Sunday, July 4, 2010

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1964 Rambler American 440

It's July 4th, America's Independence Day. Today, across the nation, folks will celebrate by lighting off bottle rockets and running around with sparklers, barbecuing burgers and getting drunk as a skunk. or some combination of the above.
California Streets marks July 4th with our own twist: Independent's Day. The car?
A 1964 Rambler American, of course.

At first glance the Rambler looks like a bland car, and for all intents and purposes it is. Rambler had emerged from the merger of Nash and Hudson, and was trying to define itself as a single automaker independent of Detroit's Big Three. Rival Studebaker was on life support; Packard was dead. Ford had a huge hit on its hands with the new Mustang, and the conservatively styled Falcon was a hugely popular contender in the compact market. Chevy's relatively exotic rear-engined Corvair was also selling well. Rambler wanted a piece of the pie, and this is what they came up with.
The Rambler American was actually introduced in 1958, clothed in a roly-poly bathtub body and powered by a miserly straight six. It was the cheapest car in America, and one of the most fuel-efficient. It was basic enough that a four-door model didn't come out until the Big Three came out with four-door compact models for 1960.
As the 1960s wore on, and the compact car wars heated up, Rambler started to evolve into its more commonly recognized form: American Motors Corporation (AMC). By 1964, the Rambler American had shed its Nash roots and frumpy face and been redesigned into a clean and modern looking compact car. Customers and reviewers liked the new car, and 160,000 were sold that year.
This is an American 440 sedan, the top of the line trim. It features one single cheeky chrome spear on the front fenders as body decoration, a seeming equivalent to a person who lives a humble life but allows himself one bit of extravagance to keep things interesting. I like the stylized "A" badge on the hood, and the cool "American" script on the quarter panels. Nobody does script badging anymore; it's really a shame because so many old badges are beautiful. I like the front 3/4 view of this car, but the rear end is bland and uninspired. It is an ordinary car marketed toward ordinary people. And since ordinary people make up most of the car-buying public, that wasn't so bad. It works for Toyota these days.
I give this Rambler credit for being so clean and straight. Most have rambled off to the junkyard by now. This one has its full stock hubcaps, all badging and what may well be the original Lancelot Medium Turquoise paint. The biggest concern I have is the rust bubbles that appear to be forming in the bottom of the quarter panels.
As most of you know, AMC was the last truly competitive independent American automaker until it too fell victim to outdated products, a bad merger with Renault and later purchase and dismantling by Chrysler. After 1987 AMC was dead, and the Rambler American was only a memory. But Rambler and American Motors live on in the cars, and in the hearts and minds of the people who continue to maintain and drive them.

Today, let's celebrate American Independents!

Happy Independence Day to you and your family. Have a good one, and stay safe out there. And God bless America.

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