Car Show Classics: AMC Rambler Club at Melbourne’s Federation Square

Once a month there is a car club display at Federation Square on Flinders Street in the middle of Melbourne, opposite the landmark railway station.  12 months ago the AMC Rambler Club showed off a range of members’ cars to the public, and you might be surprised to find out just how rare some of them are!

The most popular car on display was the Javelin with four present, and each one was an Australian-assembled model.  Rambler/AMC cars were assembled in Australia from 1960 by Australian Motor Industries (AMI), which had also assembled Standard-Triumph cars, Ferguson tractors and Mercedes-Benz cars in a factory in Port Melbourne.  This was helped enormously because AMC already built RHD versions of their cars for postal duties, so there wasn’t the cost for developing firewall stampings etc.

The Rambler name was continued in Australia past the point (1966-ish) when it was replaced by American Motors Corporation in North America – I dare say that would have put off some people, and besides everyone knew Ramblers were American anyway.

Just 258 Javelins were assembled in Australia, and after about 200 Mustangs converted by Ford in 1965-66, were the only pony car to be sold officially in Australia – any Camaros or Barracudas that came in were third-party or private imports.  Interestingly, Javelins were also built in Germany, Mexico and Venezuela.

There were considerable differences from the US model, with local interior trim and a unique dashboard (1968 version pictured above).  The market positioning of the Javelin was quite different too, as the 1968 Javelin was priced at $7,490 compared to a Monaro GTS 327/auto at $4,025, while a Mercedes 250 automatic (W114) was $50 cheaper.   By comparison a basic Holden sedan was around $2,200, while a VW started under $1,700.

Standard equipment included a 343 ci V8, automatic transmission (no manuals), limited-slip diff and power-assisted front disc brakes.  From what I can tell no Ramblers were offered with a manual gearbox after 1965, and prior to that they could only be had the base model 6-cyl.

This gold 1970 Javelin appears to be unrestored, and presents quite a contrast to the other two with metallic gold paint and vinyl roof together with what must be the original wheel trims; I wonder if they were from a US model perhaps?

There was also a 1972 (model) Javelin, one of just 52 of the facelifted models assembled at Port Melbourne.  Note the registration plate “IMACAR” (I’m a car); apparently the owner is asked “what is that?” quite often…  The 1970s got a 390 while the last Javelins in 72-73 came with the 401 V8.

I think it is almost compulsory to mention what must be the most famous Javelin in Australia, legendary racer Jim Richard’s 1972 model that features in the Touring Car Masters series.  The 4-time Australian Touring Car Champion twice won the TCM championship with a 1964 Falcon Sprint, but wanted a larger engine for more power (than his 289’s 500+ hp!), and something different from everybody else.

With over 660 hp from the 360, that part was taken care of!  The car sourced was one of the 52 ‘hump’ type Javelins mentioned above, with a colour scheme inspired by the US Trans Am racers, although a new shell was needed after an unfortunate accident at Sandown in 2012, minutes after these photos were taken.  Jim has since built another car with the same mechanicals.

Amongst the Javelins were a pair of AMX’s, neither of which were locally-assembled 1969 models, which also had a 343/auto combination.  Many years ago I saw one advertised, and it sold almost immediately.  There were 1969 and 1970 (above) cars which were imported in more recent years.

Only one car of the 24 built here is unaccounted for, although interestingly car #18 was taken to the USA in the 1970s and sold there, however the original US owner passed away and the whereabouts of that car is unknown too – so keep your eyes out for a RHD AMX!  This is the interior of one of the red 1970 Javelin, which is the same as was used on the AMX as well as all 1969-72 local Javelins.

Next door was a 1973 Rambler Hornet SST, which for the Australian Hornet apparently stood for Stainless Steel Trim.  My uncle had a Hornet before I was born, after a Studebaker or two from memory.  The Hornet was only sold with 6-cyl engines and auto transmissions, starting at 232 ci (3.8L) and growing to 258 ci (4.2L).

Opposite were a pair of Rambler Classic 770 hardtops, which are ridiculously rare; just eight were imported (from Canada) for each of 1964 and 65!  I don’t imagine they were solely imported for AMI executives, but rather they may have been a toe-in-water response to the Falcon hardtops that debuted in 1964.

This 1965 model is unrestored, and came from Victoria’s western district where there were (are, actually) quite a few wealthy farmers.  I’m guessing the under-dash air conditioner was most likely not fitted from new but a slightly later unit, and note the radio marked with station call signs with a row for each state, and not the AM frequencies.  The car has a 287 ci V8 making 198 hp and power-assisted front disc brakes, not bad for 1965!

Here is the 1964 model.  Apparently there were 6 convertibles brought in by AMI as well, and it is safe to assume that there were quite a few different models imported in tiny volumes.

Next was another import, a Rambler Marlin with its distinctive fastback roofline.  From the Rambler badging it would be a 1965 model, because later cars wore AMC badging.  The LHD signifies an import of course, and the Marlin was not originally offered in Australia.

The final car was a Rebel SST hardtop.  This was another right-hand drive car so presumably another low-volume factory effort.  Ambassadors fell into the same category, eg 16 hardtops for 1970.

Rebels were mainly sold here as sedans and wagons (1825 sold from 1967-71) with only the 287 V8, , but normal price lists don’t list the earlier Classic hardtops so who knows?

The Matador was the final AMC model assembled by AMI and was offered as a sedan, wagon or coupe with a dashboard based on the 1967 Ambassador’s (as the Rebel had also).  There were around 70-80 Coupes sold in 1977-78, and the last Matadors were built in 1978.  This 1973 hearse was seen at the Picnic at Hanging Rock a few years back.

It seems that the demise of Rambler in Australia must have been related to the end of the Matador, which was the sole offering on offer once the Hornet & 258 six were dropped – that seems to have been related to the the major emissions regulations of July 1976.  AMI continued operations with assembly of Toyota models which had started in 1963 with the Tiara, the first Toyota car built outside of Japan, before eventually being taken over by Toyota completely in 1987.


Further Reading:

Cohort Sighting: 1970 AMC Ambassador – Are You Sure That’s Not An Australian Car Of Some Sort?

Curbside Classic: 1963 Rambler Classic 660–Ed Anderson’s Departing Farewell Is A Classic As Well As Motor Trend’s COTY

AMC Javelin: Some Like It For What It Can Be And Others Would Just Like To Find One

Curbside Classic: 1970 AMC Hornet – Today Is The First Day of the Rest Of Your Life

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