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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

1959 Rambler American

Advertising claimed, "crisp clean lines" of the 1959 Rambler American "will remain in style for years to come."
 American Motors laid the Hudson and Nash names to rest at the end of the 1957 selling season. The independent automaker pinned its future on the compact Rambler. The company was on its way up, taking 12th place in the US market that year.

The Canadian operation was shut down in August of 1957 because the plant on Toronto's Danforth was losing money. The underlying problem was that not enough components were manufactured in Canada. Tax and duty on the imported parts made the cars too expensive.

The 1958 Rambler was stylish but the lineup lacked two-door models.

While the Rambler name was doing extremely well, there was a serious gap in the product lineup. Dealers and product planners alike noted there were no two-door models. Executives knew there was no money to tool up any two-door cars. Some magic wand needed to be waved and waved quickly of American Motors was to survive and grow.

George Romney, the company's CEO went to Britian where he held exploratory talks with Austin. Austin already built the charming little Metropolitan for American Motors.  Romney hoped to purchase the company. Its small car expertise was exactly what American Motors needed. The Longbridge automaker's models nicely complimented AM's lineup and the two product lines would sell well in the North American market.

Metropolitan was built for American Motors and imported from the United Kingdom.

The British automaker was not interested in a more cozy arrangement with American Motors. Romney then went to Wolfsburg, West Germany and offered to merge AM with Volkswagen. He was rebuffed there, too.

So, in a sleight-of-hand movement that astonished the automobile industry, Romney ordered the dies for the the 1955 Rambler be brought out of storage and put back into production. No manufacturer had ever resurrected a model from the past and offered it to the public. It was a daring, gutsy gamble. Romney calculated the car would do well.

The 1955 Nash Rambler Custom Country Club.

The discontinued Rambler had garnered the highest resale value of any North American-built car for several years in a row. It was held in highest esteem by consumers. Before being reintroduced, the styling was freshened up a bit. The steel tartan grille gave way to a fine-mesh affair and rear wheelwells got fuller cutouts. Vice President Roy Chapin's suggestion to turn the taillights upside down gave a new look and saved precious retooling dollars. 

The 1958 Hillman Minx was direct competition to the Rambler American.

The names committee put forward several possible monikers for the newest Ramber. Suggestions included 100--for the 100-inch (2 540-millimetre) wheelbase but the name finally chosen was American. Its intended targets were European imports with names like Ford Anglia, Hillman Minx, Opel Rekord, Renault Dauphine, Vauxhall Victor, Fiat 1100, Simca Arronde and the biggest competitor of all--Volkswagen.

One AMC official told this author that there was talk of selling the car in Canada as the Rambler Canadian but that never materialized.

The 1958 Rambler American two-door sedan sold for $2,398 in Super trim and weighed in at  1 113 kilos (2,500 pounds).

In January of 1958 the smaller American was trotted out as a two-door model in Super trim or the lesser appointed Deluxe. There was no pretense that this was a new car, advertising boldly proclaimed that the American was "here by popular demand." The plain, eight-page black and white sales folder emphasized the economy and thrift of owning a Rambler American.

Options were held to a minimum. Flash-O-Matic transmission eliminated the clutch, or one could order overdrive. The famed Weather-Eye heater was the best in the industry. (General Motors bought AMC's heaters and air-conditioning units for all of its cars.) One could order a manual-tune radio, an electric clock, a glove box light, a custom steering wheel, the famous Airliner reclining seats and foam padding for the rear seat. Outside there were two-tone colour combinations to consider, a mirror (driver's side only), Solex glass, undercoating, heavy-duty springs and shocks, full-wheel discs, and optional tire choices. Under the hood one could have the optional oil bath air cleaner and the extra-cost windshield washer. 

In a decade of wretched excess, people believed that the simple, understated Rambler was synonymous with lasting design, quality and durability. More than 30,000 of the two-door Rambler Americans scooted out the factory doors. Sales more than tripled for the marque. It was the new American that provided the extra boost to push American Motors into the black for the first time since the company came into being in 1954. With $26 million profit on sales of 162,000 units during the model year, the little independent captured seventh place in the sales game.

The Playmates hit Beep Beep was on the Top 40 chart for twelve weeks in 1958.

Ramblers were more than cars, they represented a desirable lifestyle. The marque was immortalized when the pop singing group, The Playmates, recorded Beep! Beep! in 1958. The catchy ballad told the tale of a little Nash Rambler that undertook to pass a Cadillac on the highway. Underdog Rambler won the day and consumers felt downright good about themselves and their Ramblers. Like Rambler itself, the song rose to the top of the charts, hitting the number four spot.

