The sad story of the Marlin almost perfectly encapsulates all of the travails that eventually brought AMC to its knees. An inconsistent vision that left the company lurching from VW-fighting compacts to comparing its Ambassador to a Rolls Royce. The lack of resources to properly implement some of its better ideas. Styling that varied wildly. And the sin that so many smaller companies were afflicted with: the overly dominating, and controlling power of its clueless bosses. A Deadly Brew indeed.
The Great Fastback Epoch preceded the Great Brougham Epoch, and began in 1963 with the Corvette Sting Ray. Of course, fastbacks had prior waves of popularity, but the the fifties and early sixties was the Great Three-Box Epoch, embellished by fins, of course. By 1961, that was getting old, and something new was needed to attract the ever fickle taste of Americans.
In the wake of the Sting Ray’s tail, the Plymouth Barracuda led the charge of the fishy fastback brigade. Its giant fish-bowl rear window was a pretty blatant blow-up of the Sting Ray’s.
The Barracuda was introduced in April 1964, two weeks ahead of the Mustang notchback coupe and convertible. The Mustang 2+2 fastback appeared in the fall of 1964, the best of the (non- Sting Ray) bunch. One wonders whether the Mustang 2+2 was planned all along for production, or whether the Barracuda had any influence that decision. I’m guessing it did, at least to some degree. Ford didn’t want to be left out of the fastback wave.
And neither did AMC. In 1963, hearing about the Barracuda’s development, Dick Teague started cranking out some drawings for what became the Tarpon concept. Neither of these early designs showed the way to the Tarpon and eventual Marlin, and frankly, that was a mistake. I think both of these designs had more promise; the left foreshadowed GM’s Colonnades, and the right one looks very 1967 Barracuda-ish, ironically.
Here is AMC stylist Chuck Mashigan with the final Tarpon design, based on the new 1964 Rambler American. This picture also shows off the Tarpon’s problem from the get-go: an awkward profile, to put it delicately. Presumably to provide that Rambler-esque practical priority of rear seat headroom, the roof line stay horizontal way too long. And those extended rear side windows add to its set of issues.
Admittedly, the Tarpon looked much better when not in full profile, and its distinctive tail did have real character, even if it didn’t have a trunk opening. There’s that Rambler split personality disorder at work again: rear headroom galore, but no trunk opening.
If this tail looks a bit familiar in a more modern setting, how about this:
Yes, certain ideas just never seem to die, even if they are deadly.
The Tarpon was shown at the 1964 SAE Auto Show, and it elicited a reaction consistent with the times: favorable, and something to reach out and touch. In 1964, a fastback, any fastback was the equivalent of the Beatle’s haircut: anything with it was something to get excited about, even if the styling (or music) was questionable. The Tarpon was the Hermans Hermits of the times.
Dick Teague was proud of his fishy baby, and wanted badly to see it go into production, seeing how Rambler was decidedly weak in the youth market. What better way to break the stodgy image that had come to be associated with Rambler, and to give the Barracuda and Mustang some competition.
Now this is where the Tarpon story starts to really smell. AMC didn’t have a V8 that would fit between the American’s narrow tall spring-shock towers. The old AMC 327 V8 was a big hunk of cast iron, and AMC’s excellent new compact V8 family was still several years away. How about an alloy OHC six head on that six?
AMC’s new boss, Roy Abernathy had other ideas. After he took over, he was determined to get away from the economy-compact-centric image of AMC, and go mano-a-mano against the Big Three. Why the hell he thought that the key to that was oversized fastbacks is anybody’s guess. But Abernathy seemed to have a bit of a Death Wish.
So the Tarpon’s fastback was to be lifted from the American’s body to the bigger and new-for 1965 Classic, which also had room for the 327 in its wider engine bay. This clay for it shows that one of the earlier Tarpon designs for the side window tratment was being considered for a reprise. Too bad it didn’t; it’s decidedly better than the final cut.
Teague was unhappy enough about stretching the Tarpon’s fastback on the bigger Classic because Abernathy insisted on a six seater. But Abernathy added insult to injury when he ordered that the production Marlin’s roof be raised an inch while Teague was away in Europe, beacause he was 6’3″ and insisted in being comfortable in every AMC rear seat, even a sporty car! Idiot.
Can you imagine that happening nowadays? And look a t the result: absolutely atrocious. It looks like a raised-roof stretch limo fastback. The longer I look at this picture, the more I find it impossible to believe that this was actually put into production. It defies every convention of taste and proportion. Utterly deadly. BTW, why was the Tarpon name rejected for the production car? Sounded too much like Tampon?
