(originally posted 5/24/11; updated and revised with additional new pictures in 2014)
Hindsight is 20-20 vision. And with that acuity, seeing the Rambler’s historical significance is easy: it was the St. John the Baptist of cars, crying in the wilderness of obese bat-winged barges: Repent ye, for the kingdom of Toyota is at hand!.
So what is foresight? Is it the brilliance to see key automotive trends before they really take hold? Is that what caused George Romney (Mitt’s Dad) to bet the AMC farm on “right-sized” cars? Or was it sheer desperation, which drove so many subsequent decisions at AMC? Does it make a difference?
Either way, Romney’s gamble was not only the right one, given the outcome of Detroit’s morbid obesity crisis unfolding in the late fifties as well as the very nasty recession of 1958. It was also highly prescient, in the bigger picture of the energy crises yet to come. But the Rambler was too early for that; by that time, AMC was already mortally wounded chasing the Big Three with its own bigger cars.
But the spirit of the Rambler six lives on, in every Camcordimafusibunatima and all the other cars that are almost its exact size and format. The Rambler was a bold attempt to redefine the American car on global terms, not the fleeting terms of America’s “exceptional era”. So why did it eventually fail in its bold mission? The usual reasons:
Cheap oil, and Americans’ irrepressible love of the big and flashy. Well, those are the biggest and most obvious reason. But by far not the only ones, since the Rambler’s demise in the sixties and seventies happened simultaneously with the rise of smaller cars like Detroit’s compacts, intermediates, pony cars, as well as the imports. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, or just about size alone. But there’s no doubt about it, the Rambler was “right sized”.
I use that term, because actually all the Rambler brochures, ads and press at the time used the term “compact”. But given the Rambler’s more upright and boxy stance and 108″ wheelbase, it was really the predecessor of Big Three intermediates to come rather than a proto-Falcon. But then those compacts morphed into the realm of what had once been full-sized. No, the Rambler was “right-sized” and it wasn’t the only one.
There’s plenty of similarity to the Mercedes’ new W111 sedan that arrived in 1959, even though Rambler took the fins to a higher level of silliness. I suspect that both Rambler and Mercedes execs both regret their brief fling with fins even more than the rest of their cohorts. But if one can see past the useless appendages, the general size, profile and space utilization is all-too obvious. Keeping in mind that this basic Rambler body shell goes back to 1956, one wonders if Mercedes wasn’t looking at Kenosha just a wee bit when it laid out its W111.
Yes, both of these “right sized” sedans sat on 108″ wheelbases, and had the upright stance that is now thankfully back in favor. That dramatically benefited their passengers: sitting in this Rambler instantly reminded me of sitting in a W111; in fact, it’s what inspired this comparison.
This is just the right size for seating four adults in comfort, with room for the optional interloper in either the front or back middle position. Keep in mind that there was a reason the Mercedes had a column shifter; it also came in a six-seater version, not commonly seen over here though. But both these cars acknowledge the reality that six adult passengers was always the exception, as is the likelihood of finding yourself in the back of a Rambler between two gorgeous women. Yes, it could be done, with a bit more compromise than say a 1959 Fury, but the reality was that the folks in the middle generally liked it no more than now; they were just used to it a bit more and maybe a bit thinner. Or they were just exceptionally lucky, like this guy.
It wasn’t just the Rambler’s size alone that made it so significant, and prescient too. It had a slew of basic construction and design features that foreshadowed the future, even if it only paralleled European practice at the time. The most significant one was of course its unibody construction. That alone makes the Rambler a true pioneer. Not that it hadn’t been done before, but nothing like the across-the-board grand unification at AMC. The Big Three took notice, and adopted it in 1960 to varying degrees.
The Rambler (Nash, actually) also pioneered the first truly integrated heating/ventilation and air conditioning system. It was a huge step forward, compared to the crude add-on approach and giant A/C units in the trunks in practice at the time. Also note the “Telovac” push-button controls for the Flash-O-Matic transmission, a Borg-Warner unit.
Rambler’s Weather-Eye was highly prophetic of the future adoption of modern automotive ventilation and air conditioning across the board in American cars, which eventually spilled over into European cars too, of course.
And those famous Rambler seats! Anybody who was a teenager or young adult during the Rambler’s era will never forget them, especially if they had a chance to fully utilize them. And not by going car-camping with their parents, I mean. Yes, ironically, the Rambler was the ultimate date-mobile, despite its image. Which was of course the gist of the Rambler’s problem. BTW, Rambler always showed the married couple in bed with a little girl between them, just so nobody got the wrong idea. Now if only they had shown the three-some in the earlier picture…
The Rambler was anything but sexy, except for those that were so secure in their manhood to be able to see and utilize its true potential. But then there’s a big difference between catching the eye of a girl, and…catching the girl; even if it was just one.
No, the Rambler was the favorite of practical young families in its day. Folks who realized that there was an awful lot of wasted real estate and steel in the Big Three’s Big Cars. And the Rambler’s rise, and fall, directly mirror the rise and fall of the Bulge-Mobiles.
I personally favor the original ’56 styling (above), with the lack of the ridiculous fins, and its close-set headlights that still reflected Pininfarina’s influence on AMC/Nash styling. And that pretty much was the last vestige of that era, except for the reincarnated 1958 American. And although Rambler’s success was already underway then, it was only a modest foreshadowing of what was to come.
