In the era of planned obsolescence, independent brands, out of necessity didn’t “keep up with the times.” Smaller brands like Studebaker, AMC and a number of independent brands before them didn’t have the market share or profits to field new styling and the required sheetmetal every 2 or 3 years, or, in the case of General Motors, the extreme of every model year for 1957, ’58 and ’59.
As a wave of consumer backlash against this process developed, American Motors in particular, was well situated to take advantage of the march of “progress” fielded by the big three. Their smaller, sensible, upright rolling orthopedic shoes of automobiles, assembled with care and craft not necessarily known in their price class lead them to rise in sales during the leaner, recession restricted years of 1958 through 1961. How did that do for ’62?
The 1962 Rambler Classic fielded the last re-work of the vintage 1956 Rambler Six offered in Nash and Hudson variations. What was described as a “Compact” in 1956 verged on being a new intermediate size category by 1962. Although riding on a wheelbase equal to the Ford Falcon’s 108 inches, they spanned a larger 190 inches long.
This was larger than the senior compacts on offer from General Motors yet 5 inches shorter than the all new for ’62 Ford Fairlane. However, due to its still 1950’s vintage upright passenger cabin, room rivaled the comfort offered by cars much larger in the era of longer, lower and wider.
Finally fading away were tailfins at the rump, as headlamps moved in-line with the grille as was Detroit fashion the previous model year.
The wraparound windshield and rear window with reverse slant C pillar were decidedly fifties fashions, and considered dowdy as even Studebaker trotted out semi-blind C pillars throughout their line influenced by the direction set by the 1958 Thunderbird. By not chasing these design trends, the Rambler could exclusively focus on building well-crafted volume cars known for their durability, assembly quality and high resale value.
For those seeking a practical appliance, there was little to fault even as Rambler fell further behind the times. Most buyers of Ramblers chose the well proven 195 cube Six in higher numbers during 1961, so it became the only available powertrain for 1962 as the V8 was relegated to the newly shortened Ambassador.
With 128 horsepower on tap pulling decently bulky body work, performance was modest, but economy as always was a boon. Pioneering the usage of dual master brake cylinders and receiving critical acclaim for their seating design, Rambler strove towards making motoring memorable in the day to day grind, the beauty of their products was far from skin deep.
Although Pontiac leapfrogged Ramber for the #3 spot in 1962, the more than 442,000 units sold by the independent outsider was nothing to laugh at. Unfortunately AMC itself didn’t build in the reputation they garnered for themselves in the late 50’s into the 1960’s. Soon after the all-new for ’63 Classic and Ambassador debuted, it was determined by corporate management that the only way to survive was to compete with Detroit brands model for model.
With modest resources and an ever diversifying market that Rambler helped to create with luxury compacts in the early 1950’s, it proved perhaps a fallow fantasy to chase not only stylish Chevelles and Fairlanes, but Galaxies, Bonnevilles and Polaras as well. For a moment in time however, the future seemed brightest in Kenosha.