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Fastback Marlin built for sporty buyers

American Motors Corp. was formed in 1954 through the amalgamation of the Nash Motor Co. of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Hudson Motor Car Co. of Detroit, Michigan.

American Motors Corp. was formed in 1954 through the amalgamation of the Nash Motor Co. of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Hudson Motor Car Co. of Detroit, Michigan. After the merger, Nash's designs predominated, although AMC marketed cars with both Nash and Hudson nameplates until 1957. The Hudson and Nash names were then discontinued along with the corporation's large cars. AMC products became Ramblers.

During the late 1950s and early '60s, AMC chairman George Romney was a man ahead of his time. He was an advocate of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and constantly ridiculed the "gas guzzling dinosaurs" produced by the Big Three, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

When Romney, father of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left AMC in 1962 to enter politics, which would lead to three terms as governor of Michigan and a run at the U.S. presidency, AMC passed to management with different priorities. The new president, Roy Abernethy, an exPackard man, set out to burnish what he saw as AMC's staid image.

Whereas Romney had been satisfied with a smaller, less-flamboyant market niche, Abernethy wanted to challenge the Big Three with larger, more powerful, more exciting cars. This would ultimately fail, but not before a variety of models emerged, among them the fastback Rambler Marlin.

In the early 1960s, fastbacks enjoyed some popularity in such sporty models as the Chevrolet Corvette and Studebaker Avanti.

AMC wanted to tap into this market, and in anticipation chief stylist Richard Teague had developed a concept fastback version of the compact Rambler American called the Tarpon. It was displayed at the 1964 convention of the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit.

The Tarpon was popular with the engineers, and this reaction along with favourable responses in California and Chicago showings convinced AMC they were on the right path to take it to market.

Then, unexpectedly, Abernethy decreed that they would not be proceeding with a production version of the Tarpon. In Detroit's best "bigger is better" tradition he wanted something bigger, a fastback version of the company's midsize Rambler Classic. It would be a kind of 3+3 configuration rather than the usual sporty 2+2.

Teague created the new car, which they called the Rambler Marlin, based on the larger Rambler Classic. But what had looked nicely proportioned on the 2,692millimetre Rambler American wheelbase took on a different character on the Classic's longer 2,845-mm wheelbase. Whereas the Tarpon's 1,333-mm height and 4,572-mm length had given it a svelte, sleek appearance, the Marlin was 38 mm taller and 381 mm longer, making it look ungainly in comparison.

The Marlin turned out as neither a compact sporty fastback nor a regular six-passenger sedan. The newly identified youth market it was intended to attract weren't interested in a huge, six-passenger car. And since family-car buyers preferred four doors and a larger trunk, the Marlin was a little like a fish out of water.

It didn't have much mechanical excitement to make up for it, either. Although the Marlin's base AMC 3.8-litre, 145-horsepower overhead-valve inline six was reliable and sturdy, it was about as prosaic as they came. Optional overhead-valve 4.7-and 5.4litre V-8s producing 198 and 270 horsepower offered a little more excitement, but the fact that the Marlin came with only an automatic transmission was a serious deficiency in the sporty market segment.

AMC introduced the Marlin as a mid-1965 model, and it generated an initial flush of interest. In spite of being only a half-year model, a surprising 10,327 '65s were sold.

There was little change in the 1966 Marlin, and interest in AMC's fastback plunged. Only 4,547 '66s found buyers; apparently almost everybody who wanted a Marlin had bought one in 1965.

Something was needed to rejuvenate the Marlin, so Teague was asked to have another try at the corporate shell game by basing the 1967 Marlin on the company's even larger Ambassador model. This resulted in a 152-mm-longer wheelbase of 2,997 mm. And at 5,118 mm long, it was 165 mm longer overall. The Marlin had been big before, but was even bigger now.

Surprisingly, the increase made the Marlin better-looking and it seemed to generate some new interest, but it didn't translate into many sales. In spite of such available options as 280 horsepower, a tachometer, disc brakes and a four-on-the-floor manual transmission, only 2,545 '67s were sold.

"Longer, lower and wider" didn't revive the market for the Marlin, and AMC's failed attempt at an oversize sporty car ended in 1967. The Marlin was gone, and so was Abernethy. AMC wisely turned its fastback attention to the far more successful Javelin pony car.

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