Walking the Annals: A Brief History of Rambler

My affection for Ramblers is not so much a quirk;  an affectation or a manifestation of a desire to ‘be different’ as it is an honest admiration for the ‘mavericks’ who designed; promoted; built and marketed those vehicles referred to as “the independents”.  Cars like Packard; Studebaker; Nash; Kaiser-Fraser; Hudson and Willys all have contributed much to the development of the automobile.  Innovations by these makers did much to improve the safety; styling; performance and drivability of the family auto.   That they are no longer with us is not the result of any lack of ingenuity or quality, but rather, the result of economies of scale.  The sheer size and volume capacity of Ford; General Motors; and Chrysler enabled these makers to simply out-produce; advertise and market their wares to the public.

This sheer size enabled them to foster the habit of the post-war buying public to respond to yearly sheet-metal changes rather than to technological improvement; to buy into “longer, lower, wider!” models enabling  John Q. Public to soothe his ego with massive ‘”land yachts” larger than the one his neighbor had purchased the year before.  Indeed, in the late fifties and early sixties, the “Big Three” produced some models so massively overbearing as to be in violation of motor vehicle maximum width standards in some states.

Quality is more than mass or size.  The ‘independents’ were done in by their capital limitations, as they could not bear the expense of the tooling changes necessary to replace all of the dies in the presses stamping the body panels.   The “Big Three”, who had been financed by Uncle Sam to churn out Jeeps; B-24 and  B-17 bombers; tank transmissions and engines , etc., had a distinct advantage over the ‘independents’ simply because of their roles in contributing to “the arsenal of America”.

I will cite as an example my own Rambler.  As a 1962 model, it was the only car on the market, other than Cadillac, to provide as standard equipment a “dual master cylinder” for the braking system.  With a dual system, a failure or either the front or the rear brake hydraulic circuit would leave the other circuit, either front or back, to stop the car.  The 98 per cent of vehicles with a ‘single’ master cylinder would lose all braking capacity if it failed.  In fact, it was not until it was mandated by the federal government in 1968, that Ford or General Motors provided dual brake circuitry in all of their cars as standard equipment.

My Rambler has individually adjustable seat-backs for the front passengers, even though it is a “bench” seat.  Not even the Cadillac provided such a feature, even with power seats.

These are but two cases in point, demonstrating that there is more to ‘quality’ than meets the eye.  There is more, to the truly discerning buyer, to ‘appeal’ than another strip of chrome on another square yard of sheet metal.

And now, a short pictorial history of the Rambler.  I hope it proves illustrative as to the argument that, however limited its’ capacity when compared to the “Big Three”, its’ contributions to automotive design; construction and performance were integral to the safety and convenience of the cars we purchase today.

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The 1902 Rambler, introduced a year before the first Ford.  (In 1901, he had introduced the concept of a steering wheel instead of a tiller, and of the engine in front of the driver, but was talked out of these concepts conceding that they might me "too radical"

The 1902 Rambler, introduced a year before the first Ford. (In 1901, he had introduced the concept of a steering wheel instead of a tiller, and of the engine in front of the driver, but was talked out of these concepts conceding that they might me “too radical”)

Fast forward to 1941.  Nash, owned by Chas. Nash, who had left the presidency of General Motors to purchase Rambler, (renamed 'Jeffrey' after the death of Thomas Jeffrey) brought out the first 'unit-body' constructed car, The Nash 600.  The body was integral with the frame.  It was safer; rattle-free and lighter.  The '600' designation denoted the mileage range of its' economical engine on a 20 gallon fuel tank. Virtually all passenger cars today are of unit construction.

Fast forward to 1941. Nash, owned by Chas. Nash, who had left the presidency of General Motors to purchase Rambler, (renamed ‘Jeffrey’ after the death of Thomas Jeffrey) brought out the first ‘unit-body’ constructed car, The Nash 600. The body was integral with the frame. It was safer; rattle-free and lighter. The ‘600’ designation denoted the mileage range of its’ economical engine on a 20 gallon fuel tank.
Virtually all passenger cars today are of unit construction.

In 1949, Nash brought out the unit-bodied Nash Statesman and the longer eight cylinder Ambassador.  Its' inverted 'bath-tub' styling, like the 'Step-Down' Hudsons, were ahead of their time visually, and extremely roomy compared to the 'Big Three' offerings.

In 1949, Nash brought out the unit-bodied Nash Statesman and the longer eight cylinder Ambassador. Its’ inverted ‘bath-tub’ styling, like the ‘Step-Down’ Hudsons, were ahead of their time visually, and extremely roomy compared to the ‘Big Three’ offerings.

These cars performed well, both in the famous Pan-American  races in Mexico, and on the NASCAR stock-car racing circuit.

These cars performed well, both in the famous Pan-American races in Mexico, and on the NASCAR stock-car racing circuit.

1950.  George Mason President of Nash, brought out an economical small car, and revived the 'Rambler' name.  It would serve to accentuate his conviction that the public should have economy in an era when the 'horsepower' race was beginning, spurred by the overhead-valve Oldsmobile 'Rocket 88 V-8 engine.

1950. George Mason President of Nash, brought out an economical small car, and revived the ‘Rambler’ name. It would serve to accentuate his conviction that the public should have economy in an era when the ‘horsepower’ race was beginning, spurred by the overhead-valve Oldsmobile ‘Rocket 88 V-8 engine.

By 1952, Nash responded to a desire of the jaded buying public to restyle the 'bath-tub'.  He enlisted the Italian design house, Pininfarina, to square off the design and to introduce the visibility enhancing 'C-pillar between the rear doors and the rear window.  It added to style and minimized the drivers' "blind-spots" to the rear.  This 'design cue', or signature, would last through 1962.

By 1952, Nash responded to a desire of the jaded buying public to restyle the ‘bath-tub’. He enlisted the Italian design house, Pininfarina, to square off the design and to introduce the visibility enhancing ‘C-pillar between the rear doors and the rear window. It added to style and minimized the drivers’ “blind-spots” to the rear. This ‘design cue’, or signature, would last through 1962.

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The Nash-Healey.  Introduced a few years earlier, well ahead of the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet Corvette, used Pininfarina styling, a dual-carbureted Nash engine; and a suspension designed by Donald Healey, who designed the famous Austin Healey British sports cars.

