The grass is definitely greener in Mopar-land

or a long time now I have sung the praises of Chrysler’s engineering prowess from the 1930’s on up to the end of the 1960’s. C’mon, let’s hear it for the alternator, torsion bar suspension, and, of course, the slant-six and Hemi engines.

To be fair, I have done my share of screaming from under the hood as well. It’s all worth it because when a Mope is properly set up, the driving experience is a good one that can border on the sublime. The performance Mopar of the 1960’s dished out quasi-violent acceleration with ham-fisted, yet decent, handling and braking … all with a vinyl seat and very little sound deadening material. Let’s remember, these are not Ferraris, nor are they VW Rabbit GTI’s for that matter.

When it comes to performing repairs and maintenance, the Mopar, especially the 1960’s Mopar, is a pleasure in comparison to other makes. Not to say that everything under the skin is perfect, but the truth is, a Mopar is well laid out and well thought out. To lay this truth bare one only needs to begin working on another make of car from the era and see just how kooky things can become.

Lately I’ve had the knuckle skinning pleasure of working on a 1966, V-8, 4-speed, Rambler American. The clutch linkage is a sucker's wish, and the fact that it holds up at all is nothing short of a Kenosha miracle. The clutch fork pivots on a ball; a ball held in place by the lever itself, which, in turn, is held by the pressure of opposing springs. The whole assembly floats. Miracle, genius or time bomb?

I know these little cars are kind of cute and all, but if a corporation tried to puke out one of these things today they’d be sued for corporate negligence. It is no mystery, at least to me, as to why AMC was the first of the big American car companies to go down.

Known as “Kenosha Rattlers,” these cars do retain a loyal fan base although it is unclear as to why. With the possible exception of the AMX, American styling made Chrysler’s biggest boners look like Pininfarina’s finest moments. What is with those giant Javelin wheel flare/hump things? Could it have been extra wheel housing clearance for all those out of control off-road moments? Kind of like the old Rambler commercial where a guy goes out and mows down sage brush with a Matador to prove some indecipherable point. ”Just look at them doggies run!”

I have a theory as to how the company came up with their plans and designs: corporate spies dressed as janitors. Ingenious! Just send in the clowns and have ‘em empty out the trash cans of the engineering and styling departments of GM, Ford and Chrysler, bring back the wadded up sketches, tossed designs and flawed ideas, lay ‘em out on the drafting table and make it work somehow.

Just look at the ’66 American. Sort of a Falcon, kind of a Nova with ‘63/64 Dartesque headlight pods. Huh?

I really thought that having a shop manual while working on this car would be a fantastic asset. Chrysler shop manuals have always helped me out; they are detailed to the hilt, jammed with information and they feature great engineering drawings. (The drawings alone are worth the price of a copy.)

The AMC shop manual is from the “see Dick fall down” school of tech writing and makes the Chrysler version look like a Herculean work of art. A case in point would be the electrical diagrams. Chrysler: 6 to 10 pages. Rambler? One fold-out section with absolutely no wire gauge information. Not really a shop manual, more of a tough love, like, “here, you figure it out” confidence builder.

When I am done with this little animal, I am going to be stoked to get underneath a Mopar again. I’m gonna get all my tools laid out, a thermos of coffee on the bench, a nice fat Mopar shop manual at the ready, a fresh box of latex gloves, and a roast beef on sourdough roll, mayo, salt, pepper, provolone, red onions. I will lie on my back, look up at all the grease and rust and think, damn, I am so lucky to be working on this automobile!