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...
There are 427 cubes and 563 hp underhood, thanks to a Schwartz LS-7 racing block machined and assembled by Mylon Keasler of Keasler Racing in Maryville, TN. Internals include a forged steel Kellogg crank, Jett titanium rods, CP pistons, and a Schwartz custom-ground billet camshaft. LS-7 heads are fed by a modified Kinsler crossram fuel injection unit and the big V-8 is backed to a 4L85E transmission.
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...
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...
Rutterz Rodz, the builder on this project, straightened all the panels and created 3/16-inch gaps before painting the Rambler with DuPont Super Jet Black paint. The car incorporates an Art Morrison frame with their Mustang II–type front suspension and a parallel four-bar setup with a Ford 9-inch in the rear. The big rollers are BFGoodrich-wrapped Billet Specialties Rail 20x10 and 17x7 wheels.
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.
The 440-H Rambler body itself is a special piece. The roof design incorporates ridges that were made to look like a convertible’s top bows. It was also the first year for a hardtop Rambler (AMC made another one in 1964, but its design looks closer to a Dodge Dart of the same year) and the “H” designation was a higher trim level with a reshaped rear armrest to accommodate a smaller rear seat base. The 440 was available in a hardtop, convertible, and as a post car, with one resource putting production numbers of the standard 440 American hardtop at 5,101 units, with an additional 9,749 cars carrying the “H” designation. A fair amount of cars for 1963, but probably very few survived these past 50 years.
The ’50s-era fitted luggage...
The ’50s-era fitted luggage look is a ruse—it’s just clever leather manipulation by the upholsterer, Paul Atkins, who did something different to cover the rear wheel tubs. Atkins used lipstick red aircraft leather to cover the original bucket seats and the same hue can be found in the wool carpet.
As the “H” model relied on an upscale interior, so did Rutterz, and they called Paul Atkins to stitch up a custom aircraft-grade leather interior for the car. Since there wasn’t getting around the large rear wheel tubs Rutter had made, Atkins created a faux fitted luggage look rather than go with an outdated Pro Street appearance. The stock bucket seats were recovered and red wool carpet was also laid out over the Dynamat sound deadener.
The stock Rambler console was reworked to help cover the transmission hump and a custom shifter was made. Up on the dash the stock Rambler gauge cluster was reworked by Classic Instruments and then centered in front of the Flaming River steering column. A JVC stereo system and a wiring kit from Painless Performance are used, both installed by Rutterz.
Once the car was up and running, Doyle and Rutter debuted the ride at the Goodguys Columbus show, where it won a Builder’s Choice Award, which was followed by a Top 25 award at Shades of the Past and a STREET RODDER Top 100 award in Indianapolis. And as impressive as this car may look in pictures, it’s even more so in person. Plus, if you like the dare-to-be-different rides, then this car is your new god, because we don’t think a ’63 Rambler 440-H can be done any better, and Doyle Thomas’ friend has got to be smiling.