So ironic too, since the prior generation Classic had such handsome lines, especially the “Europeanized” IKA Torino. Why didn’t AMC do something like this, if they wanted a handsome sporty coupe? The same reason for all of Detroit’s deadly Sins: hubris.
Not surprisingly, the Marlin was a dead fish from day one. First year sales barely cracked 10k. meanwhile, the new Mustang sold some half-million in its first year. That was the high water mark; 1966 sales shriveled to a bit over 4k. Oh, well; it seemed like a good idea, a mid sized fastback. But Abernathy wasn’t done yet; Let’s make the marlin even bigger!
For 1967, the Marlin got to sit on the Ambassador’s new longer body. Actually, for what it’s worth, it looks slightly better than the ’65-’66, as the Marlin acid-test profile shot shows (I couldn’t get far enough away on my subject). But nobody cared: only 2545 Marlins were sold in 1967 before the big dead fish was thrown back into the deep blue.
This one of those cars I actually liked – a lot! It fit right in with the Barracuda and Charger. Sure, the proportions are a bit off, but it was daring. Like Lee Iacocca once said – if you know you’re going dow, scream – someone just might hear you! Unfortunately, in AMC’s case, no one did. Now, bring on the Matador coupe. Yes – I liked that too!
The ’67 is a rare find, and my favorite Marlin. A neighbor bought one of these used, in black with a red and black interior from out of town in the early ’70s. Always loved that car.
The glassback Barracuda is another all-time fave of mine, and the Crossfire strikes me as a fairly appealing modern classic.
It looks so very top-heavy. All that glass and steel…
I so appreciate the coverage of AMC. Thanks!
The Marlin is a love it or hate it car even in AMC circles. Personally, I love it – but I also love the first gen Chargers, which had very similar lines, and the boat tail Riveria, which many Buick people revile. I still wish we had the 66 Marlin my sister had – 327 with console mounted standard and bucket seats. Interestingly, the Marlin is probably THE most desirable of the pre 1968 AMC offerings.
I see the AMX as the direct offspring of the Marlin – and a car in which the lessons of the Marlin were applied. Teague finally got his true two seater, and the lines of the first gen AMX are among the best of the muscle car era.
FWIW, I feel the Marlin suffered not so much from odd styling, (it was pretty close to a number of cars of the time – plus others that have come along since), but from AMC’s multiple personality method of management. They could not decide if they were going to be an economy company, a family car company, or a performance company – they just did not committ to the idea of a sporty car in ’65 any more than they did to the Rebel hardtop of ’57.The Marlin tried to be a sporty car that was also a family car, and it was caught in the middle. The fact that the big three were gunning for the upstart trouble maker indie hold out didn’t help matters as far as having money to retool.
AMC had glimmers of performance brilliance – the SC\Ramblers based on the Rogues, the Rebel Machines, and the first gen AMX’s – and I feel the lessons of the Marlin contributed to a number of those.
I agree with you on all counts! And of course, cars like the Marlin are gobs of fun now; thanks god for all the weird cars AMC and the others made; how else would we amuse ourselves now?
So true. I wonder if people, 40 years from now, will debate the merits of what the car companies are building today with as much enjoyment?
“I always LOVED the 2004 Camry! The way the stereo had large, tactile knobs, and how they put the Toyota emblem right in the center of the grille up there…”
“I tell yah that 2005-2012 Impala was an odd duck. The interior was vintage GM, looking like it would have been at home in a 1989 Caprice but jeeze that exterior was so generic you could walk past your own car three times in a parking lot before realizing it was yours…”
“I shoulda bought a Citation!”
556hp supercharged 6.2 liter V8, with a 6-speed 3-pedal TREMEC manual transmission (what’s that?) in a Cadillac station wagon. Back when gasoline cost ONLY $5 a gallon!
Oh Paul! Don’t agree with you on your spearing of the Marlin except that, yes, on the Classic platform for ’65 it WAS admittedly awkward and ungainly.
The Tarpon was ‘spot on’ and was a big hit at the ’64 Chicago Auto Show and if you MUST slam the Marlin, the blame lies at the large feet of Roy Abernathy who insisted on the five passenger capable ‘sports car’.
I found the ’67 Marlin on the longer Ambassador wheelbase a very attractive car, but, unfortunately, buyers most certainly didn’t as mid size fastbacks based on mid-sized (or in the Ambassador of ’67 – ‘quasi’ full size) platforms weren’t making it for the popular sales charts (’66 and ’67 Charger had relatively small sales too – not as bad as the Marlin, of course, but off target for Mopar).