That’s because in 1956, the race to imagine what the car of 1960 should look like hadn’t yet begun, at least in the showrooms.
Rambler’s explosive growth took off in that recession year of 1958, while Chrysler’s imagining of 1960 blew up in its face. If imagining 1960 involved a creaky, leaky, fall-apart piece of junk, plenty of sensible folks wanted nothing to do with it. Romney’s vision of 1956 was looking pretty good in comparison.
And it wasn’t just the recession though. Rambler sales continued to swell in 1959 and 1960. Which of course coincided with the swelling of the Big Three cars. Actually, 1960’s sales of some 300k Rambler sixes (not counting the American) was the peak, and pretty damn good considering the compact onslaught that the Big Three launched that year. They knew Rambler and the imports had finally found the soft underbelly of the Big Beast, and the threw everything they had at it.
Rambler made a lot of money in those golden years, before it all slowly started to dissolve. By 1964, The Big Three had every size and shape of car on the market, boxing in Rambler. Checker-Mate! AMC tried to fight back, and we’ve covered that here in numerous posts. But this 1959 Custom six sedan perfectly epitomizes the Rambler’s heyday.
That clean dash might as well be a…Simca’s, or a Peugeot. Nicely trimmed, and practical too.
So what were these cars like to drive? Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of Ramblers were the six model. There was a V8, which was a small bore 250 CID version of the big and heavy 327 Nash/AMC V8, but folks were actually wise to avoid it unless they really needed it. It was too heavy for the fairly light Rambler, which weighed a bit less than 3,000 lbs. Whatever semblance of balanced handling the Rambler six had was upset by that that big hunk of cast iron in the front. Unless of course, it was that 1957 one-year only hot-rod, the Rebel. We gave that a bit of attention here.
Yes, the six and the Rambler were meant for each other, even if meant that peak Rambler ownership excitement best took place on the fold down seats, here covered with ill-fitting seat covers.
The Rambler’s biggest dynamic weakness: very modest handling. If AMC had hired a couple of Europeans to put a bit of tightness in the steering, and perk up the handling, and stick a second carb on that six; who knows what might have happened. Oh, and hire a couple of Japanese engineers to really get the quality up to a level that the Rambler’s reputation might have become something that superseded anything the Big Three threw at it. Could the Rambler have become the American Toyota/Mercedes…? Dream on.
Back to reality. Best to avoid the automatic too. The way to go was the optional two-barrel 138 hp six with the three-speed manual and overdrive. That combination not only gave fairly decent performance for the times, but could also deliver excellent fuel economy, as Rambler endlessly bragged about in its ads.
My older brother Tom had a Rambler six with that combination (above), although I doubt it had the two barrel carb. His was a couple of years later than this ’59, but still the same basic car. And compared to the ’58 Chevy he also had, the Rambler definitely felt…somehow European, yet in an utterly Midwest manifestation. I repeat: in comparison to the ’58 Chevy. Well, we both had a thing about American sixes and overdrives, and the Rambler was no BMW Neue Klasse. A Humber Super Snipe, perhaps.
The Rambler six, which displaced 196 cubic inches, was a successful conversion of the old flat-head six to an OHV head. Its old-school small bore-long stroke configuration meant excellent torque from idle; but just don’t expect any sporting pretensions, despite the optional two-barrel carb. Rambler sixes did the job at hand, admirably, but not excitingly. Best leave that to someone else….
The Holley carb on this one has a glass float bowl, so that one can check on its function or how bad your gas is contaminated, or just admire it for what it is: a relic from another time.
My own feelings about the Rambler parallel America’s at large. I’m quite fond of it now, despite, or because of its quirky and hardly Harley Earl-worthy styling. Hey, at the moment, I’d pick it to own over any other of its Big Three competition (don’t ask me tomorrow; I’m fickle). And certainly over those aero-GM-mobiles in front and behind it. Right Sized Indeed. And reasonably thrifty too with the stick and overdrive.
But I had nothing but disdain for them at the time, but then I was seven years old. Give me a Fire-Dome, Turbo-Thrust, Golden Commando V8, please! Ramblers with their nasal sixes wheezing through the streets everywhere at the time were an auditory blight. I only had ears (and eyes) for the biggest, baddest burbling V8, and it turns out I was hardly the only one. But as I said, I was seven, or eight. Was the rest of America seven or eight too?
I bought one of those carbs (Holley 1904) at a swap meet a few years back just for the “cool” factor.
I think the principle was similar to the clear fuel filters, if you start having issues you’ll be able to tell if you float was too high/low or the presence of dirt in the fuel.
I’m still not a fan of the car itself. The styling is just a bit too much for a “right size” car.
The glass fuel bowl was for easy checking and adjustment of the float level, way easier than the sight plug used on their modular series of carbs. It was also a quick way to verify whether you were getting fuel to the carb or not. The Japanese carbs used a glass window until the 70’s either a full plate of glass held on with a steel ring or a small round window. Glass was also used for the filter bowl on many rigs of that era too as it allowed you to check to see if you had fuel and the condition of the filter.
