Ron Cherry: A ramblin’ man’s love of a classic convertible
July 13, 2018
When Rick Shaddeau spotted a '65 Rambler Classic 770 convertible sitting in a Pecos, NM, tow yard, he was intrigued.
"I knew right away when, I saw it under snow, it was an unusual car," he said. "I knew nothing about Ramblers, but it was love at first sight. I named her Roxanne."
The car had been abandoned on Route 66 with a blown engine and, for some unknown reason, towed all the way to Pecos. While not a stranger to cars, Rich had never owned a Rambler before. He'd owned a lot of cars since he'd been in his early 20s, mainly muscle cars that he used to buy and flip.
"I knew about cars at a very young age," he said, then considered some of the great ones he'd owned for brief periods of time. "If I still owned some of them, I could trade one of them for a house."
But the Rambler was no muscle car to flip, just one that struck his love interest.
The mystery machine
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There was a problem with this love story: the owner of the tow yard had no title papers and wouldn't sell the car.
The Rambler's convertible top had rotted out and Rick faithfully covered it with a tarp when it snowed in the tow yard to protect the interior, which was in surprisingly good condition. The carpets had rotted, but the seats were still good. The car itself needed help.
Besides the blown engine, it had some damage to the front clip and grill. But that didn't matter to Rick. For a year, Rick kept his vigil. Then out of the blue, the tow company owner called and said the car was to be crushed the next day, but he would sell it to Rick for $500 if he picked it up first.
He hopped at the chance and paid the money, receiving only a bill of sale. Why the tow company didn't run it through a lien sale long before remains a mystery.
Although the car was originally red, the paint had oxidized so badly it looked brown. It was a heavily optioned for that year Rambler, with a Flash-O-Matic auto trans (same as the Ford-O-Matic), bucket seats, air conditioning, power steering and brakes and a tilt steering wheel.
For two years, Rick stored the car in Santa Fe, NM, then needed to move it to his new home in Oakland. He used a car dolly that raised only two wheels off the ground. However, Ramblers used torque tubes rather than drive shafts and they were not easy to remove so that it could be towed with the rear wheels on the ground without damaging the auto trans.
Instead, he put the rear wheels on the dolly and left the front ones on the ground. That moved the center of gravity way back and the slop in the steering made the car wander.
"I couldn't go over 50 miles per hour or it would fishtail," he said.
On the long way home, he stopped at his mother's ranch in Colorado.
"That's where I learned horses love to munch old upholstery," he said. "With no top on the car, they ate the seat covers down to the springs."
Once back in Oakland, Rick stored the car for about eight months until he found a donor car. It was an AMC Marlin, a similar body, but a fastback.
"It had been crashed, but not badly," he said. "I used the engine, bumpers, pedal pads and grill. The grill was a little different, but bolted right in and looks way better than the original one."
The engine was the highest performance one available that year, a 270 horsepower 327 cubic inches with a four-barrel Holley carb. He got a new top and some cheap seat covers. Instead of a repaint, he started buffing out the factory one.
"I spent 10 years polishing out that paint off and on," he said. "I got to love Meguiars (car polish)."
In 1996, Rick started to date Maria. She's the one responsible for getting the horse-eaten seats finally properly redone. Add to that, she helped Rick replace a bad starter along the side of the road.
"It was a bonding experience," he said.
She even liked Roxanne well enough to have the car as the backdrop for their wedding two years later. Although she no longer drives it very much, she did quite often when they lived in Oakland.
Roxanne the Rambler
In 2000, Rick, Maria and Roxanne moved to Grass Valley. Since then, he has done some more work on the Rambler.
The top had to be replaced again and he had the seats redone in color-correct (off white) naugahyde. Finally giving up on Meguiars, he had it repainted in red.
Many things he has not had to redo. The wiring is untouched and the only suspension work the car needed is new shocks. Roxanne has been very dependable for over 20 years.
One regret Rick has is that he does not know Roxanne's heritage. He has found out that it is only one of 900 made with its particular color and options, but nothing of where it was bought or by whom, or how it came to be abandoned on Route 66.
"I don't know the story behind that car, no idea," he said.
All he knows is that he still loves Roxanne, his ramblin' Rambler.
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Christopher Murders," is a Fourth of July mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.