The outmoded styling of the 1958-1959 Rambler American, being a reprise of the 1950-1954 model, couldn't be hidden. But AMC freshened it up a little in 1958 by adding a mesh grille and opening up the odd, semi-enclosed front wheel arches that had made for tricky tire changing and a yacht-like turning circle on the 1950-1954 Ramblers.
Naturally, AMC had no choice in its resurrected Rambler but to use the veteran Nash-designed 195.6-cubic-inch six-cylinder, rated at 90 horsepower and teamed with a standard three-speed column-shift manual transmission.
To keep prices down, only a two-door sedan was offered, in basic DeLuxe and slightly fancier Super trim, plus a DeLuxe business sedan sans back seat, a $1,775 price leader. Options were restricted for the same reason; overdrive and "Flash-O-Matic" automatic transmission, radio, heater, and whitewall tires being the main choices.
No-nonsense simplicity, near 30-mpg fuel economy, and a made-in-America label constituted strong selling points in recession 1958, and the American found close to 31,000 buyers despite its late start. If it caused the larger Ramblers to seem almost pretentious, it also made a good many imports seem cramped, underpowered, and overpriced -- which some were.
Even though there wasn't much need for change, the American saw a few for 1959. A two-door station wagon returned from 1955, still offering 52 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seat folded. DeLuxe and Super trim continued, the latter distinguished by bright window frames and nicer upholstery. Brakes were now self-adjusting on all models.
Options expanded to include the inevitable rooftop luggage rack for the Super wagon, plus tasteful two-tone paint and a $59 continental kit for sedans. The last looked incongruous on the dowdy American, but it opened up more trunk space, just as it had in 1950-1955.
Despite new competition from Studebaker's Lark, AMC's Truman-era compact had a field day in the twilight of the Eisenhower age. Helped by a full selling season and the 1959 market's general recovery, the American soared to over 90,000 sales, far ahead of DeSoto, Chrysler -- and Edsel.
Though the American became sportier, somewhat faster, and much prettier in later years, it's the 1958-1960 generation that's become something of a minor collectible. Like the VW Beetle, it made its fame as a "reverse-status" car that succeeded by flying in the face of most everything Detroit stood for at the time. That may not make it a great car -- but it's one you've got to respect.
Check out 1958-1959 Rambler American specifications on the next page.