Video: 1961 Rambler Classic is a proper three-on-the-tree LeMons racer


I’ve posted a few on-board videos from 24 Hours of LeMons races before and a couple of things stand out: (1) I like to watch slow cars because you get a good tour of the entire field or (2) I like cars whose interiors and/or drivers are interesting to watch. Take, for instance, the above screen capture of Panting Polar Bear Racing’s 1961 Rambler Classic, which won Index of Effluency at last weekend’s LeMons race at Sonoma Raceway (Full story coming soon).

It’s a leisurely “racecar” as you’ll see after the break, but take a minute to drink in that classic interior, even after it’s been stripped: Simple but effective dashboard, an enormous steering wheel that takes about 29 turns lock-to-lock, a column-shifted three-speed manual, those sweet old triangular vent windows, actual metal door handles, and an aftermarket tachometer where the shift light comes on at 3000 RPM.

Simply cromulent.


I won’t point out too much, but this is the opening lap with 166 cars at the start. In that one-lap span, you’ll see one car smoking or steaming, one car clobbering the curb and slowing to a stop, Balto the screaming snowmobile-powered Miata, and another dead car stopped precisely on the start/finish line. Watch in 1080p on full-screen mode with the volume on FULL LOUD for a sufficiently LeMon-y video experience.

[Source: cddcsnp YouTube Channel]


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18 responses to “Video: 1961 Rambler Classic is a proper three-on-the-tree LeMons racer”

  1. Nuclearspork Avatar

    I would be worried about breaking it, but honestly it looks kind of convenient. It just so much quicker to get your hands back on the wheel when changing gears. I could see how it might be better for racing than on the floor.

    1. jeepjeff Avatar

      And you only really have two choices for gearing when you're at speed, so it's simple to go along with the good ergonomics. Aside from the legendary vagueness of the column shift linkages (which we also see evidence for in the video!), this is clearly an excellent gear box for a dedicated track machine.

      1. FЯeeMan Avatar

        That shifter throw. It's a yard from 2nd to 3rd!! Definitely a Sunday drive.

  2. jeepjeff Avatar

    Oh man. That was amazing. Rood, you always bring the good stuff. Thanks for answering a question you didn't even know I'd asked. That's [probably] got the OHV version of the Nash 6 (rather than the flathead), and probably a BorgWarner T-96. They used that box on later cars with both the 232 and 258.
    I came across a '71 Gremlin recently that has one of those three-on-the-tree boxes, and that [eventually] got me wondering what one would be like on the track. You don't want to downshift to first, which leaves you with two and three as low and high, so it would lever-up into the corner, lever down partway through the straight all around the track.
    Which is exactly what our esteemed race car driver does in the video!
    EDIT: Further reading indicates it could still be a flathead. Either way: awesome.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      It's a 196. They dyno'd it at Evil Genius Racing and it was 70-something HP at the wheels. Engine pic here (toward the bottom of the story):

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        Yep. The 196 is the Nash 6. It came in two different flavors: flathead and OHV, and AMC was selling both. The base engine for the '61 Rambler American was the flathead version, I don't know if the Classic could be had with the flathead, but this one appears to have the OHV version: (our hero opens the hood near the end, thanks for the C&D link, it linked to the video!).
        70 ponies sounds like an entirely reasonable number for that engine.

  3. cruisintime Avatar

    Classic Rambler Racing is Classic .

  4. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Classy helmet!

  5. squirreljihad Avatar

    I used to have a 1980 Chevy pickup with a 3-on-the-tree. By the time I got it (1990, 80k miles), the shifting was pretty vague. Couple that with a clutch pedal throw of about three feet, and you had something positively agricultural to drive. I hope the Rambler is much better.

  6. buzzboy7 Avatar

    Here on the east coast we always like the yellow laps because it's the same speed but we're not getting passed. Those yellow laps look painfully slow.

  7. wisc47 Avatar

    Good lord that is slow, not that there's anything wrong with that, but to me it's a lot like when you're in an underpowered car in a GT4 race, which for some reason I have a lot of memories of that happening to me at Sonoma (Infineon in GT4).

  8. mechimike Avatar

    Slow, but it whipped more than one BMW in lap quantity!

    1. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

      That's often the secret to success in LeMons Class C — the slow but reliable cars are turning laps while the high-strung or rickety ones are being wrenched on again and again.

  9. HyenaGo Avatar

    The original "paddle shifter" later developed by Formula 1 cars. Way ahead of its time!

  10. mdharrell Avatar

    "…a proper three-on-the-tree LeMons racer"
    Sigh. Yet again we manage to get it wrong by bringing a four-on-the-tree
    <img src="; width="400">
    with a four-on-the-tree.
    <img src="; width="400">

    1. jeepjeff Avatar

      That's not at all how to argue this one. It's a Close Ratio Column Shifter! It's better at keeping you in the power band, thus allowing for TOTAL DOMINATION.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Note to self: The other thing we need is a power band.

        1. skitter Avatar

          I would have started with a large Victrola, but apparently Volkswagen has the technology as well.
          <img src=""&gt;

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