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“Red Lizy”, one of a kind

Text by AMCRC Member Johan Lindersson, with assistance from Mr. Lawrence K Behle

Red Lizy 1976

This is the story about a unique Rambler Ambassador Convertible and its owners. It started when Lawrence K. Behle a 23-year young man in St. Louis Missouri, just was about to start his "dream job" in April of 1965. He was being hired as an airline pilot for Ozark Airlines of St. Louis, later to become TWA. By the time he drove a 1960 Chevy soft top and it was starting to have problems, so it was time for a new car. Fortunately Larry’s uncle Wilford Behle owned Airport Rambler in Hazlewood MO and he made Larry a deal that he couldn't refuse.  He also agreed to order the car "just the way Larry wanted it!!!!" - no AC, Twin-stick on the floor & no power steering or brakes.  Larry is the kind of a driver who likes to drive his car and "feel" the road, not just ride along. But it turned out this order was not one of the easiest things to get trough. The factory turned the order down, "The Ambassador" was their flagship model and it was intended to have all the buttons. Mr. Behle tried again and again was turned down. At this point Mr. Behle sent another build sheet directly to the president of American Motors. The president approved the build. The car was received on March 23, 1965 at the dealership and signed over to Mr. Behle's nephew, Larry the same day. The car was delivered with a power top but no other power accessories. To my knowledge, this was the only one built this way, (a true one-off).

The Ambassador had become very much appreciated, almost a child, and a dear family member for many years and she gets the name “Lizy”. The reason for this name is that Larry’s father always talked to his car using the name "Tin Lizzy" from the nickname given the old Fords.  The Rambler became "Lizy" as in "come on Lizy, we can make it up this slippery hill". 

Even though Ramblers has a well-known quality reputation the car needed some reapers. One major issue was fading paint and rust in the rear fenders. AMC used enamel type of paint originally, but the red color constantly oxidized to a dull almost-orange color in only months.  In the early days of her existence, she was always parked outside in the sun, as Larry had no other place to keep her.  A good wash & paste wax job brought her back to shiny bright red, but then in a few (maybe 6 months) [she changed] back to the dull orange again.  There was also always a rust problem on the "quarter panels" behind the doors & under the rear fenders so once when Larry had a "rust job" performed, the repair man suggested that the car be repainted using acrylic lacquer, a new paint at the time.  Larry seldom had to wax the car again. It always retained its color & shine after that.  The reason for the excessive rust under the rear fenders was due to unavoidable water running down under the rear window & into the trunk, then into the "wells" on either side - with no way out.  Larry solved the problem by drilling some small holes in those "wells" to vent the water & it seemed to help considerably.

The person that did all of the repair work was a friend of Larry and owner of the Old Style Body Shop, by the name of John Counauer. His hobby was traveling the country & finding old, derelict airplanes & rebuilding them.  Some of them made their way into the Hollywood movies in stories of the old days of aviation. Due to wear, John Counauers wife redid the front seats upholstery. She did a beautiful job, and it looks like the original. The back seat is still original and in excellent condition. The top on the car is the 3rd one.
rear seat

A recurring problem was the carburetor that Larry had to renovate several times. If it gets any dirt, etc. in the gas, the float will hang up. Once, when driving the car, Larry began to smell gas very strong. He pulled off to the side of the road & upon opening the hood, found gas running out of the carburetor and down over the hot engine & manifolds. He shut it off and called the service manager at Airport Rambler, Bill Kesting (also a relative of Larry & Wilford Behle), Bill told Larry to take a hammer and give the carburetor a good “whack” on the side & it would probably be OK - at least to drive it the rest of the way home. He did and it worked, then Larry had the carburetor cleaned and overhauled and she was good for another couple of years.

nother peculiarity of Lizy’s was doing was that she sometimes smoked on start. This is the story that Bill Kesting told Larry. If you ever have looked under the hood of an Ambassador V8 from the early sixties you may have noticed that the engine sits at a slightly nose up position. Because of the position & the airflow, the back part of the engine gets more heat than the front. Because of this and the position of the exhaust manifolds, the aft, especially the left aft (drivers side), valve guide seals tend to deteriorate at a faster rate thus allowing small amounts of oil to seep down into the cylinder when the engine is shut down and left idle for days or weeks at a time. Every time Larry ran her the first time after sitting for a month or so, there was smoke all over the place, but once it burned out, everything was OK. The good side and the bad side - it wasn’t much oil. Larry changed the oil approx. every 2000 miles & normally did not have to add oil between changes. The bad side is that the rear spark plugs, especially on the left side had to be pulled and cleaned every several hundred miles or she would start “missing” & the gas mileage would drop considerably. Other than that, Larry had little or no problems with the engine itself.

