Introduced at first only as six-passenger four-door sedan and station wagon versions, additional body styles were added with two-door models available as a "post" sedan and in 1964 as a sporty pillar-less hardtop, as well as a convertible for 1965 and 1966.
The Rambler Rebel name replaced Classic on AMC's completely redesigned large-line of cars in 1967, and for 1968 the Rebel was rechristened the AMC Rebel as AMC began the process of phasing out the Rambler marque.
Throughout its life in the AMC model line-up, the Classic was the high-volume seller for the independent automaker.
The Rambler was the focus of AMC's management strategy under the leadership of George W. Romney. American Motors designed and built some of the most fuel-efficient, best-styled and well-made cars of the 1950s and 1960s. Their compact cars (for the era) helped AMC to achieve sales and corporate profit successes. In 1961, the Rambler marque ranked in third place among domestic automobile sales.
Ramblers were available in two sizes and built on different automobile platforms. The larger-sized Rambler series was based on a 1956 design and was renamed as the Classic for the 1961 model year to help create a stronger individual identity and contrast from the smaller Rambler American line. American Motor's Edmund E. Anderson designed the new 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase Ramblers "that looked new and fresh, but were in fact inexpensive reskinned models."
The 1961 Classic featured a new front end with a one-piece, rectangular extruded-aluminum grille, new fenders, hood, sculptured door panels, and side trim, as well as one-piece bumpers. Models included the Deluxe, the Super, and the Custom (featuring bucket seats in a four-door sedan). The suggested retail price for the basic Deluxe four-door sedan was US$2,098 and was only $339 more for a station wagon.
In 1961, the Classic was available in either an I6 - 195.5 cu in (3.2 L) - or with a V8 - 250 cu in (4.1 L) - engine. A lighter by 80 pounds (36 kg) aluminum block version of the OHV I6 engine, sometimes referred to as the 196, was offered as an option on Deluxe and Super models. The die cast block features iron "sleeves" or cylinder liners with a cast iron alloy cylinder head and produces the same 127.5 horsepower (95 kW) as the cast iron version.
American Motors "defied the detractors" with its emphasis on economical and compact-sized cars achieving a sales total of 370,600 vehicles in 1961, "lifting the Rambler to an unprecedented third place in the charts behind Chevrolet and Ford".
For the 1962 model year, the Super models were dropped and replaced by a 400 model. Also that year, the flagship Ambassador models were shortened to the same 108-inch (2,700 mm) wheelbase as the V8 was dropped from the Classic models. This meant the Ambassador models were the only models with V8s in the AMC lineup. The two-door sedan version of the Rambler Classic was sold only in 1962.
Starting in 1962, AMC took a leadership role with safer brake systems in all Ramblers featuring twin-circuit brakes, a design offered by only a few cars at that time. Additional improvements included a price cut of $176 on the popular Custom Classic sedan.
For the 1963 model year, the Rambler Classic line was completely redesigned with subtle body sculpturing. Outgoing design director, Edmund E. Anderson, shaped the Classic that was named Motor Trend magazine's 1963 "Car of the Year." These were also the first AMC models that were influenced by Richard A. Teague, the company's new principal designer.
The 1963 Classics were also the first all-new cars developed by AMC since 1956. Keeping the philosophy of the company, they were more compact - shorter and narrower by one inch (25 mm), as well as over two inches (56 mm) lower - than the preceding models; but lost none of their "family-sized" passenger room or luggage capacity featuring a longer 112-inch (2,845 mm) wheelbase.
American Motors' "senior" cars (Classic and Ambassador) shared the same wheelbase and body parts, with only trim differences and standard equipment levels to distinguish the models. Classics came in pillared two- and four-door sedans, as well as four-door wagons. The model designations now went from 550, 660, to 770 trims (replacing the Deluxe, Custom, and 400 versions).
As in 1962, the 1963 Classics were initially all 6-cylinder 195.5 cu in (3.2 L) models, while the Ambassadors featured the 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 engine.
