American Motors
1954-1987

In 1961 the American got a new design. It was narrowed by 13 cm and shortened by 8 cm without losing interior space. No wonder, as the interior stayed exactly the same: economy demanded to keep as much of the existing tooling as possible. The 1961 American appeared as a new car with modern edgy looks, although it still was the old 1950 Nash underneath! It was available as 2- and 4-door, station wagon and convertible and could be ordered with the more modern OHV six, the base power plant of the Rambler. To improve the Ambassador's sales it got a new front that looked kind of bloated and didn't help at all. Sales dropped by half. Nonetheless, the Rambler was number three in 1961 sales statistics.

In 1962 the moderately successful Ambassador was replaced by the new Rambler Ambassador, a luxurious version of the Rambler on the same wheel base. To give it a higher status, the V8 engine was reserved to the Ambo. The Metropolitan was dropped, a short-sighted decision that was based on the claim that the low priced American could take its place but left out that zeitgeist would make compactness the new trend. Volkswagen knew how to use the potential others layed fallow, and so the beetle drew the picture of a whole generation and not a modernized Metropolitan.
New base of the marketing campaign was safety: All Ramblers got twin-curcuit brakes, a feature only Cadillac, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz (300SE) offered at that time, cars that were placed in a much higher segment.
In 1962 the Ramblers remained number 3 in sales.

Another important occurrance took place at the time when the 1962 line up went bestselling. This time an all too human one: Ed Anderson, designer of the Ramblers and thus responsible for their success to a high degree, requested what he considered to be due, his promotion to Vice President of Design. Sadly, Anderson had come in the way of some egos at AMC who paid him back now. If he didn't like his position he should feel free to go elsewhere, he was told. Hurt and annoyed, Anderson took his hat and left. He went to Chrysler in Detroit, where nobody wanted to entitle him VP of Design either, whereafter Anderson finally went on his last job as pensionary in warm Mexico.
Chairman/president/CEO George Romney also wanted to leave AMC, though he didn't want to head south but higher: His aim was to become governor of Michigan. His successor as Big Boss was Roy Abernethy, former sales manager. New chairman was Richard Cross, and thus there was for the first time a two man top at AMC.
Still there was a vacancy in the design department. A new director of styling was found in Richard Teague whom Anderson brought to AMC in 1958. Teague, a graduate of California's Art Center School, had been chief of design at Packard until it went down. His unique style influenced the cars from Kenosha until AMC's end in 1987. (By the way, Teague received the title of VP of Design in 1964.)

The Fourth of the Three

The all-new Rambler (Classic and Ambassador) that replaced its (since 1956) basically unchanged predecessor in 1963 had been created by Anderson and Teague together. Its trapezoidal body shape mirrored the typical style of the post-tailfin era, and like it has been usus until today, it was a bit larger than the old one. With its clear lines, big windows and unpretentious interior it was a hit. And it had to be one, as it would have to last a similarly long time as its ancestor without looking old too soon. Money for new developments still was short. The v-shaped grille was an eye-catcher, a positive one, as the new Rambler sold like hot apple pie (presuming hot apple pie sells well). Finally an AMC product got a reward. The Rambler was Motor Trend's "car of the year".
Now the time was due to renew the rest of the fleet. A facelift in 1963 was followed by a totally new Rambler American that got the shortened platform of the Rambler Classic to save costs, and shared many other parts with its big brother.
Without a doubt, the new American was the most beautiful compact American car, and at the same time it was AMC's first car with tunneled headlights, a design favorite of Dick Teague.

Regarding businesses run by families you can sometimes hear the word: "The first generation starts the business, the second one brings it up, and the third one busts it." Be this word reality-proof or not, looking at AMC it seems to bear some truth. George Mason had founded American Motors, George Romney had brought it into profit zone, and Roy Abernethy probably was the one to ruin the company. Although being a stock corporation and no family business, AMC had always been run kind of dictatorical, not at all to its harm, and that barely changed when Abernethy took the sceptre but had to hand the orb over to Cross.
There was a reason why Abernethy had been sales manager: he was a salesman through and through, and like he had been persuading the dealers to order another truckload of Ramblers he now persuaded American Motors' management of his ideas.

In the middle of the 1960s AMC was in a safe position. Romney had given an identity to the Rambler line, an image that was far beyond the loser status the names Nash and Hudson were associated with. The Rambler was something like an American Mercedes. A bit more expensive than the competition of Chevrolet for example, it offered a better bang for the buck, was far better built and did not object itself to short-lived trends. (Even the line-up with Rambler Classic and Ambassador sharing the same base reminds in a striking way of Daimler-Benz's strategy of "one body fits all" in the tailfin era!) So AMC called for a more conservative clientel, that wanted solidity and a little extravagance. A clientel that, in Germany, would have placed a 190Dc or 220S in the driveway of their private estates.

