By Brian Earnest
Steve Fox insists his interest in cars these days leans more to “the understated; something that’s a little bit stealthy.”
That’s more than a little surprising, seeing that it comes from a proud owner of a 1969 AMC SC/Rambler, one of the rowdiest and most colorful cars ever to roll off an American automotive assembly line.
When it comes to grabbing attention or making an entrance, it’s hard to think of a car that can top the over-caffeinated, uber-patriotic, low-budget SC Rambler.
“To me, this is just the Holy Grail,” laughs Fox, a resident of Fallbrook, Calif. “My very first car was an AMC and I love underdogs in life. When I first saw the car in 2009 or 2010, I inspected it very well, and I was hooked. I knew right then that this was it for me. It doesn’t get better than this.”
Of course, wanting to buy the SC Rambler, and actually convincing the owner to consider selling it, were two very different matters. The car belonged to its original owner, and he was not looking to unload it.
“I had already had an AMC AMX and I was looking for something to differentiate myself from other people because there were AMXs in San Diego, and there still are,” Fox recalled. “Well, the AMC club had a big show in Las Vegas, and I went to the show and I saw the car and I saw this old guy hobbling around the car and thought, ‘This is a really rare car … I started looking at the car and he said he was original owner, and I thought, ‘Man, this guy is on his last legs. I need to get this car from him. Well, it turns out he wasn’t on his last legs, he just needed a hip replacement … At the end of the show, I went back up to him and said “Can you take me for a ride?” He probably thought I was a little weird, but I had my car there and I was an AMC guy, so he took me for a little ride. When he shifted into second gear and it just jumped, I was hooked. I knew this was the real deal for me… But buying the car from him was an ordeal. It took a year for me to get it from him.”
Fox kept calling the man and even went and visited him in Las Vegas, until finally he relented. Even though he was thrilled to eventually bring the SC/Rambler home, Fox said the transaction was anything but painless.
“Well, the only way I got it done was I basically offered him enough cash,” he says. “Then when I got there I told him I hadn’t driven the car and had only gone for a ride with him and I asked if we could go for a ride. He told me not to drive fast or ‘It will make me want to rethink the deal.’ I brought a trailer, but he said I could have driven it home. Well, he was a liar. It turns out the fuel system was all plugged up, and if I tried to drive it fast, the car would have died. Also, the brake caliper in back was leaking. It was not a safe car to drive at all. He lied to me about the condition of the car.”
“I know I probably paid too much for the car, but fortunately the value has gone up the past nine or 10 years, so I’m probably about breaking even now.”
FAST TIMES AT AMC
When AMC trotted out its new products at the Chicago Auto Show in March 1969, one of the most eye-catching vehicles was a small hardtop with a patriotic color scheme and a massive scoop dominating the front portion of its hoods. This AMC Hurst SC/Rambler represented one of the company’s most unique models and the swan song for the Rambler American compact car.
Every muscle car lover knows the name of Hurst Performance Products. So, in 1969, American Motors hooked up with the Pennsylvania performance parts company to surprise everyone with the SC/Rambler (or “Scrambler” as some folks call it). Hurst actually thought up the idea and AMC bought it.
Based on the two-door Rogue hardtop coupe, the SC/Rambler stressed the big-engine-in-little-car format to the max. Below the hood went a 390-cid/325-hp V-8 linked to a Borg Warner four-speed manual gearbox with a Hurst shifter. A 3.54:1 rear axle with Twin-Grip differential was included, too. With a curb weight of about 3,000 lbs., the hot little car had a power-to-weight ratio of 10.03 lbs. per horsepower. This made it eligible for drag racing in the National Hot Rod Association’s F-stock class.
The AMC factory estimated low 14-second quarter-miles at 98 mph. Road Test magazine clocked 14.4 at 100.44 mph and managed to hit 109 mph without topping out. Modified SC/Ramblers have run the quarter-mile in the 9-second bracket.
In addition to the power team, the SC/Rambler included a long list of extra-cost goodies like a big hood scoop for Ram-Air induction, fat dual exhaust pipes, a column-mounted Sun tachometer and Bendix front disc brakes. Blue-finished five-spoke mag-style wheels, 14 x 6-inch rims, wheel trim rings and fat red-striped Goodyear tires were also standard. The SC/Rambler interior was done in plain-looking gray vinyl, but it had red-white-and-blue headrests. This color scheme was carried onto the body, in several variations. Full carpeting was another selling feature.
