The Rambler Six and the Rambler V8 are intermediate sized automobiles that were built and marketed by American Motors Corporation (AMC) from 1956 to 1960.
Launched on 15 December 1955, the 1956 model year Rambler Six ushered a "new era in motoring has begun" according to George W. Romney, President of AMC. The Rambler created and defined a new market segment, the "compact car" as the automobile classification was called at that time. A V8 engine powered model, the Rambler V8, was added in 1957.
The new for 1956 Rambler was arguably "the most important car American Motors ever built" in that it not only created and defined a new market segment, emphasized the virtues of compact design, but also enabled the automaker to prosper in the post-World War II marketplace that shifted from a seller's to a buyer's market. The sales war between Ford and Chevrolet conducted during 1953 and 1954 had left little business for the much smaller "independent" automakers trying to compete against the standard models offered by the domestic Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler).
The company was developing a new line of smaller models for 1957 under Styling Director, Edmund E. Anderson. Although conventional business thinking states that bigger profits were made from sales of bigger cars, American Motors lacked the resources to develop a full-range of new models. As the head of AMC, George W. Romney avoided a head-to-head battle with the Big Three automakers by focusing the company on the compact car. He "felt that with the Rambler I had the car of the future" and Romney "bet the farm on the Rambler" by spending US$5.4 million on a "crash program to bring the 1957 Rambler to market a year earlier."
The 1956 four-door Rambler models were completely redesigned and the short-wheelbase two-door (Nash Rambler) versions were dropped. The new line retained the 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase that was used for the previous four-door versions of the Nash Rambler, but the overall length was increased. The new Ramblers came only as four-door models. Along with the usual four-door sedan and station wagon was a new four-door hardtop (no B-pillar) sedan. Also, Rambler introduced an industry first, a four-door hardtop station wagon, called Cross Country.
The new car was described as "distinct and different .... can be recognized at any angle from its wide-open competition- type grille to the pronounced arch over rear window." According to automobile journalist Floyd Clymer, "economy and high-performance do not go hand in hand, but in the Rambler, the owner will find a happy medium ... though smaller, is safer than many cars. The welded, unitized body-frame construction offers above-average protection in collisions."
The AMC Straight-6 engine for the new Rambler was based on the previous 195.6 cu in (3.2 L) block, but was improved and featured new overhead valves and produced 120 brake horsepower (89 kW). It was the only engine available in the 1956 Rambler. The automatic transmission was the GM-produced Hydramatic (called "Flashaway" by AMC). A torque tube drive system was used with a four-coil spring suspension.
In 1956 Rambler was sold under both the Nash and Hudson brand names (the merged companies forming AMC in 1954). This model became the replacement for the large-sized Nash and Hudson models that suffered from dwindling sales. The Rambler was the only completely new "popular-priced" car in 1956. Reaction to the 1956 Rambler was very positive and advertising for the new model urged potential buyers to "Drive the Rambler - You'll Make the Smart Switch for 1956." Sales for the inaugural year totaled 62,700. Soon, the all-new "compact-sized" (as vehicles were defined at that time) model experienced a "sales explosion".
In 1957, the Rambler was established as a separate marque and these models became the foundation for the new company's best sales performance through the late 1950s. Sales increased to 82,000.
The four-door sedans and station wagons were offered in stripped Deluxe trim (I6 only), Super, and Custom trim (optional V8 engine). This was the first year the Rambler offered a new 250 cu in (4.1 L) AMC V8 engine producing 190 brake horsepower (140 kW). The four-door hardtop station wagon was only available in the Custom trim with the V8 engine.
A companion model featuring AMC's new high-performance 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8 engine was introduced in 1957. This was the Rambler Rebel and it was an early "muscle car."
The Rambler received "a complete reskin that made the 1956 bodies look a bit bulkier". A new front end design moved the headlamps from inside the grille to the top of the front fenders and featured twin headlamps on each side on the Super and Custom models, as well as full-length bodyside moldings. The basic "Deluxe" trim models had no side trim and came standard with single headlights, but the new "quad" headlights were optional.
