Dean Osland’s Ridler-Contending Rambler

Hot rodders have always used what was around them to build their rides but, for many decades, they built only cars that came from a well-defined group. Model As on Deuce ’rails, T-buckets with blown motors, 1932 Fords, and some 1933-1934 Fords was about the extent of likely hot rod candidates for many years, but that all changed in the ’90s.

Looking for something new, rodders expanded their scope to include different nameplates and years of cars to hop up, they even went as far as to build one-offs and phantoms—cars that never rolled off the factory’s assembly lines. Having something that was unique appealed to these new-era rodders, and the concept of owning something that couldn’t also be found in your neighbor’s garage (or even in your hometown) really gained traction.

“Unique” is an attractive word, one that Dean Osland understands pretty well. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Dean saw many of his friends and coworkers building cars in their spare time and going to car shows, and they convinced him to build a car on his own. In 1996 he started on a 1965 Malibu SS and, after its completion, he was hooked, even though he’ll liken the hobby to a non-treatable terminal disease.

Next up was 1960 four-door Nomad, then a 1955 Nomad, which took five years to finish. Breaking from the Chevys, Dean then found a 1959 Rambler two-door coupe to spend his time with. He liked that car so much that when that project got done, he decided to combine his love of both wagons and Rambler and look for a Rambler American wagon.

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And though there have been a couple of notable Rambler wagons built in the past decade, it certainly isn’t the first choice of most builders or owners, but he kind of liked that unwanted orphan persona Rambler wagons had, and part of the challenge would be to find the beautiful swan hiding somewhere in that factory ugly duckling.

Dean found his latest project at a Goodguys event in Des Moines back in 2008. But once he got it home and removed the paint, he was surprised to find he’d bought a mess of a car. He worked on the wagon for two years in Minnesota but, after moving to Arizona, decided to get the project get back on the right path and turned to Doug Jerger of Squeeg’s Kustoms in Chandler, Arizona.

The team at Squeeg’s knows their way around a hot rod, having won many of the country’s top awards (including an America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award) and, besides the exemplary craftsmanship, the paintjobs (usually applied by Doug himself) are award winning as well.

To get around the mess Dean had bought, it was decided to put the wagon on a custom Art Morrison chassis. The rear would feature a Ford 9-inch (3.80:1) with Posi, an Art Morrison tubular four-link system, Strange coilover shocks, and a set of Wilwood disc brakes. Up front an Art Morrison tubular IFS system went in, along with 2-inch dropped spindles, an Opel steering rack, and another set of Wilwood disc brakes. The side-mount brake master cylinder is located up under the dash, and maintenance is done through the top of the dash. Steering is aided by an ididit steering column and wheel. Curtis Speed one-off road wheels (17×7 and 18×8) are wrapped in Yokohama 205/50-17 and 255/55-18 rubber, and each wheel is topped with a custom acrylic center cap.

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When you pop the wagon’s hood you’re in for a surprise. A 2006 LS1 was outfitted with a pair of Arias Hemi heads (the first ones made for an LS small-block). Speed Sport in Gilbert, Arizona, did all of the machine work for the engine, which included having a custom aluminum intake manifold made by Hogan’s Racing Manifolds. To go along with the Arias hemi heads (equipped with Arias rockers), an Arias crank, pistons, and rods were used, too. A COMP Cams camshaft also went in, and the heads were dialed in at a 9:1 compression ratio. Feeding the big heads is a Magnuson supercharger, which breathes through K&N filters with fresh air routed from the fenderwells.

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The motor was assembled with a Billet Specialties alternator and electric water pump, a Ron Davis radiator, and a SPAL cooling fan. Squeeg’s also fab’d one-off valve covers by shaving off the Arias logo and adding special Rambler lettering. Several other one-off aluminum support and trim pieces were made for the engine compartment. Exhaust exits custom ceramic-coated headers and 2.5-inch tubing out to a pair of Stainless Works mufflers, and the small-block bolts to a 4L60E transmission, modified by Speed Sport to handle the extra horsepower from the supercharger, and equipped with a Hughes torque converter. An Inland Empire driveshaft gets the power to the rear end.