Of course, after ’67, Abernathy was gone; Roy Chapin Jr. was coming aboard and Dick Teague & Co. hit a home run with the ’68 Javelin and AMX.
BTW – In Petaluma, California, at last check, was a ’67 Rambler . . . sorry . . . American Motors Ambassador Cross-Country wagon – straight body – in the same color scheme as the featured ’67 Marlin. It is in an old car lot on Petaluma Blvd South about two blocks north of the Mystic (Majestic) Theater and Old Chicago Pizza.
The magazine writer takes delight in savaging the Tarpon, and for what reason? The Tarpon ‘suggestion’ was a smash at the 1964 auto shows, came under very positive
review. He gets frumpy about the windows….would he do better himself? The Tarpon
would have been about even with the Mustang if it had come out, and beaten other
sport cars by a year or more. The ’67 Marlin was not entirely perfect in style, but it many paces ahead of the clumsy looking fastbacks of 1968, being the over long, full size Olds and Buicks. But that is finding fault with somebody else, instead of centering on AMC.
Stodgy cars, for old people? The 1963 Rambler was car of the year. Motor
Trend stated the 1965 Ambassador show AMC could make a car as pretty as anybody else. The ’67 Rebels and Ambassadors were beautiful. Tom McCahill
gave the best intermediate of the 1967 year to the AMC Rebel. Motor Trend said the 1966 Ambassador had an interior as luxury prone as anybody else, that year. I find
the Ramblers of the 1960’s, the intermediates, full size, etc were as pretty as ANY
other car for their time. They fit in VERY well for style, and being ‘in step.’ The
writer simply wants to hop on a dead name, over doing what was supposed to be
wrong, much as dumping on a dead relative or a known personality.
As a kid I rather liked it. Particularly in that weird aqua blue so many of them were. Or maybe I just think that because I tended to see the same one everywhere in my neighborhood.
Looking bad it seems like one of the odder shaped cars to get approval. I always thought of it when I saw a Crossfire. It is ungainly, more so than the later Crysler.
Particularly odd are the gills by the rear of the 67’s.
Was it just the show car that didn;’t have an actual trunk?
It also reminds me of the Edsel in it’s ungainly styling.
I think the Nissan Juke is the modern equivalent. However I rather like the uniqueness of that at the moment. There are waY TOO MANY LOOK ALIKE CARS TODAY. tHEY ALL ARE TRYING SO HARD TO FIT IN, if they stick out, they will be the unpopular new kid on the playground. Unfortunately we are overruled by the mob of conformists in this country.
I think the gills (on the red car – straight side-on shot?) are actually caused by seeing the black interior of the car nearest us and red side window of another car parked beside it – one that’s almost hidden by the car in the foreground. It does create a sort of weird optical effect. The ’67 Marlin didn’t have the eliptical curve within a curve styling at the rear window like the ’65-’66 cars had.
Take a look at some magazines from the 50s, 60, or 70s. People were complaining about homogenization in _exactly_ the same way then. Try comparing, say, the ’58 full size cars… They’re hard to tell apart unless you look quite carefully.
If you obsessed over modern cars as much as ‘classics’, the differences would be just as obvious. A Camry looks nothing like an Altima when it comes down to it. You’re blinded to it because you see so many of each one. If you look at a photo of a parking lot full of ’50s or ’60s era cars, it’s a sea of nearly indistinguishable vehicles.
There is simply no way that anyone could mistake a 1958 Chevrolet for a 1958 Plymouth. They have completely different design themes (rounded and “full-figured” for the Chevrolet; low, sleek and high-finned for the Plymouth). That year’s Ford was somewhere in the middle.
That isn’t even taking into account the two-tone paint treatments, which added even more variations.
These cars are only “the same” in the sense that they have four wheels, four headlights and a greenhouse perched atop a lower body.
LAX – the Nissan Juke looks like a tadpole on wheels. However, with gas approaching the five-dollar-a-gallon-mark, those ‘tadpoles’ will become frogs in many a driveway. For now, I’m happy with my ’10 Ford Ranger XLT. Averages 25-26 mpg and I can haul and carry stuff. Including fish! (no Marlins, yet!).
Three cheers for the ’67 and ’68 Mariner Station Wagon!
I remember a babysitter of mine, of all people, having one of these (the ’67) when I was a kid, and thinking it was a cool car, just for the weird factor. (But then a lot of things you think are cool when you’re six or seven later turn out not to be so cool.) I also remember that she was not a teenager who had been handed down this monstrosity, but an older lady who may have kept it after a husband passed away, or may have just had a strange taste in cars.
