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Monday, March 26, 2012

1961 Rambler

For 1961, Ambassador by Rambler was American Motors' flagship. The luxurious four-door Custom was imported from the US and sold for $3,388, taxes included.

Rambler might have been a new brand of automobile when it bowed to the public for the 1958 selling season but its heritage was drawn directly from the grand Nash and Hudson marques. Both of these automotive legends were highly prized by consumers for their upscale image and the ritzy, compact Rambler clipped right along that same glorious road. It represented value and economy to Canadians because it was priced right, sized right and carried all of the elegance and class of its predecessors.

Homegrown in 1961, the Rambler Classic 6 Super four-door sedan sold for $2,833 and the Classic 8 Super four-door sedan cost $2,995, fob Brampton, Ontario.
Consumers were delighted with the compact Ramblers but frustration reigned in the head office in Toronto. Just as sales began to explode throughout the Dominion, American Motors Canada, Limited had been obliged to close its Toronto assembly facility as a cost-cutting measure in the young corporation’s dark days of 1957. Studies showed that an assembly operation could be profitable if 10,000 units were built. As sales grew nearer and nearer to that point, the company was eager to get back into the game.


With great fanfare, officials launched its new, ultra-modern factory in Brampton on January 26, 1961. The doors were thrown open for a three-day gala and the nation was invited. Rambler’s return to the domestic automobile manufacturing scene was national news, generating excitement right across the country. Truth be told, the first car, a light blue four-door sedan, had been completed on Christmas Eve of 1960 but operations got underway in earnest in the New Year.

The smallest offering from American Motors in 1961 was the Metropolitan. Imported from the UK, the hardtop sold for $1,885. The 2 159-millimetre (85-inch) wheelbased cutie weighed in at  836 kilos (1,843 pounds).
The British-built Metropolitan kicked things off for the nation’s 321 Rambler dealers. Though it never carried the Rambler name, the captive import, built by Austin, was exclusive to American Motors on this continent and was offered as a two-door hardtop at $1,885 and a convertible with a list price of $1,925. 


These Mets were reserialed 1960 models because manufacture had been discontinued in 1960. The phenomenal rise of the Pound Sterling meant that the little car had lost its punch as an import fighter. Cuteness alone was its strong point, now. There had been no mechanical changes to the Met since it had been revamped for the 1959 selling season. Only the price tag had changed. Consumers were still charmed and 533 of them fell in love with the Met enough to purchase the tiny, adorable imports during the calendar year. Despite the low numbers, the Metropolitan still sold better than the Imperial, Ford’s Taunus and West Germany's diminutive DKW.
VW would have been the perfect addition to American Motors. A 1960 Beetle is seen here.

American Motors’ farsighted president, George Romney, had gone to Britain in 1957 and offered to purchase Austin but was politely rebuffed. Looking at prototypes of Austin’s 850 sedan, a.k.a. the Mini, with its $1,377 price tag, he knew small was the right trend. When The Austin arrived in 1959 it was the least expensive new car on the market. With sales of 4,034 of the micro-cars to Canadians, Romney could but wish that he had been successful in enticing the Longbridge concern into the AM family.

The 1959 Mini was a smashing success for Austin.
Romney had then travelled on to West Germany and offered to merge American Motors with Volkswagen but no one in Wolfsburg was interested in his offer. Volkswagen’s humble Beetle listed for $1,645 in Custom trim and $1,875 for the DeLuxe upgrade. With 29,754 sales, VW was the third best-selling car on the domestic market after the full-sized Chevs and the full-sized Pontiacs. 

The 2 540-millimetre (100-inch) wheelbased Rambler American was heavily facelifted for 1961. The Custom four-door sedan sold for $2,764 and weighed in at 1 169 kilos (2,578 pounds).
Necessity being the mother of invention, frugal American Motors took on the competition by dusting off the dies of the 1955 Nash Rambler and having designers freshen it up. Introduced as the Rambler American as a mid-year offering in 1958, the modestly appointed stripper was a huge hit.


Heavily reskinned for 1961, the highly stylish Rambler American was comprised of thirteen models spread over the Deluxe, Super and Custom Series. The company was justifiably proud in inviting the public to “meet the new American beauty.” In tackling the imports, American offered “the shortest and most maneuverable of any (Canadian) car” and reminded prospective owners that with American they got “50 percent more luggage space; high, wide doors for easy entrance and exit.” 

Mobilgas began sponsoring its annual Economy Run in 1936.

It didn’t hurt any that Rambler Americans won the Mobil Gas Economy Run year after year, either. Prices ranged from $2,334 to $3,001 for the ragtop, pitting the series squarely against the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford’s Falcon, the Mercury Comet, Chrysler Corporation’s Valiant and Studebaker’s Lark. 

Ragtops in the 1961 AM family were limited to Metropolitans and Americans. Tipping the scales at 1 239 kilos (2,732 pounds), the Rambler American Custom convertible listed for $3,001.
Only Classics were built domestically that first year but there were a lot of them; workers turned out 4,168 units of the fourteen (!) different six and eight-cylinder versions of the highly popular compact series for the 1961 model year. Advertising promised that the 1961 offerings were “a still more beautiful version of the car that gives the best of both: big car room and compact car economy.” Classics started at $2,681 for the DeLuxe four-door sedan in six-cylinder form and topped the chart at $3,718 for the Classic 8 Custom four-door, nine-passenger station wagon.

Four Cross-Country station wagons graced the Ambassador series in 1961. The Custom four-door (left) had a list price of $3,771 and the Super (right) carried a price tag of $3,204. Nine-passenger versions were available, as well.
Not quite a full-sized car and certainly not a compact, Ambassadors were a breed unto themselves on their 2 971.8-millimetre (117-inch) wheelbases and their 327-cubic inch V-8 mills. No two-door Ambassadors were offered in 1961. The elegant flagship with the European styling was available here in five models in either the Super or more sumptuous Custom series. Advertising predicted that Rambler’s “original compact luxury car will be the most imitated of 1961.”


Compact did not mean cheap at Rambler. The least expensive Ambassador was the Super four-door sedan listing for $3,204 while the absolutely posh Custom four-door hardtop, nine-passenger station wagon listed for $3,927—more than any Chev, Plymouth, Dodge, Ford, Meteor or Mercury on the market.

Every Rambler rolled out of the factory doors with Unit Construction, Deep-Dip Rustproofing, a Ceramic-Armoured Muffler and a Dual-Safe braking system. Classics and Ambassadors carried fireproof and waterproof Acoustical Moulded Fibre-Glass Headliners. 

The ultimate upholstery upgrade for the Rambler Classic cabin in 1961 was the Custom 400 interior with tasteful pleating on the split-bench, reclining seats. Headrests were another extra-cost option.
Popular options included the die-cast aluminum six-cylinder engine, the Flash-O-Matic transmission or overdrive, power steering, power brakes, Lock-O-Matic vacuum-powered door locks, Twin Travel Beds, Airliner Reclining Seats, a twin-grip differential, padding for the instrument panel and sun visors, a transistor-powered radio, power-lift windows, Solex glass, All-Season air conditioning and the unparalled Weather Eye heater and ventilation system.

With Arliner seats that folded flat, the Ramblulance was a life-saving vehicle in many small towns and villages across Canada, including Hudson, Quebec.

Cracking the Top Ten with 12,834 sales for the calendar year and 10,835 units for the model year, Rambler Canada celebrated a glorious 1961. It was but a harbinger of things to come; sales and production would more than double in 1962.

Rambler was perfect for rugged duty required of a taxi cab.
Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.

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