Did You Know?

Kari's Car

In the sixth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie, Chloe and her sister Kari decide to take an extended road trip to visit the historic Midwestern home sites of author Laura Ingalls Wilder - whose books they read and cherished as children.

After briefly considering Chloe's rusty rundown Ford Pinto for their six-state road trip, the Ellefson sisters decide to take Kari's older, but well-maintained 1969 AMC Rambler.

(Death on the Prairie is set in 1983. In those days Pinto owners considered themselves lucky if their vehicles went 50,000 miles without serious problems. And while Kari's car was 14 years old and had 60,000 miles on it, Ramblers had a reputation for reliability. Besides, what sounds better than taking a “Rambler” for a road trip?)

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

Kari's two-door blue sedan was made in Kenosha, Wisconsin by the now defunct American Motors Corporation. Hers was an entry-level model, lacking air conditioning, power steering, or power brakes. Even the dashboard cigarette lighter was optional. Perhaps that's why it was the lowest priced American car available in 1969, with an MSRP of $1,900 (about $12,500 in 2014 dollars). Only a German made VW Beetle cost less.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

The Rambler was a rear wheel drive car with a 6-cylinder engine that used leaded gas. Its 3-speed manual transmission was shifted using a long lever on the right side of the steering wheel column - an arrangement known as “a three on the tree.”

Transmissions like this had a vertical H-shaped shifting pattern. Drivers pulled the shift lever toward them and then either up to get into Reverse or down to get into 1st gear. Shifting from 1st to 2nd required pulling the lever up, pushing it forward, and up again. To go from 2nd to 3rd (top gear) the driver either pushed or pulled the lever down.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

The engine in Kari's Rambler was not very powerful. Drivers sometimes had to downshift from 3rd to 2nd to climb hills - or to get the vehicle to speed up quickly.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

The car was roomy, with bench seats front and back.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

It also had a big trunk, which Chloe used to securely store the large archival box containing the precious quilt that once belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

In terms of safety, the Rambler was typical for its time. Its specifications sheet listed seatbelts, an energy-absorbing steering column, self-adjusting brakes, hazard warning signals, padded instrument panel and visors, safety door locks, rear view mirrors, windshield washer and wipers, backup lights, and side safety reflectors - all standard.

AMC Rambler images - courtesy GR Auto Gallery.

The video below provides a quick guided tour of the 1969 Rambler pictured here, which author Kathleen Ernst used as the example for Kari's car in Death on the Prairie.

Now when you read along with Chloe and Kari as they go ramblin' through Wilder territory - looking for Laura - you'll be able to envision their ride. Enjoy the trip!