The 1959 Lark by Studebaker was Rambler's first home-grown competition.

The next fall styling stood pat for the Rambler American. Studebaker's new Lark would take but a few sales from Rambler and The Big Three had yet to level their guns at the independents with their own compact cars. Rambler's lineup was good looking and looking good. From flagship Ambassador to the tiny Metropolitan, Rambler dealers had it all and all under one roof.

The 1959 Rambler American two-door station wagon boosted sales significantly for American Motors.

The American family got a new and very welcome addition as the two-door station wagon made its debut. Consumers demanded the common-sense Ramblers as a business depression deepened. The adorable continental spare was added to the option list as was an inside tilt rear-view mirror and a heavy-duty cooling unit.

More than 90,000 Americans were sold in the US in 1959, driving Rambler up the sales ladder to fourth place. Profits of USD$60 million were realized on net sales of USD $869 million.

1959 Rambler Americans were built in Kenosha, Wisconsin and exported to Canada.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2000
 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

1967 Beaumont

The 1967 Beaumont was created for the Canadian market but the marque would also be built in Chile and sold in Puerto Rico and the Republic of South Africa.

 General Motors of Canada Limited first established its policy of creating unique Pontiacs for the domestic market in the 1930s. Pontiac grilles were grafted onto Chevrolet bodies with enough of Pontiac's Indian-theme--and later the silver streak trim--to distinguish one nameplate from the other. This increased profits handsomely for GM's Canadian subsidary since the company got two birds for just one stone without having to build or import Pontiac models from the States.

The 1948 Vauxhall Velox was introduced to Canadians. A RHD model is seen here.

After World War Two, GM of Canada began importing Vauxhalls from GM's British subsidiary but they sold in small numbers, at first.
The posh compact Nash Rambler bowed in 1950 as an upscale station wagon and a convertible.

 In 1950 Nash created a new segment in the automobile market, the compact. Canadians recoginzed the value and responded by snapping up the small cars. At Nash, corporate thinking was that small did not mean cheap. Rambler came dressed to the nines with a radio, heater, whitewall tires and leather-trimmed seats at no extra cost. Priced virtually the same as a stripped full-size Chevrolet, Rambler caught on with the frugal, buying public.

The 1954 Volkswagen Beetle.

Nash was not alone in recognizing Canadians' appetite for smaller vehicles. Volkswagen took a hard look at Canadians' hunger for smaller and thriftier cars and established its first overseas subsidiary on Canadian soil in 1954. VW was on the money as consumers lined up for the pint-sized West German import.

In the fall of 1959 GM Canada began to compete with Volkswagen with its rear-engined Corvair but it missed the mark. GM brought a more traditional small car to market in 1962. Chevrolet dealers got the Chevy II and Pontiac dealers were given the Acadian.

Acadian shared a shell with the Chevy II but it was distinctly Canadian. The new brand appealed to national pride and history of the proudly tragic French-speaking colonists who arrived in the early 1500s to settle in what is now Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces, Maine and Quebec. Expulsed en masse from their homes by British conquerors and immortalized in Longfellow's poem, Evangeline, the name still evokes strength and endurance today. 


Beaumont began life as the top-of-the-line series for Acadian. Unique maple leaf chrome trim, a split grille, different interior fabrics and soft trim made the Acadian distinct, although it used the Chevy II instrument panel. Power plants were identical to Chevy II with both four- and six-cylinder engine offered.

The Acadian sold very well, taking 3.5 percent of all new car registrations that year. Acadian's strong showing slotted the new make right after Oldsmobile and just ahead of GM's popular captive import Vauxhall, sourced from Britain. The latter was displayed on Pontiac showroom floors alongside the homegrown Acadian.

While the Acadian brand was continued through 1971, the Beaumont name was chosen to adorn the larger Chevelle-sized Acadian introduced in 1964. Acadian now rode on two wheelbases. From 1964 onward the larger vehicle mated Pontiac Tempest's instruemt panel to Chevelle interior fabrics, upholstery, trim and door panels. 

The 1966 Beaumont Custom Convertible.

In 1966 the popular Beaumont bacame a marque in its own right. Records show that 12,827 Beaumonts were sold that year. Two six-cylinder engines were available as well as Chev's 327-cubic inch V-8.

The 1967 Beaumont was restyled.