The first Ramblers came out in 1950, just a few years before Nash (its parent company) merged with Hudson to form American Motors. You could find Ramblers at Nash dealerships and, though the company produced wagons for years (called Suburbans in 1951, Greenbrier in 1953, and Cross-Country in 1954), it wasn’t until 1959 they introduced the American (while still producing the quad-headlight, four-door Cross-Country as well).

Due to his previous build, Dean admired some of the Nomad’s design characteristics, and wanted to incorporate some of them into his Rambler. Squeeg’s came through and subtly tuned and massaged the exterior. The grille of a 1955 Nash was used (with a one-off insert being made) while a 1953 Nash hood and scoop were also adapted. Both taillights received swing hinges from a 1958 Pontiac that hides a gas filler on the driver side and a charging port and trunk release is found behind the passenger.

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The bumpers (a 1954 Chevy front and 1955 Chevy rear) were narrowed, reshaped, and smoothed off, and Jon Wright’s Custom Chrome plated both along with the rest of the car’s chromed items, such as the reposed female hood ornament (designed by George Petty of “Petty Girls” pin-up fame). The wagon tailgate once had a two-piece upper and lower construction, but the pieces were welded together and made to operate as a powered lift hatch. On top of the roof you’ll find six long chrome spears for trim, similar in design to what you’d find on a Nomad’s tailgate.

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There is full belly pan under the car, and the engine compartment boasts a new aluminum engine cover fab’d by Matt Tomb at Tomb Enterprises plus one-off aluminum hood hinges. The car’s stock B post already leaned forward (like a Nomad’s), and the Rambler’s Nomad look was enhanced after Squeeg’s removed the C posts and sliding side windows, replacing it all with a single piece of glass. The reconstruction continued on the interior, with a new aluminum dash and center console (again fabricated by Matt Tomb) to look more like a contemporary vehicle. The stock rear seat went away and a hard tonneau-like cover, also crafted in aluminum by Tomb, extends from the backside of the bucket seats to the tailgate and lifts alligator-style via power hydraulics.

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With all of the top-quality work that comes out of Squeeg’s Kustoms, they really pride themselves on their paintjobs, and this car shows it. Candies, fades, and translucent colors are subtly used on many of their projects and, while Dean’s Rambler appears as a two-tone Wineberry and Platinum layout, there’s a little bit more to it. Using PPG products, Squeeg’s mixed up a little black tint into the lower half’s platinum to give the appearance of a slight shadow down the nearly slab-sided car. Straight platinum color would be too “in your face” and the tint dials it back without being obvious. Once the paint was mixed, Moose (Squeeg’s main painter) suited up and sprayed the colors.

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After the dash was wrapped in beige leather, some of the components from a 2008 Malibu were used (including A/C vents for the Vintage Air Gen II system), as well as a set of Classic Instrument gauges and a touch panel stereo system featuring JVC gear (including six speakers). The stereo was installed at Gabe’s Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California, who are the same folks who stitched up the rest of the two-tone tan and beige leather interior, opting for the industrial-grade carpet below. A Dakota Digital interior mirror allows Dean to check exterior air temperatures and provide navigational info. Other interior items, such as the tiny Pininfarina trim pieces in the upholstery or creating the car’s one-off Super American badging in the storage area, are examples of the high level of build detail in this ride.

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Once the car was finished it was packed up and was debuted at the Detroit Autorama, where it won a prestigious Pirelli Great 8 spot, which put him in the running for the show’s top award: the Don Ridler Memorial Award. Though it didn’t win the Ridler, the Rambler also went on to be a finalist in the Goodguys Custom Rod of the Year as well as being named the Minnesota Hot Rod Association’s Custom of the Year. So maybe while people are warming up to the whole hot rod Rambler idea, they’ll have to play catch-up with Dean: he also has two other 1959 Ramblers at home, both sedans—one stock and the other customized.

Source: hotrod.com

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