America’s love affair with the station wagon has spanned the years. As a matter of fact, American-style station wagons were suburbia incarnate. They were so ingrained in the public’s conscience, manufacturer’s built them as a regular part of their production runs from the early ’40’s to present day, although these days, they are referred to as “vans” or “crossovers.”
For those younger than 45, admitting you own a minivan is a hot-rodding transgression. It’s a vehicle so emasculating, that car guys pity any male who admits to owning one. Soccer moms love them, dads dig hot rods.
Len Hoogland of Alton, Iowa, is a rare hot rodder. Ever since he was 17 years old, he’s always owned a station wagon, van, or Chevy Suburban. He liked the practicality of the open-interior conveyance, and the good looks that most of them deliver.
With the NSRA and Goodguy’s allowing vehicles up to 1972 into their events, station wagons are now considered ‘hot rods’ to many. What’s more, they are more popular these days than they ever were when they were common ‘grocery-getters.’
When Len moved from Iowa to Colorado 37 years ago, he worked for several collision repair-type body shops in the Denver area as he raised his two children. His first hot rod build was a Pro Street 1959 Rambler American, simply because he wanted something different as a hot rod.
When he was in the midst of building it, some pals invited him to a local chapter meeting of the AMC club. He liked the club, and the AMC line-up all the more, due largely because the club was very active. Len finished the ‘59, and it ended up being a “local” car, seldom making long distance trips since the wheel tubs and fuel cell took up the luggage space.
He decided his next build would be another Rambler, because he liked the looks and size of the 1964 through ’69 Rambler American wagons. They were clean and simple. He found a four-door wagon in Fresno, California, and picked it up on Christmas morning of 2005. Fortunately, the car had no rust, it was running, and even had factory A/C. On the way back to Denver, the ole’ gears in his head got to turning, and Len decided to build an AMC model that the company never made – a two door wagon.
After a bit of searching, he found a two door parts car in Iowa and retrieved it. The cutting began in earnest, and it took nearly three years to combine the two cars into a single two door wagon. Len had gotten into rod running with his friends, and cross country trips were high on the list. The plan was to make the wagon a long distance runner, and in the words of prolific car author Gray Baskerville: Len’s wagon is a “reacher.”
The Chassis And Drivetrain
The best part of the four door wagon was the chassis. AMC had added ‘frame connectors’ to the one-year-only ’69 Scrambler chassis to help stiffen the unibody. This was so they could install their 390 ci engine and four-speed in the Scrambler. Fortunately, the same frame was used under the wagon, and that made installing an engine easy. To that end, Len decided on a new GM 350 ci long block, topping it off with a 1984 Corvette crossfire injection. It fit beautifully in the engine compartment.
For the transmission, Len found that a light-duty truck transmission, the NV 3500 five-speed transmission out of a Chevy 1/2 ton pickup would work well, and he grabbed the shifter out of an S-10 pickup. Scouring the pick-a-part yards, Len found the radiator he needed- a 4-core replacement for a ‘66-‘67 Chevelle big block. It was a virtual bolt in.
The engine accessory drive is from a 1990 Chevy pickup, and uses all of the factory parts, including the A/C compressor and 130 amperes alternator. Len reports there is no problem finding replacement parts. The stock exhaust manifolds are used, and a dual exhaust exits under the rear bumper. The wiring is a Painless TBI setup with the ECM under the passenger’s seat. The front seat is a split bench out of an ’83 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. and the driver’s side is powered.
The headliner and door panels are made from a sheet ABS plastic that Len covered in black vinyl. The instrument cluster features electronic VDO gauges in the stock housing, and the speedometer uses the factory transmission sender. Pumping the gas is a fuel pump is from a Tanks Inc. pump that is installed in the stock fuel tank.
Not certain the stock Rambler rearend would handle the torque of the SBC, Len pirated an 8-inch rearend from a 1974 Maverick with a gear ratio of 2:89:1. Now that he had the ‘go’, he needed and the ‘whoa’ to go with it. The front disc-brakes are 1972 AMC Concord, and the rears are 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis.
Last, but certainly not least, the wheels are 15×6 Magnum 500’s from Wheel Vintiques with a custom four-inch back space to clear the front suspension and rear discs. The tires are red line Yokohama 195/65-15 Diamond Back radials.
With the car running and driveable, Len moved on to the paint. He used a paint scheme that is a take-off of the ’69 Rambler Scrambler. The 1969 Scrambler was a one-year-only car from AMC, and the only available option was an AM radio. Since Len’s wagon is a ’69 as well, and since he’s built a car AMC didn’t make, why not use the same paint scheme? PPG supplied the products, and Len painted the car in his home garage.
After 34 years in Denver, Len decided to move back to Iowa a couple of years ago. He now resides near where his roots started. He’s is retired, and he spends his days building cars for other people and participating in Hot Rod Power Tours during the summers. He reports the wagon is a really great long-hauler, and he’s done the Hot Rod Power Tour twice. He’s even driven the wagon to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. So far, he’s clocked over 39,000 miles in it, and is still adding them up. It may not be what many consider a show car, but it’s just different enough to show off and win awards with.