No, not my first car show, not by a long shot. I’ve been to more car shows and cruise nights and rallies than I can count. No, this was my ’65 Rambler Marlin’s first car show and it was quite an outing…and an event four years in the making.
It took four years of slow, sporadic, low-budget work to get the old Marlin to the point where I felt comfortable enough with it from a safety and reliability standpoint to take it out on the highways and byways of America. My co-pilot, and the best daughter ever, might have been more excited than I was and her enthusiasm certainly got me through a few rough patches when the car, events and an achy body conspired to strand the car in the garage for yet another summer.
When there was nothing left to keep the car off the road except for some paperwork, we were off to the DMV for a set of “QQ” license plates. Here in New Jersey, QQ plates are given to vintage cars older than 25 years of age. At nearly 50, the Marlin qualified for them easily and for a nominal fee, the car was finally legal for the road. The random plate number was perfect for the car as the first three digits of the plate number were the same as the engine’s displacement, 232. Kismet.
Two short shakedown runs to the gas station proved no problem for the old girl from Wisconsin. The night before the show, we washed her inside and out, shined up the chrome and stainless and got the windows sparkling. I put my emergency bag in the trunk that included tools, and other emergency supplies just in case the ride to the show turned out to be too much to ask of the car. I could have left it home as nothing in the bag was needed.
Out the door at 8:00 AM and down the road we went, me, my co-pilot, and the Marlin with the Beach Boys “Help Me Rhonda” playing on our makeshift stereo. Why “Help Me Rhonda?” It was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 the week the Marlin rolled off the assembly line in Kenosha, Wisconsin in June of 1965, that’s why.
We stuck to the back roads initially, but as the flawless performance of the car built confidence, we decided to pick up the pace and jump onto the freeway. The straight six engine pulled us smoothly up to speed while folks in other cars eyed our road-bound UFO. Considering the rarity of the car and the cross section of folks sharing the road with us, there was every chance that none of them had ever seen a Rambler Marlin before…so we introduced them to the girl with a wave and a smile.
We got to the show, which was an all AMC/Rambler regional show, in good order and parked in our assigned spot. The show was organized by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stathes of the Metro NY NJ AMC Rambler Club, and we thank them for their hospitality. There were one or two cars there already and my wife pulled in a few minutes later in her daily driver with coolers, chairs and other items that we’d need for hanging out all day in the summer heat.
Truth be told, my car isn’t a shiny, top condition show car in the accepted sense. Mechanically it’s good, but it is a work in progress, so we were outclassed appearance wise, but not mechanically or in spirit. One of the nicer looking cars spewed coolant on the ground after pulling into its assigned spot, something the Marlin would not do…after all, she still has her dignity. We had the Marlin class to ourselves for about two hours and laughed at the thought of winning our class with our threadbare car when a beautiful ’67 Marlin with another daddy/daughter team pulled in next to us and by all rights, relegated us to runner up status.
The rest of the day was enjoyable, if a bit too hot and humid. Family and friends stopped by to wish us well and see the car out and about instead of huddled in the garage. Trophy in hand, it was time to head home. The earlier confidence in the car continued to be proven well deserved and even a quick sprint up to 70 MPH didn’t phase the car at all. The pilot and co-pilot were pleased and I’d like to think that the Marlin was enjoying her triumphant return to the road too.
I would like to dedicate this article to my best friend, Todd Koncsol, who tragically left us all too soon. Without his help, inspiration and generosity, the Marlin would never have gotten back on the road. Thanks Speed, catch you later.