I always liked the 1960 Models styling better (the lower fins), and the Hardtop Wagon fan in me would forego the delicateness of the 6 for a Ambassador Cross Country. The 250hp 327 would make up for the fact that it handled as equally piggish as a Falcon, right?
This may have been covered in another CC, but that is one awkward-looking rear roof structure on that Ambassador (due to a cobbled-together design, I assume).
I think all the Station Wagons and Sedans (Hardtop or not) all shared the same roof stamping, pillars and doors to the C pillar, and the Wagons just had the extra roof panel as a cost saving measure. It explains why there was no 2 door Hardtops at least.
I realize I’m late to the party here but I seem to remember Nissan used this exact roof design on the 1st gen. Armada.
If I recall correctly, the automatic on the late-fifties Ramblers was the early Borg-Warner Model 8; I think the later Shift-Command unit was the B-W Model 12. Previously, Nash and Hudson had mostly used Hydra-Matics, purchased from GM — barring a few Nashes with Packard V8s and Twin Ultramatic — but I imagine the dual-coupling H-M introduced in 1956 was a little too pricey for AMC’s tastes.
Some of Romney’s commitment to compacts was simple business logic. By 1956, the Rambler was selling, the big Hudsons and Nashes really were not. Fixing those brands was going to take time and money that AMC didn’t have. Romney was nothing if not a pragmatist, so he decided to consolidate.
I concluded when I wrote about the Hudson Jet last year that a lot of the reason the Rambler survived until the recession was that as its rivals collapsed, its market share expanded enough to make it sustainable. Total U.S. compact sales through MY1957 remained pretty constant; the volume wasn’t bad for one manufacturer, but it was too small to support four or five rivals prior to the Eisenhower recession. If Kaiser and Willys had remained in that market, it’s conceivable that Romney might have gone a different route.
That said, Romney had been interested in compacts since he was the head of the AMA in the late forties. Part of the reason he went to Nash, rather than Packard — even though it paid far less — was that George Mason was very interested in compacts, with both the Rambler and then the Metropolitan. Both Romney and Mason were clear on the obstacles they faced with compacts, which is why they initially positioned the Rambler as a more upscale product.
It makes sense to argue that the pre-recession “compact” market couldn’t support all of the independents that had entered it. However, I doubt that Rambler sales would have been impacted all that much if the Aero, Henry J and Jet were still around in 1956-57.
For one thing, I don’t think you can make an apples-to-apples comparison of sales in 1952-54 versus 1956-57. In the latter years car buyers had far fewer choices. Only Rambler had survived and for 1956 no longer offered an entry-level import beater and any two-door models. This proved to be one of Romney’s bigger mistakes. Rambler sales for 1956 were down despite the brand-new body. The brand didn’t take off until 1958, when the original 100-inch wheelbase Rambler was revived.
As Paul mentioned, the Rambler Six wasn’t even a real compact. Although the Studebaker Champion was roughly a foot longer, it weighed less and its base model was priced lower than the Rambler Six.
Romney wasn’t prescient so much as he saw a hole in the market left by Studebaker. The 1939 Champion was arguably the first American “mid-sized” family car – and it singlehandedly pushed Studebaker to first place among the independents. Alas, by the mid-50s Studebaker management was determined to upsize the Champion in a vain effort to compete more directly against the Big Three. Studebaker likely would have enjoyed AMC’s remarkable success in the late-50s and early-60s if it had stayed the course.
The glass bowl was there to let you know when you could stop hitting the carb with a hammer.
This car is particularly interesting to me right now, as I have been in a Studebaker frame of mind recently. If there was anything that should have been giving the Rambler a run for its money in 1956-58 it was the Studebaker Champion. The final Champion was on a somewhat longer wheelbase (116 rather than the Rambler’s 108) but look to have been similar in other dimensions. The Champion had always been a relatively lightweight and economical car. Both also share the fairly high beltlines that were becoming very obsolete by this period.
But the fact is that Rambler sold 300k units in 1958 while Studebaker struggled to sell a fraction of this number. A good look at the Rambler tells us why. This was a well-trimmed car. The original Nash Rambler carved a niche as a fancy convertible compact when the Henry J and the others went for cheap. This Rambler seems to follow the Nash way. You didn’t have to give up comfort and flash when you bought a smaller car. Studebaker went the other way: Everything about the final Champion (particularly inside) looked spartan and cheap. The Lark shared this same problem, although it fared a little better (at first). The Rambler was trimmed out very nicely inside, and the dash was as chromed as anybody’s.
The Rambler was a successful niche player, but a niche player nonetheless. When it had the niche to itself, it did well. When everybody else jumped into the segment, the Rambler was less attractive to a lot of people. Studebaker should have been right in there with the Rambler, but a series of bad calls made its products less and less appealing as the 1950s drew to a close. I think that the combination of George Mason and George Romney at Nash/AMC may have been the best management duo of any of the independents (and probably Chrysler, as well). They certainly went longer and farther against the big 3 than anyone else.
Thank you, Paul, for finding a delightful and seldom-seen car.
