The 1956 Rambler was the most important car American Motors ever built. Its importance goes beyond its obvious virtues of compact design or the way it created and defined a market segment. Plainly stated, if there hadn't been a new Rambler in 1956 there might not have been an American Motors in 1958. This car was, clearly, a "Salvation in Steel."
The 1956 Rambler had what AMC called the "Solid Gold Look,"
different from other brands. See more pictures of classic cars.
When the post-World War II auto market changed from a seller's market to a buyer's market, the few remaining independent automakers were caught off guard. Sales tumbled, profits dried up, and losses took over. Hudson and Nash merged (with Nash very much the senior partner), as did Studebaker and Packard, both couplings made in a desperate bid for the volume efficiencies enjoyed by the Big Three.
For Packard and Studebaker (and Kaiser-Frazer), it was already too late, and they eventually paid the price for their tardiness. Nash, however, was a sounder company overall than the other independents, and its management was one of the best in the business.
Nash president George Mason, a well-liked and well-respected automobile man, had been the prime mover in the merger with Hudson and was the first president of the emergent American Motors. At his death in 1954, his assistant, George Romney, took over the company reins. Romney was a hard worker, pragmatic on many matters, yet a visionary in others, and a man with both feet planted firmly on solid ground.
The world must have looked bleak to Romney on that fateful day in October 1954 when the board of directors named him to succeed Mason. The auto market had been witnessing an all-out sales war between Ford and Chevrolet. That battle had left little business for the struggling independents, and hurt Chrysler Corporation as well.
The integration of Nash and Hudson was moving along at a fast pace. The 1955 Hudson line would be produced in Nash's Kenosha, Wisconsin, plant on the basic Nash body, which had been all-new in 1952. It was beginning to get a bit stale, but an all-new body was being worked on in Styling.
A ray of hope lay in the Rambler. With the introduction, in 1954, of four-door sedan and wagon models on a longer 108-inch wheelbase (two-doors rode a 100-inch chassis), interest in the Rambler began to mount.
The 1955 Ramblers featured handsome new grilles and new front fenders without the stodgy enclosed wheelwells that were part of Nash's famed "Airflyte" styling. Production of the 1955s showed dramatic improvement: a little over 80,000 total units, about 24,000 of them badged as Hudsons. Romney was well pleased by that.
George Romney had always loved the Rambler. He felt it was a car with incredible potential, one that could grow from a niche item to become what he termed "a basic volume car," that is, the high-volume model that every big automaker must have to survive.
Romney could see that while it was dog-eat-dog in most market segments, by 1955 the compact market was pretty much left to the Rambler. His company was losing money trying to compete head-to-head with the Big Three. Of course, the all-new senior cars being worked on in the Styling studios might turn the tide -- but then again they might not. If they failed, AMC was finished. Romney considered his limited options very carefully.
Styling Director Ed Anderson also had his design studio working on an all-new Rambler for 1957, and it was to be a vastly improved machine. Romney compared the potential of this new Rambler versus the potential for a line of big cars.
The Rambler would have the market all to itself, while the senior Nash/Hudson cars would have to slug it out with Mercury, Buick, Pontiac, and Dodge. The public was shunning his senior cars already, while the Rambler was in its ascendancy.
Conventional thinking, however, still held that big profits could be gotten only from big cars. Of course, that was assuming the big cars sold. At AMC, there was money enough to fund only one new car. And to Romney, it may have come down to a simple yet strongly held belief of his. "I felt that with the Rambler I had the car of the future," he recalled.
Romney was prepared to bet the farm on the Rambler. Realizing that time was running out, he committed $5.4 million to a crash program to bring the 1957 Rambler to market a year earlier. Anderson and his designers went to work to refine the car for production.
Anderson's assistant was a smart young man named William Reddig. Reddig recalls the rush to get the new Rambler ready. "There were darned few of us [in Styling] and we were working like hell. We were working long hours and we got tired, but Romney, in his shirt sleeves, was coming in several times a day to see how things were going. He didn't have a whip; he was so full of enthusiasm it was contagious and Ed [Anderson] was right out there on the boards, with a stylus in his hand, working with the clay modelers to get the look exactly as he wanted it."
