AMC Rambler Classic 6 and V8

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AMC Classic V8

AMC Rambler Classic 6 and V8

1961 - 1966
L6 and V8
to 270-hp
3 spd. man / 3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
Number Built:
4 star
AMC Rambler Classic 6 and V8
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4


The Rambler was the focus of AMC's management strategy under the leadership of George W. Romney. American Motors designed and built some of the most fuel-efficient, best-styled and well-made cars of the 1950s and 1960s. Their compact cars (for the era) helped AMC to achieve sales and corporate profit successes.

In 1961, the Rambler marque ranked in third place among domestic automobile sales. Ramblers were available in two sizes and built on different automobile platforms. The larger-sized Rambler series was based on a 1956 design and was renamed as the Classic for the 1961 model year to help create a stronger individual identity and contrast from the smaller Rambler American line.

Edmund E. Anderson

American Motor's Edmund E. Anderson designed the new 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase Ramblers "that looked new and fresh, but were in fact inexpensive reskinned models." The 1961 Classic featured a new front end with a one-piece, rectangular extruded-aluminum grille, new fenders, hood, sculptured door panels, and side trim, as well as one-piece bumpers. Models included the Deluxe, the Super, and the Custom (featuring bucket seats in a four-door sedan).

The suggested retail price for the basic Deluxe four-door sedan was US$2,098 and was only $339 more for a station wagon. In 1961, the Classic was available in either a 195.5 cu in 3.2 litre L6 or 250 cu in 4.1 litre V8 engine. A lighter by 80 pounds (36 kg) aluminum block version of the OHV L6 engine, sometimes referred to as the 196, was offered as an option on Deluxe and Super models.

The die cast block featured iron "sleeves" or cylinder liners with a cast iron alloy cylinder head and produces the same 127.5 horsepower (95 kW) as the cast iron version. American Motors "defied the detractors" with its emphasis on economical and compact-sized cars achieving a sales total of 370,600 vehicles in 1961, "lifting the Rambler to an unprecedented third place in the charts behind Chevrolet and Ford". For the 1962 model year, the Super models were dropped and replaced by a 400 model.

Also that year, the flagship Ambassador models were shortened to the same 108-inch (2,700 mm) wheelbase as the V8 was dropped from the Classic models. This meant the Ambassador models were the only models with V8s in the AMC lineup. The two-door sedan version of the Rambler Classic was sold only in 1962. Starting in 1962, AMC took a leadership role with safer brake systems in all Ramblers featuring twin-circuit brakes, a design offered by only a few cars at that time. Additional improvements included a price cut of $176 on the popular Custom Classic sedan.

The Rambler Classic 2nd Generation

For the 1963 model year, the Rambler Classic line was completely redesigned with subtle body sculpturing. Outgoing design director, Edmund E. Anderson, shaped the Classic that was named Motor Trend magazine's 1963 "Car of the Year." These were also the first AMC models that were influenced by Richard A. Teague, the company's new principal designer. The 1963 Classics were also the first all-new cars developed by AMC since 1956. Keeping the philosophy of the company, they were more compact - shorter and narrower by one inch (25 mm), as well as over two inches (56 mm) lower - than the preceding models; but lost none of their "family-sized" passenger room or luggage capacity featuring a longer 112-inch (2,845 mm) wheelbase.

It was Rambler that pulled American Motors Corporation out of the financial difficulty – partly based on the myth that they were smaller cars (but, up until 1963, they were usually the big big Classic models) and partly on its deserved reputation for solid construction and reliability. But even the greatest Rambler admirer would not have claimed the car's success was due to its looks. From the early 1960s the Australian-assembled version (identical in appearance to the American models) was hardly a contender for the award of "Most graceful-looking car". But the 1963 model changed all that.

From most aspects, the Rambler (each model uses basically the same body) was an exceptionally handsome motor car. Although the wheelbase was extended by four inches, the overall length and width were reduced slightly and the height dropped a full three inches. The whole body style was revamped, to the extent that the 1963 model was barely recognisable, at first sight, as a Rambler, at all. The difference was immediately apparent from the front. The 1962 model was a peculiar mixture of a lattice-work radiator grille and swept-up wings above the double-double headlights.

The four headlights remained on the ‘63, but they were set neatly in an extremely concave grille that extended neatly across the width of the car. It was simple, neat and effective, with only one jarring note - the word RAMBLER heavily embossed across the centre. The string of letters was too large, and did not fit in-with the clean simplicity of the rest of the front. American Motors took a leaf out of Chevrolet's best-selling book with its flat, broad bonnet. Nothing fancy, but it did the ego a lot of good to gaze over it from behind the wheel. From the side, it was difficult to distinguish the Rambler from the British Ford Zephyr Mark III.

The panels (and side glass) had the same convex curves and the car was fitted with the same rectangular piece of sheet steel where, in 1962, there had been a rear quarter light. The back was cleaner than the 1962 model too, a trace of the tailfins which had died a slow death on the Rambler. The windscreen was another (welcome) major change, from the wrap around style with its knee-cracking dog-leg pillars, to the semi-fiat, sloping style of so many American cars, pioneered by the Falcon. When you looked closey you could see that there was a lot of both Ford and General Motors styling in the 1963 Rambler Classic body and the combination, visually at least, was an outstanding success. Although the body was undoubtedly important, sweeping price cuts both in the USA and here in Australia were probably the most desirable features of the new range.

The Automatic Six Cylinder Classic

In Australia, the biggest selling model was the automatic six-cylinder Classic, which dropped by a massive £200 to £1799. The Classic station wagon came down by £151 to £2145 and the big V8 Ambassador sedan dropped £115 to £2265. In addition, a standard transmission Classic sedan was being offered in Australia, for the first time, at £1675. Part of the price reduction had clearly come from trimming equipment. Gone, in the Classic, was the traditional Nash and Rambler feature of layback seats in the front. Originated in Nashes as far back as 1938, the layback seats were actually a bit of a sales gimmick - except perhaps for the young who took their cars to the drive-in. More important was the dropping of a heater as standard equipment. Undoubtedly this saved Australian Motor Industries (the assemblers of Rambler in Australia) several pounds, but the omission was miserable for a car in this price range.

However, to AMI's credit, an excellent windscreen washer was retained. “Big Deal” we hear you say – and maybe we are clutching at straws. The Aussie built Ramblers definitely deserved the heater, no matter which way you looked at it. The washer itself was a simple pump type operated by foot. Its great feature was that it had four nozzles which sent a magnificent stream of water across the broad windscreen at a touch of the foot. The wipers themselves, although still vacuum operated, now swept the screen in parallel arcs. Apart from the heater, interior fittings were good. Carpet was laid on the floor, the seats were covered in a heavy quality vinyl material and the top of the dash was painted in a matt black finish.

The driving position was little changed from the 1962 model, which was good and bad – some were able to get comfortable, but we have read plenty of reviewers claim the task was not an easy one. Part of the reason was because the steering wheel was an enormous two-spoke affair that was even old fashioned by 1963 standards, and the general lowering of the car brought it uncomfortably close to the seat cushion. Also, for some incredible reason, the designers persisted with the old Rambler steering box, with such a low ratio that the big wheel had to be spun around six and a third times to get from lock to lock.

On the Road

There was no doubt the steering was light given the ratio, and this would have helped reduce the strain of parking in tight spots – but it was so low that we assume only the very dexterous would have been able to avoid getting their elbows tangled up. Thankfully the general understeering characteristics of the Rambler Classic made it easy to drive on good straight roads. But in the corners, and on winding roads, the whole setup was a little over the odds. This is particularly so in view of the Classic's otherwise excellent road handling. Coil springs on all wheels, good weight balance, a nicely light front end (thanks, partly to the aluminium engine) all helped give the car a smooth, stable ride. It heeled a bit on corners, though not to an annoying degree and dipped the nose slightly on hard braking. But you would forgive all of these if the AMC engineers had properly sorted the steering,

Mechanically, there was little change from the first generation Classic. The engine was the same six cylinder aluminium unit that gave the Rambler plenty of power smoothly and silently and seemed to be quite trouble free. The three speed automatic transmission was switched to the Type-35 Borg Warner unit - a lighter and smoother variation of the 1962 Borg Warner box. The brakes were vastly better. The system was only slightly modified, but the car itself was lighter. Fade could be induced, but only with really brutal treatment - and recovery was quick. The Classic’s finish was up to the high standard of that AMI maintained not only on its Rambler range, but on the Mercedes and Standard-Triumph vehicles it also assembled here in Australia.

The Ambassador

American Motors' "senior" cars, the Classic and Ambassador, shared the same wheelbase and body parts, with only trim differences and standard equipment levels to distinguish the models. Classics came in pillared two- and four-door sedans, as well as four-door wagons. The model designations now went from 550, 660, to 770 trims (replacing the Deluxe, Custom, and 400 versions). As in 1962, the 1963 Classics were initially all 6-cylinder 195.5 cu in 3.2 litre models, while the Ambassadors featured the 327 cu in 5.4 litre V8 engine. In mid-1963, a new 287 cu in 4.7 litre V8 option was announced for the Classic models.

The 198 hp (148 kW) V8 equipped Rambler Classics combined good performance with good mileage; even with the optional "Flash-O-Matic" automatic transmission, they reached 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in about 10 seconds and returned fuel economy from 16 miles per US gallon (15 litres/100 km; 19 mpg-imp) to 20 miles per US gallon (12 litres/100 km; 24 mpg-imp). The new AMC cars incorporated numerous engineering solutions. Among these was curved side glass, one of the earliest popular-priced cars with this feature. Another engineering breakthrough was combining separate parts in the monocoque (unit construction) body into single stampings.

One example was the "uni-side" door surround that was made from a single stamping of steel. Not only did it replace 52 parts, as well as reduce weight and assembly costs; but it also increased structural rigidity and provided for better fitment for the doors.American Motors' imaginative engineering prompted Motor Trend magazine to give the Classic - and the similar Ambassador models - their Car of the Year award for 1963. The 1964 model year Classics, were refined with stainless steel rocker mouldings, a flush single-plane aluminium grille replacing the previous year's deep concave design, and oval tail-lamps replacing the flush mounted lenses of the 1963's. Classics with bucket seats and V8 engine could be ordered with a new "Shift-Command" three-speed automatic transmission mounted on the centre console that could be shifted manually. A new two-door hardtop model joined the line in 770 as well as a sporty 770-H version that featured individually adjustable reclining bucket seats.

AMC Typhoon

American Motors unveiled the Typhoon in April 1964. This mid-1964 model year introduction was a sporty variant of the Classic 770 2-door hardtop. This special model was introduced to highlight AMC's completely new short-stroke, seven main bearing, 145 hp (108 kW) 8.5:1 compression ratio 232 cu in (3.8 L) "Typhoon" modern era inline-6. Production of this commemorative model was limited to 2,520 units and it was only available in a two-tone Solar Yellow body with a Classic Black roof, and a sporty all-vinyl interior for US$2,509. The car also featured a distinctive "Typhoon" script in place of the usual "Classic" name insignia, as well as a unique grille with black out accents.

All other AMC options (except engine choices and colours) were available on the Typhoon. The engine became the mainstay six-cylinder engine for AMC and Jeep vehicles. It was produced, albeit in a modified form, up until 2006. The 232 I6 engine's name was soon changed to "Torque Command", with Typhoon to describe AMC's new line of V8s introduced in 1966. The 1965 model year Classics underwent a major redesign of the new platform that was introduced in 1963; essentially the 1963-1964 design with a rectilinear re-skin similar to that of concurrent Ambassadors.

Fresh sheet metal design was applied to the original 112 in (2,800 mm) wheelbase and 195 in (5,000 mm) long integral body-frame with only the roof, doors, and windshield as carryovers. Unchanged was the suspension system including a torque tube with coil springs with a Panhard rod. The Rambler Classic was now shorter than - as well as visually distinctive from - the Ambassador line, while still sharing the basic body structure from the windshield back. For the first time a convertible model was available in the 770 trim version. The two-door sedan was dropped from the 770 model lineup.

