0-60 in 10.9 seconds? With a six backed by the less-than-stellar B/W automatic? That’s very much V8 territory. AMC’s new 232 cubic inch six, in this case with a two-barrel carb rated at 155 hp, did the the V8-impersonation trick. That’s less than a second slower than Pontiac’s 1966 Sprint HO with the 207 hp 4-barrel OHC six and a four-speed manual! Holy Kenosha!
Car Life was impressed by the American’s zip, along with a few other qualities.
CL starts off relating how they suggested to Design VP Dick Teague that AMC build what they dubbed an “Executive’s Commuter Car”; an American with a European-style leather interior, a proper instrument panel set in wood, air conditioning, the new 232 six and disc brakes. In other words, an American BMW, Mercedes, Rover or Alfa Romeo.
What CL was suggesting was this, which ironically is the interior of the IKA Torino, the Rambler American variant that was built in Argentina. Delicious!
Pininfarina was hired to clean up the American’s exterior a bit too, to make the Torino look a bit more European. The Torino used the Kaiser 3.8 L SOHC “Tornado” hemi-head six that had been used briefly in the original Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer. The Brazilians kept refining and tuning it, with well over 200 hp on tap. Something very much like this is what CL had in mind.
Teague responded:”We already have such a car; it’s the American 440H hardtop. And instead of the leather and hardwood, it has luxurious vinyl-pleated bucket seats and a console”. Or something to that effect.
Close, but no cigar. The American’s dull and dreary cheap dashboard alone was not going to make this a genuine import fighter. But CL was willing to give it a shot, and some of the 440-H’s qualities were within the parameters that CL envisioned.
In reality, the 440-H was what it was: a top line version of a basic American economy car, with the interior accoutrements that had come to define these trim levels: bucket seats upholstered in vinyl, a console, floor shifter, nicer trim and better carpets. But otherwise, it was still an American, for better or for worse. CL characterized the instrument panel as “‘gauche’, which upset Teague”. The reality was that no American manufacturer was going to invest in a genuine high-end small car at the time, as that was not seen as their function. But one does wonder if AMC had done so, if it might have worked. It did, back in the early-mid ’50s, when the Rambler was just that: a high-end compact car, appealing to an upscale, sophisticated buyer. By 1965, that train had long left he Kenosha station.
The one genuine bright spot was the new AMC six, came in three versions: a de-stroked 199 CID making 128 hp as the base engine in the Classic six; a 145 hp version with a one-barrel carb as the base version of the larger 232 CID variant, and a 155 hp version with a two-barrel carb. This was available only with the “Shift-Command Flash-O-Matic”, Warner Gear’s three-speed torque converter automatic.
The “Shift-Command” part reflected the ability to hold gears via the floor shifter. It was an improvement over the previous version of this less-than-stellar box, but there was still some “looseness” that sometimes “produced embarrassing lags in gear changes“.
The 232 six pulled hard, and the acceleration was on par with AMC’s own smaller V8 in the Classic and just off the numbers for the Chrysler 273 V8 in a Dart. As pointed out at the top, its 0-60 time was just a tick under the 1966 Pontiac Sprint, with its 207 hp four-barrel SOHC six backed by a four speed manual.
Somewhat surprisingly, CL deemed the 440-H to be a reasonably competent handler. That rather contradicts Car and Driver’s assessment of a 1964 American, which called out its mediocre handling qualities. CL did say its handling wasn’t going to gladden a sports car buff. There was quite a bit of plowing in turns, which a front anti-roll bar could have ameliorated. But the much quicker Saginaw power steering was “a joy” compared to the very slow Gemmer manual steering in their previous American test.
The drum brakes were marginally adequate. The optional front discs available on the larger AMC cars were not yet available on the American.
The American shared significant parts of its body with the Classic and Ambassador, resulting in a somewhat heavy but very solid structure.
Overall, CL’s impressions were quite positive. It was frisky, handsome enough, and engendered some pleasant driving experiences. It wasn’t what they proposed to Teague, but it did much of the job they envisioned, minus the fine interior and disc brakes.
