I’ve been a Rambler guy for decades. Just Google “farna rambler” and you’ll see my screen name pop up on a lot of AMC/Rambler boards as well as hot rod boards. I like restored cars, but understand that people like to modify/customize cars, and would rather see them done well than sent to the crusher or allowed to sit and rust away. With the more popular makes and models getting pricey, more people are finding Ramblers to be good value alternatives – just like when they were new.
My own car is a 63 Classic wagon. It was built to be a daily driver, and while I was still in the USAF (retired in 2007 after 24 years) it was just that. Drove it from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes a couple times when stationed at Gulfport, MS. I didn’t want to much of a hot rod, so installed a hopped-up 4.0L six – EFI and AW4 four speed auto. While the 63 and 64 models only came with the little (and ancient!) 196, they were built with the upcoming (late 64) 232 in mind. Since the 4.0L is based on the old 199/232/258 block it drops right in. I don’t drive it as much these days, but it’s still a great car. Sized right, and styling still looks good. I agree that the 63 and 64 models are the best looking. Squaring the sleek body off for 65 and 66 didn’t do them any favors, but they still aren’t bad looking cars – on a par with others of the era.
Your old Rambler most likely suffered from (unintentional) maintenance negligence. When passed down several times required maintenance on the old 196 is forgotten about. It’s a conversion of the 196 L-head originally designed for the 1940 Nash Ambassador 600 (as a 172.6), converted to an OHV in 1956 since AMC didn’t have the money for a clean slate small six. The block was changed a bit, but retained as many parts from the L-head as possible. So you can’t bolt the OHC head to an L-head block, but the entire bottom end (including cam bearings and timing set) interchanges. One result of the conversion was the rather large head and smallish sealing surfaces. Even with a modern head gasket the head bolts have to be torqued every 10-12K miles or three years, whichever is first. The service and owner’s manuals say check at 4K and torque at 8K, but modern gaskets seem to hold up better. That big mass of cast iron expands and contracts about 0.020" every heat/cool cycle. This eventually loosens the head bolts. First sign of a loosening head is usually running hot. The heads are at an age now that they crack easily. Age and the fact that most have been run hot 2-3 times at least by now due to unknowing owners not torquing the head bolts.