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.
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
Interesting! I knew Chryslers (Valiants) were a different breed in Australia.
Here’s even futher proof that Cragars and slots literally make ANYTHING into an instant badass.
I thought the same thing. The wheels almost make one overlook the extra two doors for a moment. If you look close, in that first photo of the avocado Hornet, the center cap has an ‘A’ for Appliance. Those wheels were a popular budget version of the Cragar S/S back then.
Agreed on the Cragers!
S S T was a super sonic airplane under development in the 1960,s by the United States great Britain and France
The U S. dropped out France and G. B.made the concord s s t . It was big news at the time
I think that’s what A M C was trying to capitalize on
Anyway we made the 747 and the concords are now museums
The American SST was the Boeing 2707 (see picture) and was developed in part with government funding. However, funding was stopped by Congress in 1971 mainly due to environmental concerns and the 2707 program died. The Corcorde was a joint Anglo-French project. The USSR had their own SST with the Tupolev Tu-144 but it was riddled with problems and put out to pasture after several years of service – the passenger service only lasted three years.
In Mexico, the Rambler American name was also used for several years on the Hornet.
The Mexican affiliate, VAM did some interesting Mexico only models over the years, like the Lerma, a Concord/Spirit mashup.
Much nicer looking than a Chevy Maxx and an interesting alternative to the Sportabout/Concord wagon. Wish these had been offered in Canada.
There was also an even more interesting Lerma two-door.
Also looks like a Chevy Citation, or a VW Passat, Chrysler/Talbot Alpine aka Simca 1308/1309, Renault 20. From the rear at least! Being the only rear wheel drive among those. Perhaps I should add Rover SD1, although the resemblance of the styling is not as similar.
Wow never knew of this; the Lerma 5 door may have done reasonably well in the US too. At least it looks fairly modern, and in the late ’70s/early ’80s the 4 door hatchback was a very popular body style.
There were also Gremlins with Hornet noses. The VAM story would make for a fascinating CC article.
An interesting article. Hornets no matter where they were sold still had crappy interiors IMO with the worst base seats of any American compact, lots of painted metal showing and a very disjointed-looking dash panel. Concord was much better; I wonder if Australians got that model too?
No, Rambler was gone by then. Sales were minute, and I don’t think the Concord would have done any different to the Hornet – okay at first because it was something new compared to the Big 3 cars getting to the end of their cycle, but the Commodore in 1978 and new Falcon in 1979 would have seen the same sales decline.
Also AMI had ever-improving Toyota Corolla and Corona sales so didn’t need AMC cars to help fill the production lines.
Base Concords had the same terrible bench seat as the Hornet, as I had both. Agreed about the interior quality improvements aside from that.
I’ve seen a couple of Rambler Hornets in Brisbane although I’ve never been able to get a good photo. Maybe I need to go to a Rambler show!
“The car returned to the US for a full restoration in 2011.”
Holy cow, can you imagine what the shipping, alone, must have cost? Someone in Australia ‘really’ likes their Gremlin.
It was sold to an AMC collector in the US, a Gremlin expert. But you are correct, the car’s long term owner obviously loved the car enough to sell it to the best future custodian even though it meant the only Gremlin left Australia, and I gather he could have sold it locally.
AMC’s Mexican terminology would make a good Pulp Fiction routine.
How do you say Pacer in Spanish? Pacer.
How do you say Gremlin in Spanish? Gremlin.
How do you say Hornet in Spanish? Rambler American.
How do you say Rebel in Spanish? Classic.
Ready for the punchline?
How do you say MATADOR in Spanish? Classic DPL.
Where’s the “Like” button 😀 ???
Thanks, I didn’t see that one coming! Would it have been a good idea to use the Matador name in Mexico? I would have thought so, but maybe it would have been mocked or had some other bad reaction.
It literally means “killer”.
Yes I can see why they avoided that, certainly would have cost a few sales…
I never knew about an AMC presence in Australia. A 360 engined Hornet could have been developed to compete with the Holden’s, Falcons and Chrysler hi-po models! What fun!
The 360 was used in local Matadors, so it would not have been completely impossible. To be truly effective it would have needed a manual transmission because ‘proper’ performance cars had those, and I’m not sure if that already existed.
