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AMC Rambler American 220

The AMC Rambler American had a decade-long run that began in 1958. Its final hurrah came in 1969 when AMC completely redesigned the model and renamed it the Hornet. The American was aptly named. Auto consumers had shown a growing interest in smaller foreign cars. AMC was making the Nash Metropolitan to compete, but the “Met” had one major drawback. It was only a two-seater.

Initially, AMC thought to refit the Met, but engineers said that the wheelbase was too stingy to work with. They needed at least 100 inches or better. AMC already had the tools to do that from the ‘55 Nash Rambler. It was the ideal compromise between the massive family sedan and the tiny foreign imports.

In 1958, AMC was just about broke. Prospects were dim and the money for a completely retooled vehicle simply didn’t exist. In a lucky coincidence, however, AMC was able to repurpose the tools used the build the Nash Rambler. The rest was marketing.

AMC put a minimum of effort into actually marketing the 1958 Rambler American. Despite that, positive reviews described the vehicle as an excellent smaller option for families. It arguably became the progenitor of a segment that would dominate for the next 50 years: the mid-size family sedan.

The Imagining of Rambler American

The first iteration of Rambler Americans wasn’t much different than the Nash Ramblers – at least not under the hood. In fact, in order to design the car, AMC purchased a 1955 AMC Rambler from a local auto dealer. The trick was to add some style.

Even in terms of outward style, not many changes could be made. It was, after all, using the same tooling the ‘55 Rambler used. However, minor changes to the hood, decklid, and roof panels and new fenders proved to be successful. The trick was to change the image of the Rambler without investing any money into new equipment.

CEO at the time, George Romney, worried that the Rambler American would eat into sales of AMC’s Ambassador. For that reason, the American was only offered as a two-door.

Marketing-wise, the Rambler American appealed to American pragmatism with a touch of luxury. They proclaimed the American “back by popular demand”. It was pitched as an economy vehicle that had enough size for the whole family. The American got excellent gas mileage. The American had lower maintenance costs. The American was easier to park and more maneuverable. In other words, it’s the same basic pitch that companies give for their mid-size sedans today.

NASCAR decided to test just how fuel-efficient the American was. Driving around a track at an average of 40 mph, the American managed an impressive 38.9 mpg. That was better than its foreign counterparts. In addition, buyers of foreign cars worried about maintenance costs and the price of replacement parts.

With very little effort, the American Rambler, with all its style, was a hit with consumers. Mechanix Illustrated declared it the “best buy in the world.” Despite a tough year for auto sales, AMC recorded a profitable year. The car sold over 30,000 units netting AMC over $26 million in profits. As years progressed, demand continued to climb. Midsize family sedans became the real deal.