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Team traditions: The history behind Georgia Tech's ramblin' wreck

From drinking song to vehicular mascot, the history of the Ramblin’ Wreck is about as rambling as you would imagine. Georgia Tech’s official mascot is a 1930 Ford Model A sport coupe, painted GT gold to match the Yellow Jackets’ color scheme. The old jalopy whips around the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, with Georgia Tech cheerleaders and GT’s stingy mascot, Buzz, clinging tightly.

The current Ramblin’ Wreck debuted in 1961, though it is not the first Ford on campus that earned the moniker. Floyd Field, a professor and dean at Georgia Tech in the early 1900s, owned an original 1916 Ford Model T that was infamous on campus. The student newspaper, the Technique, dubbed it a Ramblin’ Wreck in 1927, and the name stuck.

A few years later, the Technique sponsored a series of road races from Atlanta to Athens, Ga. The “Flying Flivver” races were hazardous at best and illegal at worst, so Field (who was a participant in these races) had the idea to change it to a parade instead. Field led the first parade in his own Ramblin’ Wreck in 1932, and the Ramblin’ Wreck Parade still runs during each homecoming weekend, featuring a veritable “Wacky Races” of wheeled contraptions, classic cars and what-have-you.

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Eventually, the school realized how closely students identified with a car mascot and purchased one from a local airline pilot in 1961. The 1930 Ford Cabriolet sport coupe debuted that year and was restored again in 1982 by a Georgia Tech alum who just so happened to manage a nearby Ford assembly plant.

So what about the name? The “Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech” is the school’s official fight song and was adapted from an old English drinking song called “The Son of a Gambolier.”

The song retains much of the original barroom flavor, as the lyrics boast of engineering prowess and whiskey consumption with a distinctly Georgian bent. The song entered school lore in 1905 and manages to encapsulate Georgia Tech’s engineering past AND a hatred of rival University of Georgia in one nifty tune.

The song got its start as Georgia Tech’s fight song in the late 1880s, when Tech defeated Georgia on the baseball diamond. The current arrangement dates to former Georgia Tech bandmaster Frank Roman, who committed it to paper in 1911. It quickly became famous -- so famous that President Richard Nixon and Soviet Union leader Nikita Krushchev sang a few verses to bond during a tense Cold War era meeting in Moscow. If a song can penetrate the Iron Curtain, it has to be catchy.

Since then, the phrase “Ramblin’ Wreck” has become synonymous with Georgia Tech sports, in the same way “Rocky Top” means Tennessee and “Death Valley” means LSU. If you find yourself riding the Ramblin’ Wreck, take your whiskey clear and say “to Hell!” with Georgia. You’ll fit right in.