The Marlin Story….

From Concept to Reality


From AMCRC Rambler Reader Vol 17 No 4 (1996)




Distinctive! Different! That best describes the AMC Marlin. There certainly was nothing else like it on the road when it debuted in 1965. How did the Marlin come to be? How did the design concept begin? Viewing the Marlin in retrospect, we can see that it has proven to be one of the most popular of all collectible AMCs. So, let’s take a look at the history of this unique automobile.


In the beginning, the Marlin was a different fish with a different name. Dick Teague was asked by AMC to develop something similar to the Ford Mustang that had introduced America to what was to become known as the “pony car.” The Mustang had become an instant sales success and caught all other auto manufacturers flatfooted. The scramble to catch up was on, and AMC was not going to be left out.


      The Tarpon


The Tarpon

What Dick Teague came up with was a fast-back Rambler American prototype that American Motors introduced at the Society of Automotive Engineers national convention at Detroit’s Cobo HaIl January 17, 1964. The car was named the Tarpon, and it evoked the pony car themes of excitement, sportiness, and a highly distinctive style. In addition to its radical fast-back design, the Tarpon featured an “advanced-concept interior”.


Having been built on a 1964 American chassis, it had a wheel base of 106 inches. However, the Tarpon was only 52.5 inches high instead of 54.5 inches for the standard American hardtop, making it much sleeker in appearance. It was slightly longer at 180 inches, versus 177.25 for the American hardtop. Another dimensional difference was the use of 13 inch aluminum wheels in place of the standard 14 inch steel wheels.

To further enhance the impression of sleekness, the Tarpon had a deeply angled compound-curve windshield. The side window openings were swept back to just above the center of the rear wheels and ended in a semi-elliptical treatment. The modified Tarpon grille reflected the 1964 American styling theme, but was distinctive and handsome and the exterior was painted in deep, gold-flecked vermillion.


There was room for four passengers in the “advanced-concept interior”, with specially-designed bucket seats in black vinyl to match the roof-top vinyl panel. A flow-through console with Twin-Stick transmission controls extended from the front to a contoured package tray in the rear passenger compartment. The instrument panel had a complete array of dial instruments beneath a deeply padded safety hood that ran the width of the interior. Finishing off the interior was a steering wheel made of spring aluminum with a deeply recessed hub for safety. The wheel rim was trimmed in natural walnut wood, complementing the walnut accents on the inside door panels.


The overall appearance of the Tarpon was striking. It made you feel like jumping in and going for a drive. Once again, Dick Teague and his staff had produced a highly unique and pleasing styling concept, while using many “off-the-shelf” production items and existing sheet metal.


The Tarpon was only a concept car but, had it gone into production, certain refinements would have been required. For instance, there was no trunk lid for access to luggage space. Also, the final version of the Tarpon would probably have ridden on standard size 14 inch wheels instead of the 13 inch aluminum wheels used on the prototype.


Also if the Tarpon had gone from design to production as conceived (that is, on the American sized chassis), there is a good chance that the “Marlin” story would have been quite a bit different.


Instead, the concept was shifted from “pony car” to intermediate sports car by Roy Abernethy with Teague’s acquiescence, which meant that the car would be built on the Classic chassis.  Mr. Abernethy called for another change, but this time Dick Teague was out of the country. The roof line was to be raised one inch, a move Teague felt ruined the smooth flowing fast-back styling.


The end result was another kettle of fish altogether, and the name of this new car
would be…
The Marlin.



What had brought Mr. Abernethy to the conclusion that the American-based Tarpon should become a Classic-based Marlin? In essence, it was his desire to move away from the George Romney inspired image of a company which built compact, economical automobiles for families and value shoppers. Mr. Abernethy wanted to take on the Big Three car-for-car and feature-for-feature, with a view toward making the Big Three into the Big Four. As part of this scheme, the keystone to AMC’s success (the lowly station wagon), was among the fatalities.  Mr. Abernethy saw the Marlin as a way to make a big splash in the pond the Big Three had been playing in.  A flashy, intermediate car would be just the thing to help achieve this objective.


The 1965 Rambler Marlin was introduced to the press and the public on February 10, 1965, a remarkably short time span between the Tarpon’s initial showing at the Society of Automotive Engineers convention in January of 1964 and its transmogrification into a full sized fast-back sedan for six people. This achievement demonstrates vividly how efficient and capable AMC’s design and engineering departments were.


Besides the basic difference of size, the Marlin differed from the Tarpon in other design aspects. The front end of the Marlin was pure Classic, with the exception of the flying fish hood ornament and Marlin script. (You recall that the Tarpon had a specially designed grille that enhanced the car’s unique appearance and made it possible to identify the Tarpon from the front.) On the other hand, the Marlin was essentially just another Classic from the front.


However, the side view of the Marlin presented basically the same overall contour as the Tarpon, with the major exception being the treatment of the side window opening. In order to retain the impression of lightness when viewing the roof structure from the side, the window opening was more boomerang-shaped or spearhead-like. An additional styling touch was added to give the desired effect - a matching chrome-outlined contrasting-color panel surrounding the window opening from front to rear was utilized. The overall effect was very attractive and lended the lightness desired. The interior of the Marlin was not significantly different from the Classic, at least not to the extent that the Tarpon had differed from its “parent car”, the American hardtop.