The Nash-Healey. Introduced a few years earlier, well ahead of the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet Corvette, used Pininfarina styling, a dual-carbureted Nash engine; and a suspension designed by Donald Healey, who designed the famous Austin Healey British sports cars.

By 1954, the small, 100-inch wheelbase Rambler had added this two-door 'hardtop' (no pillar between the front and rear side windows), to the sedan and wagon models.  The Pininfarina styled pillar between the rear side glass and the rear window is again prominent.

By 1954, the small, 100-inch wheelbase Rambler had added this two-door ‘hardtop’ (no pillar between the front and rear side windows), to the sedan and wagon models. The Pininfarina styled pillar between the rear side glass and the rear window is again prominent.

By 1955, sales of the big Nashes were lagging.  Sales of the Ramblers were up, and production increased.  The styling and horsepower wars of the 'Big Three' had forced Nash-Kelvinator to merge with Hudson in 1954.  The merger formed "American Motors".  While Hudson and Willys had introduced their own small cars to compete with the popular Rambler, these 'Jet' and 'Aero' models, respectively, did not compete, and in fact, depleted their capital and limited their efforts in bringing out new V-8 engines and yearly styling changes.

By 1955, sales of the big Nashes were lagging. Sales of the Ramblers were up, and production increased. The styling and horsepower wars of the ‘Big Three’ had forced Nash-Kelvinator to merge with Hudson in 1954. The merger formed “American Motors”. While Hudson and Willys had introduced their own small cars to compete with the popular Rambler, these ‘Jet’ and ‘Aero’ models, respectively, did not compete, and in fact, depleted their capital and limited their efforts in bringing out new V-8 engines and yearly styling changes.

Hudsons were now rebodied Nashes.  Unit-body construction, though safe and rattle-free, required extensive retooling, as the body and frame were one.....a "unit".  The Pininfarina pillar is evidence of the Nash unibody here.  These cars were derisively referred to as "Hashes".  Sales plummeted, but the Rambler sales kept American Motors afloat.

Hudsons were now rebodied Nashes. Unit-body construction, though safe and rattle-free, required extensive retooling, as the body and frame were one…..a “unit”. The Pininfarina pillar is evidence of the Nash unibody here. These cars were derisively referred to as “Hashes”. Sales plummeted, but the Rambler sales kept American Motors afloat.

By 1955, you could by the popular Rambler as either a model of a Nash or as a model of the Hudson.  Only the emblems at the center of the hubcaps and some other badges on the body differed.  The Hudson 'Jet' was gone.

By 1955, you could by the popular Rambler as either a model of a Nash or as a model of the Hudson. Only the emblems at the center of the hubcaps and some other badges on the body differed. The Hudson ‘Jet’ was gone.

The 1955  Nash moved the headlights into the grill.  Sales of the big cars continued to fall.

The 1955 Nash moved the headlights into the grill. Sales of the big cars continued to fall.

1956.  The big cars did not have sales to justify the extensive tooling costs that made their once innovative styling "passe" in the eyes of the public.  Nash And Hudson were forced to try to keep alive by adding two and three-tone color schemes and outlandish chrome ornamentation. (Actually I kind of like them)

1956. The big cars did not have sales to justify the extensive tooling costs that made their once innovative styling “passe” in the eyes of the public. Nash And Hudson were forced to try to keep alive by adding two and three-tone color schemes and outlandish chrome ornamentation.
(Actually I kind of like them)

In 1956, it was decided that the big Nash and Hudson models would be dropped, and that a 108-inch wheelbase car would replace them both.        It would be slightly larger than the small Rambler, and would be introduced as a "Rambler" .   The Pininfarina styling is still evident.

In 1956, it was decided that the big Nash and Hudson models would be dropped, and that a 108-inch wheelbase car would replace them both.
It would be slightly larger than the small Rambler, and would be introduced as a “Rambler” . The Pininfarina styling is still evident.

1957 would be the last year for Nash and Hudson large cars.  Smaller economy cars became the focus of American Motors.  The new Rambler, for the next three years, would try to appeal to buyers of larger cars with the 'Ambassador' models, which was the 108 inch wheelbase new Rambler with about eight inches added to to the length of the car, between the windshield and the front fender wheel openings.

1957 would be the last year for Nash and Hudson large cars. Smaller economy cars became the focus of American Motors. The new Rambler, for the next three years, would try to appeal to buyers of larger cars with the ‘Ambassador’ models, which was the 108 inch wheelbase new Rambler with about eight inches added to to the length of the car, between the windshield and the front fender wheel openings.

Introduced late in 1956, the new Rambler 108-inch wheelbase car was introduced with a splash, featuring gold-anodized trim and a new V-8 with 255 horsepower, which included an option for fuel injection.  The major auto magazines tested it and confirmed that only the Corvette performed better in 0 to 60 mph acceleration tests.  This media attention drove traffic into the showrooms, and sales increased,though almost all of the cars were equipped with the trusty 6-cylinder of 125 horsepower....essentially the same engine as in my '62.

Introduced late in 1956, the new Rambler 108-inch wheelbase car was introduced with a splash, featuring gold-anodized trim and a new V-8 with 255 horsepower, which included an option for fuel injection. The major auto magazines tested it and confirmed that only the Corvette performed better in 0 to 60 mph acceleration tests. This media attention drove traffic into the showrooms, and sales increased,though almost all of the cars were equipped with the trusty 6-cylinder of 125 horsepower….essentially the same engine as in my ’62.

Smaller than the full-size Fords; Chevrolets and Plymouths; but with the same interior space with seating for six passengers, this is the car that carried American Motors forward through 1962.  Rambler station wagons outsold almost all other makes of station wagons.

Smaller than the full-size Fords; Chevrolets and Plymouths; but with the same interior space with seating for six passengers, this is the car that carried American Motors forward through 1962. Rambler station wagons outsold almost all other makes of station wagons.

While the basic unibody sprouted some fins in 1958, the basic structure remained the same.  This is a 1960 Ambassador, and illustrates the additional length and wheelbase between the windshield and the front wheels openings compared to the six-cylinder Ramblers.

