The Rambler American was an automobile manufactured by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) between 1958 and 1969. The American was the second incarnation of AMC's forerunner Nash Motors second generation Rambler compact that was sold under the Nash and Hudson Motors marques from 1954 and 1955.
The American can be classified in three distinct generations: 1958 to 1960, 1961 to 1963, and 1964 to 1969. During the entire length of its production, the car was sold under the Rambler brand name, and was the last Rambler automobile manufactured for the Canadian and United States markets.
These Rambler models were produced in other markets under license including Mexico (by Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos "VAM") and Argentina (by Industrias Kaiser Argentina "IKA") with local development up to 1981. The Rambler American was also sold in other export markets such as South Africa.
The genesis of the Rambler American began when AMC President George W. Romney saw that AMC was in need of a small compact during the Recession of 1958. The company had retained the tooling from its 1955 model Rambler, which was only slightly modified and then used for the basis of the "new" American. AMC designers gave the car a new grille and more open rear fender wells, giving the car a lighter appearance than that of the earlier car, which had hidden its rear wheels behind deeply skirted fenders. This design was originally mandated by Nash's Airflyte styling motif which sought to reach for the blinding optimism of post-World War II transportation. The car's seemingly narrow track was not much different from the industry standard, but rather an illusion fostered by the bulbous bodywork.
For 1958, the American was available only as a two-door sedan, but found 30,640 buyers during the abbreviated 1958 model year. In 1959, AMC sold 91,491 units, having added a two-door station wagon. In 1960, the line added a four-door sedan and sales increased to 120,603 units.
The second generation Rambler American was achieved through a heavy restyling of the previous year's model under AMC's styling Vice President Edmund E. Anderson. While mechanically identical to the 1960 model, Anderson's restyle resulted in a car that was shorter in its exterior dimensions, but increased in its cargo capacity. The line added a two-door convertible and a four-door wagon. For 1963, a pillarless hardtop coupe debuted, the roof of which was designed to mimic the appearance of a closed convertible top. A special model, the resulting "440-H" was equipped with sporty touches like bucket seats, and a more powerful version of Rambler's stalwart inline-6 engine.
For its third generation, the American emerged with what would be its only completely new design. The entire line was treated to neat and trim lines with pleasing simplicity (compared to the more boxy predecessors) with characteristic tunneled headlights with a simple horizontal grille between them. In addition to the de luxe 440 models, cheaper 330 and 220 models were also available. Full coil front springs along with soft rear leaf units, gave the new American an unusually smooth ride, better than many larger domestic cars. Many viewed the newly designed station wagon as the best-looking of any American wagon, with its new, trim lines and ample passenger and cargo room.
The new styling was the work of famous designer Richard A. Teague, who would go on to design the 1968 Javelin and AMX. The Rambler American's wheelbase grew by six-inches or 152 mm (to 106 in or 2692 mm) in 1964. The new models also incorporated various parts and components (such as doors) that were interchangeable with AMC's larger cars. That year saw the introduction of the new overhead valve straight-6 engine, which AMC would use from 1964 to 1979, with a smaller version being used only during 1966-70. The same engine was later available in a larger version, used from 1971-89, and a version that debuted in 1987, known as the Jeep 4.0, which Chrysler would continue through 2006.
In 1966, the models were facelifted and they featured more squared-off front and rear styling, making the car seem more modern. The top of the line model was only available as a two-door hardtop saw its name changed from 440-H to Rogue. Furthermore, a completely new "Typhoon" V8 engine was developed by AMC and it saw its introduction in a special mid-1966 Rogue model. The 330 model was dropped, leaving the Rogue, 440, and base 220 models in the lineup for 1966.
The last convertible in the American series was in 1967, and it was moved up from 440 models to join the hardtop in the Rogue version. For 1967 only, AMC's new V8 engine was available in the American Rogue and the 440. Factory installations of this engine were in 58 Rogues and just 55 in the 440 models, with a paltry seven of them being in the convertible version. Rogues also received grille trim that wrapped around the fender sides. All Americans received a new grille insert with prominent chromed horizontal bars. 1967 also saw Federally-mandated safety equipment, including an energy-absorbing steering column and steering wheel, more padding on interior surfaces, 4-way hazard flashers, and locking seat back latches for 2-door models. The instrument cluster was changed from a rectangular-gauge design, to three round gauges, the center dial housing the speedometer and odomoeter, the with smaller fuel and engine temperature gauges flanking each side of the speedometer.
