The ’69 AMC Rambler is a good example of a car that has fallen out of our collective automotive psyche. When you see how Todd Sears has reimagined it as his personal hot rod, it suddenly becomes relevant, and very cool. The question is, are we boxed in by our automotive prejudices so that we can’t see the possibilities out there?
A few years ago, GM tried an experiment with a customer focus group using a new car they were just about to release to the public. A lot was riding on the car’s outcome, and they wanted to know what potential buyers would think about it. They divided a randomly chosen focus group into two sets. The baseline or “normal” group got to test the car with GM badging, while the experimental test group got the same car, but with the logo of a well-known Japanese maker attached. Now mind you, this was not their only focus clinic; the car was years in the making, and the styling and feature set had been tested repeatedly over nearly two years, ultimately with much success. This final test would be different—it would measure the psychological predisposition toward the brand.
You probably don’t even have to read the rest of this sentence to correctly guess that the test group that reviewed the faux-Japanese version scored the car much higher in every respect than the baseline group that had the GM-badged version. Yeah, that was a bum rap, but it proved to the GM brass that they really weren’t crazy. They could build great cars that people would love—if they could just get past the anti-GM sentiment long enough to prove it to the potential customer. You can blame it on the focus group being made up of soccer moms with the collective automotive acumen of the Housewives of New Jersey, but I think there’s automotive prejudice everywhere, even in people who ought to know better.
We hot rodders sure know what we like. This Chevy. That Ford. Those Mopars. You know the one—the best one has the Cleveland, Rat, Hemi, small-block, Wedge. If you ain’t drivin’ a Mercuriac, that old Calvin cartoon is surely pissin’ on you! The funny thing is, for a group of people who ought to know better, a group who believes in their heart that the best engineered cars have always come from and continue to be produced in Detroit, we spend an inordinate amount of time piling insults on each other’s favorite domestic nameplates.
I learned this the hard way. Many years ago when I was the tech editor of the nation’s largest Ford publication, I made a rookie mistake and took a Camaro SS press fleet car to a Ford drag racing event. Sensitive to the fact that some people might not like it, I tried to park it out of harm’s way. By the end of the day, however, it had been vandalized—shaving-cream bombed with anti-Chevy graffiti. Good thing it wasn’t a Mopar show or it would’ve been tagged with real spray paint!
One of the recurring stories I hear from hot rodders over and over is their desire to recapture a hot rodding experience from their youth. No matter how many times or in how many ways I hear it, it’s still poignant. Maybe you were 7 or 10 or 15, or you were with your dad or uncle or grandpa, there is always one crystal clear moment you can point to when you looked at a car and said, “That’s me. I gotta have it.” It doesn’t matter if it was a Chevy, Mopar, or a Ford, from that defining moment on, you were significantly changed. Going through the photo contest entries for this month’s readers’ rides issue, I was again reminded of this magic moment when I read all the stories.
For me, that critical juncture was at year 8 when my dad brought home a model car kit that we built together. I’m pretty sure it was a GTO. Nevertheless, I quickly developed a jones for Chargers, Cougars, and T-birds (they had hideaway headlights, cool grilles, and mean-looking taillights). I drew them repeatedly in class when I should’ve been paying attention. When I relive those memories, the thing that hits me the hardest is falling in love with the sleek, badass styling. I was seeing them for the first time, not with jaundice, but with wonderment. At best, I was only vaguely aware that the cars I liked were different brands. I wasn’t smart enough to know that a T-bird wasn’t as cool as a Charger—an opinion that most “smart” hot rodders have today, and which is reflected in the relative prices of ’68 Chargers and T-birds.
This month’s story “The Spirit of ’76—10 Closet Classics You Should Buy Now” is kind of an invitation to take a fresh look at some models that we’ve largely forgotten. Likewise, we hope the “What’s In Your Garage?” story—comprised of 44 readers’ rides—will also open your eyes to the possibilities of some lesser-known models. Hey, it’s OK to have favorites, all I’m saying is that your experience will be far more fulfilling if you approach it with the same childlike fascination that brought you here in the first place. Forget about the brand, the year, or the model, just try looking at every car as if you’re seeing it for the first time!