While the basic unibody sprouted some fins in 1958, the basic structure remained the same. This is a 1960 Ambassador, and illustrates the additional length and wheelbase between the windshield and the front wheels openings compared to the six-cylinder Ramblers.

By 1960, sales were sometimes doubling year to year.  There was a recession in 1958,and Rambler was the only make of car to increase total sales for the year.  In 1960, American Motors wrested the third-place spot for total sales from Plymouth.  Only Ford and Chevrolet sold more cars than Rambler that year.

By 1960, sales were sometimes doubling year to year. There was a recession in 1958,and Rambler was the only make of car to increase total sales for the year. In 1960, American Motors wrested the third-place spot for total sales from Plymouth. Only Ford and Chevrolet sold more cars than Rambler that year.

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1961.   The 1959-style headlights were gone, and the front end had a new look, although it still had fins.  Sales continued to boom.   The popularity of this car, and of the smaller Rambler American, (a rebody of the original small 1950 to 1955 Rambler on the 100-inch wheelbase, was the reason for Ford and General Motors coming out , from 1959 through 1962 ,the Ford Falcon; the Chevrolet Corvair; the Dodge Lancer;  and the Plymouth Valiant to compete with the Rambler American, and the Chevy II (Nova); Ford Fairlane; Mercury Meteor; Chevrolet  Chevelle and other so-called "mid-sized" cars to compete with the larger 108-inch wheelbase Rambler.

1961. The 1959-style headlights were gone, and the front end had a new look, although it still had fins. Sales continued to boom.
The popularity of this car, and of the smaller Rambler American, (a rebody of the original small 1950 to 1955 Rambler on the 100-inch wheelbase, was the reason for Ford and General Motors coming out , from 1959 through 1962 , with the Ford Falcon; the Chevrolet Corvair; the Dodge Lancer; and the Plymouth Valiant to compete with the Rambler American, and the Chevy II (Nova); Ford Fairlane; Mercury Meteor; Chevrolet
Chevelle and other so-called “mid-sized” cars to compete with the larger 108-inch wheelbase Rambler.

1962.  The rear fins were gone.  Standard equipment now included a dual master cylinder for the brakes.  This is a fine example, though I like my Sonata Blue color better.

1962. The rear fins were gone. Standard equipment now included a dual master cylinder for the brakes. This is a fine example, though I like my Sonata Blue color better.

1963.  So long, Pininfarina.  Totally new styling.  A new, longer wheelbase of 112 inches beneath an all-new unibody.  I've owned one of these and the almost identical '64. This development of this new design was George Romney's last accomplishment at American Motors before he left to run for Governor of Michigan in 1962.  With his departure, economy and sensibility became less a concern for corporate management.

1963. So long, Pininfarina. Totally new styling. A new, longer wheelbase of 112 inches beneath an all-new unibody. I’ve owned one of these and the almost identical ’64. This development of this new design was George Romney’s last accomplishment at American Motors before he left to run for Governor of Michigan in 1962. With his departure, economy and sensibility became less a concern for corporate management.

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The 1964 Rambler Classic. The 1963 model had been named ‘Motor Trend’ “Car of the Year”. Unfortunately, the management after Romney decided to take the challenge to the “Big Three”. The Rambler Classic would get bigger every year. They would re-introduce a longer wheelbase for the Ambassador. They would bring our the Javelin and the AMX to appeal to the Mustang crowd. They would, by 1969, even retire the ‘Rambler’ name. In an effort to appeal to performance and luxury and yearly styling changes, they sadly, and ultimately, lost sight of the original vision of George Mason and George Romney to provide sensible, economical and roomy cars to a buying public they felt knew better.

A harbinger of the decline...three wheelbases, with more to come.  Continuous spending on new models; performance engines; racing programs led to both declines in quality and increases in pricing. "Beep-Beep" had been replaced by "Hey, Javelin!!"

A harbinger of the decline…three wheelbases, with more to come. Continuous spending on new models; performance engines and racing programs led to both declines in quality and increases in pricing.
“Beep-Beep” had been replaced by “Hey, Javelin!!”

I'll stick with my '62 Classic Custom.  I don't have 'historical' plates on it because I drive it every day, not just to shows; cruise-ins or swap meets.      Why limit safety and convenience to just the weekends? If and when I pick up another one, I'll probably go with a model from the fifties

I’ll stick with my ’62 Classic Custom. I don’t have ‘historical’ plates on it because I drive it every day, not just to shows; cruise-ins or swap meets.
Why limit safety and convenience to just the weekends? 

Walking The Banner; “Rambling With Stefan”…(a new page)

Just a quick post to alert subscribers and other regular visitors about my new page, (accessible via a new ‘tab’ in the banner above):  A compendium of photos featuring the Rambler; it’s features; and its’ beauty.

Many of the photos will have captions containing factoids and trivia regarding Nash; Rambler; American Motors; and the culture of vintage cars in general.

This post will be incorporated into the new page.  I’m not going to artificially inflate my ‘post-count’  with a new post for each addition, so check the new page frequently.

Enjoy!

This series of pictures is of the cruise-ins; car shows; and other auto related events I’ve been attending since acquiring the Rambler.  I enjoy the camaraderie of other vintage auto owners as much as I do poking around under the hoods of their rides.

Perfect posture and decorum here......."Look, but do NOT touch!!"

Perfect posture and decorum here…….”Look, but do NOT touch!!”

A 1916 Rambler at a recent show I attended on July 4th.  This car is never trailered, but always driven to any show or event it graces.

A 1916 Rambler at a recent show I attended on July 4th. This car is never trailered, but always driven to any show or event it graces.

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A 1959 Rambler American.  Basically, a reintroduction of the same body which introduced "Rambler" in 1950 as a small economy car. ( If it ain't broke....)

A 1959 Rambler American. Basically, a reintroduction of the same body which introduced “Rambler” in 1950 as a small economy car. ( If it ain’t broke….)

I think those other vehicles ar something called "Chevrolets"....(you can never account for taste, can you?)

I think those other vehicles are something called “Chevrolets”….(you can never account for taste, can you?)

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This car looks great on the grass......

This car looks great on the grass……

Next to a 1963 Rambler Classic 550.  I've owned one of these, and I loved it.....

