MotorCities National Heritage Area

By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/ Researcher 
Images: Courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection
Posted: 02.18.2015

The American Motor Company was located at 14250 Plymouth Rd. in Detroit, Michigan. During that time, George Romney was President and Chairmen of the Board for corporation. In 1956, American Motors introduced a newly designed Rambler model along with a very popular Cross Country station wagon. The models made their debut on November 29, 1955 and became a huge success in regards to sales for American Motors during the 1950’s. Romney described the new Rambler as a $21,000,000 investment. He stated, “The 1956 Rambler is the 1957 model completed a year ahead of schedule since its introduction five years ago as a compact, economical all-purpose car. The Rambler has grown in public acceptance to the point where it is the key factor in American Motors’ approach to the automobile market”.

file 20150218083528 George RomneyGeorge Romney Chair of American Motors Corp. 1956

The 1956/57 Rambler models were designed by the late Bill Reddig and Jack Garnier who were both very talented automotive designers for American Motors. The new Rambler models were sold in Nash and Hudson dealerships across the nation beginning on December 15th. Ward’s Automotive reports wrote, “Rambler, 25 years ahead of industry!” The new models offered exclusive reclining seats, which converted into twin-travel beds for families when traveling on the highways. There was an enormous amount of luggage space available when the rear seat folded forward; this gave many families more storage space when driving. The 1956-57’ Rambler models offered a single unit construction. Motor Trend magazine called the 1956 Rambler models with its single unit construction “Tomorrow’s car of safety”. The new single–unit body design with a three-dimensional frame offered the consumer increased, built-in, all around passenger safety; this provided tremendous new visibility for its drivers as well as its passengers.

file 20150218083632 Design Team 1956American Motors Design Team, 1956

The new Rambler models were more compact in outside design dimensions but much larger inside for passengers comfort. The 1956-57’ Rambler models were built especially for the American family which many consumers thoroughly enjoyed. Rambler models also participated in the “Mobilgas Economy Run” and the “Rambler Cross Country Economy Run” in 1956. The economy run was one of the most impressive coast to coast economy runs in the history of the automotive industry. From Los Angeles to New York City (a distance of 2.961 miles), the spectacular Rambler models averaged 32.09 miles per gallon which set an economy record unsurpassed by any other American car on the market. Car Life magazine in July of 1956 stated that the Rambler was one of the top four car buys in Detroit’s history.

file 20150218083734 Xray Catalog1956 X-ray Catalog Brochure

American Motors offered great advertising campaigns for their product line in 1956 - 1957 that used new ideas to help sell their products. One of the most popular themes for Rambler was “the New Concept in Station Wagon Travel”. This slogan became very popular among consumers. American Motors produced a special catalog they called the X-Ray, in which it compared its cars to other brands. In 1957, American Motors offered the limited edition Rambler Rebel model, it was featured as “America’s Most Powerful Compact Car “. The Rambler Rebel models featured sculptured lines with a spear-shaped designed side treatment. The fastest American Motors sedan in 1957 was the Rambler Rebel. Powered by a new AMC built 327 cid V8 engine, only 1,500 of these limited production models were built.

file 20150218083823 Rambler1956 Rambler Cross Station Advertising

In 1957, American Motors featured an advertising campaign that introduced a young man and his camera. His name was Joseph Wade ‘Junebug’ Clark Jr. (Junebug) who at the time was only seven years old. Junebug became an iconic part of American Motors’ advertising that year. He had been operating his own $200 Leica camera since he was three. In 1955, he had earned the title of the world’s youngest press photographer for his series of a two-page spread story in the Detroit Times’ “Pictorial Review”. Junebug was represented and featured in the 1957 sales catalog for American Motors titled “Wow! There’s A Car That’s Different!” The catalog became a big hit among consumers in 1957 and later this assignment helped Junebug to further his education.

file 20150218083918 JunebugJoseph Wade Junebug Clark, Jr.

By late 1957, Company President George Romney indicated to his dealers that the future needed to be much better for sales after the model year 1957 in order for the company to continue and survive. In 1958, a recession year, American Motors had turned the corner with its first annual profit in sales for the company. For these reasons and more, the 1956-57’ Rambler models will always have their special place in automotive history.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Bob Tate’s Collection. (Bibliography: Foster R. Patrick . “AMC Cars 1954-1987” . Iconografix 2004. Foster R. Patrick . “The Nash Styling Sketchbook”. The Olde Milford Press 1998.)

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