The 1958-1960 Rambler American: Successful Revival of a Compact

Trade catalog for the 1958 Rambler American

During the late 1950s, American Motors Corporation, the creation of a 1954 merger between Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company, was struggling to compete against the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) in the American automobile market. The firm’s problems were further exacerbated by a sharp recession that hit the United States in 1957, which caused a market shift towards smaller and more economical cars, particularly imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle. Faced with these economic realities, AMC’s president George Romney (the father of 2012 U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney) implemented a novel corporate strategy. Rather than compete directly with the Big Three, AMC focused its efforts on compact cars, which it marketed under a nameplate inherited from Nash-Kelvinator: Rambler.

Trade catalog for the 1959 Rambler American

As part of this strategy, Romney saw the need for a small economy car at the lower end of the Rambler range, but AMC lacked the resources to develop a brand new model. However, AMC did possess the design and tooling for a small car that it had discontinued just a couple years earlier. Under Romney’s direction, this car was dusted off, refreshed, and put back into production. The end result was the successful revival of a previously discontinued car in an essentially unchanged form: the 1958-1960 Rambler American.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was based on the 1955 Nash Rambler, which had been developed by Nash-Kelvinator and discontinued by AMC at the end of its model year. In terms of engineering, the American’s design was nearly identical to that of its forebear, featuring a 100-inch wheelbase and was powered by a 195.6 cubic inch inline-six engine. Appearance wise, the Rambler American differed only slightly from the Nash Rambler. It employed the same body, but was given a redesigned grille and open rear wheel wells.

Trade Catalog for the 1955 Nash Rambler. Note the strong similarity between this car and the Rambler American.

Because the Rambler American was clearly based on the Nash Rambler, AMC did not attempt to market it as a brand new design. Instead, AMC hyped the car’s economic attributes, touting its low sticker price, excellent fuel mileage, and low maintenance costs. AMC also emphasized the American’s practicality, describing it as roomy and easy to maneuver. AMC s also marketed the car as an import fighter, pointedly emphasizing that it was made in America and designed for American driving conditions.

Even though it was a warmed-over design, the 1958-1960 Rambler American was well received by the motoring public. It proved well suited for its time and acquired a reputation for being a practical and dependable economy car. Along with other Rambler stable mates, the American helped little AMC make money while the Big Three struggled. In the 1958 model year, AMC was the only major American automobile manufacturer to post a profit. In 1959 and 1960, with help from the American, AMC earned healthy profits in spite of competition from compacts introduced by the Big Three, such as the Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant.

The 1958-1960 Rambler American was replaced by a restyled version of the car for the 1961 model year. Over the course of its production run, over 240,000 examples were built. Surviving examples are highly collectable today.


American Motors Presents: The Newest Idea in Automobiles, The 1955 Rambler, America’s Smartest Car for Town and Travel, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Rambler Range, 1952-1959.

Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 2: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 1294-1296.

Here by Popular Demand, Rambler American for 1958, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Here by Popular Demand, The New Rambler American for 1959, Rambler: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Airflyte, Ambassador, American, and Classic, 1950-1967, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 9-15, 559-560.

“Rambler American”

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