It seems like every time we write about a car, we find something to love about that car — even if it’s nothing we’ve contemplated in the past. Loving a car means dreaming about it, and dreaming about it often involves a certain level of “what if?” How would we want the car equipped, painted, etcetera? For some of us, that may include going beyond what the factory intended. These builds will never happen, but talking about them is one of our favorite pastimes. Now we loop in the Hemmings Nation into these office bench-racing sessions.
Back in December we talked about a Caribbean Cruiser. This month let’s talk about a phantom ’50s muscle car! Today’s topic is inspired by a recent Buyer’s Guide in Hemmings Muscle Machines (#190, June 2019) on the 1969 AMC SC/Rambler.
The 1969 model year was the last for the Rambler nameplate, which dates back to when Nash was still called Jeffrey, but is best remembered as Nash’s pioneering postwar compact. To build the SC/Rambler, AMC and Hurst combined the body that had been introduced as the 1964 Rambler American (for 1969 it was the AMC Rambler) with the 315-hp, 390-cu.in. V-8 that came out in the 1968 AMC AMX.
Darrin Boeckel, of York, Pennsylvania, owns this unrestored ’69 SC/Rambler that we featured in Hemmings Muscle Machines #183, November 2018.
I like historical analogs — the equivalent of something from an earlier era. Think, briefly, of the 1936 Buick Century as the historical analog of the 1964 Pontiac GTO. But I’m particularly fond of fictional historical analogs. In this case, I wondered what the good folks at newly minted AMC might have come up with if challenged to build their own Supercar (that’s what the “SC” in SC/Rambler stands for) version of the Rambler back in 1954.
There was no AMX in 1954, but its closest analogs are probably the Nash-Healey and the Hudson Italia. Both were sporty two seaters powered by pumped-up versions of conventional sedan engines. The Nash-Healy used the Le Mans Dual Jetfire six from the Nash Ambassador and the Italia used the high-compression, Twin-H six from the Hudson Jet.
We can write off the Ambassador engine right away, it’s far too large to have any chance of fitting in a Rambler engine bay. The Rambler was designed around the small six-cylinder from the Nash 600 and very few engines with six or more cylinders fit easily in the engine bay of a Nash Rambler or its direct descendant, the pre-1964 Rambler American.
The 1953 Hudson Italia featured a 114-hp, 202-cu.in. six-cylinder with Twin-H power and an aluminum high-compression head, a setup also available as optional equipment in the Hudson Jet compact on which the Italia was based.
That leaves the Hudson Italia/Jet engine. I haven’t yet tracked down the exact dimensions, but the Italia engine is fascinating because it’s derived from the 1930-’52 Hudson straight-eight, which was known for being both compact and lightweight for a straight-eight. Whether it’s as small as the Nash “Flying Scot” engine remains to be seen. If not, that’s why they make torches and welders, right?
The merits of the Italia engine are easy to quantify: 202-cu.in. producing 114 hp at 4,000 rpm, compared with 195.6-cu.in. rated for 90 hp at 3,800 rpm. Jet prototypes with the standard, 104-hp version of this engine were so torquey that they repeatedly bent the Studebaker Champions in which they were installed for testing. Thankfully, pre-1964 Rambler unit bodies were very stout, with rails running the entire length of the car.
With styling derived from the Fiat 1400, the 1951 Oldsmobile, and the 1952 Ford, the Jet wasn’t as handsome as it could have been — but its mechanicals were excellent.
If we get real lucky, we may find the engine from a 1955 or ’56 Hudson Wasp, which is the same as the Jet/Italia engine but installed in a re-styled Nash Statesman. Those were rated for 130 hp at 4,000 rpm when equipped with the Twin-H/high-compression equipment. Intriguingly, the engine in the 1955-’56 Statesman was the same 195.6-cu.in. flathead six as in the Rambler — hopefully a portent of the size we need!
While ordinarily I am a devotee of the clutch pedal, a coincidence between the Jet and the Rambler almost demands that an automatic transmission be installed in our 1954 Nash SC/Rambler. All Italias came with manual transmissions, but the GM-built Hydra-Matic was optional in both the Rambler and the Jet. That most ’50s of automatics truly belongs in our ’50s Supercar.
One further upgrade we can’t omit are the brakes. The Hudson Jet (and the lighter Italia, which shared its chassis) was renowned for its excellent braking. After the engine, the brakes came in for the most praise from period road testers. Surprisingly, those were 9- by 2-inch drums, same as used on the front of the Rambler. Since the Rambler Country Club hardtop I’ve been envisioning for this build actually weighs 145 pounds lighter than the Jet, we’d probably be okay — but for safety’s sake, let’s upgrade to a set of finned 10.5- by 2-inch drums from the front of a ’70s Gremlin, Hornet, or Matador. They’re a bolt-on, thanks to AMC never changing the spindle pattern.
Not only does the Twin-H Jet engine have the advantage in displacement, but the Nash engine’s internal manifolding limits how much its breathing can be upgraded. Both engines could be had with a GM-built Hydra-Matic, which seems like it would simplify the contemplated swap.
Out back, it turns out the Jet’s 52-inch rear tread is an inch narrower than that of the Rambler, meaning we can likely swap in the Hudson rear axle, though spring perches and shock mounts will likely require reconfiguration. Perhaps we should upgrade to the AMX-style torque links and staggered shocks of the 1969 SC/Rambler while we’re at it? In either case, we’ll get that famous Hudson crab tread in the bargain, which is said to be one of the factors in Hudson’s beloved road manners.
If you aren’t a stickler for period plausibility, there are options for front discs for the Nash/Rambler/AMC front suspension as well, and the 7.5-inch rear axle from a pre-1993 Ford Ranger is said to be a good swap into the Nash Rambler. Thankfully, the Ramblers didn’t use the torque-tube setup that larger Nashes and AMC products retained until the mid-’60s.
So, what’s your phantom ’50s muscle car dream build?