What are the qualifications that makes a car a true classic? Being one of the handsomest and most enduring designs of its time? Staying in production for twenty years? Having a long-stroke in-line engine with a classic alloy OHC hemi-head? Winning a big race at the Nürburgring? Having illustrious heads of state as loyal owners? Or just slapping a chrome “Classic” badge on its flanks? How does this Rambler stack up? Has it earned its chops, or is it an impostor like so many others?
In 1963, a professor in Iowa City bought a Classic hardtop like this for his wife. As I walked by it every day on my trudge to school, I gave the Rambler a whole lot more eyeball time than average. Being an OCD car gazer, that’s saying something.
This Classic challenged all my existing constructs about Ramblers: they just weren’t cool, period (not too many years later, I realized just how cool a ’56 Rambler really was). Popular enough with the thrifty folks in the Midwest, their styling was atrocious. The 1961-1963 Rambler American takes the cake as one of the all-time stinkers. And I’ll never forget the shock of going to the dealer and lifting a hood on a ’63 American: it still had a flathead six, with only 90 hp! It was the last flathead engine still being made in America.
But that all began to change in 1963, after Dick Teague became chief stylist. Teague faced a momentous challenge: how to replace both the compact American as well as the mid/full size Classic and Ambassador with AMC’s limited budget. The answer was a brilliant two-in-one deal. The dramatically clean and handsome Classic/Ambassador sedans and wagons arrived in 1963, (rightfully) winning Motor Trend’s COTY. Teague cleaned it up even more for ’64, and added this particularly attractive hardtop coupe. Compared to the bloated and often fussy competition with their huge front and rear overhangs, this Classic was almost European in size, trimness, and cleanness of line.
Teague’s Act II was the compact ’64 American. By simply narrowing and shortening the unibody Classic platform, the American recycled the same doors, roof line, and many other body parts, not to mention the drive train and suspension. Rambler pioneered then what Audi “(re)invented” for its current range: a single set of platform components to cover their compact (A4), midsize (A6), and full-size (A8).
The only thing that spoiled these cars was the engines. The six was an OHV conversion of the old Nash flathead, and the 287 cubic inch V8 was a small-bore version of the already obsolete AMC 327. The V8s were too heavy, casting a sentence of terminal understeer to the handling. But even with its Flash-O-Matic slushbox, this V8 Classic was adequately lively in its day.
In production for twenty years? Not here in ADD-afflicted America, no thank you. When the Classic was restyled for again 1966, the blueprints and dies were bought by Kaiser’s Argentinean operation, IKA.
The middle section of the Classic was mated with the front and rear of the American to create the Torino. Looks like something from Italy, no? A Classic, if there ever was one, even without the name. In production until 1982, it became quite the legend.
When Kaiser bought the Classic from AMC, it came sans engine. So Kaiser rummaged through its US warehouse and found just the thing for the Torino: the Kaiser Tornado straight six.
Back when Kaiser still owned Jeep (before selling it to AMC in 1970), it needed something fresher than its ancient old Continental-designed flathead six for the all-new 1963 Wagoneer. On a tiny budget, Kaiser’s Italian chief engineer designed a classic European-style OHC hemi-head. But under that new alloy head sat the old flathead block dating back to the twenties. But who knew?
America’s first main-stream OHC engine, the Tornado something of a (brief) sensation, until it started leaking and burning oil, overheating, and warping its beautiful aluminum cylinder heads. So in 1966, the Tornado was given a one-way ticket to Argentina, and Kaiser/Jeep started buying engines from . . . AMC!
But the Argentineans welcomed the Tornado with open arms, and began a steady development program that ended up with the 380W.
Sporting three horizontally-mounted Webers, it cranked out over 300 hp (220 net). The Torino was the GTO/Hemi ’Cuda of Argentina. And so it went racing.
In 1969 three Torinos were sent to the 84 hour endurance race at Nurburgring. Amazingly, they won their class, and were a threat to the overall winner. Not bad, for an engine running a huge 4.38″ stroke in its antediluvian cylinder block.
The Latinized Classic earned quite a rep from its racing successes and developed a cult following. Among devoted Torino buyers were such global luminaries as Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Muammar Gaddafi. You know these guys wouldn’t have anything less than a genuine classic in their collections.
My first thought upon gazing at this most contemporary of Ramblers is that it Resembles something of a scaled down 63-64 Chrysler Hardtop Coupe.
Dick Teagues designs from 1963- 1969 were the Best AMC had in my opinion. I never realized back then how good this looked, much less imagined that it would look so good today.
I always liked the 66-68 Ambassadors, particularly the convertibles.
My dad had one of those frumpy 62 or 63 American’s, in Robin’s egg Blue as he called it. I liked the color but little else about it. Even as a young child I considered it deeply uncool and sore out of touch with current styling trends. He had that car from 63 until he traded it on what I considered a much cooler 68 Opel Kadett, with vinyl flooring.
