Gearhead News

August 3, 2021
Inside the Rambler Ranch, One of the World's Greatest Automotive Collections Hiding in Rural Colorado

America has many excellent car museums scattered across the country: The Henry Ford in Dearborn, the Petersen in LA, the LeMay in Washington…the list goes on. For whatever reason, it typically doesn’t include Rambler Ranch—one of the greatest collections in automotive history, tucked away in rural Colorado, unknown except to the most ardent fans of American Motors Corporation. That changes today.

Situated down an unsuspecting dirt road outside the town of Elizabeth, the Rambler Ranch contains the world’s largest collection of Nash, Rambler, and AMC cars. Over 250 vehicles are packed into multiple buildings, with another 500 or so parts cars sitting out in the “Boneyard.” Rare memorabilia and promotional materials cover the walls, floors, and shelves. It is an impressive sight to behold, even for non-car enthusiasts. For AMC people, it’s essentially heaven. For everyone else, it’s utterly captivating.

Joe Ligo
Inside the AMC building.

A closer look reveals this is no ordinary collection, as if owning 700 AMCs could be. You’ll see precious few sporty cars like Javelins and AMXs, and plenty of Pacers, Gremlins, Concords, and Eagles. Near-mint base model station wagons sit side by side with bizarrely spec’d sedans and worn out government fleet cars. A generous number feature insanely rare trim packages, but there are none of the 1969 Hurst SC/Ramblers or 1970 Rebel Machines that seem ubiquitous at every other AMC car show. This is a different, deeper appreciation of America’s automotive underdog.

And the story behind the Rambler Ranch is nearly as interesting as the cars themselves. Owner Terry Gale explained that he didn’t originally set out to amass the world’s largest quantity of under-loved cars. “It just evolved into what it is today. It was never my intention to do this,” he says, utterly serious.

The First Car

In fact, it all started with one car: his dad’s 1954 Nash Ambassador Custom in Caribbean Blue.

“One of my dad’s best friends was Frankie Kranyc, who had Kranyc Motors in Price, Utah where I grew up,” remembers Gale. “And this car had been traded in probably in the early 70s…and Frankie sold it to my dad for $50.”

Gale’s dad enjoyed unusual cars and owned a variety of different vehicles. At the time, the old Nash wasn’t particularly collectable; it was simply cheap transportation. When his parents divorced, Terry’s dad moved to a farm in Colorado and took the car with him. 

Terry Gale
What his father’s Nash looked like when Terry first got it running in the 1980s.

“And my dad drove it for a couple years, and I remember the day it broke down. My sister-in-law was driving it and the oil pump went out, and it had 129,000 miles on it. And they towed it home… to the farm, and it sat there at the farm for 18 years. I remember going out in the field and sitting in it, playing in it when I was younger… After my dad passed away in 1977, a few years later my brother was cleaning up the farm and asked me, ‘Do you want dad’s old Nash? I’m going to haul it to the junkyard.’”

Gale decided to keep this piece of family history. A friend helped him rebuild the motor so he could drive it home. 

“It took him 2 years to find the gasket set,” Gale chuckled, “because there was no internet. You had to write letters and search for people… But I drove it from Grand Junction to Denver. It did start to overheat at the top of the mountain, so I had AAA take it the rest of the way home.”

Joe Ligo
Terry’s father’s Nash, post-restoration.

The car sat in a garage for several years while he kept busy working as a self-employed handyman. Then he met Greg Kissinger, a shy, wealthy man who recently had a stroke and needed accessibility modifications to his home. The two were instantly taken with each other, and eventually started a relationship. Terry officially retired at age 31 and became Greg’s partner and helper.

Always generous, Greg asked Terry what he wanted for their first anniversary. He requested that they have his dad’s 1954 Nash restored. After some headaches with a restoration shop, the car was finally completed in 1994. Gale said what happened next was a turning point. 

“After the Nash was restored, I took it to a car show, and as soon as I drove into the parking lot the car was just swarmed with people, because hardly ever did a Nash show up at a car show… And it was so fun to have something different than everybody else. You know, you always see a bazillion ’57 Chevys and ’60s Mustangs, and they’re all beautiful. I like them, too. But it’s always nice to have something that no one else has.” 

