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On the ground at the Chilson AMC Family Reunion

Published in blog.hemmings.com

American Motors products (and even a couple pre-AMC Nashes) filled the former Chilson AMC dealership in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, for the final Chilson Family Reunion. Photos by David Conwill.

We are hard pressed to think of any group of postwar car enthusiasts as enthusiastic and inclusive as fans of American Motors products. It doesn’t matter if you have a Rambler, an AMX, a Hornet, an Eagle, or whatever. If it has that red, white, and blue badge (or even Nash or Hudson emblems), you’re welcome to come party with them.

Free food and drinks were provided by host Gordy Chilson to all attendees under the decor in the former dealership building.

This is especially true at the Kenosha Homecoming, when AMC owners from across the country gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the hometown of their beloved marque. It was quite the compliment, then, when attendee Kevin Shope called the Chilson Family Reunion, held August 30-31, 2019 in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania and Painted Post, New York, “a microcosm of Kenosha.” In that, he was referring to the camaraderie and excitement that pervaded the event—the last one of many.

The 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler Group played a big part in getting the word out for the event. From left to right are James McKee (see the SC/Rambler he bought new below), Robert Rascoe, Kevin Shope, host Gordy Chilson (another fellow who still owns the SC/Rambler he bought new), Nash Boeckel, and his dad Darrin Boeckel (whose SC/Rambler we featured in the November 2018 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines).

Part of that excitement was undoubtedly due to the gathering of 1969 SC/Ramblers, said to be perhaps the biggest—36 in all, including one for sale in the swap-meet area. Our 2015 Muscle Machine of the Year, John McKee’s SC/Rambler was even up from Arizona for the gathering. Non-AMC folks also got into the act, with the all-makes cruise on Friday night drawing over 300 cars. Gordy Chilson, who operates a Jeep-Dodge-Chrysler dealership in Painted Post, cleared out the inventory to welcome all the cruisers.

Among the SC/Ramblers attending was this psychedelic-painted number belonging to Don Moyer, race director of Gasser magazine and webmaster for gassermadness.com. Don tells us the car was sold new to “an Air Force guy” in San Antonio, Texas. It received its distinctive paint job circa 1970-’71, and was street raced extensively. Rumor has it up to 12 cars in Texas may have been painted this way.

While this was the last Chilson Family Reunion, if you want to be a part of the fun in similar future events, we suggest you check out the American Motors Owners Association. Despite the name, you don’t have to own an AMC to join—but the products of that storied firm are such good values, we’ll bet it won’t belong before you seek out your own!

This 1962 Rambler Classic Cross Country was complete with vintage luggage on the roof rack and plenty of gorgeous patina. Owner Marty Carmouze has had it for three years now and drove it up from Sterling, Virginia, for the occasion. He rebuilt the engine and rubbed it down and has plans to refurbish the currently inoperative overdrive unit to make it an even better road tripper.

Craig and Michelle Oliver, of Dorr, Michigan, brought out their 1965 Marlin. They’ve owned the car for a year and a half after scoring it at a Mecum auction. Unusually, it’s a stick-shift car, and we think it looks slick with the 17-inch wheels and the unconventional two-tone paint scheme.

Another 1965 Marlin in attendance was this all-original, unrestored car that belongs to Karen Johnson and her husband Richard Whelan. Karen’s father’s ’59 Rambler was in Hemmings Classic Car and is responsible for her love of AMC’s. She said she bought the Marlin because she wanted something faster–she found this one in Louisiana back in 2002 and has been collecting AMC accessories for it.

American Motors didn’t offer the AMX 390 in the Rambler until the 1969 SC/Rambler, but former AMO president Frank DiCaprio has one (hooked to an automatic transmission) in his 1966 Rambler American convertible. The Cragar S/S wheels give a period street-machine vibe. It sounded great too.

The Jeep 4.0-liter straight six is a descendant of the old AMC engine that debuted for 1964–meaning it’s right at home in this 1966 Rambler American convertible, which also sported some kind of manual transmission and the B-scheme paint of a ’69 SC/Rambler. AMC quit building convertible Americans after the 1967 model year, but this car offers a tantalizing “what if.”

Another 390 in an unusual home was found in this 1969 Ambassador. Rare when new, Ambassador 390s are almost unheard of today since many were parted out to restore AMX’s and the like. Owner Charles Evans and his brother Bart had several cars in the show, which they brought up from Rome, Pennsylvania. Charles told us this car was so freshly restored he’d only driven it a single mile before putting it on the trailer to come to Lawrenceville.

Mark Drastal’s younger brother had an AMX in his college days, which prompted Mark to seek out his own. After the engine was pulled down for detailing, it languished in Mark’s barn in Skaneateles, New York, for a quarter century before it was hauled out and restored. The paint was changed from pale yellow to dark blue in the process and it looks fabulous.

Working in an AMC dealership as a teenager exposed Scott Turney, of Auburn, New York, to lots of cool cars–none of which he could actually purchase. Instead, as an adult he gathered 14 parts cars and a solid Florida body and built the 1971 AMX he couldn’t buy way back when. It has a 401, a four-speed, and all the options he would have wanted–including those sparkly Machine wheels. It took him a decade to build and has been on the road for five years.

Sometimes it takes the right car to make a car guy. Manny Angaretis, from Long Island, New York, didn’t think of himself as a car enthusiast until he purchased this ’74 Gremlin out of Montana back in 2005. He drove it home in the dead of winter, suffering from a firewall full of holes, and built it into what you see here. He was inspired by the new one he had back in 1970. He told us he’d subsequently had a similar adventure with a Pacer he purchased in Alaska, which convinced us he’s a car guy now.

This 1969 Ambassador station wagon, with 343 power, came all the way from Howell, Michigan, with owner Bill Ketchum at the helm. Bill tells us it originates in the high deserts of Oregon and it was a clean, unrestored survivor until Bill hit a deer the night before the show. He vows that repairs will happen and they will be minimally invasive.

Not every SC/Rambler in attendance was a perfectly restored example. These battle-scarred survivors looked like they had loads of stories to tell and we do wish we could have heard them!

Jim McKee, of St. Petersburgh, Florida, was one of those prescient fellows who bought a SC/Rambler brand new and held onto it all these years. He was also friends with the son of the owner of the dealership where he bought the car–which meant he was tipped off every time a new Group 19 high-performance upgrade became available. He bought them all and installed them. He showed us all around his car, restored nine years ago, and it was so clean you could have eaten off the underside.

The 1961 Metropolitan and the 1980s Eagle wagons seemed like fitting book ends to the AMC story. All AMC vehicles and their owners were welcomed at the Chilson Family Reunion, something we understand is typical of AMC gatherings.

While the 50th Anniversary of the SC/Rambler was the talk of the show, also hugely significant were the number of Super Stock AMX’s in attendance. Nash Trash was one of those, and it shows evidence of having been campaigned long after the heyday of Super Stock ended.

Fittingly, one of the SC/Ramblers on hand was a project in the surprisingly extensive swap-meet area. If you were looking for something more sedate we also spied a 199-powered Rambler American and a yellow-and-black Rogue hardtop with the rare 290/four-speed combination.