Curbside Classic: 1963 Rambler Classic 770 Cross Country – The Last Great AMC Car?

(Originally published 1/14/2014)This is it. The pinnacle of American Motors Corporation. Between 1958 and 1963, the Rambler automobile, in its frugal American, mid-price Classic and deluxe Ambassador lineup, hit a sweet spot in the domestic market that it really never recaptured. When the all-new 1963 Classic and Ambassador debuted, AMC was at the top of its game, with appealing, well-built, sensible cars. After that, save the brief spark of the Javelin, Hornet and Eagle, it was all downhill.

1963 Rambler Full Line Foldout-05

The entry-level Rambler–and also the least-changed from 1962–was the American. Sure, it was suitably creased and de-finned to look like a Sixties U.S. car, but it also was pretty obvious it was a new suit on the old ’58 American–which itself was a rehash of the 1953 Nash Rambler. Hash, indeed. When my mom was in high school, a friend had a convertible of this generation, named Fred. Fred the Rambler was very reliable, and hey, the top went down! That is the extent of my experience with these, but a full CC on the “bread van” American can be found here.

Debuting on October 5, 1962, the new 1963 Ramblers appeared. Other than the American, the lineup was very fresh-looking. Classics were six-cylinder vehicles, with only the fancier Ambassador getting a V8–at least until the V8 Classic appeared in February of ’63.

1963 Rambler Classic and Ambassador-02 (800x534)

One big new selling point was the one-piece outer “uniside” construction. As you can see in the brochure picture, a significant portion of the body side was a single stamped piece. Not only did this make the 1963 Ramblers easier (and no doubt, less expensive) to sell, the fewer assemblies and nuts and bolts contributed to fewer rattles as the car aged.

The Classic was initially available in 550, 660 and top-trim 770 models, all with six-cylinder power. A two-door sedan, four-door sedan and four-door station wagon were available in all trim levels. Sadly, the attractive styling was not offered as a convertible, but that was right in step with AMC’s target–sensible, middle-class families. Recall that at this time, American Motors was not really into racing, speed or anything of the sort. As period advertising put it, “the only race we care about is the human race.”

1963 Rambler Classic and Ambassador-07 (800x444)

In addition, an eight-passenger station wagon was offered in the mid-range 660 trim. As previously mentioned, a V8 Classic appeared a few months after the 1963 introduction. All six-cylinder models and body styles were available with the V8, and ran about $100 higher than comparable sixes.

1963 Rambler Classic and Ambassador-08 (800x531)

Prior to the V8 Classic appearing, the only Rambler you could get with a V8 was the top-of-the-line Ambassador. As in 1962, the Ambassador shared the very same body (1961 and earlier models had a stretched wheelbase completely ahead of the windshield–a treatment going back to the Nash days), but had more exterior chrome, plusher interiors, unique wheel covers and the aforementioned V8. An Ambassador 990 four-door ran about $300 above an I6 Classic 770 sedan, or $150 above a V8 Classic 770.

Of course, it being the early Sixties, the station wagon and suburbia were king. Rambler was right there in the thick of things, as all three of their car lines offered station wagons. The American even offered them in two- and four-door versions, albeit for the last time.

The Classic 770 was an excellent suburban kid-hauler and grocery getter. It was practical, affordable, looked modern, and I imagine they were just part of the scenery in their day. Like today’s CR-Vs, Highlanders and Explorers, these Cross Countrys were once a common sight, and quite unlikely to make enthusiasts stand up and take notice. Ah, those ’60s people, they didn’t know what they had, or what was to come in the next ten years.

Today, these wagons look excellent! But that’s just because styling has taken a back seat to comfort, regulations, fuel efficiency, coefficient of drag, regulations, focus groups (ugh!), and rules, rules, rules! In their day, they were about as exciting as a Camry XLE or Fusion SE. And sure, these cars don’t have half the safety and comfort items 2014 models have. But they were so much more compelling!

An example: I dare you to go to your local Ford, Toyota or Chevy dealer and attempt to order a new Fusion, Camry or Impala in metallic mauve with a maroon and mauve interior! Ah, so sorry Charlie, you can’t! No colors in new cars! Colors are forbidden! Tan or beige are good enough; our focus groups say so!

Well, at least dark brown and red upholstery choices are starting to make inroads again. A friend just recently replaced his mid-’90s Sierra on a new one in maroon with dark brown leather. Very nice! But I digress…

Like the Saab 95 I wrote about last year, I can thank my Dad for this one. I had gone for a long drive last spring, and upon arriving at my folks’ house, Dad said he saw a cool old Rambler on the way back from Jewel. Of course I had to investigate!

There were folks at the house the Rambler was at when I pulled up, but they were just friends of the homeowner. They had no problem with my taking some pictures, fortunately. I would have liked any ’63 Rambler, but the maroon-over-mauve paint and trim were really cool. I could picture Laura Petrie driving this through New Rochelle, though Rob probably would have had a little Triumph Spitfire or MG-B.

1963 Buick-13 amp 14 (800x522)

Or maybe Jerry and Millie Helper would have had the Rambler, while Laura would drive a Buick Estate Wagon? After all, Rob was a big-shot writer for Alan Brady. Yes, I am a big fan of the Dick Van Dyke show!

While the 1964 model was essentially the same, I’ve always liked the ’63s better, with that oh-so-Jet Age concave grille. This was really the last Rambler designed when AMC could actually afford it. The 1967 models, heavily pushed by Roy Abernethy, were also a redesign, but AMC couldn’t really afford the re-do, especially when the ’67s completely tanked in the market. But the ’63s did okay, and received Motor Trend’s Golden Calipers to boot.

As Ramblers typically appealed to more frugal types, the Classic 550 and 660 sold better than the flossy 770. Still, they didn’t do too bad with 35,281 four-doors, 5,496 two-doors and 19,319 six-cylinder 770s being built. V8-equipped 770s saw sales of 7,869 four-doors, 1,341 two-doors and 4,399 wagons, but our feature CC is a six, judging from the lack of front-fender V8 badging.

This car was just a beauty, and for sale, too. As the sign said, it is an unrestored original with just 54,000 miles–wow! I have a soft spot for all the independents, but the Sixties Ramblers are a close second after Studebakers, and they are so seldom seen! I was not around in 1963, but from Paul’s writeup on the 1961 Cross Country (would that be the CC CC?), it appears that these were just all over the place when new.

Kind of like how Town & Countrys, Siennas, Sedonas and Escapes are today. Think of it: the boring, dull-as-dishwater Mommy-mobiles (or living-in-denial Mommy-mobiles in the case of Escalades, Yukons and Navigators) of 2014 may well be intriguing, interesting collectibles in forty years’ time. If cars like that will be collectible then, I don’t even want to know what a 2044 automobile will look like.