The AMC Obsession Begins

Soon after this epiphany, he began looking for more Nashes.

“They were really inexpensive to buy, and I just started buying a few.” he shrugged. “I just liked that they were quirky and weird and you never saw them anywhere… I thought, how fun to have a collection of cars that people relate to, and you don’t see them anywhere else?”

He decided to focus on collecting Nash, Rambler, and AMC vehicles. (Nash and Hudson merged in 1954 to create American Motors Corporation, and Rambler was a marque sold by AMC from 1957 to 1969.)

Helped by Greg’s generosity, they moved the growing collection of cars to a rural spot near Elizabeth, Colorado and began building structures to store them. Soon the local Nash Metropolitan car club was holding its annual picnic at their home, and word of the collection spread to other groups. Gale realized he should make his private cars more accessible to the public.

“And I just started buying things to make it fun and interesting and pretty for people, cause everybody just loved coming out there because it was just so different, ” he said with enthusiasm. “And then after discovering that really no one in the world has done this, that there’s no museums for Nash, Rambler, or AMC, I thought, here’s something I can do that no one in the world has done.”

By the early 2000s, he began arranging the cars more like a museum, and someone suggested they name the growing operation the “Rambler Ranch.” The name stuck, and the Ranch continued to grow, adding new buildings, a handful of rare vehicles from other brands, a collection of vintage appliances, a replica Sinclair gas station, and an entire apartment decked out in authentic 1960s décor. They also hired a full-time mechanic.

Gale worked constantly, fixing cars, arranging memorabilia, landscaping the property, and giving tours. Greg would call often to check up on him, as he often lost track of time tinkering away in the windowless buildings late into the night. The couple were eventually married at the Rambler Ranch, surrounded by friends and car lovers. Sadly, Greg passed away unexpectedly in 2016, leaving Terry with a broken heart and a small fortune.

“That year, I think I bought over 100 cars after Greg passed away,” he admitted. “I was trying to fill a hole in my heart.” 

Joe Ligo
Terry Gale outside the Rambler Ranch’s main building.

Today he continues Greg’s legacy of generosity by sharing the Rambler Ranch with thousands of people every year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he was hosting multiple tours and events every week. Now that busy schedule seems to be picking up again. 

“I have a lot of people call and think I’m a regular museum,” explained Gale. “And they call and say, ‘what are your hours?’ And I say, I don’t have hours, I’m just a private collector…you have to make an appointment. 

He does have a handful of “Ranch Hands” who help take care of the cars, buildings, and grounds, but Gale himself is the head curator and guide.

A Three-Hour Tour 

Tours begin in the Nash Building, which features gorgeous examples of 1950s pastel-colored Nashes with “Airflyte” styling. Although it’s cliché to say that old cars have more personality, some of these vehicles are truly breathtaking designs, even compared to other ’50s cars. Fender skirts, set-in headlights, stripes, fins, and jet-age enthusiasm fill the space. Alongside his dad’s 1954 Ambassador are rarities like a Nash-Healy sports car, a 1-of-1 Nash Pininfarina concept, and one of the last Nash Ambassadors ever made. His goal is to own one Nash car from every year they were in production (1917-1957), and he’s currently just eight models away.

As if the cars weren’t enough, the walls are lined with original vintage billboards, splashed with colorful 1950s artwork and advertising slogans. A joyful Santa Claus proclaims, “Now it’s Prancer, Dancer and Nash!” A mannequin wears the original dress of Colleen Kay Hutchins, winner of the 1951 Miss America pageant, sponsored by Nash. Terry actually tracked down Hutchins’ family and convinced her daughter to loan him the dress.

“I like details,” he said with a smile. “It’s just exciting to have that stuff. To me it’s about preserving the history of things.” 