The CC car does seem to have a trunk, as there’s a noticeable gap between the white “trunk” area and the brown remainder of the rear deck. Given that the opening seems to be all of two feet wide, it still can’t have been easy to get anything in there.
Just curious what state the babysitter lived in, and approx year?
I’m Always trying to track our childhood car that was “Supposedly donated” to someone, but doubt it ever made it to its promised destination when our dad died.
I guess I was in 6th grade when this poor thing hit the streets, and to us kids, it was the complete opposite of cool, something that if Dad were deluded enough to buy one we would have to huddle in the back seat so nobody would see we were riding in it.
That is one ugly car, right up there with the Aztek.
It is a strange car. I’m trying to figure out the body contrortions required to get say four sets of golf clubs in the first generation model with no trunk lid. I know they would fit (along with the four gentlemen who were going to play) but jeeze to have to flip the rear seat forward and sliddddddddddddde them back. How akward is that? Or your wife trying to get groceries in the dang thing!
I wish Romney had stayed president of AMC instead of becoming governor of MI.
If Romney had stayed, Abernathy never would have decided to move into the big car world, and my car never would have been built (65 Ambassador), but it would have been interesting if he had kept AMC on the economical car track…given hindsight and all, it might have saved the company.
That’s the nature of my longing. The Ambasador is beautiful but whenever AMC started to find it’s niche, someone would decide that they should “take on the BIG THREE” which generally had disastorous results.
That’s one sharp ride!
Thank you – it’s taken two years of work and twenty years of dreaming to get her back on the road.
Saw one of these for sale on a NZ auction site recently previously never heard of it definitly a styling mess Im sure it could have been done better but having two or more people arguing over what body it would be on did not help. Did noone think to look at the then current coupe styles rather than fastback a station wagon. Maybe Rambler should have stuck to economy cars they would have cleaned up when oil went mad in the 70s
Noone was too busy looking at young Sheila White (Sorry, couldn’t help myself with that Herman’s Hermits reference)
One of my favorite old groups! Peter Noone was in town a few years ago at a local fair and did a great show!
Paul, that’s Chuck Mashigan posing with the Tarpon. He was another very influential stylist with AMC, especially the Jeeps later on in the 1970s. Corgi made a model of the 1965 Marlin back when they were new, I have a few of them in my vintage toy car collection. I think it’s the only scale model of the Marlin made, aside from the dealer promos.
Thanks; I should know better than to regurgitate other websites’ mistake.
I built a 1/24 scale model of the Marlin when I was a kid…probably a kit from AMT or Revell.
That photo of Teague with the final Tarpon design – do you think they had that picture pinned on the wall at Porsche when they were styling the Panamera ?
I’m not ashamed to admit that Iloved the Marlin when it was introduced and still yearn for one to this day. Maybe Ihave some kind of cognitive disorder but to me the proportiions were perfect.
I like the production Marlin lines better than the Tarpon – which makes me an oddball as everyone seems to like the Tarpon better.
“Never apologize – it’s a sign of weakness” – John Wayne
The Marlin/Tarpon is a great example of the perils of trying to make a ‘sporty’ car off an existing line by simply tacking on some kind of fastback roof. For starters, it’s a rather expensive proposition. More critical is the problem that unless a fastback roofline was integrated into a car during the original design phase, it’s tough to make it work later.
Some examples that did work are the ’68-’69 Ford Fairlane and the ’70-’72 Olds Cutlass, both of which had a formal hardtop and a fastback in the lineup from the beginning.
But, mostly, it didn’t work. Besides the Marlin, there was the original Charger and Barracuda. In fact, the 2nd generation, ’67-’69 Barracuda is particularly interesting in that the fastback actually looked better than the hardtop.
The same could probably be said for the Mustang. The ’65-’66 fastback wasn’t bad but, as noted, it was probably a hasty response to the Barracuda. The ’67-’68 fastback looked pretty damn good, and the hardtop was okay, too. But from ’69-’73, Mustang hardtops just paled in comparison to the fastback styling. Still, Ford was usually the best at getting decent fastback styling out of an already existing hardtop.
GM, OTOH, besides the aforementioned Cutlass, rarely had both a fastback and hardtop in a single carline. Considering how penny-pinching GM was/is, my guess is they simply saw how the odds were stacked against recouping the investment of having two rooflines in the same, single model year. One of the more memorable examples is the ’67-’68 Caprice/Impala, which got a hardtop and fastback that both looked okay.
