Give me one good reason why anyone would hot rod a 1964 Rambler Classic Cross Country station wagon.
Actually, Jay Linski can give you several.
“My grandfather was an AMC nut,” Jay said. “He brought me into his garage when I wasn’t in school and taught me mechanics. I learned on AMC Gremlins and Hornets from the 70s.”
And Jay took his first driver’s license road test in his mother’s Hornet. Jay’s first car? A 1973 Gremlin with the Levi’s interior option.
A self professed “car guy” from Milwaukee, Jay reminded me that Rambler and American Motors Corporation cars were built in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “basically in my backyard growing up.”
How could he build anything BUT a Rambler?
The Rambler brand goes back to 1900, but most hot rodders will remember the cars that were produced by Nash Motors from 1950 to 1954, and then by AMC from 1954 to 1969. In the 60s, the Rambler line included America’s first compact car, the American, the mid-size Classic, and the top of the line Ambassador. The Classic models came in 550, 660, and 770 trim levels. Jay’s station wagon is a 660.
Jay is just the second owner of this Cross Country. In addition to giving him lots of additional maintenance and mechanical experience, the Air Force moved Jay to Florida, where he met his wife Kathryn after he got out of the service. Florida is also where they found the Rambler – it had been sitting outside for over 15 years.
And if you need one more reason why Jay would build a Rambler hot rod, Kathryn’s support for the entire project might be it. “She bought this car for me. She knew I fancied station wagons. And she let me go ahead and do whatever I wanted to with it.”
Jay’s original goal was just to fix it up mechanically and have something fun to drive. Like so many other hot rod projects, it turned out to be a bit more extensive than that. All of the wagon’s mechanical components are brand new or rebuilt. Nothing was ignored to increase the safety and reliability of the Rambler.
And in true Garage Hot Rods fashion, Jay did almost all the work himself in his two car garage.
Originally equipped with a 196 cubic inch straight six, Jay’s wagon now sports a 350 c.i. GM crate motor, producing in excess of 300 horsepower. “It’s heavily modified, but still very streetable,” Jay reports. Those modifications include a Holley 570 carb, Edelbrock dual plane manifold, a hotter cam, and electronic ignition. Headers feed a dual exhaust system with custom Mellow Tone glasspacks.
A 200-4R automatic with overdrive sits behind the 350. Jay had the transmission “done up right” by Monster Transmissions. It features a performance shift kit and heavy duty splines. A custom three-inch drive shaft leads back to the GM 10 bolt rear with 3.73 gears on a Positraction differential. With the overdrive, Jay is turning about 2800 rpm at 70 mph.
Jay has completely rebuilt the original Rambler trunnion front suspension, with new coil springs that lowered the front end two inches. If you’re not familiar with a trunnion front end it’s pretty simple. It has this… There’s sort of a, place where the coil spring, ummm… See, with the ahhh…. OK, I don’t understand how the trunnion suspension works. You should probably just Google it.
The Classic originally had coil springs in the rear, so Jay had to fabricate and weld the mounting brackets for the rear leaf springs. While he was back there fabricating, Jay figured out that a 1964 Nova gas tank and sending unit fit perfectly in the Cross County.
The stock Rambler drum brakes are up front, with GM drum brakes out back. The brakes are not power assisted, and use the original Rambler dual master cylinder, which was pretty advanced for 1964. Jay is contemplating putting disk brakes up front in the future. Eighteen inch American Racing Torq Thrust wheels sit at all four corners.
“The interior gets a lot of compliments,” Jay told me, and it’s easy to see why. He had the seats re-covered by SMS Auto Fabrics in Oregon. The cloth inserts are in the original factory pattern with new vinyl that closely matches the color Rambler installed. Jay redid the door panel inserts himself with some leftover material. One cool feature of the interior are the brand new, but original, factory Rambler floor mats Jay found at a defunct dealership in New Mexico.
Another cool feature is the fact that this was a factory air conditioned car. Those round ports on the center of the dashboard indicate the Rambler-installed factory air. Jay has updated the AC system with a Vintage Air unit. To keep the factory look in the interior, he mounted the Vintage Air control box under the dash, with the controls accessible through the glove box.
Jay installed retractable seat belts to replace the original manual belts. He found a color that matched the interior and some Rambler emblems in California for the buckles. There are some additional gages, but otherwise the interior follows the stock configuration very closely. New carpet is resting on undercoating and insulation that Jay put down on the floor.
And this car can sleep four! Ramblers were famous for the fully reclining front bucket seats and the fold down rear seat that are still operational on Jay’s Cross Country. The factory even offered an optional blow up mattress for the back seat.
Despite being out in the elements for that many years, the body was straight, and in very good shape. There were small rust spots under the cowl and on the kick panels, but there was no bondo or rust anywhere else on the car.
Jay repainted the car himself, sticking closely to the factory two-tone paint job. He used white, with an added mint pearl flake, on top and “Lancelot turquoise metallic” for the body. He tried to match the “Lancelot turquoise” color as closely as possible, while adding a little more “metallic” with metal flake to give it some pop.
The paint is a two stage, base coat / clear coat, which Jay described as “the safe route”. The clear coat is a matte finish (as opposed to the traditional gloss). This was his first time painting a car and he did it in his garage. “I built my own little paint booth from PVC tubing and visqueen,” he told me. “I learned a lot as I went along.”
All the body trim is factory original. The V8 emblems he added to the fenders are authentic Rambler items. The rear bumper is original, but was too far gone to effectively re-chrome, so Jay painted it white to match the roof.
For Jay, this project has been all about making a hot rod he and his wife can enjoy. He even has fun with how he preps it for car shows. You’ll see in these pictures, Jay went with the “surfing” theme this time, even throwing his own surfboard from his time in Florida on the roof. He’s got a “travel” theme too, with vintage coolers and other 60s road trip goodies on display in the wagon.
And the fun translates really well to the people at the shows. While Jay and I were talking, several people stopped to chat with him, and one person came up and told him “I think I hear a Beach Boys song.”
Jay’s very happy with the state of his wagon. “As good as it is now, I don’t want to mess with it. It’s for me to drive and have fun.”
Maybe the real question is, why would anyone NOT hot rod a 1964 Rambler Classic Cross Country station wagon?
Photos by GHR and courtesy of Jay Linski