Nine Beaumont models were offered the following season--in time of Canada's 100th birthday. A total of 12,356 units sold during Centennial year, almost beating out Ford's Fairlane. While Pontiac's Tempest and LeMans models were available, they were expensive imports costing up to $700 more than the domestically-built Beaumont. Since the imported Pontiacs weighed a good 270 kilos (600 pounds) more and came with smaller engines, a Beaumont would knock the socks off of any Pontiac GTO. Beaumont was popular because it represented a lot of car for the money.

Despite increasing sales, the popular Beaumont was cancelled in 1969 a casualty of AutoPact, the Canada-US trade agreement that allowed trans-shipment of automobiles between our two countries without tax or tariff. It is estimated that 55,000 Beaumonts were built between 1966 and 1969.

1969 was the final year for GM Canada's Beaumont. It was replaced by the Pontiac LeMans.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 1998
 All rights reserved.

Monday, December 24, 2012

1970 AMC Javelin Mark Donahue Edition

The 1970 AMC Javelin was a serious contender in the Canadian muscle car field.
To tell the Javelin story properly one has to start at the beginning. In the beginning there was Rambler. Rambler was the phenomenal North American automobile success story in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the United States, Rambler was need of an image change by the mid-1960s. People weren't buying Ramblers anymore. Rambler had somehow gone from being the chic car of choice for the smart and thrifty consumer to representing a vehicle owned by losers. 

In Canada, the situation was not the same. Canadians appreciated the value that Rambler represented and production at the Brampton, Ontario plant rose steadily from 1961 to 1970 (though there were very slight dips in 1965 and 1969).

The 1965 Marlin by Rambler was imported into Canada from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The pony car revolution was in full swing in 1964 and though American Motors fielded a fastback model called the Marlin for 1965, no one was fooled by its origins. Marlin was a feeble attempt to enter the market when compared to Ford's hot new Mustang. 

Marlin was nothing more than a sensible Rambler Classic with a dramatic fastback. People didn't buy Marlins. They were fish out of water. Dropping the Rambler name from the fastback for the 1966 model year didn't seem to help either. Marlin grew larger for 1967 but even fewer sold.

In its third and final year on the market, Marlin now shared its body shell with Ambassador.

What American Motors needed was a hot-to-trot muscle car that could take on the likes of Mustang, Camaro and Barracuda. Fortunately there was such an animal being readied in AMC's styling studios on Plymouth Road in Detroit.

The 1968 Javelin was all business on streets and racetracks.

Charles (Chuck) Machigan was the designer in charge of the programme and worked in the advanced studio under the direction of the Vice President of Design, Richard (Dick) Teague. Javelin was incredibly beautiful with its deeply-recessed venturi grille, a bold-look bumper and uncluttered styling. Although its wheelbase was only three centimetres longer than Ford's Mustang, Javelin's long deck and crouched-cat rear proportions were altogether lovely.

Interior designers, under the direction of Don Stumpf, made sure that Javelin was particularly commodious in rear seating when  compared to the back seats of other pony cars, all of which were notoriously skimpy and uncomfortable.

The 1967 Rambler American was a no-nonsense, high-value compact in the Canadian market.

Javelin was derived from econo-box Rambler American's mechanicals, just as Mustang's underpinnings came from the Ford Falcon. Both pony cars were endowed with many power options not available to their lesser kin. Both offered trusty six-cylinder engines as standard equipment but both could be powered upward.

Dealers and salesmen had to be specially trained to sell the Javelin. Comfortable selling sensible cars to older customers, Rambler dealers did not know how to talk to kids, nor did they know the language of racing.
The 1954 Nash-Healey.

AMC hadn't had a serious sports car on showroom floors since the Nash-Healey two-seater some fifteen years earlier. People needed to know how to relate to the youth market and not offend those young people who came in to shop for a Javelin. AMC dealers were taken to special Javelin races and introduced to a whole new world.

Javelin sales were great. AMC brass figured the car would be success if production hit 45,000 units. To their delight and astonishment more than 56,000 Javelins scooted out the doors.

In the US, Javelins were marketed in conjunction with Hugh Hefner's Playboy clubs. Neil Gaskin was AMC Canada's VP of Sales and knew that the Playboy Club image would not sit well with Canadian consumers. Besides, there weren't any Playboy Clubs in Canada, so he dreamt up another scheme.

Gaskin ordered a genuine Olympic javelin from a concern in New York City, the only place he could find one. "It was heavy," he called. Then he hired a "Javelin Girl." Christine Demeter was the model who wore the skimpy cave girl outfit and posed, javelin in hand, next to the muscle car. Gaskin recalled that the shoot was along Highway 400, north of Toronto--still under construction at the time. The background of gravel and raw earth lent itself perfectly to the shots.

