When it comes to unique LS-powered builds, we’ve seen our fair share–from LS-powered S2000s to DeLoreans, and everything in-between. If it’s running the General’s latest powerplants we’ve seen it, or so we thought, until we ran across Suzy Bauter’s LS-motivated AMC Rambler American 440 Wagon at the Spectre Performance booth during this year’s SEMA show.
In a sea full of some of the most immaculate builds on the planet, this particular resto-mod stood out to us. While we know it might not be everyones cup of tea, any build that has this much passion thrown into it is cool in our eyes and the unique nature of the build really solidified it as one of our favorites from the show. So, if you don’t like it—you’re wrong.
For Suzy, it all started with a fortune cookie that said, “Something with four wheels will soon bring you great joy.” Now, if you’re a gearhead in any regard, that prophecy is probably fulfilled on a daily basis. But this particular fortune spoke to Bauter who immediately got the itch for a build. But why an AMC?
The search for the perfect build didn’t necessarily start with this Rambler. Suzy had a few stipulations that the build would have to meet, no matter what vehicle was selected. First, it had to be a wagon; and second, it had to have a short enough wheelbase for autocrossing—the venue in which the car would compete.
Suzy’s family owned a Ford Falcon wagon when she was young and that’s where the search began. Unfortunately, Suzy soon realized that the prices for a Falcon wagon wouldn’t allow for the type of build she envisioned, so the search continued. She checked out a few Corvairs but eventually stumbled across a straight ’63 Rambler station wagon sitting in a trailer park that checked all of the right boxes, especially considering it’s comparably short wheelbase. She had found the one.
“Everyone had a Rambler, or knew someone who had one, back in the ‘60s,” Suzy explained. “They were actually kind of a throwaway car. But you just don’t see a lot of them around anymore, especially not like this, so it made it a cool, unique build.”
Ramble No More
Just four days after receiving her fortune, Suzy brought home her new ’63 Rambler. Surprisingly, the body was straight and fairly rust-free considering the fact that it had been sitting in a trailer park under a blue tarp for who knows how long. However, no car from 1963 is completely rust-free, so the car was blown apart to remove the rot. The shag carpet that lined the AMC was the first to go.
“Luckily it is a California car, so it didn’t have a lot of rust on it to begin with,” Suzy said. “But as soon as you start sanding you always realize it might not be as straight as you thought—thank goodness I don’t mind sanding.”
Once the body was prepped, it was time to start making decisions about the drivetrain. The original flat-head straight six came home with the car, though it had to be hauled in a truck separately. At first, Suzy was dead set on keeping the original 80-horsepower powerplant, though it would be beefed it up to handle autocross duties. That was, until she started driving an LS-powered first-gen Camaro at Goodguys autocross events. After which, she knew that the six poker would never cut it.
The decision was made to go with an LS almost immediately. A 5.3-liter iron-block LM7 was sourced and freshened up, though all of the internals, right down to the bumpstick, were left in standard configuration. However, for induction duties, Suzy wanted to keep it old school and selected a 750 cfm Edelbrock carburetor to fuel the Rambler. It sits atop an Edelbrock carb conversion intake manifold and the ignition system is controlled by an MSD LS Timing Controller. Suzy tells us that they went this way because she could tune the car at the track with a screw driver instead of a laptop.
The mill is backed by a 700r4 four-speed automatic from TCI–a decision which Suzy still gets questions about to this day. “A lot of people say ‘Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you just go with a T56?’” Suzy said. “First of all, this started off as a budget build, and secondly, on the autocross, you lose a quarter of a second, if not more, every time you shift. So the only time I really want to shift is from second to first on the autocross course…well I can’t roll like that, so what’s the point? I have an autocross valve body from TCI, so I’ve got engine braking, I’ve got a ratchet shifter, so for all intents and purposes, I’m golden.”
When it came to installing the LM7, it had to be pushed into the firewall about 8.5-inches, according to Suzy. This was for both weight balance and clearance reasons. While there is plenty of room under the hood, maintaining the weight balance on a car such as this is of the utmost importance and the efforts paid off. This particular Rambler has a 51/49 weight balance front to back, making it almost perfectly balanced.
To get the car handling how Suzy wanted, all of the original AMC suspension was ditched and a first-gen F-body subframe was grafted to the front of the car. This gave her a much wider selection on suspension and brake selection. For the front, a set of Global West upper A-arms, working in tandem with Detroit Speed lowers, keep everything in line while a Viking Performance Berzerker active suspension management (ASM) system keeps tabs on everything and allows Suzy to dial in the suspension. Viking’s ASM adjustable coilovers finish things off up front.
Out back is where the real fab work happened. Stuffed under the Rambler is an entire fifth-gen Camaro independent rear suspension. Luckily for Suzy, her husband runs Suspension Geek and helped her sort how they would make everything work in unison. But don’t be fooled, Suzy herself handled much of the fab work to get everything working right. All of these suspension modifications equate to a 101-inch wheel base and an 80-inch track width, giving the Rambler the perfect stand for flinging around corners.
According to Suzy, the car started life weighing in at a svelte 2,500 pounds, but even with the modifications and the addition of a V8 and independent rear suspension, she estimates the car tips the scales at a still nimble 3,100 pounds. The updated suspension also allowed the use of huge 14-inch Baer brakes up front operated by six-piston calipers while a 13-inch set of Baers handle binding duties out back.
With all the hard parts handled it was time for an interior and body work. Suzy herself learned how to upholster and completed the interior—which looks phenomenal, we might add. For the body work, the Rambler was sent to Best of Show Coachworks where the fender flares were added to cover the AMC’s broad new shoulders, and the car was sprayed Washington Blue.
To finish off the cars look, custom three-piece wheels were sourced from US Mag and they measure in at 18×10.5 at all four corners and are shod in BF Goodrich Rival S 315/40R18s. The color for the wheels was borrowed from a Glock hand gun and give the car a menacing stance.
What The Fortune Holds
Suzy says the build is done for now, but there are plans in motion to eventually supercharge the 5.3 to extract a little bit more power out of the iron-block mill. And while this looks like a show car from any angle, Suzy can’t wait to get it out on the track and thrash this build. In this case, form certainly follows functions. Turns out, sometimes fortunes from a cookie can be pretty dang inspiring.