Related CC reading:
Vintage Road & Track Review: 1966 Pontiac Sprint – Nice Engine; Wrong Car
Curbside Classic: 1971 IKA Torino TS – The Legendary Rambler European South American
Vintage Road Test: Car & Driver Tests The New 1964 Rambler American, Rather Unhappily
I so love the IKA Torino – if I didn’t know, I’d never catch that it’s just a modified Rambler American and not an unrelated Italian or British luxury/sport/GT coupe that cost twice as much. The outside looks better, and the interior is an absolute knockout. I too also wonder if AMC could have sold this themselves as an Alfa/Rover/Lancia etc. competitor for much more than they asked for a Rambler American, especially knowing the new six was an impressive performer. To be sure though, BMWs, Rovers, and Alfas weren’t big sellers in the US in the mid-’60s and it wasn’t yet apparent that upscale sports sedans would blossom into a hot category by the 1980s, so AMC would have had to be quite clairvoyant to jump into this market that early. They would also have to work on their image…
The Torino’s version of the OHC Tornado engine didn’t actually have any great performance advantage over the newer AMC engines. The new six in 2V form was just as powerful as the base Torino engine, and the 290 was about as powerful as the 380W engine. (Early 290 and 343 engines needed some massaging in the valvetrain department, but the four-barrel 290 offered in the Javelin would easily have been a match for the 380W six, and probably no thirstier — three Webers was not exactly a recipe for economy.) The Torino looked better, but it wasn’t necessarily sportier in terms of performance or handling, at least without a lot of competition prep work.
(the new 6 i was referring to were the new AMC motors that hypothetically could have powered the Torino had AMC built and sold it themselves)
Ahh, I misunderstood what you meant.
I think the dilemma with the six was that even where domestic sixes had pretty good performance (as with the new AMC six, or the subsequent Pontiac OHC six), it was hard to convince domestic buyers that it wasn’t just a cheap “little” economy engine, even if its performance was pretty good by global standards. (The Torino had the advantage in that respect that it was a big car with a big engine by South American standards.)
The other dilemma, which the Torino didn’t really resolve, was that this platform was no great shakes when it came to handling. Whatever AMC might have done with it, it would have helped if they’d invested in a more modern suspension — with ball joints, even.
In the 80s, a friend (whose father worked for AMC) had a 65 convertible, purchased new. Not sure of motor, but it could burn rubber 😜. Black with white top and red interior. Kept it in showroom condition, but drove it with pedal to the metal. He passed in early 2000s. Don’t know what happened to the car 😕. He was always looking to find a ROGUE, but never got one. As for 6 cylinder, first family car I remember was a 1950 Nash AMBASSADOR with six cylinder motor that moved that big boat with ease.
Mid age (then) neighbors, got two “65 American’s, new that year. His ;beige, red inside, top slightly darker beige. Hers, turquoise, white top, blue/greenish, fabric inside.
Both were the “tudor hardtops”.
At the time, two of the “coolest rides” on the street.
We did miss the “57 Chevy sdn”, ((rose/white top)) the lady turned in for the Rambler though.
When I first learned of the Torino I instantly loved it and disliked the base American but I’ve since grown an appreciation for the American and become a bit cynical of the Torino in terms of foreign envy. This old article bolsters that appreciation some. I think Torino’s biggest virtue was that it was the complete package, an Argentinian GTO, but had AMC equipped the 440h American combination into a package complete with a standard 4 speed, a freer breathing intake tract(like the Torino’s optional side draft carburators), disc brakes, done a woodgrain dash even within the existing dash design and put on put road wheels I bet it would have been remarkably comparable image and performance wise to the Torino but unfortunately still would have flopped in this country in light of the Mustang and future pony cars like any other top of the line sporty compact of the time. Pinanfarina recycling on a Peugeot nose and hole sawing some Stewart Warner gauges into some walnut could only go so far to elevate it beyond what it is, and with the growing availability of actual imports the magazine testers clamor for it begs the question why buy an imitator?
