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1902 Rambler Model C

Walter P. Chrysler Museum

Anyone who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s likely remembers Ramblers as unassuming sedans and station wagons that suburban dads washed on a Saturday morning before spending an exciting afternoon playing catch with the kids and then enjoying a backyard barbecue with the neighbours.

Most owners probably thought of Rambler as a new brand that had appeared in the early 1950s attached to a line of "compact" cars launched by Nash Motors, that was expanded later in the decade under the American Motors banner to include larger, but only modestly so, models.

Ramblers were stylish enough if as the name suggested unexciting cars - the 225-hp V-8-engine Rambler Rebel of 1957 being an exception - whose main appeal was its reasonable price, economy of operation and reputation for reliability. Rambler's compacts were the industry's best sellers by the decade's end - and a spur to AMC's Big Three rivals, who soon launched small cars of their own. Ramblers' popularity propelled the company into the 1960s on a wave of high production and profitability that unfortunately was soon to subside. AMC, with Jeep providing much of the pulling power, struggled on through the 1970s, and allied itself with Renault in the 1980s, which sold it to Chrysler in 1987.

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Back in 1902

Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first American president to ride in a car, a Columbia Electric Victoria, in Hartford, Conn.

The first movie theatre in the United States opens in Los Angeles.

Cuba gains independence from the United States.

French auto pioneer Leon Serpollet sets a new land speed record of 119 km/h in a steam-powered Gardner-Serpollet called the Oeuf de Paques (Easter Egg), the first non-electric car to do so.

Crayola brand crayons for school children are introduced and are available in red, violet, yellow, orange, green, brown, blue and black.

But the Rambler name wasn't a new one; it had first been used in the late 1800s for a pioneering pedal-powered two-wheeler and then for one of North America's first successful mass-produced automobiles.

The bicycles were built by Gormully & Jeffery Mfg. Co. of Chicago - a partnership created by Thomas Jeffery, an early bicycle pioneer who was born in England in 1845 and moved to the United States at 18 to make telescopes in Chicago. He created his first bicycles in 1887 and went on to invent the clincher-type tire. His later-model cycles featured shaft and bevel gear drive.

Jeffery built his first car in 1897 and in 1900 sold his shares in the bike business and used the money to buy a factory in Kenosha, Wis., to build Rambler cars.

Jeffery's first effort of 1897 had been a simple tube-framed, balloon-tired, tiller-steered device with a single-cylinder, rear-mounted engine. But by 1900, and assisted by his son Charles, the Rambler was looking a little more substantial and powered by front-mounted, twin-cylinder engine. This still-experimental model worked well enough to be driven from Chicago to Milwaukee.

It was followed in 1901 by a similar design by Charles with a steering wheel rather than a tiller. This proved a little "too radical" for dad, however, and the car finally offered for sale in March, 1902, as the Model C was equipped with a single-cylinder engine and tiller steering.

This neat little runabout was offered only in dark Brewster Green and priced at $750; a more luxurious Model D - with a hand-buffed leather top, side curtains and a storm apron - was available for $825.

Its 95-cubic-inch (1.6-litre) side-valve, water-cooled engine produced 6 hp at about 800 rpm, drove the rear wheels via a chain and the 1,100-lb (500-kg) machine had a fair turn of speed. A Model C driven by an Arthur Gardiner completed the 488-mile New York to Boston and Return Reliability Run in 1902, recording an average speed of 14 mph (22 km/h).

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These first Ramblers proved popular with enthusiasts of the day and, according to a later AMC history, the company produced 1,500 of them in 1902, building them on North America's second automotive production line (Oldsmobile was the first).

In 1903, Models E and F appeared with only minor mechanical improvements but tarted up with red paintwork and black pinstriping. The company also took on a young man named Fred S. Duesenberg - who would go on to build some of the world's great cars - as a test driver.

A Delivery Wagon followed in 1904 with a payload of 500 lbs (227 kg) and a more substantial model called the Model L with five-passenger surrey-style bodywork. Ramblers were by now fitted with steering wheels and by 1906 seven models were being offered, including a Model 15 touring car powered by a 40-hp engine, capable of 50 mph (80 km/h) and priced at $2,500. Bigger and pricier models followed as production topped 3,500 a year, including a $3,250 Model 36 limousine. There were sporty cars, too, the Model 34 A of 1908 with wildly flaring front fenders.

Jeffery senior died in 1910 and his son Charles took over. In 1914, he dropped the Rambler name, calling the company's products the Jeffery to honour his father, and selling more than 10,000 of them.

A year later, he was a passenger on the liner Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and, although he was among those who survived, he apparently lost interest in car-making and sold the company to Charles Nash who launched Nash Motors in 1917.

The last of the 4.2 million vehicles to carry the Rambler name were built in 1969.

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