1965 American Motors Rambler Classic 770 V8 What Might Have Been
By JOHN F. KATZ Republished courtesy of Autoweek AutoWeek | Published 12/27/06, 4:40 pm et
The 1963 Ramblers were designed for a decade of production—or at least
more than a few model years—at a time when frantic change still drove
product planning in Detroit. American Motors CEO George Romney cited
(in a 1989 interview, years after he had left AM) no less lofty a role
model than Mercedes-Benz, which, in the 1960s, exemplified engineering
excellence wrapped in conservative, predictable styling. That
admiration may have been mutual, as the new-for-1966 300 SEL
duplicated, within an inch, most key dimensions of the 1965 Rambler
Classic. Even if that was a coincidence, it was a tribute.
But Roy Abernethy, who had succeeded Romney in ’62, saw a very
different future for American Motors. With the Big Three building
compacts, he reckoned, AM could only survive by counter-invading
Detroit’s territory with bigger, flashier chariots of its own. A steady
decline in Rambler sales in 1964-66 seemed to support his point of
view. Short-term, Abernethy would try to make the existing Ramblers
look bigger, while developing new and more nearly Detroit-sized
products for 1967.
1965 was a key year in this transition. The flagship Ambassador
received the most attention, with its longer, 116-inch wheelbase and
new vertically stacked headlamps. But the 112-inch Classic very nearly
replicated the Ambassador from the cowl back, where it shared most of
the Ambassador’s new outer skin.
The ’65 Classic did indeed look like more car than the slimmer 1963-64
models, while retaining their sophisticated curved side glass and
pioneering “uniside” construction. Running gear remained unchanged as
well, with torque-tube drive and load-bearing upper front A-arms, as
favored by AM parent Nash since 1952. Front disc brakes were now
available—ahead of most of the competition—and all AM products switched
to low-profile tires.
Engine choices for the ’65 Classic started with a 199-cid, 128-hp six
derived from the new Typhoon 232 released in ’64. But our featured ’65
packs the top-performing 327-cid, 270-hp (SAE gross) V8, driving an
optional Twin-Grip differential through a three-speed Flash-O-Matic
tranny. AM collector Sam Gingrich is the car’s second owner, having
acquired it in 2002 with only 14,000 miles on the clock.
The front bucket seats lack contour, but they are at least firm and
recline to seven positions. The floor-mounted gear selector moves with
satisfying smoothness, and the very quiet V8 slings about 3200 pounds
of Rambler up to 50 mph with equally satisfying if hardly thrilling
swiftness. The suspension is tuned to the soft end of the spectrum, so
despite light and linear (if numb) power steering, a combination of
body roll and understeer discourages fast cornering. The brakes are
effective but touchy. The Rambler lacks refinement, but its competitors
weren’t much better.
And, in more subtle ways, the ’65 Classic is outstanding. Entry and
exit are easy and, except for width, interior dimensions compare
favorably with those of a full-size car. The interior decor,with
generous but not excessive brightwork of exceptional quality, looks
both handsome and cheery, while exuding a richness unmatched in even a
contemporary Skylark or Cutlass.
We can’t think of another U.S. marque that offered a bucket-seat four-door priced near this Rambler’s sticker of $3,480.
Six-cylinder models equipped with Twin-Stick overdrive cost hundreds
less and delivered better-than-average fuel economy. Isn’t this exactly
the car that U.S. consumers were looking for in 1975, when they so
eagerly embraced the bland-driving but beautifully appointed Honda
Could AM have hung on and avoided the catastrophically costly retooling
for 1967 and faced the ’70s with a further evolution of the 1963
range—instead of with the laughably tacky Hornet and Gremlin? “What
if?” is always an easy question to ask, but it’s all but impossible to