Home » Interesting Ways To Get Around New Orleans: 1956 Nash Rambler vs 1986 Chrysler LeBaron

Interesting Ways To Get Around New Orleans: 1956 Nash Rambler vs 1986 Chrysler LeBaron

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Good morning, Autopians! I’m back once again to show you two cars you don’t want, but must choose between anyway. Today’s search takes us down to the Big Easy, but before we go, let’s see what you made of yesterday’s small-town heroes:

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Looks like a comfortable win for the Impala. I think that’s the right call. I do love a good pickup truck, but that GMC is just too damn rusty.

New Orleans is a city unlike any other. I haven’t been there since I was small, but even then I could tell the place was something special. New Orleans holds a special place in the collective unconscious and popular culture; it’s a place steeped in folklore, history, and even a little magic. It has withstood wars, hurricanes, floods, and throngs of invading Mardi Gras tourists. From voodoo to jazz, from cradle-robbing vampires to Ignatius J. Reilly, [Editor’s Note: I should mention my valve – JT] there’s no place quite like it. Such a special place demands a special mode of transport; you can’t just roll up to the House of the Rising Sun in a Sonata or something. So, as is our custom, we’re going to check out two rides, in this case thirty years apart in age, both just a little out of the ordinary, and see which one you would choose to get around this strange city.

1956 Nash Rambler plus parts car – $5,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 195.6 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Franklinton, LA

Odometer reading: 11,000 miles (no really!)

Runs/drives? Yes, but needs brake work

The early days of America’s fourth-largest automaker were a mishmash of nameplates and badge engineering. Before everything wore an AMC badge, Nashes and Hudsons rolled off the same assembly line. The all-new-for-1956 Rambler came with either badge, and was bigger than the previous Nash Rambler, but still a lot smaller than most cars of the era. No more two-doors were offered; you could only get a Rambler as a four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, or station wagon.

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This four-door sedan Rambler is reported to have only 11,000 miles on it, and have mostly original paint, with one front fender in primer. Oddly, the interior does not match the exterior at all. Could you order a car with salmon-pink paint outside and a turquoise interior? I know some weird color combinations existed in the ’50s, but my guess is that the interior parts were replaced in anticipation of a repaint. But I kinda like the mismatch, personally.

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The seller says this car runs and drives, but the brakes need some attention before putting it into regular service. It’s a three-on-the-tree, of course, with a simple pushrod inline six in front of it. All nice, simple stuff to repair, and while replacement parts aren’t as easy to source as for a Ford or a Chevy, they’re not impossible to find. And with this one, to find some parts, you need only turn your head:

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Yep. Another ’56 Rambler is included, though the slight differences in trim tell me that the parts car might be a Hudson. The parts car has a complete engine that has reportedly been rebuilt, but we have no idea when; it could have been decades ago.

1986 Chrysler LeBaron convertible – $7,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: New Orleans, LA

Odometer reading: 62,000 miles

Runs/drives? Perfectly

Fifties style too old for you? Fancy a little open-air experience? I’ve got you covered. I know that very few of you share my strange affinity for K-cars, but that’s fine. You have the right to be wrong.

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What we’re looking at here is a post-facelift first-generation LeBaron convertible, after Chrysler softened the sharp edges a bit all across the K-car range. It has a fuel-injected 2.2 liter four under the hood, powering the front wheels through a three-speed Torqueflite automatic. It’s not going to be fast, but it’s a reasonably reliable and efficient drivetrain, and how fast do you want to go in a LeBaron anyway?

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It’s in fantastic shape, with only 62,000 miles, and the seller says it runs great, and everything works. It’s got new tires, a new top, new brakes, and a long list of other stuff. I do have a feeling that the left rear quarter window won’t roll down; in every top-down photo in the ad it’s sticking up like a glass fin. But if one dead power window is the only problem, then it’s still probably one of the nicest K-cars left.

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Oh, all right. It’s a dorky old car with zero sex appeal, lousy performance, and a lot of cultural baggage stuffed into its trunk. You almost certainly can find a better car, and you probably should buy it, but I don’t care. I like it. And yeah, it’s a little expensive, but it isn’t like first-generation LeBaron convertibles are in every used car lot anymore. You want a good one, this is what they cost now.

You can choose to drive a boring car instead of one of these, of course, but why would you, especially in a colorful and vibrant city like New Orleans? Why not instead drive a bona-fide ’50s classic, or an ’80s icon?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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65 Responses

  1. The K-car looked sort of okay, and I probably gave it more attention than it deserved. But seven grand? LOL. Even though I’m not a super fan that little Nash Rambler + parts car is a better deal all around. It’s one of those “so ugly it’s sort of cool” things like a pug, and the body design actually looks like it could be from the late 50s rather than from 1956. No fins is a bit of a plus.

  2. When I was a kid there was a Nash station wagon of this color with black coves on my street. It was owned by an older guy, and it sat confidently in a showgirl curb-line of gunsight Imperials, cocktail-dress Bonnevilles, Sun-blind-you Buicks, and a neighbor with two Johnny-Cash black Sedan devilles (58 & 62) which only came out of the garage on Sundays to have their immaculate finish polished and buffed yet again.