Another little tip that Bill Kesting gave Larry was that if you don’t drive your manual transmission car for periods of time, it would be well to push the clutch pedal down to the floor and wedge a stick (or something) between the seat rails & the pedal to keep it there. Otherwise there is the possibility that the clutch plates will “weld” together from rust &/or corrosion and either will not separate as they should or at least do damage to them by pulling part of one plate off, stuck to the other. Then you will have to replace them both.

There were also some issues with the overdrive controls. The upper overdrive cable holder came lose a couple of times because of loose screws. The button on the top of the over drive shift handle, which is supposed to kick out the overdrive when pressed, stopped working once or twice.  Larry took it to the garage where he bought the car & they fixed it saying that they "repaired a broken wire".

Sometime around 1982, Lizy was involved in one accident. Larry with wife & approx. 1-year-old son was driving home one very foggy, misty night and at an interchange (clover leaf) Larry could not find the turn. It had just been changed the day before. Larry’s wife suddenly exclaimed "there it is", Larry saw it in the fog, turned the wheel & as it was new, oily "blacktop" with mist on it, the car "broke away" sliding sideways & came to rest against the end of a concrete "road divider" dead center. The damage & repairs (made by Larry’s trusted body shop) were that they replaced the bumper, grill, radiator, fan & water pump. Other than that, everything else was straightened and repaired. Larry says “a very unpleasant experience to be sure, but no injuries (my son was in this mothers arms) and the car looked & drove as good as new in the end”.

Larry used Lizy as his daily driver until 1990. Thereafter she was only driven occasionally until 2009 when the odometer reeds 125000 miles. After been nursing the car for more than 40 years, Larry decided to sell Lizy and started trying to find a good AMC home for her. The first try is made April 2009 with an ad in a club magazine, the Gateway AMC “Ramblings”, but it failed. Next try was to put the car out on eBay. This worked out and the car was sold to a garage owner (motor cycles) in Florida. Along with Lizy came the full maintenance manual, the original sales receipt, the original "window sticker" (showing the cost of the car & all the extra items on it) and a couple of other things like a leather key fob with "Airport Rambler" on it - the name of the dealership that Larry’s uncle owned.

On September the 10th the same year the car was sold again, this time to a devoted car and motorcycle collector in Lancaster Pennsylvania. But already in the April 2010 the new owner decides to limit his number of collectible toys and put Lizy out on eBay again. During this period the car has got a new exhaust system, new carpet and a major brake overhaul.

The story now continues across Atlantic in Sweden. I was born with a big interest in cars and bought my first vintage by the age of 17. American coaches have always been close to my heart. I entered the AMC hobby when I bought my first Rambler American back in 1987. Since then, at least fifteen AMC / Rambler cars have passed through the family's garage. Two were convertibles, the last one an Ambassador -67 were sold to buy a speedboat 2004. But after a few summers on the lake and two engine failures later, both me and my wife was tired of boating and its costs. We decided to sell the boat and start look for a Rambler convertible again. I have always had a weakness for the Classic and Ambassador of the model years 65 and 66 and decided to search for one. To find a used one in good condition is not easy, especially if you are in Sweden. I started reading the ads and search the web.

In April 2010, up popped an interesting Ambassador with V8 and twin stick on eBay. I remembered that I saw the car for sale a year earlier, also on eBay, now I had another chance to buy a very cool car. One complication in this context was that we were just about to depart on a leisure break to Venice, Italy. But with the help of a laptop connected via a shaky internet connection, I managed to still gain from the closing auction. The deal was celebrated then with a good meal in this wonderful city.

is not hard to bring home a car from the U.S., but a complication here is that Sweden recently raised their import tax. This can be bypassed by clearing the car in another EU country with a more favorable tax, in this case the Netherlands. The car was first shipped to the Netherlands, where it cleared customs, and then reloaded for transport to Sweden. The downside of this is that the transport takes a long time. The car was picked up in Lancaster, PA May 19th and delivered to my home in Björklinge Sweden on July 22nd.

