The new Rambler was announced to the press in late November 1955, with full public introduction scheduled for December 15. Press reaction to the 1956 Rambler was astonishing.
Press releases stated "Fresh styling and new design give a big car appearance to the 1956 American Motors Rambler which is actually more compact than previous models."
By referring to the new car as an American Motors Rambler, instead of identifying it by either its Nash or Hudson badges, AMC could use the same photos and releases for both dealer groups, as well as begin warming up the public for the not-too-distant day when Rambler would stand on its own as a separate make.
The press didn't react to that, but they certainly reacted to the car. The product launch was followed by scads of press stories, helped in no small part by the fact that the Rambler was the only completely new popular-priced car that year.
Motor Trend magazine, in its January 1956 issue, gave a full road test. The testers noted that "In designing the new body shell, A-M engineers became the 1st in the industry to integrate an air conditioning unit (or the space for it) into the basic design of the body."
As for driving feel, Motor Trend stated that "The result of expanding the Rambler on last year's wheelbase is more leg room, head room, and shoulder room, giving it a generous 'big car' feel. ... Seats are comfortable, moderately soft, make for a good driving position. ... The new [windshield] makes for an unsurpassed view of the road ahead." Motor Trend also noted that "instruments are well grouped in front of the driver."
Taking it to the streets, Motor Trend double-checked its non-power steering Rambler. "We had to look under the hood to decide whether or not our test car was equipped with power steering -- it was that easy to drive." Motor Trend also stated that the "New Rambler outdistances its predecessors in every phase of acceleration," and that "Excellent is the word for the Rambler's brakes."
The April 1956 Car Life was even stronger in its praise. "Rambler is the first car since the introduction of the Studebaker Champion in 1939 to offer potentially serious competition to the low priced 'Big Three'. ... In performance, interior room, handling ease, readability, riding comfort and economy, the Rambler either equals or surpasses the other cars in the low price group -- at a lower cost."
Car Life enjoyed driving the new car: "Performance-wise, the Rambler offers one of the most lively six cylinder engines on the market. ... Rambler's new all-coil suspension soaks up cobblestones, car tracks and rough pavement almost completely. Readability is close to the best in the industry. ... There is neither understeer nor over-steer. It is next to impossible to break the rear end loose and [when it does] the Rambler goes into a gradual four-wheel drift."
Car Life summed up its appraisal of the new car by stating that "Few stock U.S. sedans (none with Rambler's relatively light weight and short wheelbase) come so close to the readability of a real sports car." Car Life finished by calling the new Rambler "A remarkable combination of comfort, convenience, and performance at a budget price plus almost unequalled readability and handling ease." In short, they loved it!
The public loved it, too. Although buyers were slower than Car Life to warm up to the newcomer, the Rambler created renewed interest in economy cars. Despite being hampered by having only four-door models, AMC managed to bring to market a fairly broad lineup.
At the bottom end was the Deluxe sedan, a stripped four-door price-leader listing at $1,829 and targeted more to business users than families. Next up was the Super series, a $1,939 four-door sedan and a $2,233 four-door wagon.
The top series was the Custom, offered as a conventional four-door sedan at $2,056 or wagon at $2,326, as well as two pricier models: a four-door hardtop that listed at $2,234, and an industry first, a four-door hardtop station wagon that Rambler called a "Hardtop Convertible" ($2,491). Like all previous Ramblers, the new model came only with a six-cylinder engine.
One feature that didn't make it to production was a disappearing rear window. Reddig recalls a hardtop sedan mock-up that included a rear window that slid down into the rear deck area. "The idea was," he says, "that this was going to be our 'open car.'" It was ultimately nixed, but not until a running prototype had actually been built and tested. Ed Anderson ended up buying that car for his personal use.
New for 1956 was power steering and a 12-volt electrical system. More noticeable, aside from the styling, were the optional paint treatments. Deluxe models could be ordered with a solid body color and a contrasting painted roof. Super models could be ordered two-toned with the contrasting color applied to the hood and tops of the front fenders, where it "flowed" across the doors, then swept up the Fashion Safety Arch and onto the roof.
Customs featured a "harpoon" side molding treatment, painted in a contrasting color that began at the rear fenders and stretched out almost to the tip of the front fender. A third color, for the roof, made it a three-toned car right in tune with that mid-1950s craze.
Transmission choices were the usual for the era: a three-speed on the column was standard, overdrive or automatic, the latter being General Motors' four-speed Dual-Range Hydra-Matic, were options. Bench seating gave adequate comfort and room for six -- the Rambler was advertised as being "Three passengers wide." In addition, buyers could opt for Nash's famous reclining front seat, and many did.
With a sped-up program, late introduction, and an overall down market, the new car wasn't able to set any sales records in its first year on the market, and as a matter of fact, fewer Ramblers were sold than the previous year. A total of 75,147 Ramblers were wholesaled to the dealer body during the fiscal year.
The Annual Report tried to put the best face possible on a terrible year by gamely pointing out that "... the industry as a whole ... showed a decline of 16.3% for the 12 months ending September 30, 1956 from the like period a year earlier. Rambler output for this period was off 11.9% and the corporation's overall production was down 28.7%." (The AMC fiscal year ran from October through September).
AMC showed its third straight year of losses, too: $19.7 million. The sales figures showed that the new Rambler was outpacing the market and that the regular Nash/Hudson cars were under-performing badly. But any way you looked at it, sales were down and losses were up. It was hoped that the 1957 models, because they would be ready for the normal fall introduction, would sell in greater volume. There were several important improvements as well.
To read more about the 1957 Rambler, continue to the next page.
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