Curbside Classic: 1970-72 Rambler Hornet – No That Is Not A Typo!

Need I say it, but the Australian car market is quite different from the American?  This Rambler Hornet is a very good an example of that.  “Rambler?” I hear you say.  Yes, the Rambler name kept going here well after it was dropped in North America.  Let’s take a closer look…

Rambler cars had started assembly in Australia in 1960 in the Port Melbourne factory of Australian Motor Industries (AMI), which had been established in the 1920s as an agent for Standard and Triumph cars and after WW2 built a new factory to build cars and engines here.  To supplement falling sales of the English cars, other options were explored to keep the factory operating.  These included Mercedes Benz, Rambler and then Toyota.

Models sold here through the sixties included the Classic, Classic 330, Classic 660 V8, American 440, Ambassador, Rebel 770, Javelin and AMX.  At the AMC/Rambler club show I covered last year, there were some examples of hardtops that were imported in tiny numbers alongside the regular sedan/wagon fare.

All cars coming out of the factory wore an AMI badge.  When the American Motors Corporation branding emerged, it would have created quite the tongue-twister if combined with Australian Motor Industries, which probably goes a long way to explaining why the Rambler name was kept.

Perhaps because earlier Ramblers had been fully-imported into Australia fully-built, which would have resulted in a higher price, Ramblers were sold as an upmarket car here – note the tag line in the ad above!  The move to local assembly and subsequent import duty savings would have created some headroom to equip the cars very nicely; although not with the Nash/Rambler trademark lay-back folding seat.

The Classic and American base model Ramblers were priced above a top-of-the-line Holden Premier with similar size but a smaller engine, while the V8 Classic and Rebel 770 were priced about half-way in between the top end of the local sedans and an Impala or Galaxie (sold only as fully-loaded V8s by then).

The Hornet was introduced to replace the Rambler American which had lasted here until 1968, so I can only imagine how much anticipation there was among the Rambler dealers for the arrival of the Hornet in 1970.  While they were waiting, the Javelin had come along at least!

The Hornet was launched ahead of the new generation cars of the Big 3 in 1971-72, although it was a little smaller – 3” smaller in wheelbase and a couple of inches narrower.  The long hood, short deck proportions and large flared wheel arches allowed the Hornet to be marketed as what we would now call a four-door coupe.  The picture above is from a magazine road test; I don’t think the stripes were offered from the dealers.  The car cost just under $4,000, which would buy you a larger Holden Premier V8.

The Hornet came only with the 238 ci (3.8L) inline six to start with, because the V8 market was covered by the Rebel 770, and subsequently the Matador.  By this point all AMC’s had automatic transmissions in keeping with their upmarket positioning, as well as to simplify production.

More than a few Hornets have had V8’s swapped in over the years – usually not as extreme as this!  The engines are typically other brands because AMC V8s aren’t exactly thick on the ground over here.  One interesting exception is that around 30 of the Hornets sent to Western Australia had a V8 swapped in upon arrival to Perth!

This is what the right-hand drive interior where the main difference seems to be that the parcel shelf stops at the driver’s footwell too.  The trim was of high quality, the same sort of stuff that was used in the upmarket Triumph 2500.

Both this car and the orange 1973 seen at the Rambler AMC Car Club’s display day have SST badging, which stood for Stainless Steel Trim and I gather was standard in the Australian market.  The 73, which was still a US 1972 model car – AMI must have overestimated demand in 1972, shows the results of having to provide separate white reversing lights, a new separate turn signal indicator was added.  It also has the wipers swapped so they sweep in the ‘correct’ direction for RHD.  In 1972 the Hornet got the 258 ci (4.2) six, to respond to the Ford 250 and Chrysler Valiant 265.

All this sounds great, and from what I’ve seen sales seem to have been pretty good with one important qualification – good for Rambler.  There were 407 Hornets sold in 1970 and 597 in 1971, its first full year.  That is comfortably more than the Rebel range (345 & 307).  To put this in perspective, Holden built 187,469 cars in 1971 not including the smaller Torana.  The newer Big 3 competitors told though, with sales dropping to 355 for 1972, 212 for 1973, then 118 for 1974 before things picked up again slightly for 1975 – 136.

Thus a total of 1825 units across 6 years; I don’t think any of the dealerships would have been making a living selling just Ramblers!  The Matador staggered on for another couple of years, a whopping 115 sedans/wagons plus 80 coupes, but essentially that was all she wrote for Rambler/AMC in Australia.

Assuming that Rambler owners did not want to buy one of the Big Three’s cars, I wonder what they bought subsequently – perhaps a Toyota Crown or Volvo 244?  BMW or Mercedes was twice the price of a Hornet – quite the jump!  I think it is more likely that buyers went to Ford or Holden – in particular the smaller 1978 Holden Commodore was a close match to the Hornet package.

As a Hornet-based side note, there was a single Gremlin imported to Australia for evaluation!  I assume the AMI people thought it would be wildly out of place here, and would not find an audience – I have to say I agree with them, the economy car niche it filled in the USA was well and truly covered here in Australia.  The car returned to the US for a full restoration in 2011.

The Hemmings article also supplies a cleaner shot of the RHD interior.  Note the Hornet has a centre console that the Gremlin lacks.


Further Reading:

Vintage C&D Preview Test: 1970 AMC Hornet – Goodbye Rambler, or The Last True Rambler?

Curbside Classic: 1970 AMC Hornet – Today Is The First Day of the Rest Of Your Life – JP Cavanagh

Curbside Classic: 1976 Hornet Hatchback – AMC’s High Water Mark – Greg Beckenbaugh

COAL: 1970 AMC Hornet – A Dissertation On The Owner-Beater Relationship – Nelson James (also – 2nd COAL article on a 1976 Hornet)

Car Show Classics: AMC Rambler Club at Melbourne’s Federation Square

Boomerang: The Only Gremlin Exported To Australia Returns – Hemmings Daily Blog