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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection
Published 10.9.2019

 1961 Rambler Ambassador ad Robert Tate Collection 1 RESIZED1961 Rambler Ambassador ad (Robert Tate Collection)


America’s first compact car, the Rambler, sparked a third major revolution in the automobile industry.

The first revolution in the early 1920s brought dependable, low-cost basic transportation to the masses of the American people. The second recognized revolution was that, as prosperity increased, Americans demanded style, performance and comfort in addition to basic utility in their automobiles. During this period, small foreign cars began to appeal to many particularly as second cars, but a frequently cited disadvantage was that, while these vehicles cost much less to buy and operate, they lacked the room and comfort many American motorists demanded.

1961 Rambler Ambassador ad Robert Tate Collection 2 RESIZED1961 Rambler Ambassador ad (Robert Tate Collection)

The 1961 Rambler models were great looking vehicles. Roy Abernethy, who was American Motors’ vice-president of automotive distribution and marketing, said the new models would be on display in Rambler showrooms around the country on Wednesday October 12, 1960, including the new 1961 Classic 6 and Classic V-8 models and the all new Rambler American models.

One day earlier, American Motors Corporation unveiled its 1961 Rambler product line to the news media. The new 1961 Rambler Ambassador was the first compact car to define the compact luxury car category. The 1961 Ambassadors were completely different in styling and offered a European design look, in contrast with the popular Classic models.

1961 Rambler product line Robert Tate Collection 3 RESIZED1961 Rambler product line (Robert Tate Collection)

A total of 20,000 Ambassador models were manufactured and produced for 1961. Some consumers did not like the styling of the 1961 Ambassador models, which led to lackluster sales. However, other Rambler models, such as the American, became popular. The American was first introduced in 1958 with a price tag of $1,789. In 1961, AMC added a four-door American station wagon and a American convertible, which proved popular with younger drivers.

1961 Rambler American Robert Tate Collection 4 RESIZED1961 Rambler American (Robert Tate Collection)

The 1961 Rambler models were designed under the direction of Ed Anderson. The design of the thin roof panel and squared off window area gave the American model a light airy design look. The convertible was offered only in a single Custom model with a six-cylinder engine. The Rambler American models were 5.2 inches shorter and 3 inches narrower than the 1960 version.

The 1961 Rambler Classic models became very popular with many older drivers who enjoyed their performance, fuel economy and great automatic transmission. They were available with six cylinder or V8 engines.

1961 Rambler American station wagon Robert Tate Collection 5 RESIZED1961 Rambler American station wagon (Robert Tate Collection)

The 1961 Rambler models were manufactured in AMC’s Kenosha, Wisconsin manufacturing plant. Their proving grounds were located in nearby Burlington. By 1961, the Kenosha plant was manufacturing more than 2,000 Ramblers each day for delivery by truck, rail and boat to 3,000 Rambler dealers across the United States and distributors in more than 100 other countries.

1961 Rambler Custom 400 seating Robert Tate Collection 6 RESIZED1961 Rambler Custom 400 seating (Robert Tate Collection)

In 1958, after years of study on the effects of corrosion on vehicle life, AMC began a process of dipping Rambler bodies in a rust inhibiting primer. As part of the study, engineers cut parts of all makes of cars to examine effects of hidden corrosion. Those studies found that most body deterioration due to rust was from the inside out in areas that could not be reached by the conventional spraying method at the time of assembly. The answer that AMC engineers found was in a body-dipping process that worked for their products and greatly appreciated by their drivers.

In conclusion, the 1961 Rambler models will always be a part of our great automotive history.

 1961 Rambler Custom 400 accessories Robert Tate Collection 7 RESIZED1961 Rambler Custom 400 accessories (Robert Tate Collection)



Foster, Patrick R. “AMC Cars: 1954-1987.” Iconografix, 2004.

Public Relations Department American Motors Corporation, 1969.

Public Relations Department/American Motors Corporation “Rambler 1961.”