Next to a 1963 Rambler Classic 550. I’ve owned one of these, and I loved it…..

The '63 Classic was the first Rambler to finally replace the 1957 and up uni-body found on my Rambler  The'63 brought Rambler into the 'sixties' and finally out of the 'fifties' as far as design went.

The ’63 Classic was the first Rambler to finally replace the 1957 and up uni-body found on my Rambler The’63 brought Rambler into the ‘sixties’ and finally out of the ‘fifties’ as far as design went.

Wherever I park at one of these events, I always seem to attract almost all of the other 'performance' cars.....

Wherever I park at one of these events, I always seem to attract almost all of the other ‘performance’ cars…..

Even at AMC -sponsored events, the Nashes and Ramblers are always vastly outnumbered by Javelins: Gremlins; Pacers; Matadors; Hornets, and the like.  This show was unique in that regard.....

Even at AMC -sponsored events, the Nashes and Ramblers are always vastly outnumbered by Javelins: Gremlins; Pacers; Matadors; Hornets, and the like. This show was unique in that regard…..

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A 1962 Studebaker.  Another "orpah make" of car, in today's parlance.  These two were the only ones to remain at this "cruise-in" when it began to rain.  These are daily-drivers, NOT "trailer-queens"..The Chevelles and Mustangs lit out at the first drop of rain like  roaches when you turn the lights on.....

A 1962 Studebaker. Another “orphan make” of car, in today’s parlance. These two were the only ones to remain at this “cruise-in” when it began to rain. These are daily-drivers, NOT “trailer-queens”..The Chevelles and Mustangs lit out at the first drop of rain like roaches when you turn the lights on…..

Walking the Showrooms With Stefan: (Epilogue: Casting Out the ‘Devil in the Details’)

Stefan smiled as he got into the Rambler that morning for the drive to church.  His duties as Assistant Treasurer for the congregation involved a weekly session of checking account balancing;  the vouchering  and payment of invoices to vendors; and payroll.  Like his trips to work, this task was more enjoyable lately, as it involved driving his ‘new ride’.

The Rambler had, indeed been running fairly well.  He’d been driving it to and from work almost every day, except when rain was in the forecasts.  On one day, he had taken the route which consisted mainly of interstate, and he had again experienced the abrupt and violent hesitation and bucking of the drive-train, forcing him to the berm for a ritual purging of the fuel filter under the hood.

Since then, he had opted for the more direct and ‘scenic’ route, which took him through the Cuyahoga Valley and along side of the old Ohio Canal.  This picturesque and historic route wound lazily south from his home and, at no more than 40 m.p.h., was, except for an occasional ‘hiccup’ from the engine, free of mechanical drama.  He had begun to avoid the highways, and to spend his time in the technical threads of Ramble forums and conversing with mechanically minded acquaintances about the possible sources of  the problem.

This research had continued through both Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, and it was now almost a full two weeks since he had made his odyssey home.  Between drives to work and to local car shows and ‘cruise-ins’, he had adjusted and cleaned the carburetorand replaced the distributor cap.   He had run a modest amount of additives and cleaners through the fuel system, in the hope that the problem was moisture or corrosion related.   The car ran “well enough for government work”, but the occasional hesitations were troublesome.

As he arrived at the church, he was hailed by the janitor, a man Stefan’s age or a little older, and they both talked and smiled as he told him about the originality of the car, its’ mileage, and…..the ordeal of the 440-mile trip home from Syracuse.  It was early morning, and the rays of the sun beamed down on them like the ‘tongues of fire’ manifesting the Holy Spirits’ descending upon the Apostles.

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They talked for a while, and then each proceeded to his duties.  As Stefan cut checks; ran posting reports and ran envelopes through the postage machine, he felt a tinge of guilt.  The Rambler was basically sound.  His research; correspondence on technical forums; and, even his discussions with his more mechanically inclined brothers, all pointed to either a corroded fuel line allowing air to enter the fuel, or, a failing fuel pump.  He had priced the fuel pump, which was about a hundred and sixty dollars, as it was both a fuel and a vacuum pump, supplying not only fuel to the carburetor, but vacuum to both the wiper motor and the advance mechanism on the distributor.   His cheap Ukrainian heart recoiled in horror at such an expenditure.   He had yet to crawl underneath to check the condition of the fuel lines.   He had been lazy, rationalizing that his faith in the Holy Spirit would remove the Rambler’s ‘affliction’.  His laziness was based on the fact that the car actually did run “well enough”.

And then, as he left for the post office with the Church’s mail, tooting the horn at the smiling, waving janitor, he proceeded to the end of the driveway.

The car died.  ‘Affliction’ had reared it’s gruesome head, yet again.  He restarted the car, and limped on to the post office, and then home.  A sense of affliction spurred him out of his laziness.  Within minutes, the floor-jack was out, and the trouble-light glowed:

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His first examination was of the less expensive of the two probable sources of his problem….the fuel line.  Crawling beneath the car, he was surprised to find that the line, from a point only nine inches from the fuel tank, all the way to a point some nine inches from the fuel pump, was shiny and, ……new.

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His heart sank to the concrete slab beneath him, as he realized he would soon be one hundred-sixty dollars less affluent; at the mercy of  UPS; and, possibly at the mercy of the quality-control habits of vendors dealing in parts a half-century old.    And he remembered some quotes that had struck him in Pirsig’s ‘Zen’

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.” — (Robt. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  An Inquiry into Values“)

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.” — (Robt. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:  An Inquiry into Values”)

And, he also remembered some readings on Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; how the Spirit is not an insurance policy against affliction, fostering confidence and calm, but rather is that part of the Holy Trinity which faithfully responds when those of faith are afflicted, giving wings to our hearts, removing them from our afflictions, instead of indemnifying us for our losses by removing the affliction.

He held up the trouble-light once more, searching the recesses around and beyond the perimeter of the fuel tank.   And then he noticed…..almost out of sight, mere inches from the outlet of the tank, was a second ‘in-line’ fuel filter.  He squinted through his bifocals and noted that, while it did not appear ‘new’, neither did it appear clogged or overly dirty.  He decided to remove it for inspection anyway.