I intended to go into a comparison with the Lark, which rode on the same 108 inch wb as the Rambler. As much as I have a soft spot for Studebaker’s efforts near the end and the Lark, it just wasn’t as a well-designed overall car as the Rambler, and by that I don’t mean the styling. The Lark was just a cut down Champion, and still sat on a frame. And as you said, it wasn’t as nicely trimmed and detailed. And the Lark’s six had issues…
I’m pretty sure the 1959-60 Lark six was a sturdy if somewhat agricultural powerplant. In 1961 the “Skybolt Six” was introduced, which was an OHV conversion of the previous engine much like AMC did, but the heads were prone to cracking and warping. The other Lark connection to this story, of course, is that Studebaker-Packard had the US distribution rights to Mercedes-Benz at the time, so they sold those fintail W111’s — and redesigned the Lark in ’62 to have a very Benzlike look.
Remember, Studebaker had the stench of death by this time…while Rambler was “The new Industrial Giant” (Romney’s words in the posted ad copy). Success begets success; and out of pure serendipity, Romney’s American Motors had latched both on the niche and the image for, at least temporary, success.
Frankly, Studebaker fascinates me also – not only for its ignoble exit, but for the fact that it was the one automaker to get out WITHOUT a bankruptcy or merger into oblivion. They saw the writing on the wall; and bought more lucrative businesses, and moved forward…leaving automaking to more capitalized and less imaginative companies.
Although, what Studebaker-Packard, later Studebaker-Worthington, later Clarke-Gravely, later McGraw-Edison, DID with those opportunities, was less than historical. They bought, then closed, the American Locomotive Company. They led Gravely Tractors into a period of product stagnation. They sold off STP – which, to my mind, was junk anyway.
I’d love to see a write-up of the Studebaker Champ pickup. It’s a shame it didn’t survive…Lark sheetmetal; truck frame…pure practicality but a better-looking rig than the late-fifties trucks from the Big Three.
An El Camino, born, not of stylists’ fantasies, but of naked pragmatism
Real rare here but they are about I see Ramblers all over the place now AMC week made them more obvious, Ramblers were assembled in NZ though which models Ive no idea but Kiwis would buy anything so these should have been popular though expensive
The first car I ever owned was a ’59 Rambler Ambassador. Bought it for $100. It came with a 5 gallon can of oil in the trunk, leading my friends to yell out “fill up the oil and check the gas” when we went to the local service station. After a summer of driving I rear ended a woman who stopped suddenly in front of me. Pretty much totalled the rear of her ’71 Impala, but only broke 3 of the 4 headlamps on the Rambler. It was built like a tank. I sold it a few weeks later for $75. The fold down seats were a bonus that summer!
Never saw one of those glass bowl carbs before. That is actually a brilliant idea.
This is the kind of stuff that keeps me reading CC every day.
Oh gawd, this takes me back.
My old man was the first on the block in his suburban Newark settlement, to own The Miracle Car. Now, The Miracle Car was what AMC propagandists called the 1962 Rambler Classic…the same basic car, with some refinements, some bling, and a whole lotta assembly and engineering problems.
The tailfins were gone by 1962; but with them, the clean dash. The 1961-62s had a much busier interior forward counter…not as bad as some modern ones, but it was somewhat George Jetson.
The front-seat beds had evolved further…they were full buckets, and actually reasonably comfortable. But…be warned…overnighting in a car, any car, even a Rambler…is not a lot of fun. Certainly not when nature calls. Less so the morning after, when the backbone is singing.
But the damning quality of that car was, it was a whole lot of good ideas, poorly executed. Start with the aluminum six. It was contracted out; and the castings were well-known for their porous nature. Ours had to be replaced for a persistent oil leak after four years…not sure if the Company paid for it; I was a little tyke. But judging by the speed the dealer did it, it was a common thing. Of course, the replacement mill was cast iron.
The Borg-Warner automatic transmission later had the well-earned handle “Mickey Mouse.” I later dealt with examples in a couple of Postal Jeeps I owned in the 1980s. My mother, alas, had to deal with one in her family buggy…every morning, somehow, at the same intersection half a block from the house, the transmission would forget it was in gear. The engine would spin as if in neutral. Of course by the time the dealer saw it (repeatedly) the thing was working fine.
RUST. It took five years for the thing to perforate in doors and fenders. I grant you, salt on the roadways was a new thing in the early 1960s…but the thing had less rust resistance than even the 1957 Ford it replaced; or the 1968 Ford that replaced it. And given Iacocoa-era Fords’ tendency to rust, that was saying something.
That car…was a flash point in the family; a burr under the saddle. My old man bought it because he liked to be different with such choices (later, he bought a Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer, long before it was cool). My mother distrusted the car for the same reason…her father was an old Packard man; and while her eccentric uncle was the Nash man (with a 1961) she didn’t trust it. If she couldn’t have a Packard; and couldn’t afford a Buick (which she couldn’t) then she’d have settled for a Dodge or another rusty Ford.
But not that off-brand Miracle Car.
If it wasn’t a Rambler, I’d want one.
Oh, that’s sad. I love my ’69 Rambler wagon! I’ve had it for four years and it’s the best car I’ve ever owned, truly. And I’ve owned a lot of cars, new and old. It’s cute, it’s reliable, easy to work on, so much fun to drive, and it gets tons of attention everywhere I go. I’ve had so many people stop to take pictures and tell me their stories of the Ramblers they or their parents used to have.
