The Story of the Disappearing Rambler

Tahiti Turquoise Metallic. Sounds exotic, don’t it? By the time I was driving the 1968 Rambler painted Tahiti Turquoise Metallic, it was anything but.

American Motors Corporation produced the Rambler American models 1958-1969. Designed for the “compact” market, Ramblers were always near the low end of automobiles on the cost scale. Because they achieved pretty decent gas mileage, they were not only cheap to buy but also cheap to operate.

My ’68 was a “second” car for our growing family. We had a Suburban for kid hauling and family activities but often needed two cars to meet our family’s needs. When a friend mentioned he was selling his Rambler, I jumped on it and brought it home. It was a six cylinder, automatic, four-door sedan, and felt like a big ole’ tub on the road with the habit of wandering a bit. There were about three-inches of play in the steering wheel, allowing movement from ten o’clock to two o’clock without changing the car’s line of travel.

The wipers didn’t function very well and my kids never tired of telling how I solved that problem. The wipers were driven off vacuum from the manifold. While the swipe to the left was fairly dependable, because of old age, the blades often struggled to make the return swipe, especially in times of heavy rain or during acceleration. I had enough scary moments, owing to the frequent rains in southwest Washington that I knew I had to do something to avoid blind driving moments.

I tied a coated nylon rope to the wiper blade and ran it through the passenger side window. It worked quite well to give a little tug on the rope and bring back the wiper to starting position. When I was lucky enough to have one of the kids as a passenger it became their job to be the “wiper returner.” It seemed like a good solution to my challenged mechanical mind. They’ve never recovered from the embarrassment of friends noticing the practice.

One night the Rambler disappeared. Vanished without a trace.

We lived in the Cascade foothills on a five-acre piece of property. Owing to our 90-inches of rain a year we enjoyed a rainforest-type setting with thick undergrowth and huge fir trees. We carved out a home site and yard for our habitation, but quite enjoyed the untouched feeling of the thick surrounding forest.

My wife was cleaning in the bathroom, situated on the end of the house next to the free-standing garage. She heard the Rambler roll out of the garage, making the unmistakable sound of tires on the gravel driveway. She assumed I was off to fulfill an errand I had mentioned and was quite shocked when she finished her work and found me sitting watching TV with the kids.

In response to her comment, “What are you doing here?” we launched a search. Sure enough, the car was not in the garage. The car was not on the driveway. The car was not anywhere to be seen.

Having had a pickup stolen and used in a pizza parlor holdup a year before, my brain started creating some pretty fantastic possibilities. We lived a few miles from a minimum-security state correction facility that quite often had prisoners walk away. That became my first theory, a version of the “Great Escape,” but a call to the facility revealed all were accounted for.

A half hour passed and still no trace of the Rambler. I decided to widen the physical search and began to walk the edge of the forest. It didn’t take long until a bit of chrome shone through the brush. My considerable mental deductions skills determined it was not supposed to be there! The forest had nearly completely swallowed the Rambler after it slipped into neutral and followed the pull of gravity across the lawn into the waiting arms of the forest. The military should investigate Tahiti Turquoise Metallic use as a camouflage paint, in our woods, it nearly made the car invisible.

Returning the Rambler to the garage is another story. It wasn’t four-wheel drive and the old girl couldn’t negotiate the climb back to the driveway on her own. No problem, for my considerable problem-solving skills. Chunks of plywood thrown under the rear wheels created a moment of traction that would allow building a little momentum.

If you’ve had any experience with this technique, you know that plywood often comes shooting out from under the wheel at surprising rates of speed.

I’ll only say just one measly little finger was broken. It was on her shooting hand. (Unfortunately, it was the night before my daughter’s basketball camp and severely affected her basketball career. Sorry, honey.)

The important thing is, and was, the Rambler was found and restored to the garage.



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