Selecting two pairs of vice-grips from the peg-board on the wall of the garage, he returned beneath the tank and used them, with wadded paper as cushions to protect the soft fuel line from being torn by the teeth of the grips, to crimp the line on either end of this superfluous and redundant filter.  Using the screwdriver to loosen the clamps, it was soon off.

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Emptied of fuel:  blown through with his lips in the ritual repeatedly practiced on the trip home mere weeks before, it seemed to function properly.  Just as he was about to return beneath the car, he experienced a “Eureka!” moment.  He scarcely believed his eyes, but…yes,   it was true!   The white ‘cap’ on the filter had been toward the tank.  The ‘arrow’ (noted in picture above)  on the casing of the filter, he knew from decades of experience with old VW’s; Fords; Chevys and….Ramblers, was in place to instruct the mechanic on the proper orientation of the filter.  This filter, however prudently added, (perhaps out of concern for the age of  the car and how little it had been driven per year) , had been put on backwards !!

The physics of the situation ran through his head at lightening speed.  This mistake had required the fuel pump to over-exert itself;  i.e., to suction the fuel from the tank through the paper element before it could collect in the canister around the element and continue on its’ way to the engine compartment. It was as if one had to suck a soda out of a sponge, instead of out of a can.

Within minutes he had replaced it with the spare he had purchased a few days after driving the car home and placed in the trunk of the Rambler.  The white ‘cap’ was now toward the front of the car, and the embossed arrow on its canister was aligned with the proper flow of fuel.  The canister would now will fill directly from the tank, unimpeded by the paper element, and would from there be drawn as needed through the check-valve at the core of the filter.

The vice-grips were removed, and skidded across the floor.  The rear of the car came down with an urgency matched only by Richard Petty’s pit crew.

No one was home, but he did not even stop to close the garage as he backed down the driveway to test-drive the modification.  As he drove around the block, then onto the main street of his town, and then, to the highway entrance ramp, he was as giddy with joy as he remembered being when he had raced home to tell his dad that he no longer needed training wheels affixed to his bike. (He had finally noticed that they had loosened, and were, unbeknownst to him, no longer functioning to keep him upright in the corner at the bottom of the hill  which his boyhood home sat atop).

As he motored happily down the fast-lane, tooting his horn and waving to startled Prius and Caravan drivers, he realized that, had he not found this hidden demon in the Rambler’s tank, he would eventually have burned out not only the current fuel pump; but most probably, would have burned out any replacement fuel pump as well.   The engine felt powerful, as its’ ‘heart’ had been removed from the affliction of the demon filter.  Its’ evil configuration had been cast out, and the Rambler was now well-behaved; more civil;  less intimidating to drive, and….. ‘happy‘.

He knew that the change in fuel pressure would warrant a readjustment of the carburetor mixture screw, and he resolved to finally remove, clean and re-gap the spark plugs,  as he must have been running ‘lean’ for lack of adequate fuel to the combustion chambers.  He realized that this must have been the source of the temperature issues he had had to cope with on the trip home, as he had learned in ‘Transportation I” in high school, a ‘lean’ mixture will run hot.

So many issues, so simple a cause.

The original phone-book sized ‘Technical Service Manual’  he had gotten with the car could never have addressed the true affliction the Rambler had experienced.  (In fact, the chapter on testing the fuel pump might very well have resulted in a passing grade for this robust, if overworked component of the fuel system.)  No internet forum had any threads related to “locating improperly installed equipment”.   It was, Stefan mused, the Holy Spirit at work, responding to affliction by addressing the heart.

Both the Rambler’s heart, and,……his.

He decided to work on the carburetor and the plugs another day.  Today, he would wash the Rambler.

He looked up at the sun.  It was still morning.  He had cast out the demons in the heart of the Rambler, and had succeeded in using his heart to do so.

He felt blessed.  In fact, he felt full of ‘blessings’.

 

He decided to call his blessings:  “Legion”

 

 

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Walking the Showrooms With Stefan: (Part 3–Taking Delivery; Accepting Deliverance)

Stefan packed his  ‘Jack Bauer‘  bag that Sunday night with methodical care, checking off the items as  they found their places in its’ confines.

The jumper cables; the tire pressure gauge; the Leatherman multi-purpose tool; the portfolio of Mapquest print-outs; the bottle of ‘lead-substitute’ for the gasoline he would consume; the Garmin and  it’s power cable; the phone charger, and, of course…..Magnetic Mary.   The sandwich; the pear and the breakfast-bars were ready in the refrigerator, and he allotted space for them in the center of the coiled jumper cables.  He counted, then recounted the wad of fifty and twenty-dollar bills, and divided them into three roughly equal, smaller wads.  Dispersing these among his wallet and two of the pockets of his jeans, he reached for the old poplin jacket he would be wearing.

The ten days or so since his test-drive of the Rambler had passed like so many months.  After an attempt to make the trip the prior Friday had been made impractical by a nearly forgotten commitment to drive his mother-in-law to a medical appointment, he had had to call the seller and reschedule to Monday.  He was glad he had left a substantial deposit on the car, as, even while he was in Syracuse, others had stopped to look at the Rambler even as he was adjusting its’  mirrors for his test run.  He did not want time to erode the details of the bargain that had been struck.

He had considered impinging on the good graces of his fetching spouse to accompany him to Syracuse, and to follow him back, but her work schedule; her obligations at church and in her mothers’ garden, along with her discomfort on long trips which did not allow for frequent stops,  made this option impractical.  A second option, that of renting a car in Cleveland and dropping it off in Syracuse was indeed feasible, but when its’ cost, added to the fuel he would need to purchase for it, and the ridiculous deposit he would need to leave was considered, he had opted for option “number three’:

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He had opted for the bus route which would take him to Buffalo for a 30-minute layover and a change of buses before continuing to Syracuse.

He had purchased the ticket the night before, after waiting in a line that contained only him for fifty minutes while the lone ticket agent had her lunch.  He had held his vexation in check as he listened to the rules of the bus-line; the admonition that the ticket was ‘non-refundable’;  and the procedures regarding luggage.  He would need to arrive an hour early, 4:00 a.m., for the 5:05 a.m. departure to be ensured of a seat, refundable ticket or not.