“Life With Louie” animated Louie Anderson’s Dad drove a 59 Rambler… I always liked the 59 Tailllights…Never noticed the lookalike the Merc of 59… Amazing. I always liked that Lil’ nod to the tailfins of the era… I loved The 59 cars, and they were generally a styling improvment over the 58s… Even Rambler… Before AMC…
Reminds me that my Dad was a loyal fan of Rambler having owned the 62 American until 1968 Opel Kadett. He was proud of his 70′ & 72 Brogham? Ambassadors. “Free AC” he said of the 70′ was a company salesman car.
I always liked the look of these. But by 1965 someone driving one of these 59s would have had many an eybrow raised toward him, wondering why this otherwise nice man wasn’t driving say a 63 Pontiac or better… My Dad said “Transportation “A to B…”
I liked Life With Loiue Back in the 90s. It reminded me of my Dad I guess.
I Thought the 1960 Tailights were inferior in style… They were like a Goofy Smile. Extra Wide Tie…Exclamation points. I grew embarrassed by the Rambler American at age 8. It was Robins Egg Blue fer pete’s sake!
My mom bought a brand new 1960 Rambler 6, just before marrying my dad. Robin Egg blue, with the Amphicar tailights. Dad dumped his 53 Plymouth and they shared the 6.
I remember it vaugely, it was traded in when I was 3 for a 1964 Rambler Classic wagon. I still remeber the dealer driving it away, and I imagined it being junked for years in my imagination.
Looking at this one again, surveying the sixes, I’m surprised no one remarked this must be the ride of a beer connoisseur. Just check above the grille – the middle letters of Rambler are not ALE.
Came across your site first time today and could not resist to comment. I owned a locally assembled ’59 Rambler Super 6 with OD in South Africa in the sixties. In fact it was my second Rambler, the first being a ’55 2door side valve 6 with OD [the basis of the ’58/59 American]. The ’59 had 84K miles on the clock when I bought it but it gave me over two years of reliable and reasonably economical motoring. Agree on the mediocre handling, ditto the braking but it nevertheless cruised relaxed at an indicated 90mph [probably about a true 75/80, the speedo seemed rather optimistic!]. When sold it had done over 110K and the suspension trunnions were getting worn and one exhaust valve seat cracked but it still looked good and ran quite well.
Interestingly I also a few years later owned a type W111 Mercedes, the first car that again gave me that unique impression of being rock solid and made out of one piece that is even missing from my current C class Merc. The “fintail” W111 Merc. handled much better than the Rambler though and also had excellent brakes.
As I had a “thing” for Ramblers I also came to own a 1958 Metropolitan, locally marketed as an Austin while working in the than Rhodesia now Zimbabwe in the early seventies. It became known as my “Noddy” car after the series of English children books’ main character who drove a rounded toy like car. A lovable little car, somewhat cramped and no great handler but well finished with good heater and radio as standard fitting.
Finally, the single throat Holley carb with the glass float bowl was designed for and first used on the ’52 Ford OHV six and was still in use by 1960. My ’59 Rambler had an identical carb but with a metal cover the same shape as the glass bowl.
These are just oozing with charactor big time!
Love the way the fins bend outward, and they really help to make the roof not look so huge, like the ’56 pictured above.
Love the wagons. Seems like there were alot of pink wagons for some reason – at least around here.
My brothers first teenage ride was a black ’58 wgn. Unfortunately it was relegated to field-bomber duty. It was before he had his license, coincedentally, I was 7 or 8, and I loved it! But even then I knew it was a nerd-mobile. Part of it’s charm. (?)
I have an old front grill from a Rambler and trying to find out what year it is from can you help me.
61 Rambler American grille.
I have a front grill for sale from the 1950 if any one is interested in it
That black and red rambler is identical to one owned by an older cousin I had. She did route sales with candy and trinkets. I went with her all over sw Kansas in that car. Never broke and she was never broke from buying fuel. I liked it then and still do.
The Mercedes has held up well over time, in terms of styling. The Rambler was a good car for its day.
Ramblers lived a bit longer in the UK,they were sold til 1970.I’ve seen pictures of a Rambler Javelin and Hornet.I saw quite a few Ramblers from the USAF base near my Grandparents as a kid in the 60s.They were one of the few US car makers who bothered to make RHD cars for sale in the UK.
They were assembled RHD in NZ too I saw a 68 Rebel tother day
I’d forgotten what great looking cars the Rebels were
American Motors really extended the life of old Nash parts: the window cranks and door handles look identical to those in our 1952 Nash Statesman (example below).
The pictured 56 is a much better styled car and really stands up to the test of time. I’ve never liked the fins that were tacked on in 58. The toned-down fins/taillights of the 61-62 models looked better, but the tall greenhouse continued to make the car appear very old-fashioned. Teague’s 1963 re-design was huge breath of fresh air.
I always thought AMC did some nice two-toned paint combinations and the featured car is a great example.
These cars were fairly popular when I was growing up in NE IN; due to thrifty Hoosier habits and AMC’s emphasis on economy, the vast majority had the sixes with stick/overdrive.
Economy was always the # 1 thing that sold these , I remember them every where in the early 1960’s as Middle Class Family cars .