Exactly that was what caused a severe heartburn inside bold Abernethy. He wanted to get rid of that granny image, away from the niche AMC had seated itself most comfortably in for years, and where it was able to prosper, away to bigger cars with more prestige, more luxury, more power. He wanted to get where Detroits manufacturers had been sitting thick and fat for decades, companies that could afford to fit a differently curved grille, a bigger engine, a new body style to their cars every other month, companies for which a flop was nothing more than an "Ooops!" and no existencial problem. Romney knew that AMC would be mouse in the cat's box in that environment, and Abernethy might have known that, too, but, on the other hand, bigger cars are supposed to return bigger profits, and make the smaller ones look more attractive.

The first step to the new direction was the possibility to order the Rambler Classic with V8 engine from 1963 on. Before that time the engine had been reserved for the Ambassador. Of course people started asking themselves, "Why buy an Ambo then?", and because nobody was able to give a pleasing answer, a new Ambassador was due.

Rambler American 220, 1965

Rambler American 220, 1965

This one came in 1965. The year before had brought some minor face lifts and a limited series Rambler hardtop called Typhoon, wherein the the newly developed 3.8l OHV six torque command had its premier, which would become the base for all AMC sixes until the bitter end (its 4.0l short block can still be found in Chrysler's Jeep line, only slightly changed).

The year 1965 showed the turn-away from everything that had made AMC's fleet stand out before. No sign of parts sharing strategy. There was practically no similarity to the 1963 models. While the American remained basically unchanged to the previous year, the Rambler Classic was an all-new vehicle, five inches longer than the previous model, although riding on the same wheelbase. The Ambassador in turn, not only got a new body, but also a longer wheelbase than the Classic. Everything was available, from station wagon to convertible, and advertisements proudly claimed:

New! 3 different sizes of cars!
New! 3 different wheelbases!
New! 7 spectacular powerplants!
New Torque Command Sixes — world's most advanced engines! Big V-8s!

This "most advanced engine" had camshaft in block and lifters, while every Mercedes engine had overhead camshaft and Alfa Romeo offered state-of-the-art DOHC powerplants. Well... The new brochures featured the luxury models and put the volume sellers like station wagons in the back, a fact that didn't help to keep the regular customers. Abernethy took the dropping sales of the Americans and six cylinder Ramblers as proof he was going the right way.

Right in the middle of the model year a totally new car was added to the line-up: the Marlin. This sport coupe was intended to compete with the Ford Mustang, a car with rocketing sales numbers. The prototype of the later Marlin had been conceived by Dick Teague to be mounted on the American's platform. When Teague came back from a visit to Europe he had to find that his concept was considered too small, partly because there was no V8 for the American. Abernethy had ordered to pump it up to the Classic platform. That megalomania didn't help the looks of the car. The Marlin looked different at best. Besides that it had moved from Mustang class up to a competition like the nice Plymouth Barracuda and the Dodge Charger. The strange Marlin flopped greatly. In the first year, 10,327 were sold. In 1966 the Rambler Marlin was called the Marlin, sans Rambler. 4,547 Marlin keys went over the counter.
It was decided to seek refuge in attack. The 1967 Marlin got front end and platform of the 67 Ambo and grew to 5 meters 12. 2,545 were sold, and that was the bottom line.

Why didn't the Marlin sell as it should have? Motor Trend said the interior was excellent, and Hot Rod wrote that "the Marlin was probably one of the most comfortable cross-country cruisers ever produced". The problem was simple: The young people the Marlin was aimed for didn't want a fat cruiser with a gadget list several miles long, they wanted a sporty coupe. And the Marlin was as sporty as the coupe of the current S-Class (which is by the way one of the most comfortable cross-country cruisers ever).

Going Down ...

Like said before, the Marlin got its own brand. That was because Abernethy felt the name "Rambler" that was standard only since 1963 for AMC cars, was sub-standard for his top models. So the name Ambassador stood alone too. The American got a new front which fit it quite nicely. A luxury model, called the Rogue, was added. It came better equipped and featured a new engine, a 4.75l V8 that could be combined with a manual 4-speed floor shift. The Classic received a facelift and its hardtop version got a new name, the Rebel.

All that did not help much — sales were dropping, not only because American Motors had to call a higher price for the grown cars, but also because Mr. Big caused a new member with a high salary to employ himself at AMC, Mr. Short Commons, and this guy was no marketing genius. The press started to call AMC "struggling" or "financially ailing", and that didn't help improve sales. Another important thing went south at the same time, image. AMC didn't have any strong image anymore. On one side it was still "Economy King", on the other side luxury and sportiness were now linked to the name, and those two ingredients were like strawberries and garlic.
In the middle of 1966 management and stockholders finally recognized a change had to happen. Chairman Richard Cross was replaced by the largest stockholder, Robert Evans, who planned to get AMC back on track. Roy Chapin jr., son of one of the founders of Hudson, and experienced in various parts of AMC management, was entitled Executive VP and Automotive General Manager.

