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1969 AMC Rambler - Ketchum If You Can

Jack Ketchum's Stupid Rambler Runs 9.9s At 137.

Photography by Steve Magnante

Back in the days when Ramblers were still relatively new cars, the typical owner profile included membership in the AARP. Rambler owners were sensible, frugal, and well . . . old. In the strictest sense, Jack Ketchum, the owner of this unassuming '69 Rambler fits the description pretty well, and yes, he's an AARP member. But Jack is also a member of some other organizations that include the NHRA, IHRA, and NAMDRA. Add up the clues and you'll see this is one senior citizen-age 67-with an active involvement in drag racing, American Motors style (NAMDRA stands for the National American Motors Drivers and Racers Association).

Though he's been retired from working as a machinist for more than a decade, Jack is a lifelong AMC enthusiast whose father worked as a research and development engineer at the AMC main plant in Detroit. Jack remembers getting sneak peeks at future products, like seeing the '71 Hornet SC/360 a full six months prior to its public unveiling. His dad also brought home an AMX/3 during his lunch break. If you don't know, the AMX/3 was a two-seat, midengine sports car intended for limited production. Packing a 390-cube AMX engine and four-speed transaxle, it was targeted at cars like Lincoln-Mercury's DeTomaso Pantera, the Lamborghini Miura, and the Corvette. But a fit of corporate belt-tightening killed the project after only a handful of prototypes were built. Still, how cool must it have been for Jack to see one of them sitting in his driveway?

Since those days more than three decades ago, Jack has raised two sons, John, 39, and Bill, 37, to be stalwart AMC supporters. He even helped Bill assemble a 10-second Hornet while staying away from drag racing himself. Until, that is, he scored this clean Rambler in September 2000. With a mere 57,000 miles showing on the odometer, the former 199-cube, six-banger, three-on-the-tree economy car was absolutely rust free and still wore its original Beale Street Blue paint. Returning some favors, Bill helped his pop transform it into the brutally effective projectile featured here.

The Ketchums combined the Rambler's lightweight unit construction with an iron-headed, 8,000-rpm AMC 401 that's been treated to an offset-ground Moldex stroker crank for a total of 426 cubes. The end result is a 3,050-pound car that has run a best of 9.998 at 135.3 mph. The Ketchums are quick to admit the car tickled the 9s just once during a cool morning pass when conditions were optimum. But a trio of 10.07 at 134.5 backup passes hints that 9s could be a regular occurrence if Jack blows against the windshield.

* Used from 1958 to 1968, the American nameplate was dropped in 1969. All '69 compacts were simply called Ramblers, even though the American logo still appeared on the horn button.

Expecting to find a hidden nitrous bottle or at least a trailer full of spare (and broken) parts, we hung out with Jack during the '06 AMC Nationals in Cordova, Illinois, and watched him click off a string of trouble-free 10.2s at 133 all weekend long. Remember, this is all done through the mufflers, with no nitrous oxide. What's more, the car itself is nearly stock, with only minor suspension tweaks and minimal efforts taken to reduce mass. Jack and Bill have taken to calling the car the stupid Rambler because of its simplicity and lack of go-fast, trick-of-the-week gizmos. Just try and Ketchum.

Groovy Factoids
* There were 51,062 Rambler two-door sedans built in 1969. The base price was $1,998.

* Used from 1958 to 1968, the American nameplate was dropped in 1969. All '69 compacts were simply called Ramblers, even though the American logo still appeared on the horn button.

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