And the history of “things” also includes a huge number of vintage stoves, refrigerators, and washing machines. In 1937, Nash Motors merged with the Kelvinator Appliance Corporation, which meant Gale had to have an entire Kelvinator Appliance Building, too. Included are several wonderfully named Kelvinator Foodarama fridges, a rare International Harvester freezer, and some delightfully mid-century-modern Frigidaire Flair stove/oven combos. (Frigidaire used to be a division of General Motors.) Using his handyman skills, he eagerly salvages appliances anytime somebody renovates an old house. His most recent find was a Kelvinator garbage disposal.

“The day I found that thing under a sink, I was so excited.” He laughed. “It was like I won the lottery!”

He even built a 1950s era Kelvinator Kitchen, complete with original metal cabinets and cheerful pink appliances. It’s connected to a reproduction 1950s diner, where tour groups can stop to relax.

And it’s worth relaxing for a moment before taking in the rest of the collection, as the giant AMC Building features a huge number of cars. Climbing a ladder, guests can look down on rows and rows of cars from the late 50s through the mid 80s. Perhaps my only complaint with the Rambler Ranch is that there are so many vehicles, they must be parked bumper-to-bumper just to fit indoors. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a good look at cars, because they’re so close together. On the plus side, there are no velvet ropes or raised platforms like other museums use to keep guests at a distance. People are welcome to walk right up to vehicles and peek inside.

Unfortunately, this freedom occasionally allows careless guests to damage cars. Gale expressed his frustration after discovering someone knocked a metal sign into the fender of his 1967 AMC Ambassador right-hand-drive postal car. Since all the vehicles are his personal property, he has genuine affection for each and every one of them.

In fact, part of the reason tours take so long is because he’s constantly stopping to tell guests how he acquired all these different cars. With an impeccable memory, he recounts stories of estate sales, Craigslist ads, auto auctions, and cross-country trips.

“I look on Bring a Trailer every day,” he says with a grin. 

Saving AMC From Oblivion

Some cars he buys because of their irresistible rarity, such as the trio of 1967 Rebel Cross County station wagons, each outfitted in unique trim packages each sold in different geographic regions of the United States. Called The Westerner, The Briarcliff, and The Mariner, only 1,500 were produced in total, and Gale is the only collector known to have all three.

Other cars he buys to save, simply because he can’t stand to see them crushed or hacked up for parts. Looking at a top-of-the-line Ambassador with a 401 V8 and a base 6 cylinder Javelin, Gale knows full well that plenty of enthusiasts would have long since swapped the V8 into the Javelin and sent the Ambassador to a junkyard. One particular visitor had no problem expressing this to his face.

“[He said,] ‘What do you waste your money on these 4 door sedans for?’” Gale remembered, sarcastically. “And it just frustrated me and made me want to buy more.”

Joe Ligo

When asked why he preserves so many “everyday” cars, Gale said most people don’t have memories of growing up with expensive automobiles. But people do remember riding in economy cars, station wagons, and family sedans. He enjoys hearing visitors share old memories brought on by cars they haven’t seen in years. 

“These cars meant something to someone when they bought them,” he says passionately. “I just imagine all these cars when people bought them, how exciting it was and thrilling to get a new car…it meant something. People loved this car at one time, why doesn’t it deserve love now?”

Joe Ligo

A handful of windshields did have “For Sale” signs on them, and he explained that some duplicate models had to go in order to make room for new finds. He is constantly wheeling and dealing on his hunt for additions. Gale said that the Ranch’s reputation means sellers often come to him first, sometimes with unfair pricing.

“I explain to someone, I’ll make an offer on the car based on what it’s worth to me; what I’m willing to pay. I don’t really see this as an investment. I always thought of it as a donation from me to the collection to share with as many people as possible… And if it’s really important to you that your car goes to a place like this, then you give a little and I’ll give a little. If you want the most money for it, then go sell it to somebody else.”

He sees his work as an effort to preserve the entire history of a company, which is why he’s so dedicated to including all the advertising, literature, and other knick knacks that came with the cars. As long as it can be traced back to Nash or American Motors, he’s willing to add it to the museum. Even cheap disposable items such as paper cups with the Rambler logo have found their way into the glass display cases. It makes you wonder who kept this stuff for 50 years, and how on earth Gale tracked it down.