Well into the 1970’s they were still doing Yeoman Duty as $75 beaters , in 1972 I remember an epic trip from L.A. to San Diego and back again in one with five of us piled in and a carton of four gallons of vodka in the trunk…….
The steering on these was wretched , I’ve forgotten how many turns lock to lock but you couldn’t even change lanes in a hurry , forget about canyons or sharp corners .
Sturdy if ponderous , I like the dual quad head lights , slap in some Halogen bulbs and they really light up those remote highways well .
The steering on these was wretched , I’ve forgotten how many turns lock to lock but you couldn’t even change lanes in a hurry , forget about canyons or sharp corners .
Huge wheels and slow gearing were the norm in the days before power steering.
You’re preaching to the choir here ~ I grew up zooming oldies from the 1940’s & 1950’s down rural New England back roads .
Ramblers were far worse than Fords even .
There’s a trick to it ~ winding up the steering for a corner then flooring the accelerator as you roar out of the corner , the designed in caster helps to unwind the steering *much* faster ~ just never , _EVER_ foolishly get your fingers in the blurred spokes as you stop the spinning steering wheel from wildly going past center and driving you into the far side ditch .
I remember a few who did and got broken fingers .
Granny Bently passed in…… 1972 ? and still had her pristine 1966 Rambler , I drove it down town to look at our old house on Wellington Av. in Rochester , made a 90° left turn in first gear coming away from a full stop and nearly hit the poor Lady in the left turn pocket as that P.O.S. didn’t want to unwind like all my old Fords and Chevies did .
I still remember that poor lady hollering out her window ” oh No , you _DON’T_ ! ” as I passed about 4″ from her .
I seem to recall the Girls knew all about Rambler fully reclining seats as didn’t want to go out in them…
Grear story I had an Armstrong Dart Swinger that was easily six turns left to right and the spinning steering wheel trick was the only way to drive them remotely quickly. I loved the reserved, dependable vibe the cars of this era had and never wanted to drive them fast anyway. The good old OHV straight six motors were all about crusing, not speed..
I really loved my base model ’62 Ford full size wagon (? Ranch ?) ~
It had a HUGE three spoke steering wheel and my buddies and G.F. would look on in amazement as I wheeled that sucker around corners and the spokes disappeared in a blur as it unwound…..
Good times , back when there was actually GOOD MUSIC on the AM radio and gas was only .32 CENTS the gallon .
IIRC I paid $150 for that old Ford , not a scratch on it’s faded original green paint .
the ’62 Fords were _very_ Conservative in looks but really nice cars, solid and dependable , quiet too .
Gangbuster heater , a nice thing as I don’t like to roll up the window until it’s sleeting , gotta have warm feet though .
The G.F. ran a red light in in 197…..3 (?) and bashed a brand new Renault , sent it (the shiny new Renault) to the promised land , the Ford only needed a right fender and hood .
My great aunt and uncle had several Ramblers over the years. I was too young to drive them, but remember the ‘folding seats’ well.
On the subject of ‘auto centering steering’ that is one of my favorite things of the new VW’s. They are a joy to drive in that same way. Turn, accelerate and let the wheel automatically slide thru your hands to exact dead center.
I like older cars and have several, but the drivability of the electric steering VW’s with auto centering is a thing of beauty and a marvel of engineering. Our older (’08) Passat wagon with lane departure ‘nudging’ could almost drive itself.
Those reclining front seats made this a great date car, especially if you couldn’t afford a motel!
Those reclining front seats made this a great date car, especially if you couldn’t afford a motel!
Saw a weathered blue 1960 not long ago with a Boch Rambler nameplate on the back.
This generation Rambler did what Hudson said was impossible: make significant styling changes on a unibody car. This generation Rambler went through three generations of new front clips and rears, retaining only the greenhouse from 56.
Romney came in for a lot of criticism for his choice of paying out stock dividends instead of investing in plant and equipment. While the outside may look contemporary enough in the early 60s, the underpinnings still made do with trunnions and torque tube drive.
Their persistence in using the Milwaukee body plant always kept their costs up. I took the tour of the main Kenosha plant in 75 and saw the warehouse where assembled and painted bodies were brought in from Milwaukee by rail and loaded on dollies to await their turn at the head of the assembly line. Problem was, the city had grown up around the plant and there was no clear land to build a body plant next to the assembly plant. To get the two together would most likely have required building a new combined facility out in the boonies.
Can’t help but wonder, if the Rambler, American, and Lark, had not been so successful, would the big three have brought out their compacts? The big three couldn’t wait to pull people away from their first compact efforts. iirc, the intermediates started around 64, then grew from there, while the full size sedans grew more. If the big three’s bloatmobiles had continued to sell, they might have left AMC in it’s nitch market, unmolested.
Roy Abernethy didn’t do AMC any favors either. He had been at Packard, then moved to Kaiser. The things he advocated as head of sales at Kaiser border on delusional. No surprise that he would figure AMC could go head to head with the big three.
