aimed at reaching an annual production of 600,000, although the restyled 1961 models only sold 372,485. Among the innovations was a convertible version of the American, claimed to be the only such model with unitary construction, and the cheapest convertible on the US market. The new Americans were even more compact than their predecessors, with 5.2 in cut off the overall length and 3 in off the width.

All Custom Americans featured AMC's new light-alloy ohv six-cylinder engine, which was an option on Super and Deluxe versions of this model. Every Rambler now had a guaranteed-for-life-in-the-hands-of-the-original-owner ceramic-coated silencer and exhaust pipe. As a further sales inducement, prices were cut on all 27 models in the 1962 product range, almost half of them by more than $112. Standard equipment was improved, with the addition of dual-circuit brakes, all-season Dowgard cooling, galvanised rocker panels and reduced lubrication requirements. As an optional extra, an automatic clutch transmission called E-Stick was available for the local market at a reasonable cost of only $59.50.

Rambler continued to offer advanced technical features during the 1960s, with the option of disc brakes in 1965, but as the decade drew on, it seemed as though the marque name was once again losing its potency. New cars like the Javelin were launched under their own names, with the Rambler tag becoming less and less prominent, until in 1970 it vanished from all cars sold on the North American continent. Some export Hornets (an old model name formerly allied with the Hudson component of American Motors) were still called Ramblers that year, but it was only a temporary reprieve for a name that had once been synonymous with 'compact'. And, in 1971, the Rambler name had vanished from the AMC model range as though it had never been.
1965 Rambler Marlin Fastback
1965 Rambler Marlin Fastback.
1972 AMC Javelin
1972 Javelin - a great car, but by this time the Rambler name had been dropped from the AMC Production List.
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