It was dark when he finally left the station. It would be dark when his wife returned him there at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

He placed the ticket in the interior breast-pocket of the poplin jacket, and retired to bed at midnight.  He would need to rise at three a.m., and he hoped he could sleep.  The sleep he did get was fitful, filled with half-dreams of ‘dealer-trade’ road trips past; of manually-shifted antique autos he had owned and loved; of  the Rambler he had owned when he met his wife, and of the Rambler he had owned when they married.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.

(― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values)

He dreamt also of working again with his hands; of setting points; gapping sparkplugs; adjusting timing, fuel mixtures and idle-speeds; and of weekend drives down country roads to share experiences and swap stories with the owners of other ancient vehicles, whose perceptions of “value” were, like his, measured in the heart instead of an auction value.   (Old Mustangs and Chevelles, though old, are legion…they are less the expression of an inner value than they are the donning of a silk-screened t-shirt or the acquisition of a tattoo.  They shout not: “This is me!!”, but rather:  “Me too!!”    They are worked on only to sell, and purchased only to show.)

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

(― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values)

The alarm ended his reverie, and he kissed his wife awake.  As she drove him downtown to the bus station; he thanked her repeatedly, between gulps of his coffee.  She responded, repeatedly, by making him promise to eat at least three times on the trip back.   He punctuated the final promise with a peck on her cheek as she deposited him at the station entrance.  He would call her from Buffalo during the layover, to make sure she was up in time for work.

He slung his bag over his shoulder, patted his chest for his ticket, and stepped through the door to the counter.  Three or four buses were leaving, and he was directed to the proper line for boarding:

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There was little, if any conversation; small talk; or banter of any kind, even to ask someone to “save their place” in line if they needed to use the restroom or to get a coffee.  They would simply claim their ‘turf’ with their bag and leave.  “Social media”, thought Stefan, was big on technology but small on ‘social”.

He initiated some small talk about the destinations of those in front of and behind him, but any responses were not followed by mutual inquiries as to his.  He sat down Indian-style, and scanned The Weather Channel on his Windows Phone for the forecast in upstate New York.  Upon boarding, he claimed a window-seat, claimed the aisle seat next to him with the ‘Jack Bauer’ bag, and settled in.

The ride was uneventful, and noteworthy only for the setting of the air-conditioning, which would have allowed a deli owner to transport  a large bundle of gefilte fish in the overhead luggage bin all the way to New York City in a state of perfect preservation.  As the sun came up, he resolved that it would not be prudent to nap or doze, as many young ‘fellow travelers’ were using the restroom behind him with the alarming frequency of people three times their age.  He passed the time monitoring the progress of their travel on his GPS, and reading a 1962 Road & Track issue he had brought along because it had a road test of a Rambler.

His Rambler.

He had already eaten his sandwich and fruit by the time they hit Buffalo:

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He spent the twenty minutes stretching his legs, and perusing the aisles at a truck-stop next door for things he might use on his trip home, like a plastic cup-holder, or even a unique key-chain.  He found nothing unique, and walked back out into the blessedly warm morning air.          After a small amount of idle chatter with other riders about how cold it was on the bus, they re-boarded and rode on.  It was 8:30 a.m., and he surmised that they would be in Syracuse at around noon.  He texted the seller, who had agreed to pick him up at the station in Syracuse, that he was only slightly behind schedule.

As he gazed out at the landscape around him and the passing cars beneath his vantage point on the Greyhound, he was amazed at the number of drivers ‘texting’ as they drove.  At 65 m.p.h., he decided that, at least in this usage, ‘social media’ was indeed ‘anti-social’ in the risk it presented.

At slightly after noon, he alit from the Greyhound and answered the toot of the horn from the seller’s car in the parking lot.  In fifteen minutes they were at the seller’s home.  They settled at the dining room table and consummated the deal.  The cash was counted, the paperwork signed.  Stefan was particularly thankful for the seller’s agreement to allow him the use of his plates on the way home.  The seller was a ‘car-nut’ too, and had a beautiful ’55 Chevy pick-up truck in his garage, with wooden slats in the bed so pristine in their varnished glory that a person could eat off of them.  They traded some stories of  cars they had owned and purchased out-of-state, returning home either with no plates, or with paper 30-day tags which had blown off in the wind.  Their shared spirit of their love for cars was bond enough for his promise to mail the plates back immediately upon his return home.

At slightly after two o’clock, he realized he needed to start back.  He wanted to be home at around nine p.m..  He placed the jumper cables and the lead-substitute in the trunk, suction-cupped the Garmin to the windshield; and affixed Magnetic Mary to the flat metallic expanse of the dashboard.  The car started immediately.  The gas tank was only slightly less than half full.  He tooted the horn, eased into first gear, and was off.:

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He decided to take the same route home that he had taken in, ten days prior, in the Cavalier.

Stefan smiled as the Rambler easily attained 65 to 70 m.p.h. on the highway once he had worked his way through the suburbs of Syracuse.  He was ecstatic with the way the sun accentuated the chrome and aluminum trim on the car, and the way the wide whitewalls set off the powder-blue hue of the sheet metal.  The rush of air through the front vent windows and the gentle moan of the old engine were a symphony, and it simply didn’t matter to him that the radio was presently not picking up a signal.  After almost an hour of this bliss, he decided to exit the highway for fuel.

At the end of the exit ramp, the red  ‘BATT’ and TEMP” lights both came on.  The car died.

The car started again easily enough, but he noted a slight roughness to the idle as he glided into the gas station.  Surely, a full tank of ‘premium’ would help to work out any corrosion or water which might have, understandably, given the cars’ age, accumulated over time.  After all, the original 57,000 miles traveled by this vehicle averaged out to only slightly more than 1,000 miles per year.  As passers-by smiled and asked him about the car, he shrugged off this slight ‘glitch,’ and concentrated instead on  the gallons he was pumping, so he could judge the accuracy of the fuel gauge.

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Noting the gallons pumped and the position of the needle on the fuel gauge in the notebook he had brought along, he resumed his odyssey.  Other than an occasional ‘shuddering’ he sensed through the seat of his pants; his hands and his feet; the Rambler seemed to be perfectly at home at over 60 m.p.h..  He motored on, admiring the countryside and appreciating the long-forgotten sensation of lazily gripping the wheel with his left hand and draping his right arm over the seat-back of the bench seat as if he were on a couch in a living room.:

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And then, it happened….