In 1964 though, this Classic didn’t seem much different from the lowly American. Thank you for explaining why. It does look like a legitimate step up in hindsight. A worthy competitor to that years Falcon, if not quite the Chevelle. I suppose it really competed more with the Nova in all likelihood.
But like you said Ramblers were tainted at the time as something of a loser’s car. I think my Dad was Rooting for the underdog that was Rambler/AMC until his last Ambassador in 1972.
I can remember him proud of the fact those had AC included for the same price as the big threes offering without AC. Im sure to say nothing about any resale potential.
In 1970 I had a 1964 classic 770. Black and chrome with red interior. I loved that car.
That’s just a gorgeous, clean-looking car, in the same way a car like, say, a ’67 Tempest is gorgeous.
I’d take the Rambler over the Poncho in a heartbeat, though. Everyone has had a Pontiac.
Very clever opening paragraph. I had no idea of the Classic’s secret afterlife. Nicely done.
I’ve always wished the 63’s came as Hardtop Coupes and Convertibles, because they seem slightly cleaner in style in contrast to the heavy chromework around the eyes on the 64s, although they’re still graceful cars.
Oddly I have a thing for the 65-66 Ambassador Convertibles. I think they did the “let’s borrow Pontiac Styling cues” 2nd Best after the 1965 Plymouths.
True classic. Clean and understated when so many cars were still over-styled.
And obviously much more of a “classic” than my 1982 Chevy Celebrity CL (for Classic.) We should compile a list of overused meaningless automotive “option package” descriptors. CL-Classic, LX-Luxury Edition, GT-Grand Touring, S – Sport, hmmmmmmmm I know there are literally dozens of others.
Brougham: Originally described a light carriage with no roof over the drivers seat. The term has since been applied to about two dozen cars that I could find, most of which have been neither light nor had a funky roof.
I sometimes wondered what my four door Cutlass Supreme Brougham would have looked like with T-tops over the driver’s and passengers seat. At least you could have had a true “Brougham” at various times.
That is an extremely cool idea. A four-door T-top Colonnade? Make mine a LeMans, with fender skirts sans vinyl top, please.
How about dual (front and rear) targa tops on a four-door? That would be amazing.
Make it so! Aw dang, it’s a Corvette that someone ruined.
Right idea, wrong car — good find though!
Dan, I think “SPORT” takes the cake…you’ve seen that word painted on the sides of everything from minivans to tall suv’s to dually pickups. With that and a body-color grille you have the complete sport package.
I’d say yes, the Classic is a Classic and the styling holds up well today. You could actually drive one of these daily as the size is quite reasonable. I’ve actually looked at a few of these for sale locally, but once rust takes hold of the AMC unit body it’s tough to repair properly and economically. Sort of like an Etype Jaguar without the return on investment.
As for the Torino, I encountered these travelling in Argentina in the 1990’s, even not knowing the backstory I instantly knew that they were descended from the Rambler American. Lots of them carried their spare tire atop the trunk like a rally car, in the setting of rural Chubut they looked like something out of Mad Max.
The Toro!!!!! that brings me back a ton of memories!!!!! Growing up in Argentina during the early 70s it was every young boy’s = desire to have one of these,,,,, and that’s little AND big boys. ,
While the Torino came as a Sedan, the two door (w/ spare afixed to trunk) was the preferred version. I’ll never forget the beautiful Nardi wheels they sported. SWEEET.
A funny sidenote: these Torinos saw extensive duty as Taxis in Buenos Aires and MardelPlata –my dad actually owned a few of those so I got some primo shotgun time on these…. as big as cars got down there—they were rough riding cars!
Also while the Falcon was the car of choice of the Miliary juntas’ death squads, these POS frequently used 4 door Torinos.
Though its not fair to judge an old car using current day sensibilities, this car fares well nonetheless with the clean lines others have mentioned. The lip adds subtle complexity to the rear end and is something cars of today should consider before using any kind of wing.
The size and proportion of this car just has an honest appeal.
To me the roofline will make or break a car’s styling. This coupe’s graceful rear pillars and slight wraparound of the backlight work so well with the otherwise pedestrian lower body; the roofline just transforms it.
Now that I look at it, I think the rear quarters are reminiscent of the ’61 Chevy fullsize in side view–another bodystyle that to me was made by the fastback roof, and broken by the weird, Corvair-style overhang roof, that were both available that year.
I knew this was the car as soon as I saw the clue (but I wasn’t the first and wasn’t 100% certain of the year). Oddly enough I had two friends who drove these in the ’80s. One was identical to the featured car you so beautifully capture and the other was the same except maroon and incredibly rusted everywhere, as if it had done time at the bottom of the sea. The interior matched the relic-of-davy’s-locker bodywork, so it was an extremely unpleasant car to ride in, with exposed springs and other metal bits as well as bulging padding material covering more surface area than what was left of the original vinyl. I think at least two side windows were missing. It smoked and belched and popped but had a surprising amount of pep left in it. I was a passenger in it twice. Ghastly experience. Sadly, I never got to ride in or drive the other friend’s beautiful blue 770., but I always admired it.