What Anderson wanted was a completely new Rambler, one that would cure the problems of the earlier model and would have true style. The previous Rambler had debuted in 1950 on a 100-inch wheelbase. Although it had sold in respectable numbers, its small size limited its appeal to families. When the 1954 108-inch wheelbase Rambler debuted, the market responded enthusiastically. It was decided that the new Rambler would come only on the longer wheel-base -- no 100-inch model would be offered.
Continue to the next page to learn more about the changes for the 1956 Rambler.
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Changes in the 1956 Rambler
Although the wheelbase was the same as the 1954/1955 four-door models, the 1956 Rambler was all-new from the tires up. The styling team fashioned an envelope body with a tall greenhouse permitting large window areas to cure the claustrophobic "penned-in" feel of the earlier car. Key to the design was the C-pillar, which was reverse-sloped like earlier Nash designs, but was now more integrated into the basic styling.
Termed the "Fashion Safety Arch," Anderson had this to say about it: "The Fashion Safety Arch on the Rambler blends the body to the roof, furthering the goal of overall unity of appearance." The flat roof line was much more modern, yet still gave generous headroom. Station wagons had a "dip" in the rear roof area, a stylemark first employed on the 1954 Rambler four-door wagons.
Although it was a smart look, readily identifiable as unique to Rambler, it was developed by Reddig to save the cost of tooling up a whole separate roof panel for wagons. Instead, Reddig designed a wagon rear roof stamping that could be welded onto the rear of the regular sedan and blended into the roofline. The dip was where his new wagon panel met the existing roof.
To balance out the styling, a roof rack was made standard equipment. Rambler called the result the "Smart, Distinctive Travel Rack Roof Line."
Slab-sided body styling increased interior width, permitting greater hip room, despite having narrower exterior dimensions. In fact, Rambler had slightly more front shoulder room than Ford or Chevy, and only 0.3-inch less than Plymouth.
Trunk space was also increased, by 33 percent, to 25 cubic feet with the optional "Continental Spare-Tire Mount," and visibility through the greater glass area -- 3,493.2 total square inches -- was a welcome change. Rambler boasted that it had the widest wraparound windshield in the low-price field, 59.75 inches.
"Make the Smart Switch for 1956 to Rambler: The Double Safe Car," implored one brochure. To back that up, Rambler claimed that its "Double Safe Single Unit Construction" was superior because it had up to twice the torsional strength of its body-on-frame competitors, not to mention impact-absorbing box-sections up front. Its all-welded body, with "over 8,000 electric welds," eliminated the use of body bolts.
Also touted were the above-hood fresh air intake, a 47-percent increase in braking area, hub-recessed steering wheel, standard power brakes on Custom models, "Selecto-Lift Safety Starting" with Hydra-Matic (one lifted the shift lever to engage the starter), and running lights. The last, mounted outboard on the front fenders, turned on with the headlights, which were mounted inboard in the grille in a low-set "Safety Vu" position -- which supposedly helped drivers see under fog.
The grille itself was of one-piece die-cast construction, unlike the "Typical thin, flimsy, low-priced car grille [that] easily develops rattles, is fragile." All in all, the 1956 Rambler was a great advance in compact-car design.
Despite the rush to get into production, Engineering was able to introduce an improved six-cylinder engine for the new Rambler. It was based on the previous block and still displaced 195.6 cubic inches, but it now had overhead valves. Its 120-horsepower rating was a whopping 33-percent improvement over the 1955 engine's 90 bhp.
The previous leaf-spring rear suspension was replaced by a new setup incorporating torque-tube drive and coil springs on all four comers for an improved and quieter ride. It was also pointed out that kingpins had been eliminated up front.
New for 1956 was optional power steering. More relevant, perhaps, was the fact that "Rambler was the first low-priced car to offer factory-installed air conditioning. First with a single unit that cooled, heated, filtered, ventilated, dehumidified."
For 1956, "... Rambler goes years ahead again. [It] is the first car actually designed for air conditioning. ... As a result, Rambler's All-New, All-Season Air Conditioning is the world's most compact, most efficient -- and lowest priced." And indeed, when most cars still had part of the system mounted in the trunk and plastic tubes coming out of the rear-seat parcel shelf, Rambler had everything mounted up front. And it cost only $345, compared to $430.50 to $526.75 on other low-priced cars.