    Somehow the Rambler effected a “girl-next-door” feeling upon this 6-7 year old, and I guess it kind of stayed with me.

    Ramble On to The Big Easy

  3. Hell with a K-Car. I haven’t even read the write up for either car yet, but my vote was cast the instant I saw the photos.

    Some of y’all weren’t alive in the 1980s when these things were everywhere, and believe me, it shows.

  4. Damn, this is a hard one! Kudos, I like the challenge.

    Having had a Kcar (the original, bare bones, only thing it had was an AM radio, Automatic, and full width hubcaps (and it may have had power steering; didn’t all 1981 K cars have it?)), there’s no thrill there, it was a car, it went from A to B.

    I’m going to go with the K car. Convertibles always get more points. Working cars get more points. Parts availability gets you more points. I don’t have room for two more cars, but one I could squeeze in.

    Both are ridiculous and fun cars. But in its day, the Lebaron convertible was a nicer car than the Rambler was in its day.

    My parents had a 1967 or 68 Rambler, it was my mom’s car (Dad had a 65 Cutlass). I asked “why the Rambler?” and he said “It was cheap”.

    A Lebaron wasn’t “cheap” in that same vein. You’d get an Aries K.

    This is science here…

    1. So two points to bolster your objectively correct vote (sorry 63% of you, you’re wrong):
      1. NOLA gets hot and muggy. It also rains a little, you will want “modern” HVAC and wipers.
      2. The LeBarron has kitsch kool now, so fits right in, plus as a convertible you can probably just sneak right into the various and sundry parades..

  5. As a very late-stage Rambler fan (the marque was already gone by the year I was born), you’d better believe I went with the Rambler. The things that make them appealing to me are the same things that likely gave them a “dorky” reputation in their own time.

    For example, this was a 1956 car that could actually fit into a parking space. Most or all of its American competitors were enormous barges that were a pain to maneuver — and yet the Rambler had the same or greater passenger space. Further, the lack of styling ostentation made this Rambler appear surprisingly forward-looking in terms of style. Ramblers were unibody construction in a time when that was not a given — and that body was treated with rustproofing prior to final assembly. The available “Weather Eye” climate control was supposedly one of the best in the industry. I could go on.

    This was the first year of the “Scene-Ramic” roof style that allowed for wraparound front and back windows. This would carry on until the 1962 model year (someone correct me if I’m wrong), when it was replaced with a modern roofline that was more sleek but less memorable.

    1. …and where would we be without the pipe-smoking, cardigan-clad Rambler owners like my grandfather who owned three during my formative years: circa early sixties Metropolitan, 64 sedan, and 66 sedan (660?).

      This man passed on more contemplative grown man to little boy advice that still stands today.

      So yeah, I went wizened.

  6. I know they’re hard to find these days, especially in good condition but there’s no chance of me paying 7k for any K-Car especially when I can get two goofy old 50s cars for $1500 cheaper. I’ll take the Nash and everything that comes with it.

    Looking at that parts car, I’m starting to wonder if the turquoise interior had come out of that one. A blue car with a turquoise interior makes a lot more sense than a red one with the same interior.

  7. I’m voting for the two Ramblers for $5500. They just seem more interesting weekend cars and I’ve never owned a car with three on the tree.

  8. I had an Aries K. It squealed like a pig every time you pressed the gas pedal no matter what you did with the belts. 0-60 was about 25 seconds. It was terribly embarrassing to drive, but it was cheap and mostly reliable. Parts were always available for just a little more than pocket change.

    I used to joke about starting a K-Car racing league. The theory was that the cars were dirt cheap to buy, and dirt cheap to run. And you’d never get going fast enough to actually hurt anyone or anything around you.

    That Lebaron needs a new power window motor. Water gets down there quite easily. I think there was a revised version, but it only delays the next replacement.

    I can’t imagine paying $7,000 for a K-Car, unless it was leftover new stock from a closed dealership. Even in today’s market, that’s about double what it’s worth. It’s certainly not something I want to be seen in today, no matter what the condition.

    I wouldn’t want to pay that much for the Ramblers either, but they’re a much better buy at the offering price, and much more interesting to own once you have one running.

  9. The Nash would be cool to have, especially with the Hudson-badged parts car – they only sold 20,000 Hudson Ramblers that year, about 1/3 as many as Nash Ramblers, worth saving those unique trim pieces.

  10. First, I am excited that “Beep Beep” by the Playmates has been heard by more than me (thanks, Mom’s 45 collection!) Who needs a third gear when second is apparently good for 120+!!!

    That said, I owned an 84 LeBaron convertible with the Mark Cross leather (the one above is sporting vinyl) and 2.6 Mitsu engine in college in the early ’90s. Other than needing a new carb the only other repair happened after it got parked under a tree that fell on it in a storm. Slow? Yes, but who cared with the top down!

    So, good luck to the 60-some percent who will be hunting for Rambler brake parts while I’m in that Second Line parade!

  11. I did realize a bit late that I have to ask – why do I need a three-speed transmission if I can’t get my little Nash Rambler out of second gear?

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