The Blue Knight Rides a Rambler

I’ve been trying to contact Midwestern stock car racing great Tom Reffner to interview for The Complete Book of AMC Cars, and I had a feeling something was wrong. Tom passed away on October 22 at the age of 82. Tom and his childhood friend Dick Trickle shared a shop in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, during the 1970s, and Trickle, the greatest short track stock car racer of them all, won an astounding 67 races in 1972. Back then these racers could compete on the asphalt ovals of the Midwest four or five times a week, but Trickle’s performance that year was thought by many to never be duplicated again. Then in 1975 Tom Reffner won the same number of races, 67, while earning pole position in 81 of 116 races. But Tom (the “Blue Knight”) was racing an AMC Javelin on a Howe second-design chassis powered by a 380 AMC V8! The first time the Javelin turned a wheel he knew he was on to something, telling Stock Car Racing magazine: “ Yea, I came in from hot laps with a big smile on my face. I knew it would be a good season when I first stepped on the gas after warming up the engine.”

Reffner raced the Javelin again in 1976, then had Bill Bembinster’s Bemco Engineering built an AMC Hornet Hatchback for 1977. I took these photos of the Hornet at The Milwaukee Mile and Capital Speedway in 1979, still highly competitive though never approaching 67 victories in a season. Keep in mind the racing in this area was so competitive future NASCAR stars Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle, and Arkansas transplant Mark Martin, and NASCAR champions Alan Kulwicki and Matt Kenseth, would hone their talents there. Tom Reffner last won a stock car race in 1999 at the age of 58! But the cover story in Stock Car Racing magazine in 1978 said it all: “The Blue Knight Rides a Rambler.” RIP Tom!

Tom "The Blue Knight" Reffner 1979
Tom “The Blue Knight” Reffner 1979
Tom "The Blue Knight" Reffner 1979
Tom “The Blue Knight” Reffner 1979
Tom "The Blue Knight" Reffner 1979
Tom “The Blue Knight” Reffner 1979
Tom "The Blue Knight" Reffner 1979
Tom “The Blue Knight” Reffner 1979

1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code

Back in the 1960s the factories could build just about any combination of components — if you knew someone. The gentleman that ordered this one-of-a-kind 1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code, powered by the Police Interceptor 428 V8, with a multitude of options including the rare factory Child seat, didn’t have that advantage. So when his order was rejected by Ford, he called headquarters in Dearborn, and eventually spoke to Lee Iacocca himself. Iacocca finally relented and made a phone call, order accepted. This Mercury was recently purchased from that original owner, has just 43,300.9 miles on the odometer, and is completely original, right down to the factory windshield washer fluid. It is now part of The Automobile Gallery museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and will be a future Photo Feature in Collectible Automobile magazine.

1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code
1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code
1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code
1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code
1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code
1966 Mercury Parklane Q-Code

1974 AMC Matador Coupe

The 1974 AMC Matador Coupe looks like it was born for the race track. Instead, this sleek coupe was designed to compete with personal luxury cars like the Pontiac Grand Prix or Chevrolet Monte Carlo, although the slippery shape certainly benefitted Roger Penske’s NASCAR team. Unfortunately the coupe was launched just days before the first Arab Oil Crisis. The victim of bad timing and bad luck, the Matador had excellent first year sales but rapidly declined afterward. This 304 V8-powered Matador Coupe came from Wyoming and had just 9,123.9 miles when photographed!

1987 AMC Eagle Limited

“Introducing the American Eagle. Totally new, totally exciting and totally right for the 1980s!” Roy Lunn was the Technical Director of Engineering for Jeep after engineering the Ford GT40, GT Mark II and GT Mark IV that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966–69. Working with FF Developments and GKN Ltd. in his native England he created the revolutionary four-wheel-drive AMC Eagle. Based on the AMC Concord sedans and wagons, the 1980 Eagle was first mass-produced 4wd automobile. Later versions could be switched to two-wheel-drive, and were the official vehicle of the National Ski Patrol. They were also used by the California Highway Patrol and rural letter carriers due to their excellent traction. This immaculate 1987 Eagle Limited was one of just 5,203 Eagles built that year, and on March 10, 1987 AMC was sold to Chrysler, who then built the final 2,305 Eagles in ’88, the last AMC vehicles. We just photographed this Eagle for our upcoming book, The Complete Book of AMC Cars.

1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited
1987 AMC Eagle Limited

1965 Rambler Marlin

The sleek fastback shape of the Rambler Marlin was quite striking when introduced in 1965, a year before the 1966–67 Dodge Charger and three years before the 1968–69 Ford Torino fastback. It would have been even more attractive had American Motors’ CEO, Roy Abernethy, not intervened. A tall, large man, Abernathy felt cramped in the rear seat and demanded his designers raise the roof over the rear seat by 6 inches. Stylists sweat fractions of inches to get the right profile, imagine what 6 inches did to Bob Nixon’s design! Still, it’s a great automobile with a beautiful instrument panel and interior. Most Marlins were V8 powered, this one is a rare 232 six-cylinder car. Look for it in The Complete Book of AMC Cars published by Quarto/Motorbooks next year.

1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin

1964 Rambler American 440 Convertible

The 1964 Rambler American was a critically important product for American Motors. As their low-price leader, it would carry on the Rambler legacy in a throughly modern compact. The 1964 Rambler American 440 Convertible we just photographed for The Complete Book of AMC Cars is proof an inexpensive car can also be very stylish — designer Bob Nixon made sure of that. This the second AMC we’ve have photographed that was purchased by a grandparent and is now in the hands of a 20-something grandson dedicated to its preservation.

Formula 1: Reborn in the USA

Since I was in Grade School I’ve had an interest in Formula 1 racing. Back then I had to read about these events two months after they happened in Road & Track magazine, but those stories transported me to exotic places like Monaco and Monza, and my heros Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, and our all-American driver and team, Dan Gurney. Over the years I lost interest until I could watch the races live on ESPN in the 1990s, following the exploits of the great Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari rebirth. Then it all became boring again, and the once beautiful machines becoming hideous, skate-wheeled monstrosities. That changed last year with the new ground-effects rules, plus the addition of Formula 1 races in Miami and later this year in Las Vegas.

The next issue of ⎘Linkage magazine (#014) features my cover story on the rebirth of Formula 1 in the United States and previews the Las Vegas event this coming November. You can find in newsstands later in September.

RADIUS at the Monterey Jet Center

I again had the honor of writing some catalog descriptions for Broad Arrow’s RADIUS at the Monterey Jet Center auction on August 17-18, 2023. This is certainly one of the auction highlights of the year since it is in conjunction with Monterey car week. As always, Broad Arrow gives me a variety of subjects to research and write about! Some of the catalog texts I wrote are below:

1948 Divco Twin Coach Half Ton

1959 Chevrolet Corvette

1962 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 3.8 Roadster

2017 Dodge Viper ACR “Extreme Aero Package”

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Coupe

1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon

Long before minivans and SUVs ruled the roads, station wagons were America’s people movers. AMC’s large Matador and Ambassador wagons were some of the best: smooth ride, luxurious interior, and good power, all with AMC’s focus on value and reliability. This 1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon has the multi-function tailgate and folding third seat, perfect for families. It also represents the last of the big AMC cars, killed by the second Arab Oil Crisis and the cost of meeting the government’s draconian regulations. After 1978 AMC made nothing but compact cars.

1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon
1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon
1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon
1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon folding third seat
1978 AMC Matador Station Wagon multi-function tailgate

1972 AMC Gremlin X

We are trying to photograph the most important cars in American Motors history for The Complete Book of AMC Cars. The 1970-77 Gremlin was certainly one of them, and the ’72 Gremlin X we just photographed is a great example. This Butterscotch Gold Gremlin X is originally from California, and has the special California emissions compliant 304 cu.in. V8, identified by the engine’s red paint. Gremlins were the perfect automobile the weather the economic storms of the 1970, as well as the two Arab Oil Embargoes. My late brother, Ray, drove his Gremlin trouble-free for over 175,000 miles — very common for these cars!

1972 AMC Gremlin X
1972 AMC Gremlin X
1972 AMC Gremlin X
1972 AMC Gremlin X
1972 AMC Gremlin X
1972 AMC Gremlin X California car in mostly original condition Paint: D5 Butterscotch Gold Interior: Black Vinyl Engine: 304-cubic-inch V8, 150 horsepower, 245 lb-ft of torque
1972 AMC Gremlin X