The only real issue with these Ramblers was utterly indifferent assembly. My grandparents had a baby blue ’60 that they said was the best car they ever had. On a road trip, it was hit head on by a Ford that sent my grandma through the windshield. She’s survived by the way and is 97 years strong. It was replaced by a ’62, exactly the same spec but in brown. The ‘brown Rambler’ was cursed. Same engineering, but it was a total lemon assembly wise. Door handles fell off, AMC forgot the plastic lining in two of the doors which meant the cards got soggy within a year, and the 3 speed shifter constantly jammed up. I’m sure there is more but I can’t recall.
Conversely, my ’64 Classic 550 was built as solid as a Mercedes, with perfect shut lines, well designed trim, and needing only a brake job, alternator, and master cylinder (under $100 for the lot). It has no rust at all in spite of coming from Nebraska, and not the rural part, but Omaha. I used that car for 20K miles in 2000-2002, and if it wasn’t for me forgetting to top up the leaky manual transmission and burning out the bearings, I’d not have sold it. Being a poor student meant I couldn’t afford the rebuild, and it was sold to an appreciative enthusiast.
The Borg Warner gearbox lived far longer than Rambler. It was used in Europe in almost everything from Humbers to Wolseleys to the Volvo 240. Indeed, I think it was even the base for the Toyota Aisin Warner line of transmissions. (in the 80s, Volvo switched from the BW55 to the AW71, and they were basically the same except for the overdrive and lockup converter). It wasn’t a terrible transmission in my Volvo 240, and was notable for being the first automatic transmission that actually worked with smaller engines. That in of itself is quite an achievement. It was engineered as such that clutch packs and torque converters needed to be renewed every 120K miles. On anything except for Volvos and Ramblers, it was unlikely that the rest of the car would outlast the transmission.
The Borg Warner gearbox lived far longer than Rambler. It was used in Europe in almost everything from Humbers to Wolseleys to the Volvo 240. Indeed,
The B/W trans that AMC used was a little undersized. My Aunt’s 70 Ambassador burned up it’s trans at 48,000 miles. But then, her Ambi was a wagon, which spent it’s summers loaded with camping gear and pulling a small trailer.
Of course, those concerns went out the window in 72, when they switched to a Torqueflite.
The second gen V8s reportedly had chronic oil feed problems. Only ones I noticed with a heavy knock in them were all 343s, and I’m talking about 3 or 4 cars over a 2 or 3 year period that attracted my attention by sounding like a piledriver at idle. My Aunt’s 304 never gave grief. I have noticed that the V8s I see at shows all seem to be 290, 390, 304, 360, 401. Everything but a 343.
Never had a bit of problem with the BW auto in my ’63 V8 Classic and I ran the h**l out of it. Starting out in low then upshifting into drive about 35 and quickly downshifting back to low to keep it in second up to 65-70 and then shifting into drive. It had 144,000 miles on it without the pan ever being off or a fluid change. I blew up 2 TF’s in different cars and a 3rd ones torque converter driving them the same way that had way less then 100,000 miles on them. So much for the mighty TF’s.
No, AMC V8’s did not have chronic oil feed problems, and will run as long and as well as any American V-8 of that era. And the Borg Warner automatics weren’t as good as a TorqueFlight or a TH400, but they always had 3-speeds, when Chevy was offering-what? Powerglide until when-1971? And when Ford Falcons had 2-speeds. They needed regular band adjustments, and if people got that done right, those trannies would last a long time.
The BW 35/40 trans was used in Falcons in Australia from 1965 until 1992, for six-cylinder cars. V8s used the C4 or FMX. In most applications the BW40 was replaced by a 4-speed overdrive evolution in 1989, That 4-speed was used through to 2010 in Falcon and 2011 in the Territory SUV.
A factory to build the gearboxes was opened in Albury on the NSW/Victorian state border in 1971. In 1987 the company building it was taken over by BTR Nylex, then in 2002 by ION and which after the parent group went bankrupt was reformed in 2004 as Drivetrain Systems International (DSI). They were taken over by Geely in 2009, who built 3 factories in China to build gearboxes using their know-how.
DSI developed a 6-speed auto to replace it that fit in the 4-speed case, but Ford used the ZF 6-speed from 2005 in higher-level cars and replaced the 4-speed with the 5R55 from Bordeaux Transaxle starting from 2009. Instead DSI sold their transmissions to Ssangyong and even Maserati. The factory in Albury is due to close this month, ending the run of the BW35-descended gearboxes.
My father’s foster mother had a brother that for as long as I could remember owned Nashes then Ramblers. Even back when they were new, Nashes and Ramblers seemed so far out of the mainstream that I had no interest in them.
I have to admit I was unaware that Rambler also had pushbutton control for it’s automatic transmission. But then, I didn’t know Edsel had it until a few years ago.
Can it really be said that the “Big 3” built their compacts as uni-bodies after the 58 (or 56?) Rambler used it?
You could never put me behind the wheel of one of those old things because all I’d want to do is push all the buttons and throw all the levers, never going anywhere. Just like the dump truck at the mining museum, or all the planes on the USS Midway.
The glass bowl didn’t even catch my attention the first time through. We’ve got glass sediment bowls on all our old tractors that I’ve driven for the past 15 years.
In a reverse CC effect, I saw this somewhat newer Rambler parked at the high school when I dropped D2 at school early one day last week. Judging by the license number it’s a very recent renovation, as 7D is the current. Not sure if it’s a student’s car or a teachers. About three cars behind it was a late 60s El Camino, but that had the original black CA plates.
