Junkyard Find: 1961 Rambler American Deluxe 2-Door Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

When George Romney— yes, father of Marlin-drivin’ Mitt— took over American Motors soon after its 1954 formation in a merger between Hudson and Nash, he set about shifting the company’s focus from “traditional” big cars locked in an annual styling arms race to a line of affordable compacts built on the success of the little Nash Rambler. By 1961, Nash and Hudson were long gone and every AMC car was a Rambler; the smallest Rambler that year was the American, and the cheapest American was the Deluxe two-door sedan. That’s what we’ve got for today’s Junkyard Find, spotted a few months back in a Denver yard.

The very cheapest 1961 Rambler was the American Deluxe Business Coupe, which lacked a back seat and was listed at a stingy $1,831 (about $16,854 in 2021 dollars). Pay an additional 14 bucks ($129 now) and you’d get behind the wheel of a new American Deluxe 2-Door Sedan, the second-cheapest Rambler that year. This was the best-selling version of the American in 1961, though the various flavors of the bigger Rambler Classic outsold the American by quite a bit that year.

How cheap was that $1,845 sticker price? The 1961 Plymouth Valiant started at $2,110 (admittedly, that was for a four-door, with a genuine hardtop coupe version selling for $2,137), the 1961 Studebaker Lark two-door cost $1,935, the 1961 Ford Falcon two-door cost $1,912, and the 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Club Coupe was $1,985. The American Deluxe trounced both Detroit and South Bend compacts on price that year, though Wolfsburg undercut them all with the $1,565 Volkswagen Beetle. Yes, fans of tiny-selling oddball imports, the 1961 Renault Dauphine cost just $1,645, while the 1961 Austin Mini cost $1,295… but American sales of both those cars were so low as to barely register on Detroit’s radar.

A Rambler American buyer did have to accept some technological compromises in 1961, the foremost being the 196-cubic-inch flathead six-banger that came as standard equipment. Known as the “Flying Scot” and based on an engine developed by Nash for the 1941 model year, the 196 was the final flathead engine available in a new American car (though Dodge pickups could be had with flathead sixes through at least 1960) and was thoroughly and laughably obsolete by 1961. This engine made 90 quick-to-overheat horsepower in 1961; Rambler American buyers could whip out an additional $59.50 at the time of purchase (about $548 now) to get the overhead-valve version and its 125 horses, but that pushed the price tag closer to that of the Falcon.

For some reason, the original buyer of this American was cool with the flathead but then chose to squander an extra $164.85 (a staggering $1,517 in 2021) for the Flash-O-Matic automatic transmission. There was no standardized pattern for automatic shifters at this time (after many crashes caused by confused drivers and years of pressure from Ralph Nader and friends, the federal government required that the neutral position be located between the reverse and forward positions for 1971), so the Flash-O-Matic column shifter had reverse all the way to the right.

1961 was a good year for nuclear-war enthusiasts, with every car radio sold in America required to have the CONELRAD nuke-strike frequencies marked on the dial. This radio added $53.95 ($497 today) to the car’s out-the-door price, by the way.

Nash Motors launched the “Weather Eye” heater/vent-control system in 1939 and AMC kept the name in use all the way through the 1978 Gremlin. The Weather Eye had controls that allowed the user to choose the blend between heated air and outside air, which was impressive in 1939 (when car heaters tended to be optional separate boxes bolted under the dash that offered two selections: heat or no heat) but was identical to the setup used in just about every US-market car in 1961. Still, Rambler American buyers had to fork over an extra 74 clams (681 bones now) for the Weather Eye in 1961.

The 1984 copyright date on this sticker shows that this car (probably) was on the road a mere 37 years ago.

The Tenna Bass 48 speaker on the package shelf shows that this Rambler’s owner during the 1970s felt willing to pay for a sound-quality upgrade for that original AM radio.

The rust isn’t so terrible, but the combination of any rust-through plus a tattered interior on a low-end early AMC product doomed this car to a date with The Crusher. Perhaps it might have been rescued in Kenosha, but not even the Rambler Ranch had room for this car in Colorado.

Still, someone went to the effort to obtain and install replacements for mashed body parts after a crash (which might have happened 45 years ago).

Room for six… if they didn’t mind getting very cozy with one another.

For links to more than 2,100 additional Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Nov 03, 2021

    Oh, and that 58 Studebaker Scotsman my father had was not the stripped down model in that it had the optional heater--heaters were once an option on many cars in the 50s, 60s, and even the early 70s. I believe the spare tire was an option as well. A really cheap car.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Nov 07, 2021

    @ToolGuy--That was definitely a record breaking snow for Houston but it was way before my time. I remember about 2 or 3 snows in Houston during the 29 years I lived there was about 1" at most. It could get cold in Houston but it didn't last more than a couple of days on average. There have been many many cars and trucks in Houston for years and years. Being near the Gulf of Mexico keeps the weather hot and humid even before the terms "Climate Change" and "Global Warming" existed.

  • 28-Cars-Later "Here's why" edition_cnn_com/2018/06/13/health/falling-iq-scores-study-intl/index.html
  • 28-Cars-Later Seriously, $85. GM Delta I is burning hot garbage to the point where the 1990 Saturn Z-body is leagues better. My mother inherited an '07 Ion with 30Kish otc which was destroyed in 2014 by a tipsy driver with a suspended license (driver's license enforcement is a joke in Pennsyltucky). Insurance paid out $6,400 when it was only worth about $5,800 IIRC, but sure 10 year later the "hipo" Delta I can fetch how much?
  • Buickman styling does not overcome powertrain, follow the money. labor/materials.
  • VoGhost It's funny, until CDK raises their prices to cover the cost. And then the stealerships do even more stealing because they're certainly not taking the hit - why do you think they make all those political donations? So who pays in the end?
  • VoGhost I was talking today to a guy who pulled up in an '86 Camry. Said it ran like a top, got 30 mpg, the AC was ice cold and everywhere he goes, people ask to buy it. He seemed happy.