April 5, 2012
Article and photo by Bill vance
American Motors Corporation (AMC) underwent some hard economic times following its formation through the amalgamation of Nash Motor Co. and Hudson Motor Car Co. in 1954. But after a few years things began to improve and it got a lucky break. Rarely does an auto manufacturer benefit from an economic recession, but AMC did during the downturn of 1958.
That was the year it decided to bring back the 2,540-mm (100-inch) wheelbase Rambler that had originally appeared as the 1950 Nash Rambler. It had been discontinued by AMC in 1955, but for 1958 AMC resurrected it with a minor facelift and renamed it the Rambler American.
The American was the only American compact available that year, and it proved to be what many buyers were looking for. It helped carry AMC to its first profitable year since its formation. By 1961, Rambler would climb up to third place in sales in the North American industry, seeming to vindicate AMC president George Romney’s wisdom of constantly railing against Detroit’s huge “gas-guzzling dinosaurs.” 1961 was also the year in which AMC redesigned the American and turned the mid-sized Rambler Rebel/Six into the Classic.
Richard “Dick” Teague, formerly with General Motors, Packard, and Chrysler, had joined AMC from Packard in 1958 and found his long-term home. His ability to produce fresh-looking products requiring low tooling costs would prove a godsend to AMC through its financially troubled times.
The first cars in which Teague influenced AMC styling were the 1963 Rambler Classic and Ambassador, the first all-new cars from AMC since 1956. The Ambassador was really a just a slightly stretched Classic with a 229 mm (9.0 in.) longer wheelbase.
Although the wheelbase of the ’63 Classic was 102 mm (4 in.) longer than the ’62, and keeping with the departed Romney’s philosophy, the car was slightly more compact. Overall length was reduced by 25.4 mm (1.0 in.) to 4,796 mm (188.8 in.), but in spite of this, clever engineering retained all of its former passenger and luggage space. It was also 2.2 in.) lower and 28 mm (1.1 in) narrower than the bulky design it replaced. It was the ideal-sized family car and four-wheel coil spring suspension provided an excellent ride. Rambler’s trademark reclining seats were continued. It came as the 550, 660 and 770 series.
Along with more compact dimensions the new Classic had lovely fresh styling. The side glass was curved, the first popularly priced cars with this feature. This allowed thinner doors for more interior room. Body sides were nicely sculpted and thankfully, all vestiges of 1950s fins had disappeared.
The new Classic had practicality as well as beauty. One of its interesting engineering features was combining many separate parts of the unit construction body into single stampings, reducing the number of parts from 346 to 244.
A good example of component reduction was the “uniside” door frame that was pressed from a single piece of steel. This one stamping encircled both doors, replaced 52 parts and provided much better-fitting doors. At the same time the company claimed its new unit body reduced weight by 68 kg (150 lb) while increasing structural rigidity in the process. It was this type of imaginative engineering that prompted Motor Trend magazine to give the Classic its 1963 Car of the Year award.
The Classic was powered by AMC’s 3.2-litre (195.6 cu. in.) long-stroke, overhead-valve, inline-six-cylinder engine that developed 127 horsepower in standard form, or 138 with a two-barrel carburetor. It could also be had with an aluminum block, which AMC called “America’s First Die-Cast Aluminum Six.” The aluminum engine did not work out and was only offered for a short time. A mid-year engine option was a 4.7-litre (287 cu in.) overhead-valve, 198-horsepower V8.
In the transmission department, AMC had the industry’s widest range of offerings. The Classic could have a regular three-speed, column-shifted manual with optional overdrive; a three speed “Flash-O-Matic” automatic; an “E-stick” semi-automatic transmission with no clutch pedal (touching the lever disengaged the clutch); and “Twin-Stick” with two floor-mounted shifters (770 only). One lever operated the three-speed manual, and the other engaged overdrive. For a passing spurt, overdrive could also be disengaged by a button atop the regular shift lever.
The Classic continued Rambler’s “lifetime” ceramic-coated exhaust system, guaranteed for as long as the original purchaser owned the car. An outstanding safety feature was AMC’s dual circuit hydraulic braking system that it had introduced for 1962. It would soon become an industry standard.
The 1963 Classic helped lift AMC’s total sales to 464,126 cars, its best year ever. Although not necessarily outstanding in any particular aspect, the sum of its individual features made the 1963 Rambler Classic a desirable and attractive car.