Curbside Classic Regret, Reassessment, and Mea Culpa:  1961 – 1963 Rambler American

During the decade of the Sixties, I went from four to fourteen years old – and I have to tell you, it was a great time to be a burgeoning, young auto enthusiast.  Besides the birth of the muscle/pony car, you had the ‘61 Continental, ‘61 E-Type, ‘63 Avanti, ‘63 StingRay, the beautiful ‘65 Chevy Impala, ‘66 Toronado, ‘66 Lamborghini Miura…I could go on.  But to reference a popular Sixties television show, for every Eva Gabor, there was a Mary Grace Canfield.  And one car that caused me to blanch every time it came down the road was the ‘61 Rambler American – the product of AMC Director of Automotive Styling, Edmund E. Anderson. 

Short and squat (the car, not Ed) – I thought the American looked hideous from any angle.  It had a scowling brow over the headlights and a frowning grille, giving it a very “unhappy face.”   From the sides it looked stubby and high-waisted, with the rear wheels way too far forward.  The back was nondescript.  Why would anyone buy one?

You may be familiar with the old story – in 1959 Dick Teague and a fellow designer from the UK were interviewing for jobs at AMC Styling.  As part of the process, they were shown some of the firm’s upcoming models.  Upon seeing one of these, the UK designer whispered to Teague; “My God Dick, it looks like a ruddy ordnance vehicle.”  

Well after some research and reconsideration, I have to admit I was dead wrong, on several levels.  First, a lot of Americans wanted an American – 367,000 were produced from ‘61 to ‘63 – a certified hit for low volume AMC.  

Second, as it seemed with almost every new model from the company, the Styling team was given a previous old platform with hard body points to try to “dress up.”  In the American’s case, it was especially egregious, as the ‘61 body was based on the 1950 Rambler unibody platform, also resurrected in 1958, with its tall spring towers and short 100 inch wheelbase.  Part of me wonders if Ed deliberately gave the American that frowning face to mirror how he felt about being given the impossible task of updating an eleven year old design.  

For years I carried a grudge against Ed Anderson, and while he passed away in 1989, I’d like to formally offer my apologies.  It’s clear he did the best he could given what he had to work with.  And bottom-line, no matter how ugly it was, the American sold – putting hard cash back in AMC’s always limited balance sheet.  

One other thing I learned about Anderson regarding his leaving AMC.  Evidently Ed was rather hard-headed – a personality trait George Mason overlooked.  But when Mason passed, and George Romney took over, things got pretty tense.  One day in 1961, Anderson and Romney had a disagreement, and Anderson basically said “do it my way or I’m leaving.”  After backing down from several of these challenges, Romney replied “Fine, have your resignation letter on my desk before the end of the day.”  Officially, the reason given was Anderson wanted a raise and the title of VP of Design but the company declined, so he retired.  

Either way, it was an unfortunate end to a long and successful career.  AMC’s entire product line, styled under Anderson, won Motor Trend’s car of the Year award for 1963.  And as we now know, Dick Teague was promoted to Director of Styling and continued to do miracles with handed-down platforms for another two decades.  

So it’s most definitely tardy, but please accept my mea culpa Ed, you done good…and a clean, two-tone American hardtop coupe would be pretty nifty to have in the driveway.

Related Posts:

1961 Rambler American – The Hip Ugly American by PN

1961 Rambler American With OHV Six – Why Don’t Cars Of “Great Merit” Sell As Well As They Should? By PN