In mid-1963, a new 287 cu in (4.7 L) V8 option was announced for the Classic models. The 198 hp (148 kW) V8 equipped Rambler Classics combined good performance with good mileage; even with the optional "Flash-O-Matic" automatic transmission, they reached 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in about 10 seconds and returned fuel economy from 16 miles per US gallon (15 L/100 km; 19 mpg-imp) to 20 miles per US gallon (12 L/100 km; 24 mpg-imp).
The new AMC cars incorporated numerous engineering solutions. Among these was curved side glass, one of the earliest popular-priced cars with this feature. Another engineering breakthrough was combining separate parts in the monocoque (unit construction) body into single stampings. One example was the "uniside" door surround that was made from a single stamping of steel. Not only did it replace 52 parts, as well as reduce weight and assembly costs; but it also increased structural rigidity and provided for better fitment for the doors.
American Motors' imaginative engineering prompted Motor Trend magazine to give the Classic - and the similar Ambassador models - their Car of the Year award for 1963.
The 1964 model year Classics, were refined with stainless steel rocker moldings, a flush single-plane aluminum grille replacing the previous year's deep concave design, and oval taillamps replacing the flush mounted lenses of the 1963's. Classics with bucket seats and V8 engine could be ordered with a new "Shift-Command" three-speed automatic transmission mounted on the center console that could be shifted manually.
A new two-door hardtop model joined the line in 770 as well as a sporty 770-H version that featured individually adjustable reclining bucket seats.
American Motors unveiled the Typhoon in April 1964. This mid-1964 model year introduction was a sporty variant of the Classic 770 2-door hardtop. This special model was introduced to highlight AMC's completely new short-stroke, seven main bearing, 145 hp (108 kW) 8.5:1 compression ratio 232 cu in (3.8 L) "Typhoon" modern era inline-6.
Production of this commemorative model was limited to 2,520 units and it was only available in a two-tone Solar Yellow body with a Classic Black roof, and a sporty all-vinyl interior for US$2,509. The car also featured a distinctive "Typhoon" script in place of the usual "Classic" name insignia, as well as a unique grille with black out accents. All other AMC options (except engine choices and colors) were available on the Typhoon.
The engine became the mainstay six-cylinder engine for AMC and Jeep vehicles. It was produced, albeit in a modified form, up until 2006. The 232 I6 engine's name was soon changed to "Torque Command", with Typhoon to describe AMC's new line of V8s introduced in 1966.
The 1965 model year Classics underwent a major redesign of the new platform that was introduced in 1963; essentially the 1963-1964 design with a rectilinear reskin similar to that of concurrent Ambassadors. Fresh sheet metal design was applied to the original 112 in (2,800 mm) wheelbase and 195 in (5,000 mm) long integral body-frame with only the roof, doors, and windshield as carryovers. Unchanged was the suspension system including a torque tube with coil springs with a Panhard rod.
The Rambler Classic was now shorter than - as well as visually distinctive from - the Ambassador line, while still sharing the basic body structure from the windshield back. For the first time a convertible model was available in the 770 trim version. The two-door sedan was dropped from the 770 model lineup.
The 1965 Classic models were billed as the "Sensible Spectaculars," with emphasis on their new styling, powerful engines, and their expanded comfort and sports-type options, in contrast to the previous "economy car" image.
American Motors now only offered its modern straight-six engine design, retiring the aging 195.6 cu in (3.2 L) versions. The 1965 Classic base 550 models featured an economical 128 hp (95 kW) 199 cu in (3.3 L) six-cylinder that was a destroked 232 engine. The 660 and 770 series received the 145 hp (108 kW) 232 cu in (3.8 L), while a 155 hp (116 kW) six and the 198 hp (148 kW) 287 cu in (4.7 L) or 270 hp (201 kW) 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 engines were optional.
Popular Science magazine reported, "you can have a 1965 Classic as a penny-pinching economy car or a storming performance job." Additional performance options for 1965 included power front disk brakes with four-piston calipers that were supplied by Bendix. The standard 4-wheel drum brakes also continued to feature AMC's "Double-Safety" master cylinder system. The dual master cylinder was available in only one "Big Three" car: Cadillac.
