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By John Frank January 15, 2008

Dad was a dinosaur hunter

Republican Mitt Romney, speaking from the campaign trail in Michigan, recalled his father's legacy as the owner of American Motors Corp. and the car that changed the industry.

"But, you see, when I was growing up, the fact that we won the mileage championship year after year with the Rambler was a source of great pride for my dad," Romney said during an interview on the CBS Early Show . "He used to campaign against the gas-guzzling dinosaurs."

Romney used a similar line in February 2007 when he launched his presidential campaign in Michigan, where he was born. It's the kind of claim that could, in our current energy climate, be dismissed as rewritten history. Campaigning against gas-guzzling cars in the '50s? Really?

And yet, this is not a case of inflated exuberance. George Romney took the helm at American Motors in 1954 and helped rescue the company from near financial ruin.

He succeeded in large part on the sales of the Rambler, the first American compact car. In doing so, he had to sell the concept and value of a compact car. In 1958, he traveled 700,000 miles in his crusade against what he called "gas-guzzling dinosaurs," a reference to the large cars produced by Detroit's Big Three automakers.

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"Who wants to have a gas-guzzling dinosaur in his garage?" he told Time magazine in 1959, for a cover article that labeled George Romney "The Dinosaur Hunter."

He is credited with coining the term, even though other automakers cast doubts on just how economical the Rambler really was. Still, the nickname, and the George Romney legend, took hold. It appeared in prominent obituaries after his death July 26, 1995.

His youngest son, Mitt, gets it right.

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