The model produced in 1965 and 1966 was a fastback version of the mid-sized two-door hardtop Rambler Classic. The fastback roof design was previewed on the 1964 Rambler Tarpon show car, based on the compact Rambler American. The 1967 model year brought a major redesign, AMC transferring the Marlin recipe to the all new longer, wider AMC Ambassador full size chassis. This gave the completely new fastback a longer hoodline, more interior room, new more powerful V8 engines as well as numerous other improvements.
The '64 Rambler Tarpon was built on the compact-sized Rambler American platform and was shown as a concept car at various auto shows before the production version Ford Mustang was unveiled to the public. However, AMC's current "GEN-1" V8 engine would not fit in the comparatively small Rambler chassis; also the new "GEN-II" V8 designs were still in development, and market research showed that offering only a six-cylinder engine would not satisfy the potential customers.
AMC's management decided to build the new fastback model on its intermediate sized platform named Rambler Classic. The development team, under distinguished American designer Richard A. Teague, had to work with much tighter budgets than their counterparts at Detroit's Big Three. The new model, the Marlin, incorporated many design features from the Tarpon show car and became a large, roomy fastback with luxurious features. The CEO of American Motors, Roy Abernethy, was six-foot-four (193 cm tall) and insisted on sitting in the back seat of the design studies, thus the Marlin's roof was raised over the rear passenger area. In addition to a long list of standard features on the new Marlin, there were numerous options to personalize each car. The Marlin was targeted at the evolving "personal luxury" segment, rather than the rapidly growing pony car market led by the Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda.
Rather than introducing a smaller Rambler American-based Tarpon, the larger Classic-based Marlin was a strategic management decision to move away from the George W. Romney inspired company building practical and economical automobiles for families and value consumers. Roy Abernethy wanted to take on the "Big Three" – car-for-car and feature-for-feature – turning the domestic automakers into the Big Four. As part of this scheme, the keystone to AMC’s success (compact cars and lowly station wagons), was among the fatalities. The Marlin as a way to make a "big splash" in the pond the Big Three had been playing in and a flashy, intermediate-sized car would be just the thing to help achieve this objective.
Automobile Quarterly, a publication "written by the top automotive journalists of our time which "usually limits itself to praising the virtues of limited-edition classic cars of earlier eras," described the Marlin as 'the ugliest vehicle yet to come from Detroit' and berated its 'disagreeable shape,' its 'inadequate rear-view window,' the poor positioning of steering-wheel and stoplights, the overly soft front seats and poorly designed pedals.
In 1975 the auto enthusiasts' magazine Car and Driver referred to the car as "a pariah".
Bob Nixon (now Jeep’s design chief at Chrysler) dismissed the project as an "ugly embarrassment" and said that the assignment to create a sporty fastback on the Classic platform was "like trying to build a Corvette on a Buick sedan body. It just doesn't work."
Carl Cameron, designer of the original Dodge Charger, named the Marlin as the only competition for his 1966 car even though, he said, the Marlin lacked some of the Charger’s features and it was "very different". Contrary to the view that the Charger was a "clone" of the Marlin, Cameron said that the starting-point for his design was the fastback 1949 Cadillac, and that any similarity to the Marlin was coincidental. He added that as a result of the exceptionally tall Abernathy's insistence on being able to sit in the Marlin's back seat, "those cars had big squared-off roofs" whereas the Charger's roof treatment was "rounded off, much more pleasing to the eye."
The Rambler Marlin became known as the AMC Marlin and all references to the historic Rambler brand name were removed from the car. This was part of Abernethy’s remake of AMC's corporate identity, divorcing the larger car lines from the Rambler brand and the economy compact car image. The other changes were minor (e.g. a slight modification to the extruded aluminum grille, a front sway bar made standard on six-cylinder models, and an optional black vinyl roof cover that continued over the trunk opening).
AMC broadened the car's market appeal by lowering the base price to US$2,601 and offering more options. For example: high-level trim packages that had previously been standard, a 4-speed manual transmission and a dash-mounted tachometer, affected small changes in pricing and equipment that paralleled the competition. By comparison, Chrysler did a similar thing with the Dodge Charger from '66 to '67.
The Marlin was larger and more expensive for 1967. It was now built on AMC's completely redesigned wheelbase "senior" platform, i.e. the AMC Ambassador chassis. Making the Marlin larger was a design requirement in anticipation of the 1968 entry of the compact-platform based Javelin. Also the longer, wider car would improve product differentiation among AMC's various model lines.
The Ambassador chassis allowed for a longer hood that harmonized better with the fastback rear end, and the body was given a less angular appearance. A bright trim strip ran from the door opening to the rear bumper, accentuating the slightly kicked-up profile of the rear fenders. The front had the Ambassador's protruding, vertically-stacked quad headlights and an all-new recessed grille with horizontal bars that bowed forward in the center. The grille was a black anodized version of the twin (parking and turn-signal) “rally light” grille on the Ambassador DPL models. The hood ornament was redesigned, with a small chrome marlin fish set in clear plastic inside a chrome ring. The decklid was the same as on the previous model but without the large round insignia. A bigger back window improved rear visibility. New taillights were similar to those on the first-generation car. The rear bumper was slightly different from the one used on the Ambassador and Rebel station wagons, the top edge being a continuous horizontal line that fits up against the body.