And there were "Still more features that make Rambler, the fastest-growing all-new car, the most-wanted used car, too." One of them was resale value: "Rambler tops the whole 'Big 3' field in resale value," said AMC, and backed it up by quoting the respected N.A.D.A. [National Automobile Dealers Association] Official Used Car Guide.
Economy was, of course, expected from a Rambler, and the 1956 didn't disappoint despite the extra 30 horsepower. In the 1956 Mobilgas Economy Run, Rambler scored 24.3545 miles per gallon, compared to an average of 20.3120 for Ford, Chevrolet, Plymouth, and Studebaker. Among sixes, a Chevrolet came closest with 21.1715 mpg, while a Studebaker Champion managed only 20.0467. All cars had automatic transmission.
To learn about the reaction to the 1956 Rambler, see the next page.
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Reaction to the 1956 Rambler
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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Since the 1956 was all-new, the 1957 Rambler held few styling changes, although the front directional lamps were larger and some trim moldings were revised. The latter changed the two-tone paint pattern, which de-emphasized the Fashion Safety Arch.
The 1957 Rambler had the majority of its
changes under the hood.
Meanwhile, the standard six-cylinder engine now developed 125 horsepower, while a two-barrel option put out 135 horses. The big news, though, was the new extra-cost V-8 engine. A 250-cid mill, it cranked out 190 horses, fed by a two-barrel carb and utilizing dual exhausts as standard equipment.
Developed as part of Romney's program to replace the Packard V-8 used on the senior lines, the new engine allowed AMC to add a line of V-8 models to the existing Rambler line.
Even bigger news was a new specialty model. Called the Rebel, it used the four-door hardtop body -- AMC's sportiest style that year -- stuffed with AMC's new 327-cid V-8 developed for the senior lines.
The Rebel was intended to be a limited-issue high performance model and -- as originally planned -- was to offer Bendix "Electrojector" fuel injection. The "fuelie" Rebels were claimed to put out a whopping 288 horses, but reliability problems caused AMC to reconsider.
Of the 1,500 Rebels produced, it is generally believed that perhaps three or four were actually built with the injection system. The balance came with a four-barrel carburetor, enabling 255 bhp, still enough to launch the 3,353-pound Rebel into low earth orbit.
Tests by factory engineers in Detroit yielded 0-60 mph in just 7.3 seconds. All Rebels came painted light silver metallic with a unique gold side spear.
The biggest news for the 1957 Rambler, however, was that it no longer carried a Nash or Hudson nameplate. Per Romney's order, the Rambler would now be a make in its own right.Rambler sales began to pick up in the spring, building and growing in a sort of snowball effect. Romney was able to brag that Rambler sales in May and June exceeded any previous month. Sales of the senior cars, the last ones to wear the proud old Hudson and Nash emblems, sank like the proverbial stone, collapsing in the marketplace just as the Rambler was beginning its meteoric climb.
It may have been that the new car eclipsed the old ones, stealing the attention of salesmen. It might be that the buying public, sensing that the old names were fading away, decided not to purchase what might become orphans. More likely, it was both of those, and other influences coupled with tired styling, that killed off the old makes. But hardly anyone seemed to notice. The press was too busy singing, in near harmony, high praise for the new Rambler.
Rambler sales for fiscal 1957 (still October-September), improved. Total wholesale shipments to dealers came to 90,155 versus 75,147 in 1956. These were not large numbers, but they contained one very important fact: Rambler sales were up, not down. The senior line, on the other hand, was finished by the end of 1957.
The greater part of the Rambler sales improvement occurred in the latter part of the fiscal year, and for that reason it wasn't enough to prevent another financial loss on the books. AMC reported a net loss for 1957 of $11.8 million, its fourth straight year of red ink. But Romney knew that the company had turned the corner.
The press and the public were in agreement about the Rambler -- it was a winner. Ed Anderson's people came up with an inexpensive facelift for 1958, utilizing the same body, and the Rambler was poised for a successful run that would use the same basic bodyshell for another five years, setting sales and profit records along the way, and saving the corporation from the fate that befell the other independents.
See the next page for specifications for the 1965-1957 Rambler.
