Wheels Classic Cars: American Motors Corporation’s 1963 Rambler
American Motors Corp. 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 in.)
wheelbase Rambler that had originally appeared as the 1950 Nash Rambler. It had been discontinued by AMC in 1955 to make way for a larger car, but for 1958 AMC resurrected it with it a minor facelift and renamed the Rambler American.
The American was the only American compact available that year, and it proved to be what many buyers were looking for, helping carry AMC to its first profitable year since its formation.
By 1961, Rambler would climb 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.
Nineteen-sixty-one 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 with low tooling costs would prove a godsend to AMC through its financially troubled times.
The first cars in which Teague influenced AMC styling was the 1963 Rambler Classic/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, in keeping with the now-departed Romney’s philosophy it 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, and it came as 550, 660 and 770 series.
Along with more compact dimensions the new Classic had lovely fresh styling. The side glass was curved, the first popular 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 practically 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 components from 346 to 244.
A good example of parts reduction was the uniside door frame which was pressed out of a single piece of steel. This single 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 in the process increasing structural rigidly.
This 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 which 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 become the 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, practical and attractive car.
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