The Javelin Girl campaign appeared in both English and French publicity. Dealers were given life-sized cardboard standups of Christine to place next to Javelins on showroom floors.

Sadly, the stint at American Motors was one of the last modelling jobs that Christine Demeter ever had. The 33-year old model was murdered by her husband shortly after--in a fashion so brutal and lurid that her death became a best-selling book and a murder-mystery movie on the CBC.

There was little to do in Javelin's second year but sell more of them. Javelin script on the grille was replaced  by a bull's eye and the stripes were redesigned. More woodgrain appeared on the instrument panel and in the interiors. 

Both Javelin and AMX were available in Big Bad Colours in 1969.

For the 1969 selling season, Big Bad Colours were introduced for Javelin and AMX. Big Bad Blue, Big Bad Green and Big Bad Orange were just too mod for words.  Despite the tweaking, sales dropped by some 14,000 units as the market was over-saturated and insurance companies were hiking rates on the pony car segment of the market.

In 1970 Javelin underwent a mild facelift to become six centimetres longer and three centimetres lower. Now it shared a common front bumper, parking light position and hood with AMX. 

Piloted by Peter Revson, this Javelin Trans-Am races in St. Jovite, Quebec on August 2nd, 1970.

A hundred Trans-Am Javelins were assembled under the watchful eye of industrial designer, Brooks Stevens who made sure the cars met the rules of the Sports Car Club of America. In 1970 the SCAA changed the rules to a minimum of 2,500 units of a car being built in order to compete in the club's events.

AMC responded with 2,501 copies of the Mark Donahue Javelin. Most sported a specially-cast, thick-walled 5.9-litre  (360-cubic inch) V8 engine with a 290-horsepower rating. They came with an aerodynamic duck-tail spoiler designed by Donahue himself. The race driver's distinctively bold signature appears on the right-hand side of the spoiler.

The two-seater AMX was deleted at the end of the 1970 model-year run but Javelin was given a major restyle and would soldier on racetracks for several more glorious seasons. 

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2000
All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

1974-1976 Bricklin SV-1

Bricklin bristled with many innovative features, the most dramatic being hydraulically-mounted gull-wing doors. Less than 33 centimetres (12 inches) is needed to open the doors, thus minimizing  odious parking lot scratches.
Malcolm Bricklin made his millions as owner of a chain or hardware stores. He had a good life but he wanted more. The California-based entrepreneur began to  import the tiny Subaru 360 into the US market in the late 1960s. The Japanese micro car was actually laughable by North American industry standards but the quirky little critters sold and owning the import license made Bricklin a force to be reckoned with.

The 1968 Subaru 360.
In 1971 Bricklin resigned from his post as President of Subaru of America. He had bigger fish to fry. Opening a corporation in Delaware, the super salesman was ready to try his hand at creating a sports car. Well, safety car. Bricklin fired the first designer for creating a coupe that looked too much like the Datsun 240Z. Design guru Dick Dean then came up with sketches that appealed to the demanding tastes of owners. A prototype was ready in late 1972.

Changes were forced upon the design almost immediately. The original sleek and trim 1,600-pound prototype called for the use of off-the-shelf Japanese mechanical components. This was a world that Malcolm Bricklin understood. But signing deals became an elusive art and the car grew from harbouring an efficient four-cylinder German power plant under the fibreglass hood to take on Chrysler's slant six engine. That deal fell through, too.

The car would grow larger and heavier than ever intended when Bricklin finally wrangled 3,000 thunderous 360 (5.9-litre) V-8s from American Motors Corporation. These were competition engines rumoured to have been developed for a special AMC racing Javelin--a project that had been ultimately nixed by AMC management.

Malcolm Bricklin could sell microwaves ovens to the citizens of Hell. Armed with his prototype vehicle and a movie, he promoted his company, General Vehicle, Inc. The hype was amazingly effective.

Bricklin was revolutionary in using new approaches to automotive design and engineering. Passenger protection was a recurrent theme and to that end Bricklins came in five body-impregnated safety colours: Safety Red, Safety Green, Safety Suntan, Safety White and Safety Orange.

The body frame was made of tubular steel. Passengers sat in a steel roll cage. Innovative front and rear bumpers simply receded into space provided in the event of impact. Literature claimed the gull-wing doors were safer than ordinary doors, needing only 33 centimetres (12 inches) of clearance to function and when moving, hydraulically locked for safety.

