If there was ever an excellent example of an oxymoron, it might be the phrase: “a high-performance ’63 Rambler.” Truly a dare-to-be-different type of vehicle, Doyle Thomas’ ’63 Rambler American 440-H was originally going to be a wholly dissimilar car.
A friend of Doyle’s had started the project, but it was going the way of a resto-mod. When he died before being able to finish it, Doyle stepped in and, in honor of his buddy, decided to finish it up. He called Mike Rutter of Rutterz Rodz in Bristol, Tennessee, for the help and, though Rutter could have gone along with the original plan, he asked Doyle if it wouldn’t be better to build something really unique out of the Rambler, which would be an even better honor for his late friend.
There are 427 cubes and 563 hp underhood, thanks to a Schwartz LS-7 racing block machined
Doyle agreed to the concept, so Rutter called automotive illustrator Eric Brockmeyer to help out with the imagineering. Brockmeyer, who had been working for the past two years on his own Rambler (as seen in the Dec. ’11 STREET RODDER) obliged with rendering of an evil, wicked, mean, and nasty Rambler. Doyle and Rutter liked what they saw, but realized in order to get the car to look and sit the way it did in the drawings, they’d have to build it on a custom chassis, as the stock Rambler’s unibody design wasn’t going to work.
Not only did all of the Rambler’s suspension have to come out of the car, but so did the firewall, floor, trunk area, and rear wheelwells. A call to Art Morrison got the ball rolling with a custom chassis (3 inches over the stock 100-inch wheelbase) utilizing their tubular Mustang II–type front suspension and a Ford 9-inch (3.90:1) rear suspended by a parallel four-bar setup and adjustable coilovers.
Wilwood six-piston calipers are on each corner, and a power rack-and-pinion was installed to aid steering. Part of the need for a proper chassis under the car was the fact they were going to run rather large wheels: 17x7 and 20x10 Billet Specialties Rail rollers shod in BFGoodrich rubber (215/45/ZR17 and 295/40ZR20).
The steering wheel is Corvair and the stock gauges were reworked by Classic Instruments.
And you can’t say “hot rod” without thinking performance and, due to Doyle’s admiration of the LS-7 engine, Rutter was assigned the task of doing the install. Mylon Keasler of Keasler Racing (Maryville, Tennessee) assembled a Schwartz 427 racing block with a forged steel crank from Kellogg, CP pistons connected by Jett titanium rods, and a custom-ground billet camshaft from Schwartz. As all LS-7 engines are dry sump, this engine is unique in that it was converted to a wet sump (oil pan) system.
Cooling is handled through a custom Steve Long aluminum radiator, a Flex-a-lite fan, and an aluminum water pump that is part of the Vintage Air FrontRunner belt system. The big V-8 is fed via a unique Kinsler crossram fuel-injection system handled by a Big Stuff 3 engine management controller (which also manages the 4L85E transmission). Rutterz fabbed up the custom headers that were finished by Performance Coatings in Jonesboro, Georgia. All told, the 427 produced 563 hp on the dyno.
Rutterz Rodz, the builder on this project, straightened all the panels and created 3/16-in
For a builder, it’s difficult to explain to people that much of the hard work done on the car (going from unibody to a frame/chassis design) can’t be seen. Most of the car’s exterior was left alone, except for the fact the bumpers were narrowed and smoothed and LEDs were installed in the taillights. Rutterz Rodz perfected the car’s gaps (to 3/16 inch) before spraying the DuPont Super Jet Black paint, and the “440-H” and “Black Crown” logos designed by Brockmeyer were printed by Action Graphics.