Retro Review: AMC Marlin

AMC hit the market with a 6-seater fastback in 1965, but why did it last only three years before being discontinued. Check out the AMC Marlin. 

AMC Marlin: The Precursor to the AMC Javelin 

1965 AMC Marlin -
1965 AMC Marlin -

One of AMC’s most memorable cars of the muscle car era was the AMC Javelin, a two-door performance sports car that took on the likes of the Big Three’s fire breathing competition. However, we’re looking at the car that came before the Javelin, a luxury fastback cruiser with sporty styling. The Marlin arrived in 1965 as a luxurious alternative to the trendy Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda models of the same time. It had a sporty fastback look while providing more passenger room and a comfortable ride. Seems like a great alternative segment for AMC to hit while riding the same wave that made the Mustang a success, but the model was kicked from the AMC lineup just two years later. Why would AMC shelve a vehicle so quickly when it seemed to fit the mold of the late ‘60s? To answer that, we first must understand the AMC Marlin’s beginnings and point out the shortfalls that led to its early demise.

An Economy Car Company Looking to Breakout 

1959 Rambler American
1959 Rambler American

American Motors Corporation (AMC) started as a merger between Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company in 1954. All of their cars were marketed under either the Nash or Hudson brands up until 1957 when the company took their most popular model, the Nash Rambler, and positioned their lineup under the Rambler brand (with the exception of the Metropolitan). The Rambler marquee offered Americans with affordable, compact car options that undercut their competition by a decent margin.

AMC saw success pandering to this economical car market during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but the company wasn’t providing anything past their cheap cars. So, AMC worked on expanding and diversifying their lineup to compete in different market segments. The areas that AMC was looking to expand into in particular were the sporty and luxurious car markets while also garnering a better public perception with younger car shoppers. Those were the ideas that culminated in AMC’s concept car, the Rambler Tarpon.

The Rambler Tarpon Concept Car 

Rambler Tarpon
Rambler Tarpon

The Rambler Tarpon was a compact fastback concept from AMC that was designed by Richard Teague. It was a four-seater, pillarless hardtop that was built on the same platform as the compact Rambler American. Compared to the production car it was derived from, the Tarpon was about three inches longer, two inches shorter at the roofline, wore one-inch smaller wheels, and had a significantly sleeker look to it. Mechanically though, it was virtually all an American under the eye-catching skin.

The exterior design of the Tarpon featured a long fastback roof that gradually narrowed at the rear, creating extrusions at either side over the rear wheels that met with the taillights. The fastback also incorporated a giant rear “skylight” window and was accentuated by a black vinyl top with chrome trim. The front and rear design of the car were more sports oriented, while the interior was slightly more elevated in comparison to Rambler’s production vehicles.

The Tarpon concept was initially revealed in January of 1964 at the Society of Automotive Engineers before touring the United States auto show circuit. Public reception of the vehicle was overwhelmingly positive, and a great number of viewers proclaimed their desire for a production vehicle. AMC didn’t strike fast enough for a production version of the Tarpon though as the public eventually shifted their gaze towards the Ford Mustang that was revealed in April of that same year.

From Concept to Rambler Marlin 

1965 Rambler Marlin
1965 Rambler Marlin

AMC took their experiences from the public perception of the Tarpon and reassessed the market to produce a larger version for a production model. AMC took the Tarpon’s fastback design and elongated it on top of AMC’s mid-sized Classic platform. The new vehicle was now large enough to fit six passengers inside, something that the popular pony cars could not do. AMC also outfitted this larger sports car with luxurious components and a more comfortable suspension to create personal luxury fastback, which was a niche that their competitors had left open initially.

In February of 1965, AMC debuted the Rambler Marlin as a halo car for Rambler dealerships. These initial Rambler Marlins were available with a 232 CID inline-6 engine making 155 horsepower, but a majority of models purchased carried the top of the line 327 CID 4-barrel V8 engine. The 327 made 270 horsepower and could be paired with an automatic transmission or AMC’s Twin-Stick manual transmission with overdrive. AMC also provided customers with optional features like power steering, a heavier-duty suspension, limited slip differential, air conditioning, tinted glass, powered windows, a radio, and disc brakes in place of the standard drum brakes.

1966 AMC Marlin
1966 AMC Marlin

AMC were able to sell over 10,000 Marlins in the model’s first year. That is, before competition heated up for the unique car. 1966 saw the introduction of the Mercury Cougar, Ford’s luxury variant of the Mustang, and the all-new Dodge Charger, a similarly classed mid-size car with more horsepower. The Marlin now had direct competition and the frugal perception of the Rambler brand wasn’t helping keep the car competitive. AMC made the choice to scrap the Rambler name and transition to AMC for 1966.

The 1966 AMC Marlin removed all Rambler badging from the vehicle and added an electronic tachometer to the dashboard. AMC cut the price and provided more options to customers to keep the model afloat, but the Marlin still suffered in sales. They sold over 4,500 models in 1966 before deciding to move on to the next generation of their premier fastback.

Second Generation of the AMC Marlin 

1967 AMC Marlin - Retroolschool on Youtube
1967 AMC Marlin - Retroolschool on Youtube

For 1967, AMC introduced the second generation of the AMC Marlin. The fastback now resided on the same platform that underpinned the AMC Ambassador making the Marlin six and a half inches longer and about two inches wider. Most of that length went towards the front, giving the AMC Marlin a longer hood. The front facia of the Marlin also matched the Ambassador while the rear looked virtually the same as the prior generation with the exception of chrome trim running along the top of the rear fenders.

AMC still provided an inline-6 for the Marlin, although a vast majority of sales came fitted with one of the new V8 engines. AMC offered a 290 CID 2-barrel V8, a 343 CID 2-barrel V8, or a high-compression 343 CID 4-barrel V8 that came with a dual exhaust. The 343 4-barrel was able to make 280 horsepower which was on par with the Dodge Charger and its 383 CID 6.3L V8 at the time, but it had nothing on Dodge’s 426 Hemi or 440 Magnum.

The AMC Marlin was considered its own model yet was placed under the Ambassador’s marketing materials. Marlins even featured the same premium interior and options as the Ambassador, so the line between the two models was pretty blurry aside from the roofline and rear end. AMC was only able to sell a little over 2,500 second generation AMC Marlins before discontinuing the model in favor of the newly unveiled AMC Javelin for 1968.

AMC’s Self-Inflicted Demise of the Marlin 

1967 AMC Marlin - CZmarlin on
1967 AMC Marlin - CZmarlin on

AMC had a decent idea in making a fastback with luxury components, but they were missing the performance to back up those sporty looks that the AMC Marlin had. Nobody cared about how sleek the car was when it couldn’t blow off the line like its competitors could. It was caught in between trying to garner the youthful attention that the Mustang had while pandering to the luxurious appointments that Cadillacs provided families. It was caught in this niche when it was barely there. Not only that, but AMC tried to make the Marlin affordable, thus reducing its profitability for the company.

The AMC Javelin came in and corrected the mistakes that the Marlin had been put through, and now it is the fondly remembered car of that era alongside its AMX sibling. Yet, we should still look back on the AMC Marlin as an innovative predecessor that just couldn’t find its footing in the highly competitive market of the late ‘60s. It’s another AMC idea that was far ahead of its time and fell flat when trying to find its audience. A cool-looking sports car that fits the whole family today? Sign me up.

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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