I thought the 67 Marlins were decent-looking, an improvement on the 65/66 humpbacks. It surprises me that no photos of the 1966/67 fastback Charger showed up in this article – I don’t know if anyone at AM knew it was coming but I think it was a more direct competitor for the Marlin.
GM had both a fastback and a notchback in many if not most of their car lines in the 1941-52 era. Having left that behind they didn’t seem to show any interest in going back….
I had both 1965 and ’67 Barracuda fastbacks…actually camped a night in the 65. Not too handy though, we had to unload all the crap into the front seat to fold the rear seat and sleep there; there was enough room if we didn’t try to sit up in bed.
Minor correction: The Marlin was marketed as an AMC in ’66 and ’67, not a Rambler. And, frankly, that name change was the single dumbest thing Abernathy did. However doudy, “Rambler” had market recognition, “AMC” did not.
The weirdest part was that AMC was never consistent in how it advertised itself post-Rambler. In the late ’60s, there was almost no branding on the vehicles, save for maybe the wheel covers. From the early ’70s through the end, the cars carried “AMC” badges, but the ads often used the more awkward “American Motors Ambassador,” etc. In the ’80s, the TV commercials touted the advantages of the “American Eagle.”
The ’67 cars were rather attractive, with the Rebel aping the ’68 Coronets styling a year early, and the cars had the ingredients to succeed in the market. But AMC’s market image became such a disaster almost overnight thanks to Abernathy that they never had a chance.
Maybe if the company had stayed on a more conservative course, particularly with Romney still at the helm, things would have been different. But then Ford’s Falcon, which shared many of the Rambler’s virtues collapsed dramatically in the late ’60s. Rambler did very well early in the decade because they had almost no direct competition. But then the Chevelle came in ’64 and ate the Classic’s lunch. And the Mustang nearly killed every other compact on the market, single-handedly.
The only way AMC might have survived is if they had gone downmarket, jumping into the subcompact market earlier, around ’67 or so. With a four cylinder. If they didn’t blow their tooling budget on risky flops like the Marlin and Matador, they might have even had the money for front wheel drive. But then we would have nearly as many weird looking old AMCs to look at today.
All production Marlins had trunklids, albeit pretty useless ones. They were the width of the character lines that came off the bottom of the rear glass (which was usually a different color than the body; typically black).
By the way, the IKA Torino was based on the 1964 American, not the larger Classic.
Actually, of the two Teague concepts illustrated, I think the left one doesn’t look so much like the GM Colonnades as it does the ’77-’79 T-Bird, and even more so, the ’79-’83 Fairmont Futura coupe.
A great article on a real odd duck of a car! I had the Corgi version, which was red with a black roof and deck panel. That diecast car is probably worth a fair amount of money these days in mint condition.
I don’t believe it would have made much difference for AMC in the long run if George Romney had stuck around instead of entering politics in 1962. AMC experienced explosive sales growth in the late 1950s, and had climbed to third place in sales by 1961.
But in 1962, the Ford Fairlane debuted – it was the first offering from the Big Three that competed directly with the “standard” Ramblers. In 1963, despite a very attractive, all-new line of Rambler Classics and Ambassadors, Rambler actually FELL in the rankings among all domestic marques, even though sales increased. An all-new, very attractive Rambler American debuted for 1964, and Rambler still fell in the sales rankings – if I recall correctly, total Rambler sales also fell, despite an uptick in American sales.
The competition from the Fairlane and GM intermediates was just too much for AMC. Plus, the much more conventional and attractive post-1962 Mopar compacts stole much of the market from the Rambler American.
Romney left just in time, even though the first signs of sales weakness were apparent in 1963. Abernathy can be faulted for the moves he made, but the bitter truth is that AMC was being hemmed in by the domestics in the intermediate and compact classes. Something had to be done.
The real mistake, in my opinion, occurred in the 1950s, when Romney abandoned George Mason’s vision that the Rambler was to be a small car, but NOT a cheap car. The original Rambler was introduced with a comprehensive (for the times) list of standard equipment, and in the “deluxe” body styles (hardtop, convertible, wagon). It was not merchandised on the basis of low price, as other American small cars of that time were. Nash sent the message that a small car could sell on virtues aside from low price. The Rambler was therefore not initially identified as a car that people bought because they had to. Upscale customers bought Ramblers as handy second cars.