At mid-model year, AMC introduced the 1965 Marlin, a halo car for the company. It was a mid-sized fastback using the Rambler Classic platform. Marketed as a personal luxury car, the Marlin had unique styling and featured an exceptional array of standard equipment.
The 1966 model year Rambler Classics received minor trim changes and additional standard safety features, including padded dash and visors, left outside mirror, as well as seat belts for the front and rear passengers. The 660 mid-trim level was dropped leaving the 550 and 770 models for 1966. Available for the first time was a floor mounted four-speed manual transmission and a dash-mounted tachometer.
Classics received particular attention to the styling of the roofs for 1966. The two-door hardtop models received a rectangular rear window and more formal and angular "crisp-line" roofline that could be covered with vinyl trim. Sedans had an optional trim-outlined "halo" roof accent color. The station wagon's roof area over the cargo compartment was at the same level with the rest of the roof, no longer dipped down as in prior years. The wagons carried Cross Country insignia and featured 83 cubic feet (2.35 m3) of cargo space, as well as a standard roof rack. Two wagon seating capacities were available: a standard six-passenger version with two-rows of seats with a drop-down bottom-hinged tailgate incorporating a fully retracting rear window for accessing cargo, or in an optional eight-passenger version with three-rows of seats (the third rear-facing) and a left-side hinged rear fifth door.
The name Classic was no longer considered a positive factor in the marketplace and AMC began reshuffling model names in 1966.
A top-of-the-line version of the two-door hardtop Classic was offered under the historic Rambler Rebel name. It replaced the 770-H and featured special badges and standard slim-type bucket seats with optional checked upholstery with two matching pillows. Public reaction to the tartan touch appearing in some of AMC's "Project IV" automobile show tour cars, was judged favorable enough to make the unique trim available on the Rebel hardtop.
Serving as one example to verify how AMC products were routinely derided by various automotive press, Popular Science magazine wrote that the new "Rambler Rebel reveals a sudden interest in performance," but its handling package cannot overcome the car's obsolete suspension design. However, AMC was reluctant to forfeit their Nash engineered suspension design which employed a strut type front and panhard rod controlled torque tube rear drive system, both having long coil springs to place the upper spring seats higher into the body of the car. This feature was to afford a softer ride quality and better handling by reducing the geometrical leverage of the car's center of gravity for less body roll "sway" in cornering. What was labeled as "obsolete" is juxtaposed by noting how General Motors employed a similar suspension system on their third generation Camaro and Firebird nearly twenty years later which had McPherson strut front and a torque arm mounted rear drive axle.
Rambler St. Moritz
A customized show car was displayed along production models during the 1966 automobile show circuit, the snow- and ski-themed Rambler St. Moritz station wagon. The wagon with three rows of seats featured tinted rear side "observation" windows that curved up and over the roof. The less than half of the original metal roof remaining over the cargo area was finished by a polished metal band and equipped with special ski rack. The exterior was a light ice-blue pearlescent paint, while the car's dark blue interior featured Corfam upholstery with a metallic embroidered snowflake in each seat back.
Noteworthy were AMC's overseas business ventures involving the production of Ramblers. Classics were assembled in Renault's factory in Haren, Belgium and sold through Renault dealers in Algeria, Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. French automaker did not have large cars in its model line and the Rambler Classic was sold as an "executive car" in Renault's markets.
Other agreements to assemble Rambler Classics from CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits included Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA), Australian Motor Industries (AMI), Campbell Industries in Thames, New Zealand and in Mexico by Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM).
Rambler Classics share numerous parts and components with other AMC models. New parts are somewhat plentiful and several vendors specialize in AMCs. There are also active AMC car clubs to assist owners. "Long admired for their simplicity, utilitarian design approach and servicing ease, Ramblers of the early-1960s are an inexpensive way to get into the collector-car hobby."
Among the most collectible models are the 1964 Typhoon hardtop and the 1965-1966 Rambler Classic hardtops and convertibles. At collector auctions, Rambler Classics that are in original condition, such as a low-mileage 1965 convertible, will see bidding soaring "above condition #1 values" with "their continued popularity".