Rambler American History (1958-1969)
Article by Mark Trotta
Throughout it's 11-year production run, the Rambler American was very often the lowest priced car built in America. A variety of models were offered, including a V8-powered muscle car.
1958-1960 (1st Gen)
Built on a short 100" wheelbase, the first generation Rambler American was a redesign on 1950-1955 Nash Rambler. First-year body styles included two-door, four-door, convertible, and station wagon.
Power was originally supplied by a 195ci flathead six-cylinder engine producing 90 horsepower. Weighing in at about 2,500 pounds, the small compact was capable of up to 30 miles per gallon. With optional overdrive, that figure was higher.
American Compact Cars
Interest in compact cars began growing with American consumers shortly after the economic recession in 1958. The year 1959 saw the introduction of the Studebaker Lark. A year later, the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and Chevy's rear-engine Corvair debuted.
For 1960, a new "Custom" model came standard with a 195ci overhead-valve engine producing 125 horsepower. All other models were still fitted with the 195ci flathead engine.
1961-1963 American (2nd Gen)
Although built on the existing platform, a sheet metal redesign made the American narrower and shorter. In a historical note, Rambler CEO George Romney left the company in 1962 to become governor of Michigan. He was replaced by sales manager Roy Abernethy, who had previously worked with Packard Motor Company and Willys-Overland.
A four-door station wagon became available, as well as a two-door convertible featuring a power-operated folding top.
The overhead-valve six cylinder, producing 125 horsepower, was now standard in all models. A manually-operated overdrive transmission was available at extra cost. In a model designation change, the 400 series became the 440 series.
A new hardtop coupe, offered on 440 models only, joined the line-up. A special 440H model featured buckets seats instead of a bench seat, and 13 more horsepower from the 195ci motor.
1964-1969 American (3rd Gen)
The third generation American would prove to be the most popular in terms of both looks and sales. The styling was done by designer Dick Teague, who would later design the 1968 AMX and Javelin.
Gone was the boxy look of the previous generation. The new sheet metal gave a cleaner, sleeker look. Wheelbase was lengthened to 106 inches, which meant more interior room, particularly for rear passengers.
In mid-1966 a new model, the Rogue, featured a 290ci V8 engine along with upgraded interior and minor trim changes. The engine was completely new, and available in 200 horsepower two-barrel carburetor version or 225 horsepower with a 4-barrel carburetor. Transmission was either a 3-speed automatic transmission or a floor mounted 4-speed manual.
Gas Mileage Champion
In a time in history when few car owners cared about gas prices, the Rambler American won numerous mileage contests. One example was at the Pure Oil Performance Trials, held annually at the famed Daytona International Speedway. It was not a speed event, but rather a series of acceleration, braking, and fuel consumption tests. In 1967, the Class VII category (compact six-cylinder sedans) was won by a Rambler American 220.
A base model Rambler American sold for $2,073 in 1967, making it the lowest-priced car built in America. It was also the last year a convertible was available in the American series.
For 1969, the "American" name was dropped. The cars were now marketed simply as Ramblers. New safety equipment included front shoulder belts and headrests, and front parking lamps which stayed on with the headlights.
In 1969, an all-out performance model was offered. Dollar for dollar, the red white and blue, 315 horsepower S/C Rambler was the fastest American car you could buy in 1969.
Read: S/C Rambler Muscle Car
AMC produced approximately 283,000 cars in 1969. Although the American accounted for 96,029 of those, the line was dropped for 1970 model year.
Read: American Motors History
Originally based on the Rambler American platform, the Tarpon concept car measured just 180 inches long, and the 106-inch wheelbase was two inches shorter than the 1964 Mustang. The stylish fastback would subsequently be built on the larger Rambler Classic chassis as the Marlin.
Read: Rambler Marlin 1965-1967
After starring in the TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun, the 1962 Rambler American convertible became a hit with car collectors. The now-famous car now resides in the Rambler Legacy Gallery of the The Kenosha History Center.