Romney embraced the Rambler as the savior of AMC – which was the correct course for that time – but, under his leadership, the Ramblers became identified as cheap cars for people who didn’t care about driving, or regarded it as a necessary evil. Bringing back the old 1955 Rambler as the 1958 Rambler American brought new sales for AMC, but it also allowed AMC to identified as the company for people who didn’t care about style or cutting-edge engineering. The retention of the ancient flathead six in the American until 1965 certainly didn’t help matters, either!
The Romney strategy worked wonders in the late 1950s, as the Big Three had allowed their Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths to balloon in size, horsepower and weight. In the early 1960s, they invaded the Rambler’s market niche with better styled and trimmed models featuring more vivid performance, and it was “game over” for AMC.
By the mid-1960s, AMC was so firmly wedded to the “Romney image” in the public’s mind, that Abernathy felt (correctly) that something had to be done to spice up the AMC line-up. Unfortunately, the result was a stinker like the Marlin, or the 1967 Classic and Ambassador. The 1967 models were handsome cars, but looked like also-rans compared to the Big Three competition from the moment they debuted. It was one thing to offer prim, proper cars in segments where the Big Three had no competition, but that approach didn’t work too well when the Big Three were already dominating a market segment.
A 1967 Rebel may have looked hot compared to its 1966 counterpart, but it didn’t have nearly the style or prestige of a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass or Buick Skylark (let alone Pontiac LeMans or GTO!). It may have featured a lower sticker price than those cars, but, in the booming 1960s, with rising incomes and less restrictive credit, people would happily pay more for a car with a better image. It was probably only a few dollars a month more for a Cutlass Supreme than a comparably equipped Rambler Rebel – and most buyers felt that was money well spent, given the public images of Oldsmobile and Rambler at that time!
Ironically, the biggest success of the 1960s confirmed George Mason’s original vision. The Ford Mustang was sold as a classy, sporty compact car that was well-equipped for the price (it had carpeting, bucket seats, nice chrome accents both inside and out, and full wheelcovers – unusual for a domestic small car at that time). People bought Mustangs because they WANTED to, not because they couldn’t afford anything better. If anything, the compact size of the original Mustang made it seem more personal and exotic than other American cars of the time.
And the Mustang sold as fast as Ford could build it! Somehow, I believe that George Mason, more than his counterparts at GM or Chrysler, or even George Romney, would have appreciated the Mustang’s potential for success when it debuted (although he was long dead by April 1964).
Romney was so wedded to conservative cars for sensible people that he would never have approved anything like the Mustang for production at AMC. He was as limited in his appreciation of the potential of smaller cars as his counterparts at the Big Three. He didn’t seem to realize that plenty of small car buyers wanted more than operating economy or a low price. Perhaps they would appreciate better handling and braking, and more upscale interior and exterior trim.
Too bad AMC week is over – I wanted to send a story about my father’s 1973 Gremlin. But, that story did not have a happy ending for either the car or AMC’s image, so perhaps it’s best that family and work duties prevented me from writing something on that car!
Thank you, Geeber. That’s excellent commentary.
Even with AMC week over I’m hoping we get to see some of the greatest hits over time. They had a helluva fastback from 68-74 and then there are the SJ series Jeeps and even Lawn Mowers at one point..
I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The cracks in Rambler’s sensible image were already showing in ’63-’64, before Abernathy turned the company on its head in ’65. Rambler did well largely because it had the intermediate segment to itself until ’62. Also, the car market and the country itself was changing pretty rapidly.
I like the parallel you drew with the Mustang and the original ’50 Nash Rambler. Nash had been mid-priced, generally well-regarded marque and perhaps if Rambler had maintained a more fashionable image into the early ’60s, things might have been different. But probably not. The Big Three price wars of the early ’50s decimated the independents and the ’58 recession hit the mid-priced market especially hard. Romney’s conservatism kept the company afloat. Axing Nash and Hudson and reintroducing the ’50 Rambler as the American were bold moves, but necessary for survival. Moreover, the higher-end models like the early Ambassadors were slow sellers.
Romney made the only right move for the times. Robert McNamara – who wasn’t all that different from Romney – essentially did the same thing at Ford, kneecapping the Edsel program and debuting the Falcon. But McNamara was out by ’61 and his replacement Iacocca had a real knack for what attracted customers. “Sensible” Detroit compacts were already losing steam by ’64 – hot versions like the Falcon Sprint were flops from the start – and they were finished the moment the Mustang debuted.