The car began to buck, and lurch, and hesitate with alarming intensity.  It was as if he were repeatedly turning off the ignition and immediately switching it back on.  The sensation was that of the car crashing through heavy wooden fences, moving through them only by virtue of the force of its’ weight and momentum.  He pulled off to the berm, and noted the red lights, ‘BATT” and TEMP” come on again.   He noted he could restart the engine, but that it would not idle without repeatedly ‘feathering’ the gas pedal.  He got out of the car and opened the hood.  He inspected the connections of the spark-plug and coil wires, and removed the distributor cap to inspect it for cracks and the rotor for wear.  All seemed normal with the electrics.

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He turned his attention to the fuel system.  He removed the air cleaner.  The fuel bowl had a transparent front cover and he noted an adequate fuel level in the bowl.  However….the fuel in it was bubbling, percolating, even.  He directed his attention to the in-line fuel filter, and noted that there was but a small amount of fuel in the bowl.  As the same filter was in use on virtually every air-cooled VW he had ever owned, he was used to the level being higher.

Out came his Leatherman.  The pliers therein enabled him to quickly remove the clips holding the filters’ ends to the fuel line so he could remove it.  It seemed rather new.  He emptied it out onto the roadside, and performed a ritual last utilized decades ago, putting its’ stem to his lips and blowing through it to ensure he could feel the force of his breath through the other end of the filter onto his palm.  Satisfied it was not clogged, he replaced it.  The car started; even idled normally, and he was soon back up to sixty m.p.h. on the thruway.

Another fifty or so miles, and he noted the temperature gauge starting to climb.  He knew he had enough coolant, and decided that the Rambler needed to rest.  He exited and stopped at a Burger King for a meal.  The car died again at the end of the exit, and he again had to ‘feather’ the throttle to get it into the parking lot.  As he drank his shake and ate his meal, acknowledging with nods and smiles the comments and ‘thumbs-up’ gestures from fellow patrons, he reflected on the problem.  Was the Rambler ‘bridling’ at the length and the average speed of his trip, after being used for decades only for parades and Sunday drives?   He thought not.  The seller had spent considerable money ensuring the ignition components; tires; alignment and suspension were all inspected thoroughly, and replaced as needed.   He decided that the issue was debris or corrosion in the ancient fuel tank being dislodged by the velocity of his travel, and interfering with either the fuel pump or the carburetor inlet valve, or even the jets in the carburetor.

He finished his meal, and got back on the road.  Another 50 miles on, and the lurching commenced anew.  The afternoon was dwindling, and he again used the Leatherman to perform the cleansing ritual of the filter.  He was alone on the road.  Tension was mounting.  He emptied his bladder alongside of the fuel from the filter into the grass along the berm.  He said a ‘Hail Mary’ and crossed himself as he checked the mirror before re-entering the roadway.  He had broken down many times in many other older cars.  He was resolved that improvisation; gumption; and faith would overcome these maladies.

After all, …..they always had.

When not idling or at an intersection, the car, under power, ran well enough.  When the temperature gauge began to climb, he would turn on the heater and set the blower motor to ‘high’.  The added radiation of heat from the heater core invariably brought the needle back down to more normal ranges.  He crossed himself and smiled.  He was actually beginning to enjoy the tribulations; to welcome the trials.  He knew in his heart that the car was sound in the basic structure of its’ drive-train.  He had faith in it, and, he was gratified to rediscover some faith in himself.

He could not help but enjoy the countryside as it rolled beneath his whitewalls:

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His wife began to call.  He let her know where he was, and that he expected to be home by 10:30 p.m. or so.  He alluded to a ‘few glitches’ but assured her everything was ‘copacetic’; that he loved her, and would call her when he hit the Ohio border.

As the day wore on, he and Mary shared the vistas’ changing hues as the sun lowered in the sky:

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As he neared that part of his plotted route which would cut the northwest corner of Pennsylvania onto the main highway in Ohio, he decided that a change in course was warranted.  The interstate through northern Ohio, he knew from his recent trips, was periodically marked by long, ten to fifteen mile long stretches of east and west lanes of travel merging onto one side of the median or the other as construction ensued in the lanes opposite.

This meant no berms.  He would be unable to perform any filter ‘ritual’s, and would risk either blocking traffic, or worse….causing an accident in the twilight hours as drivers  behind him misjudged the speed of his lurching vehicle.  However stubborn and self-confident he might be, Stefan wasn’t foolhardy enough to risk the life and limb of those around him or, (now that he finally thought about it)….his own.

He stopped at a small town just long enough to stretch, and to re-set the Garmin.  He set it not only to avoid ‘tollways’, but all interstates altogether.  As darkness fell, he began to travel south into Pennsylvania.  The route would take him some 70 miles to a state route which would connect with a ‘straight shot’ into Ohio and then home .  Berms would abound.  Texting drivers would travel unhindered by any of  his breakdowns.

The calls from his wife became more frequent.  He made the mistake of confessing that, at the point of one such call, he didn’t know if  he was still in New York or had finally entered Pennsylvania.   He explained the reason for his diversion and assured her he would call her from the Ohio line.

As towns became more frequent, the stop lights and intersections necessitated a dance on the pedals; left foot  on the clutch to shift into neutral, and a quick shift of the left foot over to the brake, so the right foot could remain free to feather the gas pedal and avoid stalling.

“Is it hard?’
Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes that’s hard.” 

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

When Stefan finally crossed the state line, it was after 11:00 p.m.  The road was dark and straight.  An occasional, poorly marked ‘detour’ made the ‘dance of the feathering throttle’ even more difficult, especially when it involved making three-point turns without power steering in the middle of a country lane.  A knot of tension began to grow at the base of his neck that felt like a softball.    (His wife’s calls invariably came in the midst of one of these maneuvers).

The mosquitoes and other insects he had killed were beginning to seem as thick as whitewash on a fence from Huckleberry Finn when careless oncoming drivers would not dim their high-beams.  He came to regard the few dozen deer he surprised (or had they surprised him?) as tail-less, antlered  monkeys sent by some wicked witch to fly into his path and to intercept some cache of rubies  hidden in his trunk without his knowledge.