The Argentine Torino is pretty nice, but the 770 with a Jeep 4.0 and an overdrive automatic would be pretty awesome. 🙂
“The middle section of the Classic was mated with the front and rear of the American to create the Torino.”
At the risk of being picky, not literally. The Classic body was four inches wider, so it didn’t use the same cowl, windshield, rear window and rear seat as the American. The doors and rear quarter windows were shared, but the wheelbase was six inches longer and the weight was more than 200 pounds heavier than the American.
This was not a simple stretch job like the 1966 Ford Fairlane vis a vis the Falcon. The Torino was certainly related to the Classic, but it was a cousin rather than a brother.
My parent’s bought a brand new ’64 Classic wagon, in turquoise. Ran like a champ, only broke down when the original battery died. Had to be replaced with a one year old, 3 seat ’68 Plymouth Fury wagon, for more room, in 1969. Was not quite as reliable.
Also, it was the 550 base model wagon. When the front grille got damaged, a 770 grille with black trim was put in place. To 7 y/o me, it made the wagon look like a “Hot Rod”.
I was very happy, when I cames across these pictures. I owned a classic, that could be the twin to yours. The only difference I can see was mine was all green. Mine had a 287 cu. inch engine. You just don’t find them with the flor shifter/console. They are rare. Great car. Thanks
I have a Rambler Classic 770 2 door hardtop with all original motor and transmission sitting in my garage. I wished to restore one day but can’t afford it. One day maybe somebody might want it. I have a clear title also. Also the car I have has power steering and her conditioning. I know the air conditioning was an option but not sure of the power steering.
Cj, Do you have some pictures? I might be interested in your car.
If willing to sell, what part of the country are you in?
I had a 770H in the late 60’s. Unfortunately it got wrecked. Broadsided by a 62 Mercury wagon.
You can rag about the ancient 196 flathead used in Rambler Americans up through ’65, but I challenge you to show me another American built six of that era that could match it for the combination of performance and economy! Remember the ’60-63 Falcons/Comets had a whopping 70 hp 144 CID six standard. The Rambler made 90 hp and a bunch more torque than the Ford engine.
Lying about the Falcon six’s hp is not going to help you win this argument. The 144 was rated at 90 hp (in 1960), and already in 1961, the 170 was available, with 101 hp. The Valiant’s 170 slant six had 101 hp, and the Chevy II 194 six had 120hp.
The reality is that while the American’s flathead six was adequate for modest expectations, by the early-mid 60s it was out of date. Which is why it was replaced in 1966, right?
At the age of 18 , 1981 there was a local hero of mine who raced on a track in Stockton California quater mile asphalt oval NASCAR STOCKTON 99 SPEEDWAY He was so much fun to watch , a Champion many times over on that track he was and always ahead of the curve and an inovater I loved watching him drive whatever he brought but one year he built a 1964 Rambler classic it was a beautiful car #42 J Driven by none other than Dan the man Reed from Riverbank California it was awesome powers by the rambler 390 built to the hilt 180 degree wrap around headers down to a 4″ signal exhust pipe and talk about a unique sound it was unbelievable and he kicked there ass’s with that car . I miss those days of summer more than I can say.
I love the Rambler Classic 2-door, but ONLY as a convertible. And I wouldn’t kick out that HOT IKA-Renault Torino coupe either, it makes me pine for both more. One thing though, why couldn’t Kaiser make a ragtop version of the Torino? It’d have the Kenosha styling but be open-aired too. If I could only get my hands on those cuties, any takers?
Love the look of the ’64 Classic. It has lines that show grace and a look of sportiness. My ’64 may not be a trophy winner, but it is mine and not everyone had one, and they all want to look at it!
Just found this. I owned a 64 770 Classic Hardtop in high school (1968) 287 V8 with twin-stick 3 speed standard/overdrive on the console. Gorgeous black with red interior, dual exhaust, ET mags and Red Line tires. It was stunning and plenty quick against the typical 283 Chevy.
Another one I wish I had today…
Learnt to drive in a 64 rambler 2 door classic 770 in same two tone blue and white roof as shown . Clocked the mile in 30seconds with L plates flapping and my father beside me timing the mileposts on Seymour Shepparton road in Victoria Australia. Believe it was one of only two imported to Australia. Those were the days.
So, that’s my actual car in the photos. Wish the author had asked my permission to take and use them.
Yes, I would have preferred that Google ask if it could depict my house on its Street View as well. However, that is not the world we live in. My house is out in plain view – as was your Rambler, a very nice one we might add. If your car is out in the open with any frequency, I would be surprised if this was the first time anyone took its picture.
I would wish that my 64 classic would’ve been featured and if it had been I’d been thanking the author for exposing it to the public…
Jimmy, That is the point…I never got to have a Rambler conversation with him. I missed out on it. Seems like it would have a been a good time