It could well have had an impact, but I don’t think the budget would have been there to do it properly.
There is a RHD sc360 in blue with white stripe only 1km from me here in brisbane,beautiful car and sounds fantastic, i’ve drooled over it for the last 10yrs. It’s now quite slippery to the touch.
Holy Mary Mother of Dick Teague! An Australian based AMC Hornet has finally decided to make a bog ol’ nest on CC. I love it! While I knew AMC did establish themselves quite well Down Under, I wasn’t aware of some of the final points until this article. Long live the unusual!
Great post, John.
No idea they assembled these down under. The numbers sold are quite telling about the Rambler’s ability to pass for a semi-luxury car. You can fool some people sometimes (well, about a hundred per year, anyway)…
Reminds me of the Belgium-built Renault Ramblers (1963-67) a bit: they also tried to sell those as top-of-the-line (but only with the 6cyl, no V8s were available) and not many more froggies took the bait than the Ozzies.
Same here in Germany. They try to sell the Javelin here, which was built by Karmann in Rheine from 1968 to 1970. Only 281 were made.
That is only slightly more than the 258 they built in Australia, plus 24 AMX’s.
Very interesting indeed, but if sawright with you I’ll take that green S-Series Valiant in the lead photo instead…!
Here’s a ‘Rambler’ used as a parade car for the visit of President Johnson to Australia in 1966 (with anti-war protesters)
Thanks Brian, it seems the NSW government used Ramblers for years, no doubt as a more prestigious car than the locals and presumably there were deals to be had for the prestige reflected onto Rambler; no doubt some buyers would be swayed by their use as VIP transport.
More Aussie Ramblers on the table, mainly the Javelin. I saw at http://www.members.iinet.net.au/~disaac/javelin_page/media/media.htm Various scans of vintage articles of Javelin road-tests Down Under.
Thanks Stéphane. Years ago I saw one of the 24 AMXs advertised, I can’t remember the price now but maybe $15-20k, needing restoration. The as was old enough (a few weeks) that I didn’t think there was any chance it was still available, which helped justify to myself not following up on a car I really didn’t need…
Great read John, filled in a lot of gaps for me. I wonder if AMI tried to switch their customer database directly onto the Crown.
I saw this one in fantastic glossy black, these look great with chunky tyres
I did think of the Crown Don, but they were a good amount more expensive, and from what I’ve read I don’t think many Rambler buyers would have necessarily been in the market for a Japanese car. But then, times were changing so it is possible some did, particularly if their dealer sold both – that is probably as big a factor as any.
Interesting stuff. You note the high quality trim on the interiors. Did AMI use different materials than AMC used in the States? Because here the US Hornet’s interiors were one of its weakest points.
The color of the car in that lead photo is one I cannot recall seeing on any American AMC vehicle of the period.
Yes local trim was used, the same as in Triumph sedans that shared the production line, I suppose you would say they were positioned as a junior executive sedan.
Rambler assembly in New Zealand stopped in the early 70s and the cars were simply imported from Australia built up,
Wasn’t there a Hornet SC 360 built in the states in 71-72? I think that could be had with a 4 speed. Slip the drive train/suspension in to a 4 door body = budget OZ muscle car.
Yep, I looked them up and they only made 781 so 1971 only before the emissions regs bit I assume. They would have needed to bring in the manual transmissions and ‘hot’ bits for the 360 though.
My dad owned two Ramblers in the early 60s. My friends’ dads all owned Ford and GM products. I don’t know how the stand-alone Rambler/AMC dealer in our town stayed in business, but he claimed to be a “volume” dealer so he must have been giving them away. I’ve always been interested in the brand, and this was a very enjoyable read.
I was stationed at Woomera, South Australia for four years with the United States Air Fore. Never saw a Rambler through all my tour in eastern Australia on my Yamahas!
I’m not surprised Craig, I don’t think Rambler sales were much higher than 1000 units in a good year. How long ago were you here? I visited Woomera back in 2004 when the town had something like a tenth of its peak population and most of the houses had been removed.
My Woomera friend! I’ve been looking for you off and on for a few years. Was working in Greensboro 2014-2015 and thought your last address was in NC.