Roy Abernathy’s instincts weren’t altogether bad. But they were at least two years too late and he clearly didn’t understand the youth market. The original Mustang was lightening in a bottle and I doubt anyone else could have beaten Ford to the punch. Plymouth made essentially the same mistake as Rambler with the Barracuda and GM was asleep at the switch, just like every other time Ford caught GM with its pants down in a new segment in the ’60s. AMC always had a shoestring budget, so a pony car probably should have never been in the cards, anyway. But had they been more liberal with powertrains and luxury options from about ’60 on, it might have helped them later (it at least would have padded the profit margins more for the rainy days ahead). They did this later, shrewdly offering A/C standard on the Ambassador, but it was much too late by then.
I think AMC needed to do one of two things in the ’60s. Chevy and Ford were inevitably going to invade their small car turf – and win simply because they were bigger and better-funded; AMC should have taken the old George Mason model and positioned itself as a more premium product, well placed to do battle the Cutlass and it might have stood a chance after ’64. Or they should have gone even smaller into the subcompact field. McNamara wanted to, but Iacocca cancelled the program when he left for the DoD. Had AMC done this, it certainly would have been a gamble like the ’50 Rambler, but it would have kept them ahead of the Big Three and paid off handsomely at the end of the decade.
I logged in this morning and checked this thread – and was amazed to see it was still going.
Something I’ve noticed over the last two years whole we restored the Ambassador, is that the AMC cars, in particular the Rambler ones, are remembered with great affection by those that had them. There are four people in my office – and three of us (all over 40) had Ramblers back in the day – and held a great deal of respect for them. At one time, there was a great deal of brand loyalty for them (and its survived, apparently).
All car companies had hits and misses. AMC was no different, although the misses seem to get more attention than the hits…and there were hits – lots of them, and cars made that are still remembered with fondness and respect by those that had them.
The pic of that Marlin looks positively photoshopped. It really looks like somebody took a fast grab of the rear end and pulled the entire car backwards, while the front part was remaining still, with the dividing line at the b-pillar. Even the rear side window looks stretched and tweaked, like it was in motion relative to the rest of the car. It looks absolutely surreal…
When they escorted Abernathy out of the building, was he at least shoved into a big van and taken somewhere and beaten up?
Bump – I was looking at Fiat’s Dino fastback coupe, with its elegant proportions, and cannot understand why AMC didn’t get it right. Even Plymouth’s first iteration of the ‘Cuda fastback was rather awkward.
“One wonders whether the Mustang 2+2 was planned all along for production, or whether the Barracuda had any influence that decision…..”
I never wonder, Ford couldn’t suddenly ‘whip up’ the 1965 Mustang 2+2 in a few months to answer the first ‘Cuda. It was planned all along, development takes more time than one summer.
i think the 67 is bang on realy cool,a very coolalternative to the big 3 as for the earlyer car,lol are you for real,lol..it looks awfull totaly wronge,lol we had a car here in the uk that could and should have made such a cool coupr ..the morris marina coupe …but…they used the salons doors …on a coupe ..and it looked bloody ridiculas,lol
I’ve always had a soft spot for the 1967 and later models with their better proportions. It’s too bad that, by that point, the market had deemed it more or less irrelevant and there weren’t any comparison tests (that I know of) between the Marlin and the 318 Charger, 302 Torino, and other contemporary ‘mild’ fastbacks.
The 67 Marlin on the Ambassador body the longer one in the pic of the 2 side by side looks awesome. Would there be one for sale in good condition an what would it be worth
It’s a shame the Marlin couldn’t have held on until the 1969 Ambassador restyle, what I wouldn’t give for that fastback body attached to that magnificent wide front end.
I have one I bought a few years ago. It still needs a lot of work but it is a cool. One of a kind car around here. Never saw another one around. She runs drives pretty good too.
here is another picture
One more pic of the rear. Very cool in my opinion.
Looks good. Good luck with the restoration.
Maybe an aged competitor to the Porsche Panamera? The prototype car has the same long long roof… and a fastback… and “inspiring underpinnings”. HA!
Just thought I’d send a quick pic of my 67 Marlin. Owned since ’98 and love it to death. I am a great fan of the weirdo-underdogs. There are a lot weirder but my first car was a 67 Ambassador and the owners manual mentioned the Marlin, and it intrigued me.
I/m gathering 67 Marlins for the Marlin Registry. What’s the VIN, engine, transmission, and any options? Any help would be appreciated!
