Well, OK, not really. But it did make for a good headline, didn't it?
Mitt Romney is making a few waves with a new ad, reportedly running in Michigan, which is titled "Growing Up." This was a natural move for him to make, since he did indeed grow up in Michigan. But the focus from the media has so far been on the wrong car -- at least as far as I am concerned. The news story is that the car "present-day" Mitt is driving around what I assume is a Michigan neighborhood is either a "bailout car" or (even worse, in Michigan) not actually made in America. I leave these squabbles to others. I also offer up a warning: if you do not care about this ad, or cars, then I would advise you to just stop reading now.
What I personally noticed from Mitt's new ad were the cars at the very beginning and at the very end of the ad. Four years ago, I actually contacted the Romney campaign, after seeing him on Jay Leno's show. Mitt told the story that his kids had bought him (as a surprise) a 1962 Rambler American. This is a "family joke" sort of present, because Mitt's father was also the father of the Rambler (having run American Motors Corporation at the time).
So, I contacted the Romney campaign and begged them for a photo of Mitt with a Rambler. My intentions were pure, and I wanted to write a feel-good story about how cool it would be to see a Rambler at the White House, but they still ignored me as a member of the "liberal media" (one assumes). Or they had just decided that photos of the candidate in a Rambler were somehow not a good idea.
Fast forward four years, and they've apparently changed their minds. In the first five seconds of the ad, a clip of what appears to be either (1.) Romney family home videos, or (2.) an AMC television ad from the 1960s. It shows a red station wagon pulling into a driveway.
At first glance, to the trained eye, it looks like a 1968 or 1969 Rambler American station wagon. If your eye is not trained, here is an example of a 1969 Rambler (that serendipitously also happens to be red and a station wagon):
But, upon further examination, it simply cannot be a '68 or '69 American (I don't believe the side trim was that high up on the 1967 model, which ruled it out immediately). The ad car's taillights, in particular, are square, boxy, and stand out from the rear of the car. Americans wagons' taillights were always flush. Also, the rear fender over the rear wheel is flared out, which Americans didn't have, either (or, at least, not to that extent).
So what could it be? I am assuming, of course, that this car is a fine American Motors product, which is probably a pretty safe bet. One might think it was made after the Rambler ceased production (with the muscular '69-and-a-half Hurst SC/Rambler being the last of the line), but all the AMC cars in the 1970s had flush door handles -- and the door handles in the video protrude from the car's body. The fender script is impossible to read at the resolution the video is provided, but looks like it has a "V8" badge, at the very least. If you squint, though, it might just begin with a "C" which would make it (most likely) a Classic (note: "Classic" and "American" were model names, not generic descriptors).
If they only showed a shot of the grille... sigh.
Anyway, after a process of elimination, I have to conclude that the red wagon is a 1966 Rambler Classic. Before 1966, the Classic's grille had chrome that wrapped around to the sides (which is not visible in the video), and in 1967 AMC stopped making Classics and began making Rogues and Rebels for their mid-priced car lines (the Ambassador had a different body style, which ruled it out).
Again, for the untrained eye, here is a 1966 Classic (it is not red, and not a station wagon, so you'll have to use a little imagination on this one, but isn't this a pretty convertible?):
We've got the right rear fender, the right side trim, the right front fender, and what looks like a similar taillight (the taillights on wagons were always a bit different). The "Classic" badge is in the right place, on the front fender behind the wheel. So I'm going to go ahead and call the car in the video a 1966 Rambler Classic.
At the end of the ad, a still photo of what I assume to be a very young Mitt is shown behind the wheel of an older car. This one is tougher, because the photo has been so heavily cropped. You can even speculate whether the car is on the AMC assembly line, since it may not even have a windshield installed (or the photo is amazingly clear, take your pick). Perhaps Mitt was on a trip with his dad to tour the factory? Sheer speculation, I have to admit.
The car Mitt is pretending to drive is almost impossible to identify. It could even have been a 1956 or '57 Hudson Hornet, but that is not likely because I don't believe George Romney got involved before the consolidation which created American Motors from the likes of Nash, Hudson, and other independents.
Mitt was born in 1947, though. I don't know the age he was in the photo, but he couldn't have been more than 14 or 15, and he looks considerably younger. Mitt could be sitting in a Rambler from the time period, although not later than 1959, when the vent windows were changed (they got triangular). The style of a chrome band around the windows was used on many of the AMC models of this time period, so that doesn't give us much clue. Side trim seems to be non-existent on the car Mitt's sitting in, but the car's exterior looks largely finished so even if it was on the assembly line, it was most likely one of the cheaper models (chrome doodads on the side were big, back then, in most models). So while it could be a 1959 Ambassador, perhaps, the lack of chrome would indicate probably not.
An educated guess would be a 1958 Rambler or Rebel. For the untrained eye, here is a car that is at least "in the right ballpark," a 1958 Rambler Deluxe:
For those of you still reading (my apologies for heading off down AMC Memory Lane here), I offer these identifications up as "best guesses," but I am open to other views as well, if you think my eye is faulty.
Whichever exact model those two cars are, though, I have to commend Mitt Romney's campaign team for finally -- finally -- giving us an ad with Mitt Romney and some of his father's best work. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the Rambler was America's VW Bug. It was the inexpensive car that millions of American families drove around in during the baby boom years, and it is fondly remembered by a lot of voters out there.
Especially in Michigan, where cars are serious business.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant