1965 AMC Rambler Marlin. Click image to enlarge
Story and photo by Bill Vance
American Motors Corporation was formed in 1954 through the amalgamation of two grand old American names, the Nash Motor Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan.
Nash’s designs would predominate, and AMC-based cars were marketed as both Nashes and Hudsons until 1957. These names then disappeared, along with the corporation’s large cars. All AMC products became Ramblers, a name that dated back in Nash history to 1902 when it was the Thomas B. Jeffery Company.
During the late 1950s and early ’60s AMC chairman George Romney disdained the “gas guzzling dinosaurs” produced by the Big Three, GM, Ford and Chrysler. He was an advocate of smaller, more fuel efficient cars.
He was a man ahead of his time, and in 1958 he re-introduced a derivative of the original 1950 2,540 mm (100 in.) wheelbase Rambler and called it the Rambler American. After an absence of two years Romney decided the time was right to bring it back.
It was the correct decision, because in spite of an economic recession in 1958 the American sold well, and helped AMC post a $26 million profit after two losing years. It also consolidated AMC’s reputation for building sensible, economical cars, models that would even do well against the Big Three’s new 1960 compacts.
When Romney left in 1962 to enter politics, which led him to the governorship of Michigan, AMC passed into the hands of management with different priorities. The new president Roy Abernethy set out to burnish what he saw as AMC’s staid image. He wanted a new line of cars that were bigger, more powerful and exciting. His goal was to challenge the Big Three, which ultimately failed, but not before a variety of cars emerged, among them the fastback Rambler Marlin.
In the early 1960s fastbacks enjoyed some popularity in such sporty cars as the Chevrolet Corvette and the Studebaker Avanti. This was the sporty market that AMC wanted to tap into. Their chief stylist Richard Teague had sensed this too and had AMC stylists develop a concept fastback version of the compact Rambler American. It was called the Tarpon, and was first displayed at the 1964 convention of the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit. The Tarpon was popular with the engineers, and this, plus favourable responses in California and Chicago showings, convinced AMC that they were on the right path.
Then, unexpectedly, AMC president Abernethy decreed that they would not be proceeding with a production Tarpon. In Detroit’s bigger is better tradition (Abernethy was an old Packard man), he wanted something bigger, a fastback version of the company’s mid-size Rambler Classic. It would be a kind of 3+3, rather than the usual sporty 2+2.
Teague styled a new car which they called the Rambler Marlin. It was based on the larger Classic, but unfortunately, what looked nicely proportioned on the 2,692 mm (106 in.) Rambler American wheelbase, took on a different character on the Classic’s 2,845 mm (112 in.) wheelbase. Whereas the Tarpon’s 1,333 mm (52.5-in.) height and 4,572 mm (180 in.) length had given it a svelte, sleek appearance, the Marlin, at 38 mm (1.5 in.) taller and 381 mm (15 in.) longer looked ungainly.
The Marlin was neither a compact sporty fastback nor a regular six-passenger sedan. And while it was meant to appeal to the newly identified youth market, those buyers didn’t want a huge, six-passenger car. And family car buyers preferred four doors and a larger trunk. The Marlin was, therefore, a little like a fish out of water.
It wasn’t very exciting mechanically either. Base power for the Marlin was the corporation’s sturdy if prosaic 3.8-litre (232 cu in.), 145 horsepower overhead valve inline six. Optional were overhead valve 4.7 and 5.4-litre (287 and 327 cu in) V8s producing 198 and 270 horsepower. The Marlin came with an automatic transmission only, which was a serious deficiency in the sporty market segment.
AMC introduced the Marlin as a mid-1965 model. It generated an initial flush of interest, and in spite of being only a half-year model a respectable 10,327 ’65 Marlins were sold.
There was little change in the 1966 Marlin, and interest in AMC’s fastback plunged. Only 4,547 ’66s were sold; apparently almost everybody who wanted a Marlin had bought one in 1965.
Action was required, so AMC asked Teague to have another try at the shell game by basing the 1967 Marlin on the company’s even larger Ambassador model. This resulted in a 152 mm (6.0 in.) longer wheelbase, bringing it to 2,997 mm (118 in.). And at 5,118 mm (201.5 in.), it was 165 mm (6.5 in.) longer over all. The Marlin was big before, and it was even bigger now.
Surprisingly, the increase made the Marlin a better looking car, and some new interest was generated. But again, it didn’t translate into many sales. In spite of such available options as 280 horsepower, a tachometer, disc brakes, and a four-on-the-floor manual transmission, only 2,545 ’67s were sold.
“Longer, lower and wider” didn’t revive the market for the bigger Marlin, and AMC’s failed attempt at an oversize sporty car ended in 1967. The Marlin was gone, and so was Abernethy. AMC wisely turned its fastback attention to its far more successful Javelin pony car.