Hi Elmer, just some detail for your 67 Marlin register, perhaps up and running now? I live in NZ, and just uplifted my fresh import 67 Marlin ex CTC Auto Ranch, Denton, Texas. It was trucked thru by Schumachers, and GT Logistics shipped it over to Auckland New Zealand. Im led to believe its the only 67 here. About half a dozen 65/6 Marlins in NZ. Its real solid and im rapped with it. CTC let it leave their yard with 3 fuckod tyres, so forklift damage to the driveshaft (bent) and gastank (dented/holed) is a consequence. Luckily, no body/floorpan or chassis rail damage. VIN # A7KA97U100073. 89,000 mls on speedo, so hope not around clock. Mtr complete but not running. Will endeavour to attempt a startup soon. Cheers Steve .PS let me know the Register site info for viewing. thanks
This one is a friend of mine’s – same city in Canada…
Like several others here, I had (perhaps still do, in a box somewhere) the Corgi Marlin. And I do like the Tarpon profile … evocative of the Panamera and A7 which I think are both stunning cars. By the way, in a partial CC effect, there was a last-gen AMC American station wagon parked at the restaurant where we had dinner last night.
The Charger probably deserves its own CC article. At the time I lumped it and the Marlin together as styling and marketing mistakes, although Dodge did have youth cred due to race-proven powertrains.
The attached photo is of the 1965 concept that became the 1966 Charger. The story I read is that Dodge dealers wanted a Barracuda-like car, but management refused. The new LA 273 meant an available narrow V-8, unlike the AMC problem. Of course another possibility was that the fastback Coronet-based Charger was designed for NASCAR.
I think the 66-67 Charger looked more awkward than the 67 Marlin. The Charger’s fastback is too wide and too long.
Say what you will about the Marlin. It was the perfect car for a 16 year old male with a fresh license. My father owned a paint and body shop and the day I passed my drivers test in 1969 he brought home a 65 Marlin that he had all the dents and dings removed, then painted in in the factory two tone on dark metallic blue and white trim and deck lid.When I drove it to school the next day everyone in the student parking lot had to come and give it the once over. It was a loaded car, amc 327 V8, 4 bbl Holly carb, a/c, folding front seats, I have saved the best for last, the amc not chevy 327 made 270 horsepower. The second day I drove it I found out what “improper start from standing position” the officer got me leaving the studemt lot with some friends in the car and saw my
icence was 3 days old and told me that if he gave me a ticket my insurance working triple.
Jeez, I was just burning some rubber, he let me off with a warning. Oh yeah back to the Marlin, I could not kill it. A 16 year male are tough on cars. Thinhgs from seeing how fast it would go, taking out those one eyed blinking barricades, an occasional speed sign, etc.
it never bent or broke. Dropping it from neutral to drive at 2,000 rpm or just stomping on it from stop signs. Did burn a lot of fuel but at .24 cents a gallon at Hess who cares?
“Say what you will about the Marlin. It was the perfect car for a 16 year old male…”
Sure, but AMC didn’t sell enough brand new ones to profit the company and stockholders. Used beater sales don’t add cash to manufacturer’s bottom lines, only dealers and private sellers.
I have owned a 1966 Marlin for 34 years now, and “Abby” has seen 23 other cars (drivers and collectibles) come and go! I fell in love with the Marlin when I saw a brand new aqua one in 1965. I was 8 years old, and I can still see it in my mind! The trunk lid is indeed small, but the trunk is huge–no problem loading. The Marlins were AMC’s prestige car of the 60’s, and as a result they were usually loaded. Try to find other American cars of this era with reclining coil-spring buckets, front and rear folding armrests, cut-pile carpeting, unitized construction, four wheel coil spring suspension, and factory headrests. Let’s not forget: the 1965 Marlin came with STANDARD front disc brakes. Plus, of course, AMC’s long-standing use of dual brake circuits. I adore the first Barracuda, but glance at the interior appointments and materials–no comparison to the Marlin. And here is where I always say AMC made an error with the Marlin. The Marlin was a personal-luxury car, NOT a pony car. The Marlin should never have been compared to the youthful Mustang and Barracuda. It wasn’t quite up to T-birds or Rivieras, but it came close. I agree with the comments about how the Marlin led the way for the AMX. It also led the way for the Gremlin–unique roofline on an existing model. And the AMX set speed records and gave AMC a rosy image. And the Gremlin sold over 600,000 units during its run. (BTW, the Gremlin was a reliable, SAFE car. Unlike its competition, the Vega and Pinto…) I was heartbroken when Renault savaged AMC in the 80’s, but time heals all wounds. And who would’ve thought less than 30 years later we would say goodbye to Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Mercury?
I own the Nixon styling drawing of the Tarpin with the Barracuda style back window shown above.