Retro Review: AMC Marlin Fastback Coupe, 1965–1967

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Pontiac’s GTO, which appeared in 1964, had every other American automaker rushing to cash in on the emerging youth market for big-biceped intermediate muscle coupes— including AMC.Marlin 1

AMC, however, decided on a unique twist. Instead of me-tooing the Big Three’s muscle cars, it went with the personal luxury coupe concept – anticipating cars like the upscale Pontiac Grand Prix SJ by several years.

The result was the ’65 Marlin.

It was a hulking but well-proportioned fastback coupe – the first intermediate fastback on the market, too.

Initially based on the Rambler Classic, it shared that model’s 112-inch wheelbase. As with other AMCs of the era, the Marlin’s dramatic shape was penned by head stylist Richard A. Teague. Engines choices that first year were confined to an economical 232 cube, 145-hp straight six, or – optionally – one of two available AMC-built V-8s. The first choice was a 287 cube small block offering 198 hp.

At the top was a 327 in two states of tune – 250 or 270 hp.

Compared with the GTO and other large muscle coupes of the time – many of which offered engines closer to 400 cubes and as much as 350 hp or more – the Marlin may have seemed somewhat lacking under the hood. However, early models were comparatively light – about 3,050 pounds for the ’66 model – so performance was very good. With the four-speed manual and V-8, a Marlin was good for 0–60 in about 8 seconds or so. In 1965, that was a very respectable clocking.Marlin 2

Attention was paid to handling, too.

Even base six-cylinder versions were equipped from the factory with a front anti-roll bar. Front disc brakes were standard, too. Many cars of the time – including V-8 muscle cars – still came standard with four-wheel drum brakes. Buyers could order a 4-speed manual gearbox, mag wheels, a sporty center console that ran the length of the interior, full gauges with tachometer and low-back bucket seats.

Two-tone paint schemes were another Marlin hallmark – with the fastback’s center section, roof, and side trim often painted a contrasting color, such as black over white.marlin 3

Two show cars – the Black Marlin and Marlin Tahiti – were particularly striking. The Black Marlin was painted glossy black with color-complemented interior while the Tahiti was sprayed with a dazzling metal-flake blue, with South Seas Floral interior motif.

When the ’67 model year rolled around, the Marlin had grown considerably. It now rode on a 118-inch modified version of the full-size Ambassador sedan’s platform – and fielded suitably larger, more powerful 290 and 343 cube V-8s. The latter produced up to 280 when ordered with 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. Still not quite a match for Pontiac’s new 400 V-8 (also introduced that year as the successor to the previous 389) let alone the mighty 396 big block available in the Chevy Chevelle – but, nonetheless, respectable.

The thing to keep in mind is that the Marlin had been conceived as a personalized luxury cruiser, not another muscle car. No GTO or Chevelle or 442 ever offered individually reclining rear bucket seats with a fold-away center console. The Marlin also came with an adjustable steering wheel – and most were loaded up with comfort options like air conditioning, Solex-tinted glass, and power windows.marlin engine

Unfortunately for AMC, the emerging youth market craved cubic inches uber alles and the Marlin just didn’t have the scoot to compete with similar offerings from GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

In 1968, it was retired and replaced by the smaller (and ultimately more successful) Javelin.

The Marlin’s brief model run – just three years, from ’65–’67 – and low total production (fewer than 18,000 were built, total) means these are among the rarest – as well as among the most interesting – of AMC collectibles.

Models equipped with the our-speed manual transmission and bigger V-8s are especially desirable.

Marlin Facts:

* The ’65 production car was inspired by the 1964 Tarpon show car.

* The Marlin’s back seat was specifically designed to accommodate 6-foot-4-inch AMC chief Roy Abernethy, who took a personal interest in the development of the car.

* AMC’s unusual Twin Stick Overdrive was available in the Marlin but very few were so ordered – less than 6 percent of total production, according to AMC records.marlin badge

* A Vibra Tone radio was optional that was designed to produce stereo-like sound (FM stereo radio broadcasting was not yet widespread).

* The base price for the ’65 model was $3,100, but was lowered to $2,601 for ’66 as part of an aggressive sales strategy intended to undercut rivals.

. . .

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  1. Remember the Marlin well. Pretty fancy little hot rod. AMC just never had the name power, fame, advertising the Big Three had yet they still produced some really uniquely great cars. The AMC Marlin and AMC Rebel and AMC Javelin and mostly the AMC bad** Rambler Scramble! All of them with their own great V-8 sound. Will always remember my first ride in a Hurst Rambler Scrambler, boy howdy!

    • Hi L,

      I miss AMC even more today because it was such a weird company. You never knew what they were going to come up with. And then they’d come up with something like the AMX… and the Pacer. And then the Eagle – which never gets the credit it deserves for being the archetype of what is understood to be the crossover SUV…

      • I always wanted an Eagle four wheel drive for Lake Erie weather even though the couple of folks I knew who had one did mean-mouth them pretty good.

  2. After our little school “consolidated”( not a happy time ) our current then(70-71) elderly librarian had a Marlin(only one I remember ever seeing) the only comments I ever remember about the car was that you didnt want to leave your groceries under that huge back glass.And yes the little V8 Hornets were very quick due to their light weight (if the dumbasse ‘s that owned them didnt screw up the Valvetrain)
    McCahill was one of my favorite reads in Mechanix Illustrated” ,I believe(anyone remember Joe Gutts ?)

    • It was Mimi that changed my life. Aaah. Tom was one of my heroes. There seemed to be a great many heroes back then. Seems like the mid60’s we had slim pickins for heroes……and Slim Pickens was one of mine. Yeee haaaawwww yee haaaawww

  3. I had a 66 Classic 770 for 2 years back in late 70s. Had the 232 plus Flashomatic tranny. Backing out of our drive you had to climb a small hill. So on snowy days I made sure I backed into the drive. Started the car, put the FOM into second gear, and it just carried me up the hill with no slipping or sliding, until I hit clear pavement. I got my first speed scam ticket in that car, trying to get off the freeway before dark because the alternator belt snapped.

  4. I have a 1965 Marlin in the garage! Have owned it for about 25 years now, it has the Rambler 327 V8 with four barrel carb and “Flash-O-Matic” auto trans. This is a great car for cruising the interstates, plenty of power and comfort. A downside of most 1960s cars is lousy brakes, but the Marlin’s power front discs (standard in ’65) are very effective. That early Bendix disc brake system is very difficult to get parts for now, though. It uses 4-piston fixed calipers on the front combined with a somewhat bizarre “non-servo” rear drum brake. (When serious repairs are needed on this system usually the ticket is to retrofit more modern parts from a late 1970s or early 1980s AMC model.)

    The Marlin gets a lot of positive comments now, but at the time it was really out of step with the market. Buyers were just not very interested in large 6-passenger “sporty” cars, and were not buying into AMC’s portrayal of the Marlin as a “swinging” vehicle. AMC would probably have had a lot more success if the compact Tarpon, based on the Rambler American, been brought to production instead.

  5. Good points Brian. Packard insisted that AMC use something like a restrictor plate which assured that the Packard V8s supplied to AMC were not as powerful as those used in Packards.

    The first AMC V8 was the 250 cid V8 which put out more HP than the Chevy 265 and was rated at about the same output as the 283. AMC punched out the 250 to 327 cubic inches. A solid lifter and fuel injected 327 was used in the 1957 Rambler Rebel and was rated at 288 HP. At the Daytona trials, the 57 Rebel was quicker 0-60 than any US 1957 car except for the fuel injected Corvette. I think the car hit 60 in 7.2 seconds with a 3 speed manual.

    I don’t remember when the 287 was first offered but I think it was in 1963.

  6. One note: The Rambler 287 and 327 V8 were designed, tooled up and brought to market in the span of 1 year. Rambler had made a trade deal with Packard for buying their engines, and in exchange Packard would buy Rambler parts. Rambler bought the engines………and Packard bought……..nothing. This tee’d Rambler off so they dropped Packard as an engine supplier after only one year, and hired a genius engineer from Kaiser to design the new V8. He came through, and these engines have turn out to be both durable, and good performance for the day. This deal is why still to this day, many people will claim Rambler V8’s were built by/the same as Packard. Because of the pressure of creating an engine from scratch, weight was not as much a consideration as strength, so these engines were somewhat heavy in weight. This necessitated the creation if the Generation II engines in 1966 with higher performance, and lighter weight.

  7. Thank you Eric. The Marlin had the instrumentation from the 1965 Ambassador instead of the Classic although it was built on the Classic platform. I never had the pleasure of any seat time in the Pacer, but I always thought the Pacer (especially the top of the line models) whether the 2 door or the wagon was a good looking car which never got its due. To my eye, the Porsche 928 looked like a squashed Pacer. Of course I also thought the 1948-1953 Hudsons looked like American made full sized Porsches as well.

  8. My dad got bought a fully loaded 1965 AMC Marlin. It had the 3 speed shift command automatic with console shifter. It was red and black exterior and a beautiful black interior. Ribbed black buckets with head rests in the front with a fold down armrest over the center console and individual bucket type back seats with fold down center arm rest. It had AC, power windows, power disc brakes, lap belts and an adjustable steering wheel. It had the AMC 327 cubic inch V8 with a 4 barrel. As I recall it had single exhaust and no dual exhausts were available in 1965. There was no 4 speed manual option until 1966. My father had Koni shocks and Michelin tires installed by Zumbach Motors in NYC. It had AC with high mounted center louvered circular vents, a beautiful turned metal trimmed dash and big, good looking gauges (no tach). The car was very quick off the line and was good for 0-60 in the 8-9 second range and had a top speed of an indicated 110 mph. It was luxurious, handled beautifully with coil springs and double wishbone front suspension (with anti sway bars)and twin-grip (posi-traction) rear end. It stopped well with the Bendix front disc brakes. The car was beautiful from some angles and a bit awkward from others. The paint was beautiful, the finish excellent and it was unitized and rattle free. The Marlin was very reliable. We also had Rambler Ambassadors (1958, 1959, 1960 Cross Country Wagon, a 1962 400, and a 1966 DPL) all had the 270 HP 4 barrel V8 except for the 1960 which had the 2 barrel 250 HP 327 and the 1966 which had a 287 (not quick but incredibly smooth). They were reliable, relatively high powered (for the day) mid sized luxury cars. The Marlin was a hand-me-down and I enjoyed more than 100,000 trouble free miles (water pump went). I wish I had that Marlin today. An as-new 1966 with a 4 speed would be ideal.

    • Great memories, Phillip!

      I often wish I could have been around back then to do what I do now – review new cars. Instead of new Camrys and Corollas, I’d be testing out new ’66 Marlins…

  9. One of the things that hurt AMC was the tug of war going on at the executive level. AMC’s Rambler economy/family car roots were at odds with the progressive exec’s who wanted to shift over to performance, and directly compete with other brands of performance cars. Sadly, the cars often ended up as a compromise between these two factions, at the expense of the popularity of car itself. This hurt AMC’s sales of performance cars, against Big 3 cars that were more aggressively marketed in the performance area. By 1973 with the Arab oil embargo, and new emissions laws in effect, the muscle car, or as they were originally called “Supercar” were gasping their last breaths.

  10. Not a bad looking car. However, the company was more in its element marketing Metropolitans, Ramblers and Ambassadors. They didn’t have the chops to instill the intangibles that made a Dodge Charger, Mustang, or GTO so emotionally stirring. I’m not talking about cubic inches. AMC simply couldn’t create the magic.

  11. In 1967, my family was driving a Ford Mustang, a Buick Special Wagon, and a Jaguar 420. We were not familiar with American Motors products. As time passed, he came to dislike American cars. The large overhangs, the long hoods, the ill handling suspensions and the numb steering.

    By 1972 he had enough. In late December that year, he purchased a 1973 Hornet Sportabout station wagon. I believe that the car had front discs, though I’m not sure. Compared with the land yachts of the day, the wagon handled very well and with the 360 V8, it had plenty of punch. It was at least 1000 lbs lighter than the Chevys and the Buicks of the day, making at least a little better on fuel. In 1974, he purchased a Gremlin with the 6 cyl. It, too handled well, though it had only about 110 HP to propel the 2800 lb car. Lacking enough power to propel its mass, the Gremlin was a comparative gas hog.

      • That was one weird looking automobile. The 401 was only available in 1974 as a 255 HP model. That wasn’t too bad a number. That would have been a collector for sure. The 360 was capable of 195 HP in dual exhaust trim.

        I think that AMC made great cars, albeit unreliable cars. The exception was the 1975 Pacer which was ugly and unreliable both.

        • Hi Swamp,

          In ’74, 255 hp was a very good number! IIRC, it was about the same as the Corvette 454 – and not too far behind the most powerful American car available that year, the SD-455 Trans-Am (and Formula SD-455) which was rated 290 hp.

          For those who don’t know (I know Henry does) the industry had only just recently (1972) switched from SAE gross to SAE net for publishing engine hp. The old SAE gross stats were typically very misleading. Output was measured with the engine on a stand, without a production exhaust – and often with headers and a power tune. SAE net reflected more realistic in-car production engine output.

        • These comments on AMC/Ramblers being unreliable are total nonsense. They were no less reliable than any big 3 car, and in many ways superior to the big 3 cars. I state this as fact, and i can back it up.. However there was a campaign orchestrated by the big 3 to “pay off” magazine writers to write negative comments about them in order to secure more desirable cars such as the Camaro for their articles. There was only one car magazine writer who couldn’t be bought, and his articles reflected the true quality of AMC. The AMC 6 cylinder engine, which was made from 1962 to 2006 in Chrysler owned Jeep products has the honor of being the most reliable American engine ever built, bar none. It was the engine in the Pacer. Of course the Pacer was considered ugly in it’s day, and i’ll admit was a flop.. But my wife’s 2007 Suzuki SX4 is nearly a carbon copy of it. The AMC V8 engines were, and still are, a force to be reckoned with. They were produced in 1966, and ended with Chrysler owned Jeep production in 1992. In 2011 during the AMC homecoming celebration, at the Great Lakes Dragway, AMC cars took on all comers from Big 3 to the twin turbo’d tuner cars, and placed 1st, second, and third in the meet. These cars are the best kept secret in collectible auto’s, and it’s because of people like you who pass on this garbage about them.

          • I completely agree with your comments regarding durability and capability of AMC products, Brian, but have to wonder about the charge of negative commentary by automotive writers about AMC products. Their body build quality did suffer in the late sixties. It wasn’t uncommon for the seat upholstery to wear out in a very short time.

            That said, my extended family has had many AMC/Packard/Hudson products over the years, and they all performed well with little cost, over many years.

            In 1991 I bought 31′ Nash Six sedan for $6,600 at a NY auction and co-drove it across the US in the Great Race. I did little to prepare the car for the race, and even with its wooden wheels it caused little trouble in its run from Norfolk, Virginia to Seattle, Wa. None of the problems were structural, the 60 year old Nash Six engine purred all the way across the US.

            A couple of weekends back, I bought a 29′ Hudson coupe for this or next years race.

            Great America Race June 22-30.. down the Mississippi from St.Paul, MN. to Mobil, AL

            And by the way, the first Muscle Car, was an AMC Rebel.

          • I’ll give you an example; an unnamed writer of a popular magazine of it’s day did an article on the Rebel Machine, in which he attacked the Dixco tach as being a useless item installed on the hood of the car, and not being able to read it when the sun was at the right angle shining through the back window. The SAME writer wrote an article about a Pontiac with the SAME Dixco hood tach and gave it glowing revues. There are many examples like this, and when you dig around a bit you’ll find there was a lot of backstabbing and trickery going on between the car companies. And there probably still is to this day. An interesting note; Tom McCahill who wrote for Mechanix Illustrated said of the 1967 Rebel ; “There isn’t a better intermediate sized car sold in America than the 1967 Rebel.” He is the guy who couldn’t be “bought”. I have been an AMC’er for over 20 years, and know these cars like the back of my hand, and i can compare part for part the truth about these cars. Don’t get me wrong they had as many flaws as the Big 3 cars, and as a whole were no better, but they were no worse either. It is annoying, the untruths that are passed on as AMC’s legacy. It is in part because they were a small company, only producing about 1/4 the cars as Big 3 companies. And as such they weren’t as common, or well known. In a nutshell, it’s easy to malign a car that you don’t see too many of. But the silver lining is, you can own an AMC car for quite a bit less than that Roadrunner, Charger,Mustang or Camaro, and you get every bit, and then some, of enjoyment of the car as the Big 3 guys do, and i can match a couple of my AMC’s against any hemi,427,or 396 that comes along. A lot of people don’t know it but AMC has set and broken hundreds of stock, super stock, and land speed records. And i don’t need to get a second mortgage, or be a CEO to own one.


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