The Elegant Rambler – Dean Osland’s Way-Cool 1959 Rambler Wagon
Dean Osland says the thing he likes the most about his 1959 Rambler wagon is that it’s unique and a bit of an orphan in the car world. He enjoyed the challenge of turning it into something very special.
They say practice makes perfect, and after doing a previous Rambler project, Dean knew just what he wanted to do, only this time he had his sights set on a wagon. He finally found one on the fairgrounds of the Goodguys Heartland Nationals in Des Moines, but it wasn’t for sale. The owner ran a body shop and that particular car belonged to his wife. However, he had another one that he’d bought for parts, and it was soon sold to Dean.
The Rambler was taken back to Dean’s home in Minnesota and work began by stripping the car and ordering a chassis from Art Morrison with Wilwood brakes. The more Dean dug into the car, the more he understood why the body shop guy had used it as a parts car. It was pretty rough. Dean knew it would take him much longer than intended to finish it by himself.
Dean brought the car with him to Arizona and showed it to Squeeg at Squeeg’s Kustoms. Squeeg’s response was, “You need help,” followed by, “but I’d love to do the car for you.” Squeeg likes unusual cars and big engines and this one was right up his alley.
Once all of the sheet metal problems were addressed the modifications began. Many hours went into making the Rambler elegant, inside and out. While the history of the Rambler from its humble bicycle beginnings and successive owners of Nash and AMC are worth the extra reading, a quick fun fact is that they were one of the first to develop unibody construction. This is important because that process left an unsightly seam at the bottom of the rocker and was one of the first things Dean and Squeeg eliminated. They also streamlined the side windows into single panes by removing the C-pillar.
A more appealing grille from a ’55 model Nash was treated to a new one-off insert and accented with the hood scoop from a ’53. The taillights were mounted on ’58 Pontiac hinges to conceal a fuel filler on the driver’s side and a charging port and hatch release on the passenger side to lift the now one-piece rear hatch. The heavily massaged bumpers are from a ’54 Chevy in the front and a ’55 in the rear. The wheel openings were stretched and re-contoured to house the massive one-off rollers from Curtis Speed with true knock-off hubs.
The underside is just as detailed with a full 10-piece belly pan and fully painted surfaces. In all there are more than 33 modifications to the body, large and small. The sleek lady hood ornament was a bit of a rare piece and tracking it down led Dean to a collector and his wife in Sturgis, South Dakota. They knew they had one but couldn’t find it. After an hour they were getting ready to leave their name and number, but on a hunch Dean asked if they had a teenage son and the wife said, “Ah ha!” and located it in his bedroom. The paint is a special candy mix of wineberry for the top and a platinum for the main body that features a darker platinum shade on the lower rockers to create added dimension and depth.
As previously stated, Squeeg loves him some unusual Hemi engines, and Dean’s was nothing short of an ordeal to pull off and get right. They had seen the prototype Arias hemi heads for LS platforms at a Goodguys event and promptly placed an order for the very first set. The problem was that they were so new, their production wasn’t actually dialed in. After a few rounds of hassle, the engine parts were taken to Larry’s Engines in Tucson and fitted to an LS3.
The Hemi heads were topped with a Magnuson supercharger on a custom Hogan sheet metal intake with fresh air drawn from the inner fenders. The Arias logos were shaved from the valve covers and replaced with special Rambler emblems. A Billet Specialties alternator and electric water pump were also added, along with a 4L60E trans and a Hughes Performance converter.
With updated looks and performance, the interior had to be nothing short of amazing. In the 1950s, Italian designer Batista “Pinin” Farina partnered with Nash on a sports car project that brought both of them global notoriety and acclaim. Dean took inspiration from that venture and incorporated a sleek and elegant design theme into the interior and the entire car.
Batista Farina’s nickname “pinin” meant the youngest or smallest brother. As the tenth of eleven children, he was the noted baby of the family. He began working in his brother’s body shop at 12 and went on to create his own design firm. He had his last name legally changed to Pininfarina by the Italian Government in 1961 before turning the company over to his son, Sergio. A Wikipedia lesson on Pininfarina is also worth the extra credit reading if you have time, but his essence was applied throughout the car and added into little details like the seat emblems.
Dean says he looked at many new car interiors and fell in love with the gauge cluster of a 2008 Chevy Malibu. He purchased a wrecked car and had Squeeg’s blend the interior components into a custom aluminum dashboard that is stunning to behold. A pair of Nissan Maxima front seats was added into the mix and the rear seating was eliminated altogether. Take a minute and study the rear cargo area. Most of the panel fabrication for the interior and under the hood was done by Matt Tomb of Tomb Enterprises.
Gabe’s Street Rod Interiors in San Bernardino, California, expertly brought the interior to life with two shades of beige leather and aircraft carpeting. They even wrapped the Billet Specialties steering wheel and made a boot for the Lokar shifter in the center console.
Dean says the car is simply a joy to drive. The top half is all glass and it has a short and nimble turning radius. Of course, there’s more than enough power on tap and the interior fits like a glove. It has also won many awards, including a Great 8 the year it was finished, MSRA Custom Rod of the Year, a Goodguys Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year finalist, plus awards at Hot August Nights.
From an automotive orphan to a show stopper of the highest caliber, this little wagon has certainly become an Elegant Rambler.
Photos by John Jackson