The 1958 Ramblers now had the industry's requisite flared tailfins. The Rambler line was one of the last among the domestic automobiles to incorporate tailfins to its body design (and also one of the first to eliminate them). When asked why the 1958 Ramblers featured this styling feature, AMC's Chairman and CEO George W. Romney responded, "If we have to use tail fins to get people to try compact cars, we'll use tail fins. Later on we will certainly be able to do away with them, and to build clean, simple, uncluttered cars."
The innovative hardtop (no "B-pillar") station wagon body style was no longer available. The station wagons featured a step down roof over its rear cargo area and a standard roof rack. The Rambler six and V8 models continued to be the shortest cars in the U.S. – at 191 inches (4,851 mm) in total length – with room for six-passengers.
A Borg-Warner torque converter "Flash-O-Matic" automatic transmission with the "then-trendy pushbutton" gear selection on the far left side of the instrument panel was optional.
American Motors instituted a new paint system for the 1958 model year. All Ramblers received rust-inhibiting by submerging assembled bodies up to their roof into a large 40-foot (12 m) vat of primer (not strayed on) before the color coat was applied, a revolutionary process that was later copied by other automakers. After drying, an additional wax-based compound was sprayed inside girders, rocker panels, fenders, and other hidden areas in the car bodies.
American Motors promoted the 1958 Rambler in a national advertising campaigns. One approach featured George W. Romney challenging "the big car concept." A series of print ads also mocked the domestic Big Three automakers' standard-sized cars featuring illustrations by famous cartoonists showing the compact Rambler easily getting through places that would get the large "gas guzzling dinosaur" automobiles stuck.
Sales of the Rambler six and V8 increased to 119,000 during a year when all U.S. cars were down in volume. The 1958 Ramblers "sold like hotcakes" and returned the smallest U.S. automaker to profitability. Together with the smaller Rambler American line, AMC "broke sales records" in 1958 as consumers valued basic transportation from their automobiles and no longer cared "how big their cars were."
Improvements to the Rambler included new side trim with a full-width die-cast grille, as well as thicker brake linings and larger brakes for V8-powered cars. Engineering changes included fuel economy improvements with lower axle ratios and more efficient carburetor for the I6 engines. An electrically engaged overdrive unit behind the three-speed manual transmission was also available. To increase longevity, Rambler mufflers were aluminum-coated on the inside and zinc-coated on the outside. On cars with automatic transmission, engine starting was now incorporated into the neutral pushbutton, thus eliminating the ignition key start switch. Accidental starter engagement was prevented by a lockout when the engine was running.
A total of 11 models were offered for 1959, all four-door versions of sedans, station wagons, and Country Club hardtop (no B-pillar) body styles. Premium options and conveniences continued to be offered including "Weather Eye" air-conditioning, air suspension on V8s, limited slip differentials, an exterior mounted continental tire, as well as the American Motors' exclusive individually adjustable and reclining front seats with headrests. Sales of the Rambler Six and V8 continued to increase.
The 1960 models featured numerous exterior and interior design changes. The greenhouse was made "lighter" with a narrower C-pillar and roof profile, as well as slanting both the windshield and rear window at a greater angle. The front end was simplified, while the tailfins became smaller thus highlighting the new tall taillamps. The overall length was trimmed by 1.6 inches (41 mm) because of a new spit-bumper design. Riding on 15-inch wheels the Rambler appeared to be larger than it actually was. The interior was also revised and the instrument panel now incorporated all instrumentation within a large oval in front of the driver.
The practice of separate Six and Rebel V8 models now ended with the focus on the Rambler name and the trim levels. Each series was offered with "Economy 6 or Rebel V-8 engines."
In 1960, the Rambler line was in third place in total industry sales in the United States.
American Motors began the process of differentiating the Rambler brand name from its various sizes and similar model names. New nameplates were introduced; the Rambler Six and Rambler Rebel V8 were both renamed the Rambler Classic in 1961.