For 1968, the line was further simplified, with the 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan comprising the base 220 line, 4-door sedan and station wagon being offered in uplevel 440 guise, and a lone hardtop coupe making up the top-line Rogue trim line. All Americans received a new chrome horizontal grille bar that extended outboard to the headlights. The 440 and Rogue versions picked up a stainless steel trim piece running stem to stern on either body side, straight back between the wheel wells and the belt line. At each end of the strip was the newly mandated side marker lights, amber for the front fenders, red for the rear. However, the biggest change was the decision to cut the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) of the base two-door model to within US$200 of the Volkswagen Beetle. The Big Three automakers did not respond to this strategy, thus giving AMC a big price differential over the competing domestic models. Sales of the Rambler American increased and the showroom traffic boosted morale among AMC's independent dealerships. The American, along with "A" body Mopars, were the only domestics available as a hardtop coupe model, the Ford Falcon and Chevy Nova being only available as pillared sedans (and a wagon in the Falcon line). The wraparound rear window on sedans, was modified to a flat unit, with a more squared-off "C" pillar, which changed the appearance from the earlier sedans with their overhanging rooflines.
For its final model year, 1969, the "American" name was dropped as the car was now referred to as the "American Motors Rambler". The chrome grille bar was deleted, as well. However, to commemorate the impending passing of the Rambler name, American Motors added the Rogue-based SC/Rambler to the line. Additional safety equipment for the 1969 models included front shoulder belts and headrests for both front outboard seating positions.
For 1970, the American was replaced by the AMC Hornet.
One of the muscle car era most visually arresting examples was a special model was produced during 1969 in collaboration with Hurst Performance, the Hurst SC/Rambler. With 1,512 built, it was probably the only production model made and promoted for a specific drag racing class, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) F/Stock class. It became one of the most potent cars of its time, throwing down quarter-mile times that only Hemis and Cobra Jets had previously touched. A true muscle car with zero options and a suggested retail price (MSRP) of less than US$ $3,000, it would take down some much more vaunted cars.
Each Hurst SC/Rambler came equipped with the AMC V8 engine from the AMX that was mated to a four-speed manual transmission (with Hurst shifter), a 3.54:1 "Twin-Grip" limited slip differential, heavy-duty brakes with front discs and a sway bar, as well as strengthened drive train and body components. American Motors called on Hurst to develop a "Stock Car" (SC) meaning "original factory" production model - often nicknamed "Scrambler" - to make a strong impact in the compact muscle market segment. Available only as a two-door hardtop, the interior came in standard gray vinyl upholstered reclining bucket seats, but with red, white, and blue headrests, as well as a Sun (brand) tachometer strapped to the steering column. Outside, however, the SC/Ramblers came with the wildest factory paint jobs ever put on a muscle car. It also featured a box-type hood scoop with "390 CU. IN." and "AIR" in large letters on both sides of it. If someone missed seeing it, a blue arrow on the hood also pointed towards the air intake. The Scrambler came only in two types of red, white, and blue color schemes ("A" or "B" trims) with no other options available, with the exception of an AM radio.
American Motors built a lot of 500 "A" scheme SC/Ramblers before switching to the "B" scheme. 500 "B" models were built before AMC switched the final lot of 512 SC/Ramblers back to the "A" pattern.
Some of the other unique standard items on this model included racing mirrors, anti-hop rear axle links, and two-tone styled wheels with red stripe Goodyear Polyglas tires. American Motors made the SC/Rambler priced at $2,998 a serious dragstrip contender because in its as-sold condition it could do the quarter mile in the low 14 seconds at about . With a few simple bolt on modifications they would run low 12's.
Most SC/Ramblers took extensive abuse as they were raced hard, and there are stories of cars being sold with their time slips passing along with the vehicle.
The American was introduced as the North American economy was in a recession and buyers were looking for smaller and more economical cars and the Rambler brand was known as a fuel miser. The Rambler American was a yearly winner of the best fuel economy in the Mobil Economy Run and the Pure Oil Company Economy Trials, even during later years when fuel efficiency was not a major factor in the purchase of automobiles.