He kept going; doing his dance and checking his gauges until, at last he rounded the final corner to the street where he lived. It was after midnight.   His wife was on him before he could even get out of the car, hugging him; kissing him; telling him how worried she had been all through the night.

He shut the door and returned her embrace.  He knew in his heart no other result could have been possible.  He had done it before, and now he knew why.  The Grace of God, as truly endowed upon us through the Holy Spirit, does not function to calm us or to remove affliction from our hearts, but rather, to remove our hearts from our afflictions.

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The Rambler was his; was home and was the source of a peace he had not felt for a long time.

He promised himself he would share it.

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.” 
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Walking the Showrooms with Stefan: (Part One: “The Quest”)

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Spring had finally begun to seem as though it was,  finally, here to stay.

Stefan had come down with an acute case of ‘spring fever’.  It had been a decade since he had had a ‘classic’ ride of his own, And he felt that, if did not drive a ‘stick-shift‘ car soon, he might break down and steal one for a few hours just to luxuriate in the art of smooth clutching and shifting.

His daily driver, the ’05 Cavalier, was paid off.  He had secured, after endless pleading and pouting, his wife’s agreement to sell her “Mad Max’ and to use his negotiated portion of the proceeds to acquire an old ‘collector’ car to be his fair-weather driver.  His heart was set on an old rear-engined, aircooled Volkswagen.  It would be his sixth.  Its’ attainment filled his dreams and his prayers.  He had endured without one for too long.  His suffering was keen.

He set to work.  After posting ‘for sale’ ads in several Camaro forums; he began the search for his next “Precious”.  He searched his favorite two forums “The Samba” for VW’s; and Hemmings Motor News for VW’s and anything else old and having a manual transmission.  Given the limitations of his pool of funds; he needed to set the search parameters to a 500 mile radius of his home to get even a ‘short list’ of candidates.

He drove an hour to look at a ’68 Beetle with an “Automatic Stick“.

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 No clutch in that one; but manually shifted nonetheless, and, he thought, his wife might be able to drive it too.  Upon driving it, it was apparent that it would need some work and some more funds to be the ‘daily driver’ he had set his heart on.  It died at each stop sign, and steering it made it seem as though he were at the helm of the ‘Queen Mary’.  The seller had only just gotten it from someone who had it in a barn, and felt that drivability issues were insignificant compared the the ‘cachet’ of owning a Beetle.

Just driving it was worth the trip, though.   Stefan had thanked him and moved on.

He began to visit the major antique car shows and swap meets in the area.  This had once been a weekly ritual for him, and now, some 10 years since he had been to one, his fever heightened as he sniffed the aroma of old mohair and hot bake-lite in the interiors of the old cars he perused in the “car corral’  areas, where owners paid to show and sell their cars.

In one of these “corrals”  He found a another ’68, this one with a true four-speed manual transmission and clutch, and a factory sunroof to boot:

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The seller was friendly enough, but seemed unconcerned about the barely perceptible level of oil on the dipstick and the slack in the fanbelt.   Both,  fatal flaws in an air-cooled vehicle.

Again, a car that would need an inspection tear-down of the engine and a re-build to be useful as a daily driver.

The others he found, some as far away as Chicago, fell into two categories:  1)  Running; solid and twice his price limit; and:  2)  Running;  rusty and priced ‘right’.

He even called on one just over his price range which was basically a running; driving chassis; fully rebuilt and needing only a body:

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Further research on an old ‘kit car’ body or a decent old Beetle with rotten floors rapidly removed this interesting possibility from his price range.

Frustration mounting, his ardor for a manual transmission even prompted a visit to some local dealerships for something new.  The folly and illogic of assuming another  monthly ‘note’ seemed, in his fevered state, to be a small price to pay for fulfilling his need for a clutch pedal.

He visited a Kia showroom.  The Forte Koup was in his payment range, but there were no stick-shifts in stock, and the salesman did not exhibit an inclination to locate one without a signature and a deposit.  This visit was brief.

Around the corner, he pulled into a Hyundai dealership.  The salesman here was friendly.  In fact, he too was an air-cooled VW enthusiast.  Stefan took him up on his offer to take a 6-speed Veloster for a drive down the highway.  The quirky three-door design was appealing; and the payment range was the same as the Kia.  The drive was exhilarating, but he knew in his cheap Ukrainian heart that could be just as “quirky” in a vintage car, which he could maintain himself without a degree in electronics.  An older car would also afford him a spare tire.  (Neither the Hyundai nor the Kia has a spare).

Back to the ethernet.  A perusing of   Hemmings Motor News, again with a radius of 500 miles, yielded no satisfactory VW’s.  He cursed the trendiness and ‘cachet’ that seemed to drive the prices of the the Beetles.  ‘Plan B’ was forming in his mind.  He edited the search menu to include his favorite domestic car of all time, of which he had owned four:  The American Motors Rambler.  He noted that the only one within negotiating distance of his price range and driving distance of his home was a pretty ’62 Classic Custom:

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Like his other Ramblers, it was a stick-shift, in-line six cylinder, practical car that could be driven daily in all weather, and would appreciate in value during his ownership.  An e-mail and a phone call to the seller convinced him that the car was worth the 360 mile trip to drive and inspect it.

His fever heightened.  He would drive out at the end of the week during the first of his two days off.  As that day approached, he did the research; reacquainting himself with the old wiring schematics in his automotive library and even compiling comparative data to establish empirically the soundness of  his selection to himself  and to his skeptical spouse:

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The boldface entries in the chart above made his decision simple.  Data doesn’t lie, regardless of  how high the fever one may be suffering.  In fact, suffering over time results in endurance,  endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Hope did not disappoint Stefan.  Within hours of compiling the comparison chart above, the phone rang.  Someone was coming to look at Max .  Within an hour, he had charged its’ battery and inflated the  flat tire.

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Within two hours, it was gone.

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It would go to a good home, that of a Camaro enthusiast who had his own business, selling body parts and restoration services for Z-28’s and Firebirds.

Stefan smiled as he listened to the happy buyer describe how he would fix it up for his wife…..who just had to have an ‘automatic’.

Hope does not disappoint us..

***(coming soon…..Part Two:  “The Test Drive“)***