By on November 1, 2021

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, RH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhen 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHow 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, flathead engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFor 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 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, CONELRAD radio - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars1961 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, Weather Eye - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNash 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, bumper sticker - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 1984 copyright date on this sticker shows that this car (probably) was on the road a mere 37 years ago.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, patina - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1961 Rambler American in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsStill, 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.

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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1961 Rambler American Deluxe 2-Door Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Growing up and now living near Kenosha I’ve seen a lot of these and still see a surprising few still chugging along. This is a perfect example of the right car at the right time. The US was in a deep recession and there was a huge backlash against the finned, gas-guzzling Detroit monsters. Enter this and the VW Bug as the alternatives. Where the VW was cool in an anti-establishment kind of way Ramblers were the domain of spinster school teachers and librarians. They were the original nerd-car, but good, reliable cheap transportation

    I hated them then and I hate them now

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Both of the school librarians I remember drove Volvos. A P544 and an Amazon. Strange but I actually saw an Amazon on the road yesterday. Probably the first one I have seen operational in about 40 years.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My Great Great Uncle who lived in San Antonio, TX had a 4 door version in light blue and white. I didn’t like these cars at the time but I now have a greater appreciation of low price dependable compact cars. Looking at it now it has better styling than many of the new crossovers and cars today.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Growing up there were 2 committed AMC/Rambler families in our neighbourhood. One was a factory worker with a stay at home wife and 5 kids. They always drove Ramblers.

    The other was a ‘high roller’ who were a 2 car family, a higher end domestic for him and a Rambler/AMC wagon for the wife/family.

    Both were convinced of not only the ‘dollar value’ but also the reliability of the product.

    As the years have progressed, I have become more enamoured of AMC/Rambler engineering and design. And truly believe that with Jeep, the Eagle AWD wagon and the development of what became the LH product, and their state of the art manufacturing facility in Brampton/Bramalea, that if AMC had survived just a little longer that they would have had the perfect model mix/line-up when consumer demand/taste shifted to smaller vehicles, SUV’s and AWD/4wd.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      We owned a ’77 AMC Pacer wagon and a ’79 AMC Concord. Mechanically they were solid reliable cars. Their Achilles heel? Zero factory rust prevention.

      Earlier we had a VW Beetle and a Renault Dauphine. The Renault was by far the nicer car. It’s downfall was lousy manufacturer and dealer support.

  • avatar
    MoDo

    Sad to see, thats a solid and cool old car

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    CaddyDaddy was thinking…. Imagine this as a modern alternative to the overpriced, overcomplicated cars with their associated drivelines that fail early in the name of efficiency. No electronic nannies and infotainment unnecessities. No turbos, no VVT, no cylinder deactivation etc. Bluetooth for your phone. That is it.

    Modern galvanized unibody for safety with curtain airbags, 3800 V-6, 4T-60E, A/C, Anti-Lock Brakes, Cruise, power windows and locks. Inexpensive, rock solid reliable, fuel efficient. Made in the USA using Toyota manufacturing process.

    This would provide what we need to get things moving again. However, that is not part of the plan of the Country’s leadership. Shut it down and Build Back Better for the Green(red) new deal.

    CaddyDaddy will go back to dreaming.

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      Go find an old low-mileage Century or Ciera. Or even a 1990’s LeSabre.

      Or just grab the lowest-spec Civic or Corolla. The car you wish for still exists, you can even rent one.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I remember my older cousin, who was married and had 2 small children, had one of these. Everyone in my family, with small kids, went for 2 doors, because they didn’t like kids having a door that could open while on the road. (No child proof locks in 1961.) Automatic?? No one in my family had an automatic until years later. I vividly remember car shopping in those days and everything was extra: heater, side mirrors, radio. The Rambler American was no better and no worse than its competition.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Impressively solid for the age.
    The bumpers look beautiful.
    Great rat rod project for a cheap LS swap, but you’d need to add some suspension and brakes to make it reasonably safe which makes the package pretty pricey.

  • avatar
    Pianoboy57

    Thanks, I’m a librarian so now I know what should be my next ride. I’ve always thought nothing rode better than a Rambler with a quilt on the front seat like my friend’s ’68 American in HS.

  • avatar
    bpsorrel

    The rear three quarter image bears a striking resemblance to the mid ’60s UK Ford Cortina Mk1, both attractive cars to my eyes.

    https://www.classicandsportscar.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_inline_single/public/2019-08/classic_and_sports_car_buyers_guide_lotus_cortina_WW_on_the_road.png?itok=mXbOLjj2

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “FAN TURN-TEMP PULL”

    What??

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    It’s just a rebadged Ford Cortina. Down a 12-pack, squint, and look at the pics again.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Yeah, see what you mean.

      But let’s give Rambler some credit! The Cortina didn’t arrive till 1962, so the side rear window design was an AMC World First for 1958. The Cortina copied the Rambler if truth be told. And saved 600 lb in weight while handing you an ohv engine and a really great four-speed floor shift instead of a column spaghetti twirler and a clutch from an army tank.

      For traditionalists and cab drivers, early Cortinas were also available over in the UK with column shifts and bench seats. The subsequent bigger Cortina called the Corsair that arrived a year later was also available with column shift. There’s a YouTube video of a Ford promotional film for that car, driven and narrated by none other than Jim Clark! Snapping off the column gear changes like the pro he was, after hopping out of a Lotus 24 F1 car. And a nice Scottish accent too. Easy to google, plus you can watch Clark and Gurney at Sebring in a Lotus Cortina on the same “page”.

      Where were we? Oh yes, Rambler American. Not a popular car where we lived in the rural area of Canada when I went to high school. Slow as a farm tractor. Chevy II with the six was the hot ticket in 1963. Run ’em in reverse to about 15 mph, haul the shifter into low (it was the first Chev with a 3 speed column shift and a SYNCHRO low gear), and stand on it. With 6 high school students in it, you could roast the rear tires off it until the whole car became wreathed in blue white tire smoke and with everyone inside giggling like mad fools! No forward progress was made because there was no traction to be had. The howling misery of the tires would wake up people for blocks around! Car belonged to the town chief of police (he had one part time assistant to man the parking meters) and his son was the intrepid pilot. Record was over 45 seconds of pure hoon and a big stink while nothing in the way of scenery outside could be spotted through the fog! Beat that, traction control! Two-ply rayon cord butadiene cross-ply 13 inch tires for the win! No, they weren’t any good in snow, either.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        A high school friend had a Cortina in the mid-70’s So slow that one day we ‘raced’ it against another friend’s Envoy Epic. We all swear that a young kid riding a bicycle passed both of them.

        The friend who had the Cortina previously had a VW Type III notchback which he agrees was a far superior vehicle to the Cortina. He later was one of the first purchasers of a Hyundai Stellar.

        The friend who owned the Envoy, later owned a Firenza (we knew it as a Pontiac Firenza) which may have been an even worse auto, as they were the subject of the first automotive class action lawsuit in Canada.

        It always makes me laugh watching British ‘cop shows’ particularly The Sweeney in which they have car chases using Cortinas.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I drove my dad’s Roman Red 62 Chevy II 300 with 4 door with red interior in high school and freshman in college but with a Power glide it would not smoke the tires. The Chevy II didn’t have air conditioning but it had the same set up for heat that this Rambler has turn the knob for the fan speed, pull out for heat. It also had kick vents on each side that you could open up for fresh air and the vent windows on the front.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      When people complain about cars being ‘penalty boxes’ I think back to when ‘flow through ventilation’ was an option on higher priced vehicles. I still remember the first cars that I saw with ‘vents’ in the instrument panel.

      Yes, many vehicles only had heater vents in the footwell area. Some required you to pull out on a column to open them.

      To stop the side and back windows from fogging in the winter, auto stores sold plastic coverings with adhesive strips that you would ‘stick’ the inside of the window. Electric rear window defoggers remained a costly option right up until the late 1970’s

      Arm rests on the door sills was another feature largely lacking on most vehicles of that era.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Arthur I remember that as well and most stripped down subcompact cars today would be considered luxurious 30 to 50 years ago. I was so happy that my first car a 73 Chevelle Deluxe had an automatic, power brakes, power steering, front disc brakes, cold air conditioning, and an AM radio all for $1,500 for a 2 year old car with over 80k miles. I thought I was in heaven getting a car like that. My father had a 58 Studebaker Scotsman (one of the lowest priced new cars at that time) with 3 on the tree, no radio, no air conditioning, cardboard trim inside, fixed rear side windows, 1 visor only for the driver, 1 mirror, no day night mirror, rubber floors, no window defrost even for the windshield, no armrests on the doors, no seat belts, no padded dash, drum brakes front and back, and silver painted bumpers and hubcaps that rusted after 2 years in Houston, TX which has mild winters. How spoiled we have become and yes I would rather have a larger nicer vehicle than a subcompact but I was gratefully to be able to afford a decent reliable car.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      “in Houston, TX which has mild winters”

      On February 14-15 (Valentine’s Day and Sorry I Forgot Day) 1895, it snowed 20 inches (51 cm en français) in Houston, Texas.

      In 1895 there were Very Few (technical term) automobiles in Houston [and no Fords anywhere].

      In 2021 there are Many Many automobiles in Houston. But there is Very Little snow.

      Coincidence?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @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.

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