Like Larry Behle, I also name the cars that I have a special relationship to. Sometimes it is simply like our Marlin, which is her name, and was from the very beginning. Some people confuse the name with the famous magician Merlin in King Arthur's Court. Others believe that the car is named after Marilyn the famous actress. I must explain to them that the car is both enchanting and has a nice shaped rear end, but she still is a fish. As I went home and waited for the new car, I pondered some of what name it would have. I decided pretty quickly that the car had more male than female traits, and then came the name "Red" by itself.

It was with great excitement that I received my order. Would Red live up to my expectations? Buying a car on eBay is, as we know, like buying a pig in a poke. The start was not so good. The driver who drove the car carrier was in a bad mood. He had not been able to start Red, so had to winches up and down the car by hand. But unloading went smoothly, and the car rolled into the garage for an initial inspection, with the help of son-in-law and neighbors.
Lizzy 1976
Lizy at home in the US in 1976

On the whole, the car looked very well and also seemed to have passed the long journey without harm. The battery was both old and run down and put it immediately on the charger. The next morning it was time for the test start, but Red did not want to. I filled in more fuel in the tank and checked that there were ignition power, everything seemed OK. A proven trick is to schnapps the engine with a splash of gasoline in the carburetor, now it came to stuff! The car had reportedly received a new 2” dual exhaust, but [someone skipped the step of installing] some mufflers. Red roared like a hungry lion and also threw out the oily black smoke that quickly made ​​it impossible to remain in the garage. My wife come running and wondered what in the world was going on, and so did a few neighbors. When [I was ready] I made a new test, this time outdoors. Red started now with no problems, but run nervously and badly. I decided at least to take a spin around the block. It turned out that the clutch gearbox and the brakes worked, but the overdrive did not. The car was also deteriorating, so it was a short trip. I had hoped to quickly get the car to the inspection of vehicles to be able to slide around in the late summer's warm winds, but had to change my plans and spend my spare time in the garage instead on the road.
lizzy 2011
Lizy at home in Sweeden  in 2011.  Not muh seems to have changed from the 1976 picture, except for a new white boot to replace the original black one.  The white boot seems to go better iwth the cars interior, while the black one matched the convertible top.

The carburetor
proved to be quite broken due to corrosion in the float house, so a replacement has to be purchased from Blaser. The new one made the engine runs like new. Right front spring was broken, so I replace all four along with the shock absorbers to be sure that the car would not be slanting. There was also a lot of crafting to get turn signals, brake lights, etc. work. Red also got mufflers which made ​​my wife more sympathetic to him. On November 9th, it was finally time to go to the Swedish vehicle testing and get our verdict. It all went well and Red was passed with distinction. On the way home it started snowing and the Winter King arrived, as a twist of fate.

In the spring of 2011 I renovated the left window regulator and cleaned the gas tank & changed the petrol gauge. I did take the car to some local shows but not on any longer trips, I wanted to see that the car was dependable before I drive it for a longer distance. There are still a lot of little things to fix. A new cable the over drive switch must be installed, and I want to fix the cracked dashboard pad. But I’m in no hurry; I plan to keep this car for many years.

the car nut I am, I would like to know the story behind my old car. In the case of Red, I was lucky when I got it with a lot off documentation, original order, receipts and more. I started to search for information on the car's original owner, Lawrence K Behle, on the web and phone book white pages. But it turned out that there were more people with the same name. First I thought to send letters to them all, but abandoned that idea. I also sought information on the car model to learn more about this beautiful model. I've been working with AMC for nearly 25 years, but there is always more to learn. In a Google search on "ambassador convertible twin stick" I got a smash hit. I found the network version of the Gateway AMC 'Ramblings' (club journal for the Gateway AMC in St. Louis, MO) from April 2009. The advertising department were the following: For sale: -1965 Ambassador Convertible, Car purchased by current owners Uncle specially ordered from Airport Rambler. Non AC car, 287 V8, 2bbl, twin stick, buckets, console. Super rare and nice! Contact owner Larry Behle for info. “Trying to find a good AMC home. " There was also a phone number to the vendor, how lucky! Since the time difference between Sweden and Missouri is 7 hours (we are ahead), I had to wait for the coming weekend to call.

An interesting coincidence is that in 1997 I went with my family to Columbia, Missouri in our newly purchased Marlin –67 to attend a family reunion. We passed the St. Louis and saw the arch that symbolizes "The Gateway to the West". I learned then also why the state's license plate saying "Show me state". Missouri people takes nothing for granted, and everything must be proved, whether they are humans or machines. I especially remember an event that happened when we got to our relatives, who we have not met before. The family's grand old man and the head was Uncle Fred. He was well over 80 years and walked with crutches. After he inspected our Marlin, he turned around and said "a man who chooses to drive such a car will always be my friend".