For example, at the conclusion of the five-day event in 1959, that covered , a Rambler American Deluxe topped the 47-car Mobilgas Economy Run field with an average . That year's Pure Oil Trials were conducted from Los Angeles to Miami, covering over all types of terrain and driving types, there a Rambler American with overdrive set the all time NASCAR-supervised coast-to-coast economy record of .
In the 1960 Mobilgas Economy Run, a Custom two-door sedan returned over a route of more than , finishing first in the compact class. Further proof of the American's exceptional fuel economy came when an overdrive-equipped car driven coast to coast under NASCAR's watchful eyes averaged . However, the most astounding demonstration was the record set in the Pure Oil Economy Trials, another NASCAR-supervised event: , which AMC sagely noted, "No car owner should expect to approach in everyday driving.
In the 1964 run, a 6-cylinder Rambler American 440 sedan averaged 27.8336 miles per gallon (8.450 L/100km); once again, the best of all the cars that year.
Economy claims for stock cars could be confirmed by these open and sanctioned trials. American Motors (as well as its OEM suppliers, such as the print advertisement for Champion spark plugs) promoted the results of this popular event in its advertising as a marketing technique that further emphasized the thriftiness of the Rambler Americans.
Rambler's emphasis on economy over performance can be observed through the example of automatic transmission use in a Rambler American where the 1959 owner's handbook describes leaving the gear selector in the D-2 position (1.47:1 gear ratio) blocks access to low gear (2.40 ratio) when starting out from a stop; therefore, given the car's 3.31 axle, this yields an initial 4.86:1 final drive ratio reducing crankshaft revolutions for maximum fuel economy.
During his 2006-2007 campaign for U.S. president, Mitt Romney sat in a AMC Rambler American at fund-raising events as a way to emphasize the need for more efficient cars. He also stated that his father (George W. Romney) "was a man ahead of his time," at campaign stops and that "He also coined the term 'gas-guzzling dinosaurs.' That's what we're driving today and that's got to change.
Ben Vaughn is a musician and a longtime Rambler automobile fan. His song called El Rambler Dorado appeared in 1988 on the Blows Your Mind album. He later recorded an entire album in his 1965 Rambler American. Titled appropriately Rambler '65, he turned his car into a makeshift studio. Putting the recording equipment inside the Rambler was a gimmick or an act of showmanship. Nevertheless, according to most reviews, the music he created inside his car is pleasant 1950s and 1960s rock roll and country. The album was released in 1997 by Rhino Records. Even more intriguing for old car enthusiasts is Ben Vaughn's Rambler '65 album recreated in a 24-minute video. Some of the music videos include vintage TV ad clips with AMC cars.
The ‘post-punk’ band Shellac paid tribute to the Rambler on their first 1993 single The Rude Gesture: A Pictorial History with Rambler Song. Steve Albini of Shellac has commented during early live shows of the beauty of, specifically, the 1962 Rambler Ambassador.
The Dutch band Diesel released a song in 1980 called "Sausalito Summer Night" that was about taking a road-trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a Rambler.
American Motors then got serious in this type of racing and signed up James Garner's "American International Racers" (AIR) team to a three-year contract. Garner's shops prepared ten 1969 SC/Ramblers provided by AMC. The cars were modified for the punishing Baja 500 race Raising the suspension and using Goodyear 10x15-inch tires increased ground clearance. All window glass was removed and roll cages were installed. The cars had 44-gallon (167 L) fuel tanks. Two cars were further modified with four-wheel drive. The AIR team built AMC's V8 engines to blueprint tolerances, thus increasing horsepower to at the flywheel. The cars were capable of runs along smooth straights at about 7,000 rpm in fourth gear.
On June 11, 1969, eight of the Ramblers were entered into the passenger-car category and the two 4WD versions were in the Experimental class. Garner did not drive in the race because of a film commitment in Spain. Seven of the Ramblers finished the grueling race, taking three of the top five places in the passenger-car class. One of the four-wheel-drive cars came in fourth in its class. The AIR team included a car with Bob Bondurant and Tony Murphy that took first place. For one of the winning Rambler drivers, this was his first ever race and the experience launched the career of Walker Evans.
In later years, AMC eagerly sponsored Rambler Americans in various motorsport venues and produced a factory-ready Rambler American for drag racing — as noted above with the 1969 SC/Rambler.