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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my grandfather’s purchase of his first car, a brand-new 1949 Ford Fordor sedan.

I’m gonna duck back to that for a couple more seconds, to share another memento that shows what the big day meant to my grandpa.

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My dad was kind enough to scan this in from the family photo scrapbook my grandfather was keeping in the late ’40s.

The treatment given to the arrival of the new car was “bigger than anything else save for the arrival of Elaine and me,” my dad says.

(Regular readers here will recognize that my grandpa pulled out the explosion motif only for big occasions. He must truly have seen this as a major addition to the family. Did people in other countries get so excited about their cars, or was it just an American thing?)

It’s probably a trick of perspective, but the Fordor — touted in its own catalog as “a living room on wheels” and “a big car” — really doesn’t look that big to me, especially in the first of the two pictures.

I’m not going to go so far as to look up comparative wheelbase lengths, but the Fordor to my eyes looks almost … midsize. Maybe it’s a function of the car’s clean design. Or maybe you just had to be there.

All I know is, other cars that showed up in the Hope Street driveway over the years looked a whole lot bigger than that one.

Summer 1963: Imported from Detroit.

Oh, hi again, Dad.

Which leads into another Hope Street observation my dad made: You’ll notice the driveway in the 1949 pictures is pure grass, because no car had troubled it for any length of time.

When my dad got his first car — circa summer 1963, shown above — the back part of the driveway at Hope Street had been worn down to ruts. (The front section closest to the house and street was paved, but the back half never was.)

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July 1983. Behind me you can see the point where the pavement stopped and the ruts took over.

One last family note: You’ll see (especially if WordPress allows the photo to be expanded) that the first license plate number Connecticut bestowed on my grandpa was JR-932.

My grandpa saved all his license plates over the years, as well as the little punched-out metal tags that were placed on them as yearly registration markers. And when his grandson came along with an interest in cars and history, they got passed down.

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(I’m not sure this plate was actually used in 1956; I vaguely recall mixing and matching the metal tags off my grandpa’s old plates once when I was a kid.)

I enjoy the thought of my grandfather looking through a parking lot — outside work, or at his kids’ school, or at the commuter rail station — and his eyes lighting on JR 932, and his simultaneously feeling a small swell of pride and the comfortable recognition of, yup, that’s mine.

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For almost 35 years — from the end of the 1940s until the early ’80s — my grandpa bought Fords.

For whatever reason, he decided he liked them; and the ones he bought served him well enough to keep him happy. And so the Blumenaus were, for almost all of their residence on Hope Street, a Ford family.

I know of only one occasion during those years when my grandpa’s attention wavered. We’ll go down that road this week — which gives us the opportunity to look at some classic Sixties marketing materials, as well.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special "Mannequin" has.

Find a comfortable seat, like this special “Mannequin” has. Why, it’s the standard for the entire industry!

Throughout the ’60s, my grandpa bought a new mid-sized Ford Fairlane every four years, in the presidential inaugural years of 1961, 1965 and 1969.

(His loyal patronage was not enough to save the model, which was discontinued in 1970.)

The marketing brochures for these cars, as well as other Fords from the ’40s and ’50s, still live in a worn yellow envelope in my folks’ basement, somewhat the worse for wear after many years of my pawing.

There’s also one non-Ford brochure from the ’60s, which shows that my grandpa — at least once — was willing to be flexible and consider something new, rather than plunk down his bills for the latest shined-up version of the same model.

When he went off the ranch, he went in a big way. He left behind the other members of Detroit’s Big Three and turned to the industry’s scrappy fourth-place player, Rambler.

The 1965 Rambler "X-Ray" catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great '60s design.

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog compares the turning radius of leading cars. Great ’60s design.

When my grandpa went car-shopping in ’65, the Rambler brand had only been a stand-alone marque for about eight years, having emerged from the survival-merger of Nash and Hudson in the mid-1950s.

The company with a plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had managed to make significant waves in the industry, though.

It had pulled off the eternally difficult trick of convincing Americans to buy compact cars. It had positioned itself as more nimble and creative than the Big Three, adding features the bigger players didn’t have. And it had won Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award in 1963.

An example of we-do-it, they-don't from the '65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

An example of we-do-it, they-don’t from the ’65 Rambler catalog. Rust never sleeps, except in Kenosha.

Indeed, by the time my grandpa noticed Rambler, its best days might have been behind it.

Wikipedia suggests the company enjoyed its glory years under the corporate presidency of George W. Romney, and after Romney left to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, subsequent chief executives found the going tougher and tougher. (How might America’s automotive and political worlds be different today if George Romney had stayed in the auto business?)

The 1965 Rambler “X-Ray” catalog plays on the company’s established giant-killer image, comparing Rambler autos to their big-name competitors. Not surprisingly, all the comparisons — from turning radius, to cargo space, to fuel economy, to reliability — come out in Rambler’s favor.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

My favorite comparison in the catalog: Rambler has nicer ashtrays than Buick. Hey, it mattered then.

Several pages of the catalog stack up Rambler models against their competitors in different size classes. Thoughtfully, Rambler put its Classic mid-size model on the same page as the Fairlane, so my grandpa could size them both up at a glance.

In retrospect, it doesn’t look like much of a choice. Both cars are plain and rather boxy, and would be difficult to tell apart at a distance. Still, I imagine my grandpa spent at least a couple minutes looking at this page.

Head to head.

Head to head. The adjoining page featured the Chevrolet Chevelle, Plymouth Belvidere and Dodge Coronet.

A few other pages of the catalog showed my grandpa looking behind the hype and writing down questions about key features.

I didn’t think that many people cared about seat belts then, but the note on this page suggests it mattered to him:

"SEAT BELTS?"

“SEAT BELTS?” (Clearly the lack of headrests didn’t bother him, but the potential lack of seat belts did.)

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

Not surprisingly, my grandpa was interested in what Rambler put under its hoods, as well.

I have to hand it to the forgotten marketing geniuses at Rambler: After reading the X-Ray catalog, I was ready to go out and plunk down my own money on a Rambler. They sold the hungry, quality-driven, thinking-man’s-choice, underdog image pretty well.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

I want to buy one of these wagons, drive it to Milwaukee, fill the trunk with beer and drive home again.

Unfortunately, as I said 600 words ago, they couldn’t convince my grandpa. When the time came to make a decision, he turned his back on the little guys and stayed loyal to Ford.

This in and of itself was not life-changing to anybody. But repeat it a couple hundred thousand times, and it helps explain why Rambler and its successor brand, AMC, couldn’t last in the long term. Window-shopping doesn’t bring in any money, and Rambler/AMC didn’t get enough Americans to sign on the dotted line.

A shame: A ’65 Rambler Classic like this one — shown in its X-Ray glamour shot — might have looked nice in old family scrapbook photos.

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Bonus multimedia content: Check out this ad, not for Ramblers, but for the X-Ray catalog.

Or, if you want to see a ’65 Rambler Classic in action:

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