For 1964, American Motors launched one of the more novel marketing campaigns in Motor City history.
In 1964, the American car industry was going crazy with horsepower. With its Total Performance campaign, Ford was launching full-scale assaults on Le Mans, the Indy 500, drag racing, and NASCAR. Chrysler’s Dodge and Plymouth brands fought for domination in NASCAR and on the drag strips with the 426 Hemi, and while GM was officially out of the racing business, the automaker aggressively pursued the performance consumer market with the Corvette, the Chevy Super Sport models, and two of the cars that kicked off the ’60s muscle car movement, the Pontiac GTO and Olds 442.
Meanwhile, little American Motors, the smallest member of the Detroit four and famous for zigging when the rest of the Motor CIty was zagging, went in a totally opposite direction. Check out the remarkable 1964 print ad above. Here, the company announced that it was not chasing the muscle market, no sir. “The only race Rambler cares about,” the company crowed, “Is the human race!”. It was a bold stroke.
But that is not to say that American Motors products of the era were bland or lacking in personality In fact, Ramblers were loaded with their own quirky and fascinating character, as we hope to show you here.
The most popular product in the American Motors lineup for ’64 was its mid-priced, mid-sized entry, the Rambler Classic. Completely restyled the previous year, the Classic line included 550, 660, and 770 trim levels, while the body styles included two and four-door sedans, a four-door wagon, and new for ’64, a two-door pillarless hardtop.
While the exterior sheet metal was fairly fresh, under the skin the Classic shared much with the Ramblers of the ’50s Nash era, with torque-tube drive and long-coil suspension on all four corners At mid season, a limited-edition Classic 770 hardtop called the Typhoon was rolled out as a promotional tool for the company’s new 232 CID straight six engine. (Read about the Typhoon here.) The Classic lineup also included a 287 CID V8, but sixes were far more popular among Rambler’s thrifty customer base, accounting for more than 80 percent of Classic sales. Trademark Rambler features on the Classic included the automaker’s famed fold-down front seats, another carryover from the Nash era.
The top of the line at American Motors for 1964 was the Rambler Ambassador, above. (In these years, the company was called American Motors but the cars were all branded and marketed as Ramblers across the model lines.) The Ambassador was in fact built on the same 112-inch wheelbase unit-construction platform as the Classic, but with additional equipment and a single trim level, the 990. Features included a blacked-out grille that spelled out AMBASSADOR and a 327 CID V8 available in both two-barrel (250 hp) and four-barrel (270 hp) tune.
Options of note on the Ambassador included bucket seats with a fold-down center section and the novel Twin-Stick transmission. Available on all Ramblers, Twin-Stick used a pair of levers to operate a three-speed overdrive gearbox (more about Twin-Stick here.) Body styles were limited to a four-door sedan, a four-door wagon, and a two-door hardtop.
The big news for Rambler in 1964 was the compact and sporty American, completely redesigned that year under American Motors design chief Richard A. Teague. The wheelbase was lengthened from 100 to 106 inches to increase rear passenger space and modern ball-joint suspension was added up front. One strangely anachronistic feature was the base powerplant, a 195 CID flathead six, which offered only 90 hp but allowed the company to price the American 220, a stripped-down entry model, at less than $2,000. For those seeking a little more glamour, the snazzy 440 trim level included a handsome two-door hardtop (above) and a convertible (lead photo).
Of course, Rambler owners were known to be practical folk, so it’s not surprising that station wagons (below) were important elements in the Rambler lineup . All three car lines—American, Classic, and Ambassador—included wagons in ’64, and all were four-doors that offered folding seats, twin-circuit brakes, and other sensible-shoes Rambler features. Of the nearly 380,000 Ramblers registered in 1964, more than 100,000 were station wagons. But even American Motors could not ignore the expanding youth market, and in 1968 the company officially reversed course, embracing racing and performance in a major way.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.