That’s a nice looking 1961 Rambler. I’ve always liked this year. And, though it looked dated, even for 1961, the Ambassador was a unique model.
Unique, yes. Especially the front. Unique in a “Help, I can’t un-see it!” kind of way.
Looks like a pig in a fur coat.
There is quite a nice one of these in my parts, a survivor driven by a local hipster, with three on the tree and overdrive. There were very few of these Ramblers in Quebec when I was a kid due to rust. These cars were notorious rust buckets as there were many dirt traps in the unit body. Many soon succumbed to unrepairable frame rot in five years. This killed Rambler in Canada. In addition the wildly popular Chevy II came out and was an instant hit in Canada.
This may be quite an unusual approach from your point of view, but to me, this cars always had some degree of Soviet feel about them. The “right” – GAZ Volga-like – size (the right one, indeed), unexciting, but dependable power plants, contemporary yet unpretentious (for the time !) styling which combined American and European trends, bodies created mostly with space-efficiency rather than artificial “sportiness” in mind, long production terms with modernizations here and there…
And there are some proofs that the GAZ designers somehow felt much the same way. I’ve seen the initial concepts for the GAZ-24 Volga, and they looked pretty Rambler-esqe (Leo Yeremeyev’s 1960 proposal on the pic below). Only to morph later into more generic, mid-1960s GM-ish style… also quite rationalistic, I have to admit.
Interesting info on the original Volga 24 proposal! And talking about communist countries, I saw this pretty Rambler in Cuba last year: https://flic.kr/p/jm4htX
Am I seeing some “heckfloose” inspiration at the rear of this Rambler?
My parents drove a Pink and white 59 Rambler. My mother only had good things to say about it…
I always thought that these cars were cartoonish cliches of all the worst styling trends of late 1950’s American automobiles, combined with antiquated powertrains (flathead 6 engines), crude suspensions and terrible assembly quality. They just screamed that their owners were cheapskates.
Ironic this ’59 Rambler Six is featured just now. This week the house that was swapped for a ’59 Rambler Six was razed after years of deterioration. How the swap came about was the Rambler dealer kept ‘company’ with a lady who he wanted to set up in her own place. One of his used car customers, Bill, had this house on a side street here in town that he was renting out. The deal was struck, a new ’59 Rambler Six in exchange for the property, which quickly became the Rambler dealer’s lady friend’s residence. She enjoyed the place into the 1980’s at which juncture with her passing became the granddaughter’s home. After that, the events take a sad turn, best left alone.
I don’t understand all the hate against tailfins. I said at the time, and still say, a car doesn’t look truly modern without them.
My family had a respectful relationship with Nash & Rambler in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Our first car was a 1954 Canadian Statesmen, bought from a more prosperous neighbour in 1957 when my father was still getting his accounting qualifications. It was a comfortable car and did well on road trips to Toronto and New York, and I remember my parents being impressed with the ‘Weather Eye’ system.
By 1960 there were rust holes in the floor, but luckily by then my father had his first well-paying job and a new car was on the horizon. It was the year of the compacts of course, and I remember we looked at the Falcon and Valiant, as well as a Wolseley (!) and Rambler.
The Rambler wagon was my mother’s favourite, but it may have been just a little beyond our price range. It probably helped that the Ford dealer offered $500 for the Nash in trade-in on the Falcon. My father joked that the salesman would probably be fired, and he was so nervous about the Nash’s condition that he got the dealer to give us a loaner 1956 Dodge for the month or so it took for the new Falcon wagon to drive.
So, Falcon it was. But a continuing respect for Nash and Rambler probably played into the decision to buy a new 1965 Rambler American as a second car.
The same year my father leased a Galaxie 500XL 2 door hardtop, and these were the cars I learned to drive in. While the Galaxie had flash and raw power, I often preferred the Rambler for its better handling. The wide, floaty Galaxie could be downright scary at speed on the winding two-lane highways of small town Nova Scotia. The lively performance of the Rambler 232 six was often a better match, and could be more fun to drive, especially on country dirt roads that were still common at the time. If there is one family car from those days I would most like to have again it would be the Rambler.
But of course for cruising around town in high-school days, it had to be the Ford. Style and power won out over any other more objective or subtle criteria.
Under Romney’s leadership he was paying out a lot of AMC’s earnings as dividends; I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had put more money into modernizing the plant facilities and replacing things like the front suspension trunnions and the torque tube rear axle. And I always felt a lot of their advertising was the equivalent of Mormon sermonizing on the evils of horsepower, speed and racing. Especially AMC’s “Sensible Spectaculars” ad campaign in 1964-65, just as the country was coming out of a recession, the baby boomers were starting to get their drivers’ licenses and vehicles like the Ford Mustang and Pontiac GTO were taking off. Going back to my high school days, the last thing they wanted to be seen in was a Rambler-it was the ultimate nerdmobile of its day.
I had a ’61 classic six with the 3 speed OD. Just a clean old car that put a smile on my face every time I drove it. Whish I still had it.
Dream post. Thanks for sharing the information. Saw the green 1959 in Harpers Ferry. Same license plate. Striking looks.