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1956-1957 Rambler Specifications
AMC implored potential buyers to "Drive the Rambler -- You'll Make the Smart Switch for 1956." Many did, and soon AMC's all-new compact was riding the crest of a sales explosion. Here are the specifications for the 1956-1957 Rambler:
Rambler's 1956 lineup consisted solely of
four-door models like this sedan.
1956 Rambler Models, Prices, Production*
|5613-2 Custom Cross Country 4-door hardtop wagon
|5615 Deluxe 4-door sedan
|5615-1 Super 4-door sedan
|5615-2 Custom 4-door sedan
|5618-1 Super Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5618-2 Custom Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5619-1 Custom hardtop sedan
|Total 1956 Nash Rambler
|Total 1956 Hudson Rambler
|Total 1956 Rambler
*Figures by model are for the Nash Rambler. No breakdown by model or body style is available for the Hudson Rambler. ** and *** Combined production numbers.
1957 Rambler Six Models, Prices, Production
|5715 Deluxe 4-door sedan||2,911
|5715-1 Super 4-door sedan
|5715-2 Custom 4-door sedan
|5718 Deluxe Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5718-1 Super Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5718-2 Custom Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5719-1 Super hardtop sedan
|Total 1957 Rambler Six
1957 Rambler V-8 Models, Prices, Production
|5723-2 Custom Cross Country hardtop wagon
|5725-1 Super 4-door sedan
|5725-2 Custom 4-door sedan
|5728-1 Super Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5728-2 Custom Cross Country 4-door wagon
|5729-2 Custom hardtop sedan
|5739-2 Custom Rebel hardtop sedan
|Total 1957 Rambler V-8
|Total 1957 Rambler
1956-1957 Rambler Specifications
|Overall length, inches
||191.1 (198.9 with Continental tire)|
|Overall width, inches
|Overall height, loaded, inches
||58.0 (Cross Country wagon, 58.6)
|Tread, front, inches
|Tread, rear, inches
|Rear axle ground clearance, inches
|Minimum ground clearance, inches
|Total glass area, square inches
|Fuel tank, gallons
|Luggage space, cubic feet
|Cargo area, wagon, cubic feet
|Head room, front, inches||36.0
|Leg room, front, inches
|Shoulder room, front, inches
|Head room, rear, inches
|Leg room, rear, inches
|Shoulder room, rear, inches
||Typhoon ohv inline 6
|Bore × stroke, inches
||3.13 × 4.25
|Horsepower @ rpm
||120 @ 4,200
|Horsepower per cid
|Torque, pounds/feet @ rpm
||170 @ 1,600
||Carter 1-bbl downdraft
|Engine, 1957 Six
|Type||Typhoon ohv inline 6|
|Bore × stroke, inches||3.13 × 4.25|
|Horsepower @ rpm||125 @ 4,200 (135 bhp @ 4,500 rpm with two-bbl carburetor option)
|Horsepower per cid||.613|
|Torque, pounds/feet @ rpm||175 @ 1,600|
|Carburetor||Carter 1-bbl downdraft|
|Engine, 1957 V-8
|Type||90-degree ohv V-8
|Bore × stroke, inches||3.50 × 3.25
|Horsepower @ rpm||190 @ 4,900
|Torque, pounds/feet @ rpm||240 @ 2,500
|Engine, 1957 Rebel
|Type||90-degree ohv V-8|
|Bore × stroke, inches
||4.00 × 3.25
|Horsepower @ rpm
||255 @ 4,700|
|Torque, pounds/feet @ rpm||345 @ 2,600|
||Silent Synchromesh 3-speed manual, synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd; Automatic Overdrive and 4-speed GM Dual-Range Hydra-Matic optional
||"Double Safe Single Unit Car Construction," welded, Bonderized for rust protection
||independent, upper and lower control arms, coil springs
||solid axle with torque tube, Panhard rod, coil springs
||Delco direct-acting type
||Gemmer worm-and-roller with Ball-and-Twin-Needle bearings
|Turning circle, feet
|Differential||hypoid, semi-floating rear axle
|Final drive ratio
||Bendix 4-wheel hydraulic; vacuum assist optional
|Drum diameter, inches
|Swept area, square inches
||stamped steel, 15 × 4
||6.40-15 4-ply nylon tubeless; 6.70-15 with V-8|
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