Really the Plymouth Roadrunner was the car that got it right when it came to granting a journalist’s wishes, but it was the polar opposite of this thought; stripped down and large, distinctly American in flavor. That car played to the inherent strengths of the company and country of its origin, and came off an an honest competent product that resonated with buyers. Rambler’s problem was it’s strengths were a fleeting aberration, their early entry into the compact car field with the premium Rambler gave them success where nobody else tried with effort, but that was the 50s, this was the mid 60s. In 1965 you had sportily packaged Falcon, Dart, and Nova hardtops, and while nobody would accuse them of having European flair in their presentations or power delivery with their now available small V8s, if say the American did had a package identical in every way to the IKA Torino, it would most likely have been an also-ran amongst the Futuras, SSs and GTs, or maybe it would have had more of a Corvair Monza following but I suspect still the Monza’s unique layout would appeal to the europhile buyer more than the conventional American even in Torino guise. Or on the other hand maybe it would have been regarded as something of a Hudson Hornet of the 60s ; not the most monetarily successful submodel but a beloved one, and a marketable performance reputation to give to Rambler.
It’s interesting to speculate, the double lives of cars in different countries before the all encompassing “global models” created unique perspectives, the Maverick GT in Brazil is a certified classic in that country, a genuine muscle car with its 302 V8, yet in the US a Maverick Grabber with the 302 is essentially the same car, and graded against Cobra Jet and Boss Mustangs it barely even registers on the performance car charts. Classic Australian high performance Falcons, and primarily the 4 doors versions at that, are the stuff of legend in their home country, ironically using the generally unloved in the US basic 66-70 4-door shell up through the XY. The GTHOs were honest to goodness muscle cars by US standards, but most typical American muscle buyers would probably just shrug them off.
The vintage road tests I’ve read of the Torino suggest that its big dynamic limitation as a sport sedan was that its suspension and steering were no better sorted than the Rambler American, which of course left a lot to be desired even by contemporary standards.
If you read Spanish, there are vintage Argentinian road tests at Test del Ayer: https://www.testdelayer.com.ar/
Gracias por explicar y por enseñarnos a los latinoamericanos en relación al AMC 440 también conocido como Rambler Rogue . Gracias a vuestro artículo podemos correlacionar de dónde vienen los ancestros del adorado ika Torino hecho en Argentina bajo la reelaboración de Pinin Farina directo desde Italia . Para Latinoamérica un motor de 6 cilindros con 3770 centímetros cúbicos es más que suficiente para nuestros usos y costumbres. Si hubiera sido ofrecido también en 8 cilindros , no habría tenido el magnífico suceso que consiguió aquí . De hecho un ika Torino 380 pulgadas cúbicas fue , en aquel momento , un automóvil tan codiciado como el Mercedes Benz 300 procedente de Alemania . Todo lo bueno de la ingeniería inteligente americana está representado en este AMC 440 recreado con rasgos argentinos. Es válido destacar : para Brasil , Argentina y Uruguay todos los productos AMC & Rambler siempre gozaron de mayor estima que un GM o un Chrysler
I don’t think I’ve ever seen another acceleration graph that starts going down after reaching top speed before. It looks like this car’s initial pep is a function of low gearing in first and second combined with a final drive ratio that was chosen more for acceleration than high speed cruising.
The 232 was a great inline six, and that basic engine stayed in production with Jeeps through 2006. In its last configuration, it was both quite powerful, and credited as one of the most reliable engines of any US automaker.
My brother’s 1st car, was a ’65 American 330 wagon with the 232/2 barrel. It had plenty of pep, and ran forever. Oddly enough, when AMC introduced the totally redesigned and modernized American in ’64, they skimped on the engine compartment length. They were still using the old 196 OHV and flathead engines, which are physically quite a bit shorter than the 232. So to fit that 232 into the 1965 American engine compartment, they reversed the radiator mounts (to move the radiator out towards the grille), used a short shaft water pump and pulley, and used a fan with blades cut out to clear the crankshaft bolt. You could not get factory AC on a ’65 American with 232 because there was literally no room for the AC condenser. The base 232 (1 barrel, 145hp) was not available. Only a few thousand of the 109,000 Americans built in the ’65 model year were optioned with the 232.
Yes, a sway bar would have been nice. Standard drum brakes were good. BW tranny was good enough. The ugly dash got a decent redesign in ’66 (and the engine compartment grew by a few inches!) Thanks for the good article, and good memories!