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Dream Cars: New Rambler American

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Rambler American, Toyota Corolla
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Dream Cars: New Rambler American

Bill Crittenden
August 13, 2009

Anyone who knows my tastes in cars knows that I consider Toyotas to be of top quality and that I consider the 1964-1965 Rambler American to be one car I absolutely must own before I die.  So earlier this year I was talking about a news story while an old car ad was sitting on my kitchen counter, and two vehicles combined in my mind to form something.

1962 Rambler American 1962 Rambler American
Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz
AMCRC show in Somerset, New Jersey
2003
View photo, 69KB

For those of you who don't remember the little Rambler American, let me introduce you.  The Nash Rambler was an efficient little car largely lost in the history of the mid-1950's, as history holds the Chevrolet Bel Air as the icon of the era.  In 1958 the Rambler name would become the brand name and the car, redesigned, would be called the Rambler American.  In an era of huge Detroit V8 iron the six-cylinder Rambler found success in the Mobilgas Economy Runs and would win the 1963 Motor Trend Car of the Year.  It was, unfortunately, an economy car before America needed economy cars, and even once it did we still never really liked economy cars, so it isn't the most loved American car of its time.

1964 Rambler American 440-H 1964 Rambler American 440-H
Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz
AMCRC show in Somerset, New Jersey
2003
View photo, 69KB
1964 Rambler American 440-H 1964 Rambler American 440-H
Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz
AMCRC show in Somerset, New Jersey
2003
View photo, 57KB

The 1964 American was a whole new car.  Styled by Richard A. Teague, the first one I saw (actually a 1965) immediately caught my attention, a sort of automotive love-at-first-sight.  Personally, my favorite part is the front end, the big round headlights with the grille spanning the space between the two.  I think it's interesting that viewed from in front of the car it has a lot of curves, especially because of the rounded fenders around surrounding the headlights, yet the front end looks flat when viewed from the side.  The fenders curve around the taillights, and the hood dips between them, creating a curved fender top at the front that blends into the flat-sided middle of the car.  The simple back end resembles the front in that it includes thin chrome stripes between the taillights, reminiscent of the front grille.

However, in 1966 a facelift would put awkward squares around the round headlights and removed the lines from between the taillights, and as such the car lost its most distinctive styling features.  AMC would eventually phase out the Rambler brand.  In 1969, its final year, the car would be known as the American Motors Rambler.  An ironic end to the car that began life as the Nash Rambler.  But what does this have to do with a Toyota Corolla 40 years later?

1966 Rambler American 1966 Rambler American
Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz
AMCRC show in Somerset, New Jersey
2003
View photo, 70KB

The 1965 American was such an interesting car to me that I actually spent $3 each for a pair of old advertisements to hang on my wall at home.  These were the advertisements were placed on my kitchen counter just after General Motors announced that it was pulling out of NUMMI.

In June, General Motors ended its 25 year association with Toyota at their jointly owned NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc.) plant in California.  The plant produced the Corolla and Matrix for Toyota and over the years it produced first the Geo/Chevrolet Prizm and then the Pontiac Vibe for General Motors.  With Pontiac on its deathbed, the Vibe would soon end production, and General Motors is apparently not interested in continuing the vehicle as a Chevrolet.  That is a shame, really, as I drive a 2003 Vibe AWD and I find it to be a wonderful little car.

To make matters worse, Toyota is unable to sell enough Corollas and Matrixes to keep NUMMI running on its own, so it is closing the factory, putting thousands of American workers out of work.  Couldn't something be done, couldn't another automaker step in and pick up where General Motors left off and create enough demand to keep NUMMI open while adding a quality small car to their lineup?

Ford already has an excellent small car in the Focus, and General Motors obviously wasn't interested in replacing the Cobalt.  Dodge is deep in Chrysler's bankruptcy and as such is in no condition to buy into a new venture.  However, Chrysler's financial condition would make it the best time to acquire a brand name from their extensive portfolio of dead marques from the American automobile industry's past.

I began to envision a new car, using the Toyota Corolla as its base.  I imagine the basic proportions would stay the same, particularly the length, height, roofline and trunk size, because it would cost less than redesigning the unibody chassis to simply change the shape of the body, and why mess with the success of the Corolla?

From this not-quite-blank canvas, I would copy the most distincive part of the 1964-65 Rambler American:  the front grille and headlights.  Of course, the headlights on the new car would be modern halogen composite units, set back into the fender, surrounded by chrome rings and a thin chrome front grille across the front of the car.  The fenders would be curved around the headlights, blending back into the Corolla shape at the front of the windshield and doors.  The front bumper should be short, yet modern in design (it is, after all, there for a reason), but there should be at least some chrome on it to evoke the all-chrome bumpers of the 60's American.

In the rear, the car should be able to keep the same basic shape of the trunk lid, low-set taillights and bumper, although in much shorter form as the distance from the rear window to the and of the car is much shorter on a modern compact car than it is on a car designed in the 1960's.  The same changes applied to the front bumper should be carried over to the rear.

Wheels should be designed to be specific to the Rambler American and designed in a retro style, possibly steel wheels painted to match the body with small chrome hubcaps on the base model (replacing the black steel wheels and mag-wheel lookalike plastic wheel covers on the base Corolla), and retro-styled aluminum wheels as an option.

Changes to the interior should be minimal, to further reduce the costs of converting the Toyota design and manufacturing it alongside the Corolla.  Perhaps colors and materials could be changed to evoke the 1960's car, replacing brushed aluminum with wood trim (probably fake, but remember, it's an economy car) and the black plastic and cloth with materials of the same type colored to match the exterior.

In its finished form, I envision a vehicle with retro-modern styling, a combination of old and new along the lines of the Volkswagen Beetle, reminiscent of the original style without being an exact copy.

The Corolla seems well suited to be the basis of a new American, as it has among the best fuel economy ratings for a non-hybrid  But why build it?  Who would buy such a car?

Toyota seemed to think that its image was being tarnished among young buyers (young buyers they hoped would eventually move to Toyotas as adults and to Lexus when they were older) when their grandmothers started buying Toyota Echos.  It felt so strongly that it created the entire Scion brand, seemingly marketed specifically to turn old people away from the cars.  However, sensible older drivers want reliable, affordable, fuel efficient transportation.  Which is why sensible older drivers flocked to Toyota dealerships.

Consider the market potential for a new Rambler American.  Might some of Toyota's older small car buyers prefer something styled more along the lines of the cars of the past?  What about all of the businesses that flock to every small and practical retromobile to get attention and build an image for themselves?  Those cars, such as the New Beetle, PT Cruiser, and HHR, are successful sellers and unless Toyota wants to try their hand at a retro Toyota Corona, there's not much in their history to draw inspiration from in the affordable retrocar department.

So my logic is, if Toyota could create their Scion brand of small, efficient youth-oriented cars and sell them through their established Toyota dealership network, why can't they recreate the Rambler brand of small, efficient cars oriented towards other drivers and sell them through their established Toyota dealership network?

Unfortunately, while I have a good imagination I am a very poor artist, so I have no drawings or designs of the car to share.  Perhaps someday, though, I'll get my hands on a used 2010 Toyota Corolla, the headlights from a Jeep, and try to put the car together.  Until then, you'll have to use your imagination to see the car.

New Rambler American Concept New Rambler American Concept
Drawing by Bill Crittenden, September 2009
View image, 781KB

Of course, one small car does not make an entire brand of cars, but the rest is for another time...



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