The 1967 model year brought facelifts for American and Ambassador. The Rambler Classic was replaced by a new model that also got a new name, the Rebel. The Rebel finally got something like a modern rear axle, a solid axle on push rods. Its predecessor had to live with a torque tube construction, something the school book for automobile mechanics in Germany of 1966 only mentioned in a historical context.
The new models were released in fall of 1966 (including the enlarged Marlin) and did not sell well. In January of 1967, money finally was so tight that management met to talk about crisis-handling and make the necessary changes. Roy Chapin was appointed chairman and chief executive, Robert Evans remained as a director, and luck-lacking Roy Abernethy was forced to retire. He was replaced by William V. Luneburg.
Now AMC had new people. Still missing were new cars, but there were some surprises on schedule for 1968.

... and Up Again

First there was a strong need for cash. And that cash was provided by the sale of one of AMC's subsidiaries, Redisco, a manufacturer of refridgerators which had belonged to AMC from the beginning. The government made a donation by ordering 4000 Ambassadors for the postal service. Around the same number of AMC employees got dismissed. Thus the company employed only 23,704 people in the end of 1967, more than 11,000 less than in 1963. AMC's products were good — the cars were still high quality and at a moderate price. The image on the other hand left much to be desired.

Roy Chapin wanted to improve it, and so he signed a contract with a new marketing agency that got the job to draw the right picture of AMC. Chapin and his staff headed the hard way along. In the following months they were everywhere, visited dealers to gain their trust again, calmed investors who had started fearing about their investments, and gave loads of press conferences.

Javelin, 1968

Javelin, 1968

AMC's nose job was accompanied by a new car: The Javelin, a much smaller successor of the unlucky Marlin. The Javelin was a cute 4-seater coupe and conceived as competition for the Chevrolet Camaro. Like the Rebel and the Ambassador (both now without any mention of the Rambler name), it could be ordered as SST (Super Sport Touring) with stiffer suspension and Go-package (5.6 liter V8).
Spring of 1968 brought forth the most desired AMC of today: the AMX. Based on the Javelin it was even shorter (4.50 m) and a 2-seater. It was intended to compete with Chevrolet's Corvette and thus was offered with three different V8 engines, manual four-on-the-floor or 3-speed auto, front disc brakes and twin-grip differential.
In 1969 Karmann in Osnabrück, Germany (maker of the Beetle Convertible, Karmann Ghias, BMW 6ers and various other cars) made some 200 Javelin SSTs for the European market, sadly without big success. Only very few are known to have survived until today (the author only knows about 5, scattered all over Europe).
As bad as Karmann Javelin sales were, American Javelin and AMX sales were great. 35,000 sales had been planned, more than 65,000 were actually sold. Or given away — an all pink AMX was given to Playboy's Playmate of the Year, Angela Dorian. She still owns the car, but she seems to like the Rolling Stones, as she since painted it black.

Not decipherable was the image gain. The sports cars helped a lot to improve public opinion about AMC. AMC even got plenty of free advertising as Javelin and AMX were often found on the front pages of automotive magazines. The paid advertisements mirrored the new spirit in the house of AMC:

Either we're charging too little, or everyone else is charging too much!
Its price is much less than Mustang's, yet you get much more (Javelin)
It's the best dollar value in the automobile business (Rebel)
It's the only car made in America priced under $ 2,000 (American)
The only American line of cars with air conditioning standard (Ambassador)

1968 was the first year since a long time that AMC made profits again. To get more capital for necessary investments another subsidiary was sold: Kelvinator (household stuff), wich left AMC as a mere car manufacturer.
The fleet for 1969 had already been decided by Abernethy, no changes were possible. Most models remained unchanged, but the Ambassador was bigger (again!) and a top league car now. The advertisements said:

It will remind you of the days when money really bought something!

In the middle of the year AMC blessed the world with a special: The most powerful engine of the house was shoehorned in the smallest car, the American with 2.70m wheelbase. A little monster called SC/Rambler alias Hurst Rambler was born. Red/white/blue paint scheme and fat tyres showed clearly that this guy was almost too powerful to run. 1512 "Scramblers" were made (only 500 were planned originally).

Still AMC wasn't over the top. Sales numbers were good, but proceeds were low. The upcoming decade would have to bring lots of new cars, and development costs were high. Roy Chapin recognized the small profits wouldn't be enough to save AMC's future. But he already had a plan. On June 30, 1969, when the last Rambler ever left the assembly line (4,204,925 cars with that name had been sold), the deal was near perfect.

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Last modified: Sun Apr 18 18:28:04 CEST 2010