Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
Unlike any other U.S. auto manufacturer from the 1960s, American Motors chose to base their entire line around compactness and economy. And this paid off handsomely. By getting a head start on the compact craze, they were able to step right up and supply the demand with proven compacts while competitors were in the throes of de-bugging and introducing theirs.
When their 1964
sales declined (along with the demand for compacts) in what was for others a bumper year, AMC decided to take a long look at their cars and the market to see what could be done. Their only remaining true compact, the American, had actually bounced back in sales after having been given some of the freshest, cleanest styling of any car, but overall sales had suffered.
What they saw was to the chagrin of those who'd conceived the economical compacts out of sheer conviction, as AMC's designs pre-dated the compact era by several years. They found the trend toward bigger cars, so they made longer cars for 1965
. But the unspeakable spectre they saw was performance, the very antithesis of the policy to which they owed their success (perhaps their very existence) as auto makers.
American Motors was well aware that, percentagewise, the number of performance cars sold was small. But they were also aware that sales of these cars were increasing, and what was just as important, muscle cars were excellent image-builders and helped sales throughout the line. Hence the spawning of the Marlin. AMC decided that distinctive styling and safety would be the main features of their offering, rather than brute power and performance.
Their top engine option, the 327-cubic-inch, 270-hp V8, while certainly not puny, was not sufficient to push a car of the Marlin's size and weight into the performance category. But you shouldn’t dismiss the Marlin lightly. For the money, you were getting a well rounded package that looked the goods – which explains why they are so collectable today. Power aside, the Marlin was ahead of the pack in many areas. The brakes
make a good example, standard equipment were 11.19-inch disc brakes
in front and 10-inch non-servo flanged drums in the rear.
used a Bendix tandem master cylinder setup – a dual master cylinder arrangement separating the front and rear hydraulic systems – which meant a failure in either the front or rear brakes
would not affect the others, leaving them operative. Standard kit these days on the cheapest Korean, but we are talking about a car from 1965
– and this feature alone made the Marlin, for the time, one of the safest and most effective systems ever offered on any car.
On the Inside
Another important feature of the Marlin was its interior comfort. Lots of human engineering went into the passenger compartment, as was evident from the feel on everything from seats to controls. The rear seats were full sized and considered by most to be among the most comfortable on any of the fastbacks from that decade. You could option slim bucket seats with fold-down, cushioned arm rests front and rear. With arm rests in place, you had very good lateral location, which would reduce fatigue on long drives, especially on curvy roads. Seat cushions and backs used full coil-spring construction, a feature then usually found only on the most expensive of the U.S. built cars.
There were a number of other things that contributed to passenger comfort in the Marlin. Among them was AMC's redesigned Weather-Eye heater – able to cope with sub-freezing temperatures we will assume it was designed by a Canadian (after suffering a Canadian winter, we understand why the Americans left the northern border to the English). But, given AMC’s proving ground was in Wisconsin, we figure that was probably cold enough for the engineers to get it well sorted. Out of fashion today, but a well thought out feature for the heavy smokin’ ‘60s were the twin ash trays with ball bearing mechanism. These opened and closed without the usual fight necessary on many cars.
Behind the Wheel
For ultimate control many owners used the console-mounted Shift-Command stick, starting in low and, holding with the brake, applying just enough throttle to get the car moving. Then, release the brake and apply throttle at a progressively faster rate. Best times up-shifting came at 4600-5200 rpm. The V8 had ample torque to cause the rear end to break away from a wet surface all the way to 60 mph – and in an era long before traction control this would usually result in a bit of fish-tailing.
But the Marlin had inherent stability in spades, so it was never all that dangerous. To our mind, cars from the 1960s are no less dangerous than cars of today, with all their electronic wizardry. Having enough power to overtake safely – having a car that offers inherent stability and a well sorted chassis will always win the day.
Unfortunately, however, the same cannot be said for the one feature we wish all cars were equipped with – ABS. As good as the brakes
were on the Marlin, it was all too easy to lock them up – particularly in the wet. That said, their wet weather performance matched most U.S. built cars ability in the dry – which is why the Marlin was such a good package. It had handling
, braking and reasonable performance to boot. There was a comfortable ride, moderate to high roll in turns, and moderate to heavy understeer. AMC fitted then new low-profile tyres
which eliminated much of the tyre
scrub evident on other AMC models of the time. Fuel consumption varied between 11 and 14 mpg under average conditions.
The Individual Marlin
Depending on the options you chose, you could build any a Marlin with a distinct character. Try doing that at your local Hyundai dealer! The engine choice started with a standard 232-cubic-inch, 155-hp Six. Next came the 287-inch, 198-hp V8, and then the 327-cubic-inch, 270-hp V8. And we know what you are thinking – you would take the V8 any day of the week. We agree – but then the straight 6 was a damn fine engine. It had amazing durability and better economy – and with a whopping 222 pounds-feet of torque at 1600 rpm, we can understand why some buyers felt the extra power of the V8 unnecessary.
The transmission was another toss-up. You would never want the three-on-the-tree column mounted unit – only the shift lever console-mounted was a serious consideration. That narrowed the choice down to the twin-stick, three-speed manual with overdrive or the Shift-Command three-speed automatic. The automatic
was nice, and you could control it if you wanted to. The manual with overdrive gave the highest gearing and best fuel consumption – so maybe the decision was not so difficult after all. You could also option stiffer springs and heavy-duty shocks on all their cars (although it is hard to find these options mentioned in sales materials).
Of course you would expect us here at Unique Cars and Parts
to suggest that was the better way to go – an American car, no matter how well sorted, always made a compromise to a softly sprung ride – and the road tests from Marlins fitted with the suspension
mods always noted the improvement in handling – even if it was at the expense of your bum. Other options were only cosmetic, such as tinted glass for the windshield and side windows. AMC may not have come up with a true muscle car with the Marlin - but they did offer a car that was uniquely their own - good looking and very well sorted. They didn't compromise on safety and comfort, but they drew the line where performance started to erode away economy.