Teague said the 1967 car was 'the best-looking Marlin we built.'
An entirely new family of V8 engines was offered. The six-cylinder was still available, but rarely ordered - only 355 were built. The base V8 was the with a 2-barrel carburetor, while a pair of V8s were optional: a 2-barrel that ran on regular-fuel, as well as a high-compression (10.2:1) premium-fuel version with a 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust that produced and of torque @3000 rpm.
The second-generation Marlin did not have its own catalog, but was described within the large Ambassador sales brochure. The Ambassador's standard features and options also came on the Marlin. The interiors were the same as on the Ambassador 990 and DPL two-door hardtop models (with the exception of the “Custom” package that had two matching pillows). Many Marlins were ordered with the reclining buckets seats that not only featured a center armrest between them (with a center cushion for a third occupant or a floor console with gear selector), but also a foldaway center armrest for the rear seat. The interior design was new and featured a safety-oriented dashboard with the instruments and controls grouped in front of the driver, while the rest of the dash was pushed forward and away from the passengers. The steering-wheel was smaller than used before and the column was now designed to collapse under impact.
Roy Haslam, a 1999 inductee to Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame, raced his AMC Marlin Super Stock (image) in Canada and the U.S. He won the July Cup and was 3rd in the season point championships.
A design experiment in 1966 was the manufacture of a first-generation Marlin with the front end of Ambassador.
Note: there is no relationship with the British kit and car builder Marlin Cars.
Although the Marlin was discontinued in 1967, it paved the way for a successful replacement—the 1968 Javelin, targeted at a small market segment that sporty and youth-oriented. Therefore the Marlin’s introduction can be viewed as stopgap marketing move by AMC, influenced by the company’s lack of a V8 engine to fit the compact Rambler chassis.
In a television advertisement Romney and his wife Ann tenderly describe their first date and falling in love. Mrs. Romney recalls her husband pulling up in "some goofy-looking car" and running out of gas on the way home. Romney describes being embarrassed by the fact that in high school he drove a car that he says was "kinda awful."
What Romney did not say in the ads was that the car was a brand new AMC Marlin, from the company headed by his father George W. Romney.
The rival Shannon O'Brien campaign responded that Romney "actually drove a cool car"—a "personal luxury car" according to AutoWeek magazine. The press release by the Democratic ticket chided: "...the fact that Mitt Romney was embarrassed by his brand new car shows just how out of touch with regular working people he is.
The distinctive Marlin has found a niche among old car hobbyists and collectors of historic vehicles as evidenced by the backing of enthusiasts with a single marque antique auto club. Although a relatively low-production model, the Marlin is a derivative of AMC's higher-volume models so it shares many common parts. Vehicles in various stages of appearance and mechanical condition can be found for sale. Plusses for collectors of the 1965 model include decent performance with optional drivetrains, historical oddity, plush, bucket-seat interior, and its still low prices; while the Marlin's "distinctive" styling, rust issues, and slow appreciation in value are minuses.
There are also many active local and national (U.S. and other nations) Rambler and AMC car clubs that welcome Marlins.
A unique conversation piece and collectible is the 1966 AMC Marlin that was transformed into a top-less "convertible" by cutting off the car's roof. It was made for the Florida Marlins, a professional baseball team based in Miami Gardens, Florida. The one-of-a-kind car served in parades and on-field ceremonies at Dolphins Stadium. With no seats except for the driver, it transported the team's mascot "Billy the Marlin" for all fans to see during the ball club's 1997 world championship season.
A highly detailed Marlin promotional 1/25-scale model was manufactured under license from AMC by Jo-Han for the 1965 and 1966 model years. Although available in a variety of single and two-tone color combinations, many of these "dealer promos" were done in aqua/dark blue two-tone plastic. Unwanted by AMC dealers as the 1966 model year neared its end, thousands of the models were given away to institutions such as children's hospitals and orphan's homes. They are highly desirable today and they command premium prices. Their value can be upwards of $200 to 400 for mint, in-the-box specimens that still have the hood ornament.
Jo-Han also produced plastic kits Image of the Marlin, based on the promotional models, and they are less valuable today. However, according to Steve Magnante of Hot Rod magazine, Jo-Han appears to be poised for a comeback with its most famous unassembled model kits favoring offbeat subjects, "but save up-this stuff is pricey.
Two types of die-cast toy models were sold under the Corgi Toy brand and manufactured by Mettoy Playcraft in the UK during the late 1960s. Both were done in . One was a two-tone red and black Marlin with opening doors and a tow hook.The second was a gift boxed set featuring a blue finished Marlin with a roof mounted kayak and towing a camping trailer.