So it
was with great excitement I hit the number. Would someone answer wo was willing to let me have more information about Red. It was Mr. Behle self-respondents. I introduced myself and told me that I called from Sweden; Mr. Behle was much detached. He thought that I would try to sell him something. But when I told him about my case, he changed immediately and was very pleasant to talk to. He said he sold the car when he no longer had the time and interest to take care of it as it should, and that he often wondered what became of it. When he put it on E-bay, he had also been concerned that someone would buy it only to scrap it and then sell it for parts. I also got Larry's e-mail and we have since corresponded a bit and he has been extremely helpful with information and tips. Without his help, this article would not have been completed. Getting to know Larry has also meant that I feel a greater responsibility to carefully restore this unique car to its former glory. Our new family member was introduced to friends and family by being a stand-in for Santa's sleigh on our Christmas card for 2010. It became a success.
Larry Behle with the Ambassador in 1967

In the summer of
2011 I went with my wife and some friends in the Swedish AMC Rambler Society to visit the AMC show "Cars in the Park", in Kenosha WI. The meeting was very successful with over 400 participating AMC and Rambler cars. When I told Larry about the event, he decided to come with his wife Prill and meet us in Kenosha. Mr. and Mrs. Behle were really nice and we spent a couple of pleasant hours together. While we strolled around looking at all the nice cars Larry entertained us with stories from the past. He told us that when he as a kid went to church, almost the whole assembly including the priest drove Nash and AMC cars, which of course was because Uncle Wilford belonged to the congregation. We stopped behind a nice Nash Ambassador hard top from 1955, and Larry told us that his father owned just such car. He remembered that the staff at petrol stations always had trouble finding the fuel cap, which is hidden under the right taillight glass.

was already as a young man very interested in aviation and decided early to become a pilot. In order to finance flying lessons, he worked extra for his uncle Wilford. Every Friday after school he and the service manager at Airport Rambler, Bill Kesting and yet another employee went by the night train from St Louis to Kenosha. They came to Kenosha early Saturday morning and took a taxi from the station to the American Motors plant. There they chirped out two new cars per man. They connected one after the other with a tow bar, and then drove them back to Rambler Airport in Hazelwood MO, where they arrived late Saturday night. Occasionally there was a more luxurious car to be picked up, when there was competition for see who would get to drive that particular car. Bill also took care that they did not drive too fast in order not to damage the new cars engines.

The next
Sunday morning Larry went off to the airport where he bought flying lessons for this newly earned salary. That way you can say that the Airport Rambler & American Motors helped Larry to acquire the pilot job, which in turn allowed him to purchase a brand new Rambler Ambassador Convertible in the spring of 1965.

I also took the chance
of questioning Larry on our common baby (who recently turned 46 years). One thing I wondered about was a funny little metal plate with an engraved owl who was installed between the gear levers. I wondered if it was a symbol of any association or similar. Larry laughed and told us that it was his brother in law who made ​​the plate and gave it to him because Larry had the nickname "Uncle Owl". Larry said “I have glued it on with a hearty click epoxy adhesive so you have to work really hard if you want to get it of”. I replied that the plate is a piece of the cars history, and as long as I own the car the owl remains where it is.

wife Prill did fall in love (not entirely unexpected) during their stay in Kenosha. The object (or objects) for this love is the sweet little "Baby Nash", (the Metropolitan). So it would not surprise me if one day a new (old) Nash finds it way home to the couple's garage.  

we separated from Larry I felt like the adoption was finished and that I could now continue the custody of the car in the best way. I really hope we get the opportunity to meet with the nice couple Behle again, perhaps even in Sweden. Imagine what fun if Larry had to drive his old eye along beautiful roads a nice Swedish summer day.

I took
of course the chance to buy some spare parts in Kenosha, supply is still fairly decent in terms of spare parts for the old AMC cars. Apart from market vendors in the exhibition area, there are always a few garage sales. So I had a fairly well-filled bag with me back to Sweden. 

For those of you
who are wondering, the car has now been given back her original sex and may now be considered as a she, and as for the name she has gained a double name as befits a girl from the South, her name is now "Red Lizy".

It's soon summer again and I hope for many miles with my dear and patient wife in our Rambler Ambassador Convertible.

car show

lizzy 2011