Perhaps one of the strangest deals Gale made was when he traded an AMC Javelin for a 1970s city bus. Built by AM General, an AMC subsidiary that manufactured vehicles for government contracts, Gale found the old transit bus for sale after the current owner tried to convert it into an RV and gave up when he realized it wasn’t built for highway speeds. After a long, slow trip, it found a permanent home at the Rambler Ranch. 

Despite the prodigious size of his collection, Gale still has a few cars on his bucket list. He’s always on the hunt for a record-breaking 1957 Rambler Rebel, a 1972-73 Hornet Sportabout Gucci Edition, and an AM General military truck. None of these are impossible to find, but he’s not willing to pay through the nose for just one vehicle when there are hundreds of others left to preserve.

Joe Ligo
The 1964 Rambler Marquesa auto show car.

“People always ask me if I have a Tucker or a Duesenburg,” he said. “Those are nice cars, but for the price of one Tucker, I could buy 100 Ramblers.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy expensive rides. His personal fleet of daily drivers includes a McLaren, a Rolls Royce, a Tesla and more. But these are the exception to the rule. He still enjoys driving an AMC Pacer, too.

The Ranch Rambles On

Beside the American Motors building is the smaller “Brand X” building, which houses a menagerie of automotive oddities. A quick glance reveals a Yugo convertible, Toyota Century, Eagle Premiere, Taurus SHO, and Lectric Leopard EV conversion of a Renault LeCar. Curiously, two Hudson Hornets sit side-by-side, the only Hudsons products in the museum. Despite the company’s merger with Nash to form AMC, Gale doesn’t own very many.

“You have to stop somewhere, I guess,” he says in response.

But it seems as if the collection goes on forever. Aside from all the cars, advertisements, and memorabilia, a startling number of mannequins are situated throughout the buildings. Some sit behind the wheel, others lean casually on cars or hold stylish poses. Each features colorful vintage fashion, carefully curated by Daniel Green, Gale’s current partner and “#1 Ranch Hand,” as he calls him. Gale admits that Green has a better eye for fashion than he, although Green doesn’t share his intense knowledge of automobiles.

Green uses the figures to play with different time periods of fashion, such as a Jackie Kennedy lookalike or a 1970s beach party. The displays add a playful touch to the cars and increase the entertainment factor for guests. Gale takes particular pride when non-car enthusiasts who are dragged to the Rambler Ranch by family members tell him how much they actually enjoyed visiting.

“You never get tired of making people happy. It’s been fun for me.”

Gale isn’t sure what’s next for the Rambler Ranch, although he’s trying to make space for more cars without constructing a new building (yet). For those not satisfied with the 250+ automobiles under roof, they can spend hours strolling through the Boneyard, looking at the hundreds of parts cars Gale uses to repair and restore those lucky enough to be kept inside.

Joe Ligo
The Boneyard.

Joe Ligo
The Boneyard.

But even without this step, the entire experience is overwhelming. No person could possibly see everything there is to see in one day, let alone remember it. There are simply too many cars, too many displays, too many signs, too many appliances, and too many mannequins to take it all in. But in a way, that is part of the Rambler Ranch’s appeal. To know the amount of work that went into preserving so many vehicles that a large part of the world has forgotten is truly awe-inspiring.

Terry Gale is right when he says this isn’t like any other car museum on Earth. Yes, looking at a LeMans winning Porsche or the Back the Future DeLorean is cool, but those cars were always important collectables. It’s nice to know somebody is out here saving stuff like Nash Airflytes and AMC Eagles, too.

“And I always tell people that my collection is not about money,” Gale expressed. “Because most museums you go to, they’re high dollar cars. You know, ‘this is worth a million, this is worth whatever.’ I don’t really care how much my cars are worth. To me, it’s become a challenge to save the history of something that no one else has saved. All because of my dad’s car.”

The Rambler Ranch is open to car clubs and tour groups by appointment only. Visit https://www.ramblerranch.com/ to learn more.

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