Vintage R&T Road Test: 1967 Rambler American 220 – “A Sensible Approach To Sensible Transportation”

So why did Road & Track test a stripper Rambler American? That’s sure different than the endless “Fastest Cars Of The World” tests that dominated its covers in the eighties and on. It was a reflection of its publisher and founder, John Bond, who had a very…sensible side, as well as a bit eccentric. Bond was nerdy, and what could be more nerdy in 1967 than a Rambler 220?

Maybe I’m reading too much into that, as R&T rightfully pointed out that a lot of folks just wanted practical, low-cost basic transportation from their cars, and the American was very much a relevant player in that field, especially since AMC had just dropped its price to $1,839, aiming it at the heart of the sub-$2,000 import market, meaning VW and friends. The problem was that even folks who wanted basic low-cost transportation were still mostly conscious of their image, and ironically, a Beetle or Corona, with their nicely-trimmed exteriors and interiors, conveyed a distinctly different image than a stripper Rambler. But don’t try to explain that to John Bond.

AMC’s move with the American, lowering its price to $1839 by eliminating any unnecessary annual changes, was of course an act of desperation. AMC’s market share had been dropping precipitously, down to 3.4% in 1967 from its peak of 7% in 1960. The American was in free-fall too, down to 63k units in ’67 from 164k just three years earlier. All of the domestic compacts suffered after the Mustang arrived in 1964, as it hoovered up what had been their core market. Meanwhile, the imports were on a roll. It was dark days for domestic compacts, and for the the company that had pinned its image that segment.

There’s no argument that in a number of objective criteria, the American offered a lot more for the money than the little imports, starting with its size, which obviously afforded more spacious accommodations.  But that does not mean more comfortable; the Rambler’s bench seat came in for criticism in that department. And although R&T didn’t make a point of it, the very basic (cheap) upholstery and trim in these strippers lacked the more pleasant surroundings of the imports of the time, never mind their bucket seats.

The relatively new AMC 199 cubic inch six came in for praise, both for its smooth and quiet running and decent performance. With a 0-60 time of a fairly brisk 13.8 seconds and the 1/4 mile 19.5 seconds @71 mph, the Rambler was quicker than anything in its class, and then some. But then its fuel consumption of 18-20 mpg was in a different league too. It allowed relaxed cruising in the 65-75 mph range, whereas most of the imports were breathing hard by then.

The column-mounted three speed manual had a good linkage, but the non-syncro first gear was old-school. The six’ healthy low end torque meant that anything but a full stop could be readily chugged away in second gear, and third could easily handle all speeds above 20 mph.

Handling? Did someone say handling? There wasn’t any, in terms of how the term is associated with sports/sporty cars. The very slow manual steering with six turns lock-to-lock was a damper on that to start with. The ride in normal driving was quite adequate, but outside of that envelope, the Rambler lost its poise, with terminal understeer as well as lifting up its inside rear wheel.

The 9″ drum brakes were no better, and exhibited the near universal trait of having the rear wheel lock up prematurely under strong braking. This could of course have been readily remedied by a proper proportioning valve, such as used by most European cars. And of course discs on the front wheels; together, these two quite low-cost changes could have made a big difference. As R&T pointed out, even low end cars can readily attain the kind of speeds that high performance cars can (such as 70-80 mph), but the braking performance are typically very disparate.

Quality was also weak, with poor assembly fit and finish; the doors were hard to open and close. But the unibody structure was tight, although noisy from the lack of adequate sound insulation.

All in all, R&T felt that the American offered good value for the dollar; certainly in terms of pounds per dollar. But for many drivers, that was not the criteria that counted.