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AMC Rambler Classic 550

The Rambler Classic ran from 1961 to 1966. It was an intermediate-sized car that spanned the tenures of two AMC CEOs and two very different visions for the direction of the automobile company.

In its early years, AMC was all about engineering small economy cars that were practical, affordable, and didn’t milk you dry at the pump. That was the vision of George W. Romney. In 1963, when Romney became the governor of Minnesota, Roy Abernathy took over with a completely different vision for AMC.

Abernathy wanted to put AMC into direct competition with the Big Three automakers. While this didn’t quite work out for AMC, it did, however, produce some memorable collectibles that are still sought after today.

The AMC Rambler Classic 550: The Romney Generation

Romney touted AMC as building the best economy cars in the business. That, however, didn’t prevent AMC from doing so with a sense of style. The ‘61 models had a sleek tail fin design reminiscent of the late 50s. By 1962 those were gone.

Unfortunately, collectors don’t necessarily care how fuel efficient their classic cars are.

So when the Rambler Classic was introduced in 1961, it was introduced as a counterpart to the smaller line of Ramblers. The Classic featured a 108-inch wheelbase in contrast to the 100-inch wheelbase of the smaller Rambler American. Like the American, however, the Classic had serious curb appeal.

It’s standard OHV I6 engine managed a healthy 125 hp and offered a V8 option as well.

In 1962, however, AMC stopped offering a V8 with their Classic model at the same time scaling back their flagship Ambassador to the same 108-inch wheelbase that the Classic used. The ‘62 Classic featured a safer twin-circuit brakes which were a rarity that year.

Sales of the Classic soared.

The AMC Rambler Classic 550: The Abernathy Generation

In ‘63 the Rambler Classic was completely redesigned due to concerns about the workmanship of the earlier generations. The redesign paid off. The ‘63 Classic was named Motor Trend’s car of the year. It was bigger too. The ‘63 Classic featured a 112-inch wheelbase as opposed to 108 inches of the previous year. The 550 was the lowest trim with 660s and 770s completing the circuit.

The ‘63 Classic was loaded with options as well, including a revamped V8 capable of 195 hp. By ‘64, AMC had unveiled the Typhoon engine.

In ‘65 and ‘66, however, Abernathy was already positioning AMC is a force compete with Big Three. These two years produced the most collectible classics of the bunch but spelled doom for AMC in the coming years.

Abernathy had already reframed AMC as producing “sensible spectaculars”. Collectors certainly agree, at least with the “spectacular” part. But the Classic was trying to do too much. You could purchase it in a frugal economy trim or a souped up 327 cu in V8. It ended up losing a lot of money and by ‘67 both the Classic and Roy Abernathy were let go.