The first 500 cars built had red center body side panels and thick blue horizontal racing stripes on the hood, roof and deck. A blue arrow pointed towards the scoop, which had large letters spelling the word “AIR” and calling out the engine size. This was the “A” type graphic treatment — the same scheme found on Fox’s car.
When the cars sold quickly, another batch was made with new “B” type trim. These had a mostly white exterior with narrow red and blue stripes. Then, a third batch of cars was made, reverting to the type “A” trim, but lacking all of the elements. The A-finished cars are the more common of the 1,512 SC/Ramblers built.
A NEW HOME IN CALIFORNIA
Other than the fact that it lived for a while in Bridgewater, Mass., and then moved with its original owner to Las Vegas, Fox didn’t learn a lot about the history of his SC/Rambler when he bought it. “Unfortunately, I got very little of that,” he says. “The guy was very reticent to sell the car in the first place. It was his first love. Basically, I had to offer him more and more money until he finally agreed to sell it. It was a well-documented car and people knew about it. It was bona fide … but about the only story I member him telling me about: I think he got a little better deal on it because his dad knew the dealer. I think he told me he worked on cars because they owned a gas station … Well, he said on Saturday nights his girlfriend would come over and they’d put the car up on the lift and do whatever they were going to do in it [laughs]. That’s about the only background I got. He wouldn’t give me anything other than taking my payment and giving me the paperwork. A friend of mine told me he was very despondent over selling the car.”
The AMC had 43,000 miles on it when Fox brought it home about a decade ago. It had a few oddities in it at the time, including some mud flaps that had been fashioned behind the wheels. “I guess he didn’t want to get dirt on the rocker panels,” Fox guessed. And the car also had some yellow paint splattered underneath and on the rockers. “I guess he had driven through some wet paint on the highway,” Fox said. “It definitely had some history and some beauty marks on the car. I went through everything and tried to make everything as original as I could.” That included repainting the engine block to make it the correct color of AMC Aqua. Fox also rebuilt the brakes and cleaned up the fuel system to make the car drivable.
The car still wears its original paint and the interior is also largely original “with the exception of the steering wheel and bottoms of the front seats,” Fox says. “The carpet is in excellent shape and is original, along with the dash pad, instrument cluster, headliner, and the rest of the seat material, both front and back.”
Eventually, Fox decided to do a temporary engine swap in the SC/Rambler. The reason was two-fold: it would keep miles down on the original 390, and also give the car a little bit of a performance boost. “I have a friend who created another 390 racing engine,” he says. “I have the original engine out of the car now and on a stand in my garage, and I have the racing engine in the car so I can keep up with my friends. I’m going to return the car back to its original roots and put the engine back in when I sell the car.
Fox estimates that he puts 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year on the AMC, but “it gets treated like a prom queen. She looks better now than she ever did. Everything is meticulously maintained. It gets washed a lot and clayed at least once a year by me … But I do love to drive it.” Fox also swapped highway gearing into the differential to improve highway driving. “Then I got almost 16 mph going from here to Reno, which for this 390 engine is crazy good,” he says. “
According to those who follow such things, there are probably “300 to 400” of the original 1,512 SC/Ramblers still surviving in various conditions and levels of originality. “Unmolested like mine – what I would call sympathetically restored, not over-restored, I would probably say there are 50 to 100 like mine. Cars that are largely unrestored and pretty much came that way from the factory.”
After enjoying everything about his sassy AMC for the past decade, Fox admits he is getting close to the point of selling the car and moving onto his next automotive adventure. He figures his next machine will be something in the pro-touring arena — something with high performance but not as much history and originality. “But I won’t sell it until I find the car I want,” he insists. “I have to find the right car.”
So will Fox suffer from seller’s remorse like the previous owner when he finally parts with his wacky SC Rambler? Probably. “Well, I did when I sold my AMX,” he jokes. “I get a lot of attention with this car, but I’m kind of over that now. My next car is going to be a little more understated, a little more low-key.
Until then, he says, he will be happy to enjoy every trip behind the wheel of one of the most memorable characters of the Muscle Car Era. He knows it will probably the last time he owns one, so he wants to enjoy every hairy mile.
“For me, this was kind of like a kid going to a candy store and realizing, ‘Holy moly, this I the mother of all candy stores!’ he jokes. “That what it was like for me finding this car. It doesn’t get better than this in the AMC world.”
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