Oh, and there was snob appeal, too. Bricklin was shameless; this car came with no options. One could choose automatic or manual transmission but the list of standard features was exhaustive, including such premium goodies air conditioning, space-age acrylic exterior surface, mag-style aluminum cast wheels, custom suede-like interiors and a digital clock. The one thing one couldn't order on a Bricklin was a cigarette lighter because Malcolm Bricklin believed that smoking while driving was not safe and he didn't want you "...dropping a hot cigarette in your lap and driving our beautiful (Bricklin) car into a tree."

Spinning this yarn for potential investors, Malcolm raised more than a million dollars . With cash in hand it was time to put the car on the road. A deal was almost inked for a factory when Bricklin heard about space up for grabs in Canada.

The French automobile consortium of Renault-Peugeot-Citroen was winding down assembly of its Canadian products in the suburbs of Montreal. Bricklin was interested in taking over the St. Bruno facility that came with an already trained work force. Talks were held but failed when the Government of Quebec balked at having to cough up $7 million for a minority shareholder position in the company. It didn't sit well in Quebec City that Bricklin was perceived as being all promoter with no management skills.

Bricklin was a quick study and that experience prompted him to rapidly put together a first-rate team of of managers, each with a most impressive array of credentials. General Vehicle Inc. was suddenly talent laden with folks from Ford, Chrysler's British subsidiary and Renault. The experienced team would prove itself as soon as it could find a manufacturing home.

Through accountants' gossip the Bricklin team got in touch with New Brunswick's Multiplex Corporation. Multiplex was a Crown corporation created by Premier Richard Hatfield's government to bring industry into the province. Multiplex had a good track record of bringing jobs to the ruggedly beautiful but poor Maritime province including Venus Electric, a manufacturer of personal-care products, principally hot hair curlers and curling irons.

Canada Post issued a Bricklin stamp in 1996.

Bricklin and the people of New Brunswick would do business together. Things looked good even after the federal government agency responsible for giving out job venture grants in the hard-pressed Atlantic Provinces refused to kick in for the Bricklin project.

In 2003 the Royal Canadian Mint struck a $20 coin honouring Bricklin.

A second blow was delivered when the federal minister responsible refused to allow Bricklin access to the duty-free Auto Pact accord between the United States and Canada. Despite the setbacks the project was still considered viable by all accounts. Bricklin Canada Limited was established. The Canadian company would sell completed vehicles to the Bricklin Vehicle Corporation of Scottsdale, Arizona.

New Brunswick's citizens became the majority shareholders as 51% of the shares were purchased by the province. Premier Hatfield announced that the government of New Brunswick would back the deal with some $9 million worth of loans and loan guarantees.

Malcolm Bricklin and his sporty namesake in the Saint John factory.

The factory in Saint John was far too small from the very beginning, so the space-age acrylic fibreglass body panels were built in Minto, New Brusnwick and shipped to the port city. Losses were staggering from the very beginning. nearly two thirds of the Minto plant's body production had to be scrapped and then another 25% of what arrived in Saint John was damaged beyond repair.

The situation was exasperating to say the least. The 200 dealers in the United States wanted their cars but by the end of calendar year 1974 only 800 or so of the Safety Vehicles had trickled out of the Saint John factory. 
Bricklin production projections were pegged at 12,000 units for the first year, 30,000 the second, 50,000 the third and 100,000 at the end of four years.
 Problems got solved and production kicked up a notch. One change was AMC's power plant was dropped in favour of Ford's 5.7-litre (351-cubic inch) V-8. More than 2,000 Bricklins were built and shipped in 1975 but money became scarce. Malcolm Bricklin went hat in hand to Fredericton where Premier Hatfield guaranteed to pump more money into the company if the private sector would offer matching funds.

A total of 2,854 Bricklins were built over three years.

Sadly, there were no takers and Bricklin Canada Limited slipped into receivership in September of 1975. Canadian Press reported that 183 vehicles were in various stages of assembly at the time the plant closed. This author lived in Saint John at that time and remembers peering through the factory's chain link fence in foggy damp winter rains after the plant closed, watching brightly coloured Bricklins being loaded onto car carriers for undisclosed designations.

While the original plan called for the Bricklin to be built in Canada, the smart two-seater couple could not be purchased by Canadians. Regardless, a few Bricklins were sold here at home. Records show that 13 Bricklins were registered domestically in 1975 and a further 117 were registered in 1976.

Had Bricklin been successful the next generation might have looked like these renderings, dubbed 'Chairman'.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 1999
 All rights reserved.