Sensible Spectaculars

The 1965 Classic models were billed as the "Sensible Spectaculars," with emphasis on their new styling, powerful engines, and their expanded comfort and sports-type options, in contrast to the previous "economy car" image. American Motors now only offered its modern straight-six engine design, retiring the aging 195.6 cu in 3.2 litre versions. The 1965 Classic base 550 models featured an economical 128 hp (95 kW) 199 cu in 3.3 litre six-cylinder that was a de-stroked 232 engine. The 660 and 770 series received the 145 hp (108 kW) 232 cu in 3.8 litre, while a 155 hp (116 kW) six and the 198 hp (148 kW) 287 cu in 4.7 litre or 270 hp (201 kW) 327 cu in 5.4 litre V8 engines were optional.

Popular Science magazine reported, "you can have a 1965 Classic as a penny-pinching economy car or a storming performance job." Additional performance options for 1965 included power front disk brakes with four-piston callipers that were supplied by Bendix. The standard 4-wheel drum brakes also continued to feature AMC's "Double-Safety" master cylinder system. The dual master cylinder was available in only one "Big Three" car: Cadillac. At mid-model year, AMC introduced the 1965 Marlin, a halo car for the company. It was a mid-sized fastback using the Rambler Classic platform. Marketed as a personal luxury car, the Marlin had unique styling and featured an exceptional array of standard equipment.

The 1966 model year Rambler Classics received minor trim changes and additional standard safety features, including padded dash and visors, left outside mirror, as well as seat belts for the front and rear passengers. The 660 mid-trim level was dropped leaving the 550 and 770 models for 1966. Available for the first time was a floor mounted four-speed manual transmission and a dash-mounted tachometer. Classics received particular attention to the styling of the roofs for 1966. The two-door hardtop models received a rectangular rear window and more formal and angular "crisp-line" roofline that could be covered with vinyl trim. Sedans had an optional trim-outlined "halo" roof accent colour.

The station wagon's roof area over the cargo compartment was at the same level with the rest of the roof, no longer dipped down as in prior years. The wagons carried Cross Country insignia and featured 83 cubic feet (2.35 m3) of cargo space, as well as a standard roof rack. Two wagon seating capacities were available: a standard six-passenger version with two-rows of seats with a drop-down bottom-hinged tailgate incorporating a fully retracting rear window for accessing cargo, or in an optional eight-passenger version with three-rows of seats (the third rear-facing) and a left-side hinged rear fifth door. The name Classic was no longer considered a positive factor in the marketplace and AMC began reshuffling model names in 1966.

Rambler Rebel

A top-of-the-line version of the two-door hardtop Classic was offered under the historic Rambler Rebel name. It replaced the 770-H and featured special badges and standard slim-type bucket seats with optional checked upholstery with two matching pillows. Public reaction to the tartan touch appearing in some of AMC's "Project IV" automobile show tour cars, was judged favorable enough to make the unique trim available on the Rebel hardtop. Serving as one example to verify how AMC products were routinely derided by various automotive press, Popular Science magazine wrote that the new "Rambler Rebel reveals a sudden interest in performance," but its handling package cannot overcome the car's obsolete suspension design.

However, AMC was reluctant to forfeit their Nash engineered suspension design which employed a strut type front and panhard rod controlled torque tube rear drive system, both having long coil springs to place the upper spring seats higher into the body of the car. This feature was to afford a softer ride quality and better handling by reducing the geometrical leverage of the car's center of gravity for less body roll "sway" in cornering. What was labeled as "obsolete" is juxtaposed by noting how General Motors employed a similar suspension system on their third generation Camaro and Firebird nearly twenty years later which had McPherson strut front and a torque arm mounted rear drive axle.
1964 AMC Rambler Classic Cross Country
AMC Rambler Classic

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Also see:

AMC Rambler Australian V8 Brochure
AMC Car Brochures
American Motors Car Commercials
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