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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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: