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      Car History: Car History Year 1961
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:25:54 UTC by Cars
     
     
      Cars Recycling is a familiar theme of the 1990s, and many of today's manufacturers emphasize how much material in their cars can be re-used. However, nobody can approach the audacity of George Romney, the head of American Motors Corporation, who, when facing the economic recession of 1958, decided to recycle an entire automobile!

    The plan was simple: dust off the tooling of the 1955 Nash Rambler 2-door sedan, slightly modify it to open up the rear wheel arches and simplify the hood design, add a mesh grille and a little chrome - and launch it as the new 1958 Rambler American. The experts said it wouldn't work - after all the Nash design actually dated back to 1950 - but Romney had spotted a niche in the market for a US-built small car with a thrifty six cylinder engine at a rock-bottom price. The Rambler American sold well, helping to put AMC in profit at a time when the competition was suffering losses. And, as frugal as the owners of the little car he was so enthusiastic about, Romney wasn't about to spend more money on building the American than he had to. It continued almost unchanged until 1960, with increasing sales, establishing itself as the leader in the compact car sector. Although he was careful to control spending, Romney appreciated that this virtual monopoly couldn't last forever. The popular Volkswagen Beetle continued to dominate the import market, and the Studebaker Lark was the first American-made competition to arrive in '59. When GM, Ford and Chrysler entered the fray in 1960, George Romney knew it was time to act in order to protect AMC's hard-won customer base. Even then, chief stylist Edmund Anderson was only allowed to re-skin the ancient bodyshell. Given these constraints, Anderson's achievement is remarkable. While the inner panels remained untouched and so the interior dimensions of the American were as before, the overall length was reduced by 5.2 inches and the width by over 3 inches giving a far neater package. Measurements aside, the squarer body now had a more modern Sixties shape and could stand alongside the competition without looking old fashioned. The distinctive trapezium-shaped grille, sharp leading edge "brow" that flowed into a gradually flaring side indent and simple round tail lights weren't to everyone's taste. Critics have called Anderson's design "boxy and truncated" while supporters claim the car is "a little jewel." One a feature that Anderson couldn't alter was the high beltline level, but this wasn't significantly detrimental. George Romney described the car as having "modern, enduring style." Most customers were happy with the new look and, once again, AMC defied the detractors and sold 136,000 Americans in 1961, and a total of 370,600 cars, lifting the Rambler to an unprecedented third place in the charts behind Chevrolet and Ford (albeit a long way behind, by something like a million units!). Styling was no doubt important, but the American was more about economy than prestige and AMC used the slogan "the top resale value among the low-priced cars year after year" to reinstate that Rambler buyers could expect a better price than other owners when trading in their car for a new model. By 1961, there was more choice for the Rambler American driver too. From the one model "plain Jane" 2-door sedan of '58, the range now featured three levels of trim -DeLuxe, Super and Custom - with a variety of bodystyles, including a new 4-door station wagon and a convertible. The top of the line Customs were also equipped with a modern overhead valve in-line six cylinder engine that produced 125bhp. This powerplant was available as a $59.50 optional extra on the lower specification models, otherwise you got the 90 horsepower antique flathead six. Both engines displaced 195 cu.in. Not only was there a wider choice of models, Rambler American owners could now also specify extra creature comforts from an options list. You could jazz up the exterior with two-tone paint for $1 5.95, add front and rear DeLuxe foam rubber seat cushions at $19.90, or the ultimate has to be the Airliner Recliner Seats that folded down into Twin Travel Beds. If it was ease of driving you were after, there was always the lever control Flash-O-Matic automatic transmission ($165), power steering ($72) and power brakes ($38). The most expensive add-on was undoubtedly air conditioning, which came with a heavy-duty cooling system and a hefty price tag of $359 - almost 20 of the cost of the cheapest American model. The best seller was the DeLuxe 2-door sedan at $1,845, which compared favorably against $2,230 for a basic Chevrolet, and 28,555 were produced. But if the Rambler buyer got carried away and opted for too many extras, the "cheap little compact" soon became as expensive as a full-size automobile. Mind you, the Chevy salesman wasn't going to let a customer out of the showroom without ordering a few extras either, so the price differential was pretty much maintained at the end of the day. Away from the motor industry, President Kennedy was promising to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and Alan Shepard became the first American in space on July 21. Less memorable was the failure of the ClA-orchestrated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April, and the decision to send 400 Green Berets to Vietnam. Also on the downside was an attack on the Freedom Riders in Alabama during a protest over segregation on buses, and a spate of airliner hijackings. But there were plenty of winners to celebrate in 1961 too. Phil Hill became the first American to win the Formula One World Championship driving a Ferrari, A. J. Foyt took the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500 (the first of four victories at The Brickyard) and Marvin Panch won the NASCAR Daytona 500 in a Pontiac. To compare the success of a cheap, compact, family car from an independent manufacturer based in Kenosha, Wisconsin with some of the great names in motor racing might seem a bit presumptuous. However, finishing third for Rambler was an amazing achievement given their limited resources. By beating the might of Detroit, AMC, George Romney, Ed Anderson and the Rambler American deserve to be included in the list of winners in '61. Specification AMC RAMBLER AMERICAN CUSTOM CONVERTIBLE Engine Cast iron - 6 Cylinders in line Displacement 195.6 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.13x4.25 ins. Horsepower 125 Body styles Convertible coup No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 2,712 Ibs Price $2,369 Produced -     Specification DODGE DART PHOENIX Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 383 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.25x3.38 ins. Horsepower 325 Body styles 4 door sedan; Hardtop coupe; Hardtop sedan; Convertible coupe No. of seats 2-4 Weight (lbs) 3,530 Ibs-3,580 Ibs Price $2,737 - $ 2,988 Produced 34,319 (all models)     Specification IMPERIAL CROWN SEDAN Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 413 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.18x3.75 ins. Horsepower 350 Body styles Hardtop sedan No. of seats 6 Weight (lbs) 4,855 Ibs Price $5,647 Produced 4,769     Specification LINCOLN CONTINENTAL CONVERTIBLE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 430 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.3x3.7 ins. Horsepower 300 Body styles 4 door convertible sedan No. of seats 6 Weight (lbs) 5,215 Ibs Price $6,713 Produced 2,857  
     
     
     
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