CAR CRAFT: This Wicked Rambler Pushes 645hp on the Street and Strip

Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it was easy for Pete Ricchio to follow a path set in place by the prior generations of his family. His grandfather, father and uncles all worked on the line at the Kenosha Engine plant, which produced both engines and complete cars for AMC. Establishing deep roots within the company created a vibe within the household honoring the time spent helping to create what they considered the ultimate cars for the public. It was commonplace for Pete to come home from school and see his dad elbows-deep on a number of cars including a 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler and 1973 Javelin AMX. He remembers always wanting to be a part of the projects, initially starting with plastic kit models at the kitchen table and eventually working his way up to turning wrenches right alongside his mentor. Couple this with regular visits to Great Lakes Dragaway with his two brothers, Joe and Tony, add an endless stream of local car shows featuring classic muscle, and there was plenty of momentum to secure his path to the future.

It wasn’t long until Pete earned his license and gathered enough cash to buy his first car, a 1966 Rambler American. It was packed with a 401ci engine and 727 trans, which he transformed into a solid performer over time. He eventually sold the car around the same time his dad purchased a non-running, near rust-free 1966 Rambler Rogue 2-door. The car still wore its original paint, interior, and 290ci V-8 driveline. His brother Tony owned it for a while, then offered it to Pete, who knew it was rare (only 8,718 produced) and would be a perfect base for his next build. He immediately dropped in a 390 and 727 transmission, then spent some time updating the car for better handling and braking.

One of the toughest things to accomplish when setting up a dual purpose race/street car is designing an engine that works at the track but is also civil enough to take the kids out for ice cream after school. On top of that, Pete insisted on keeping the car all-AMC, even though it would have been easier to drop an LS into the engine compartment.

Pete remained true to the car and to his family’s legacy with AMC, and built an effective, performer at the track. More than that, it forged an indelible relationship with his family and the next generation of AMC fans. This was the car he got married to wife Michelle in, and his three children, Emma, Rian and Anthony, have also grown up with the car and being a part of the local scene with it. The AMC legacy will live on for sure.


Tech Notes

Who: Pete Ricchio

What: 1966 Rambler Rogue

Where: Kenosha, Wisconsin

Engine/Transmission: To keep his Rambler all AMC, Pete reached began with a 1971 AMC 401. Working with TNT Racing Engines of Gurnee, Illinois, the team got started by massaging the original iron block to perfection. The bottom end was built to handle plenty of abuse. The original crankshaft was matched to a set of Carrillo forged steel Pro-H connecting rods wearing Ross Racing 12:1 forged aluminum pistons, while a roller stick from Bullet Racing Cams matched to Crane Ultra-Pro roller lifters. Indy’s 401-SR aluminum heads were added, featuring 61cc combustion chambers and 235cc intake runners. They were ported by the legendary Ken Parkman and are filled with all the right goods, including Manly Race Series valves, titanium retainers, Jesel Sportsman Series1.6:1 shaft-mount rockers and capped by custom valve covers from Blitzkrieg Motor Sports. Up top, an Indy intake wears a ZEX Perimeter Plate Nitrous system and an Accufab 1,250 cfm throttle body Engine management is by Holley Dominator EFI, custom tuned by Dennis Equitz at Blitzkrieg Motorsports of Caledonia, Wisconsin. Other notable bits include Peterson belt drive oil pump, CSR Performance water pump, Powermaster starter and custom engine pulleys from Blitzkrieg Motorsports. It all sparks to life through an MSD ignition with crank trigger, while exhaust dumps through custom 2-inch headers to 3 ½-inch exhaust linked to Dynomax Bullet mufflers. The combination is good for 645hp @7500prm with enough grunt to make it a serious contender at the strip, where it’s run a best of 8.883 at 151 mph. To move the power, a bulletproof TH400 trans from Proformance Racing Transmissions of Woodstock, Illinois, is matched to a PTC 9-inch converter.

Body: Even in the best conditions, 50-year-old sheetmetal will still need some massaging to make it look right. Pete had John Gaddy of Kenosha strip the car to bare metal, and replace any rust with clean steel. Having always been a fan of the Hurst SC/Rambler style, Pete decided to add a fiberglass hood with an SC-style scoop from Show Cars Body Parts. From there, John set all the gaps and prepped the body for paint. To keep it real, Pete chose a factory color, PPG Apollo Yellow, and combined it with a black roof to add what we consider a perfect amount of contrast to the base coat.

Interior: We’re guessing Pete isn’t a fan of clutter, judging by the clean, simple interior. The stock dash was filled in with a plain fiberglass insert, accented by bead-rolled aluminum door panels. Vitals are monitored through Holley digital dash and the Strange steering wheel is mounted to a custom lightweight column. Racing seats from Kirkey add plenty of support while the back seat is upholstered in factory black vinyl accented by black carpet. A 10-point chromoly rollcage by DRC Motorsports of Kenosha keeps it safe combined, as do the Simpson belts and a fire suppression system from Safecraft. A custom wiring harness from Blitzkrieg Motorsports brings it all to life.

Chassis/Suspension: To set-up the car for a well-balanced combination of drag strip and street use Pete sought help from DRC Motorsports. Their fab crew installed mini-tubs to accommodate the 275 drag radials. They also set up the Chassisworks Fab9 rear axle with a set of 3.60:1 gears Menscer Motorsports coilovers, CalTracs traction bars, and an anti-roll bar to help launch the car straight. Up front, DRC built a custom tubular K-member, replacing the oddball trunnion/strut fromt suspension with tubular control arms and Koni shocks. A Strange Engineering dual master feeds Wilwood 11-inch drilled rotors with matching 4-piston calipers.

Wheels/Tires: Nailing it all to the pavement you’ll find a set of American Racing polished aluminum TrakStar 15×3 ½ -inch front and 15×10 beadlock rear wheels shod with Hoosier Racing rubber.

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