As AMC’s newest model, the Marlin rated its very own sales brochure, and a handsome one it was. It was touted as the brand new car for swingers who love fast lines, deep luxury, and man-sized room for man-sized comfort. Marlin had more than just the look of motion. It was the car for everyone, it had luxury and excitement, and it could still carry six adults in comfort. All the bases were covered. And, for 1965, Marlin owners were treated to their very own special Marlin Owner’s Manual !


Mechanically though, the Marlin was really a Classic at heart. Once behind the wheel, you noticed that the instrument cluster had two large circular pods housing all the instruments, whereas the Classic had a large horizontal speedometer facia that also contained ancillary gauges and indicator lights.


The only real drawback to the new Marlin was its lack of convenient trunk space…well, trunk space, period. But, that’s the price you pay for looking sleek and sexy.


Motor Trend Magazine tested the new Marlin the first chance it got, which happened to be during the most adverse and difficult conditions under which they had ever tested a car…a Wisconsin winter. But they pressed on because of the importance of the Marlin’s introduction. Motor Trend was very impressed with how the Marlin handled and performed under these trying conditions and they gave especially high praise to Marlin’s brakes, which they considered to be superb. All the usual performance tests were made and, bad conditions notwithstanding, the Marlin turned in excellent results. The zero to 60 mph time was 11.2 seconds with a 4 barrel 327 V-8.


When it came to the question of how Motor Trend would equip a Marlin if they were to buy one, they chose the 232 6 cylinder engine over the 327 V-8! Why? They felt there was nothing wrong with 155 hp and 222 pounds-feet of torque: the extra power of the V-B wouldn’t be missed. For the transmission, they would have gone with the Twin-Stick overdrive. Boy!  Don’t these folks sound like dyed-in-the-wool Rambler people?


There were 10,327 Marlins sold in 1965. Of these, 2,005 were equipped with the 2326 cylinder engine, 2,309 with the 287 V-8, and 6,013 with 327 V-8s. Clearly, the performance crowd prevailed, notwithstanding what Motor Trend would have done.


Taking a look at the total number of Classics sold in 1965, we find that 204,016 found homes -- this is almost twenty times the number of Marlins sold. It is obvious from this that the typical Rambler buyer was more interested in a sensible car than a sporty car. Roy Abernethy’s “pony car” had a lot of running to do if it was going to become a sales success.


    The 1966 Marlin


The 1966 AMC Marlin looked pretty much the same. Only the most discerning eye could catch the nuances. The grille now had 13 very thin aluminum vertical strips behind the large horizontal color bar. The name Rambler was gone from immediately above the rear bumper. The upholstery trim was different, too. Also available was a new exterior trim package consisting of black vinyl covering on the roof, trunk lid, and tear-drop side window surrounds. There were some handling improvements in the suspension system, including the addition of a sway bar to Marlins equipped with the 6 cylinder engine.


Once again, Marlin had its own sales brochure, and a very nice one it was.


The big sales pitch was aimed at the husband who wanted a sports-type car, and the wife who wanted a family car big enough to carry all the kids and their “stuff”. Dad could get four on the floor, and Mom could get six through the door. Everyone was happy.


Since the first Marlin came out as a ”1965 ˝” MID-YEAR model, it did not have the advantage of a FULL MODEL YEAR exposure. So to have sold 10,327 of these Marlins in such a short time was not bad at all for a new model.  When the 1966 Marlins were introduced on October 7, 1965, they had a full model year for sales to develop, so their poor showing of only 4,547 sales was undoubtedly a disappointment.


To keep the interest up on the “warmed-over” Marlin for 1966, AMC fielded a show car called the Tahiti (See Rambler Reader Vol 14 No.3). The car featured special paint and a very snazzy interior with rhinestone accents.  The interior had a center console with a large arm rest mounted on it for the front seat passengers. The upholstery treatment apparently came in two different alternative styles. One with a very ornate flowered design and the other with a more conservative design. In the latter case, the seat backs had a special treatment that was very handsome. We are happy to report that this one-off show car, is in the hands of a fellow AMCRCer who has done much to bring it back to its original condition.


    The Tahiti Marlin


A second AMC designing experiment in 1966 involved an Ambassador-based Marlin. This car was known as the “Marlin II”. It was basically a 1966 “Classic” Marlin with a 1966 Ambassador front end. Dick Teague later wrote a letter to Dick Silber (AMCRC #1005 NY) about the car, saying that the car had been made for his own personal use, and was subsequently sold in 1967. This “Marlin II” was the only one built and unfortunately, it was lost in an accident.


Dick Teague also said in this letter that what he REALLY wanted was for the Tarpon to have been put into production rather than the Classic-based Marlin. And he wanted the Marlin to be done on the Ambassador body/chassis as a backup to the Tarpon. But, as he said, he lost both fights. At least for 1965 and 1966. However he would be vindicated in 1967.


    The 1967 Marlin


For The 1967 Marlin Dick Teague got ONE of his wishes, the Marlin was shifted to the Ambassador body/chassis. The result was a very handsome and well-balanced design, certainly very different from the prior two years’ models. Some thought that it was the Ambassador front end which made the difference.


But, overall, there were many differences. The all-new Marlin was longer, wider and lower than its 1966 counterpart. The elliptical side window treatment was carried over from 1965/66, but the color accent surround of the side windows was no longer employed. The wheelbase was increased to 118 inches over the prior years’ 112 inch wheelbase, permitting an additional 6 1/2 inches in overall length - most of which was up front. This new Marlin was 4 inches wider, significantly improving interior space. And, now the Marlin shared the same engine options which all Ambassador owners could select from. Of special note was the completely new 343 cid V-8 engine. The trusty 327 and 287 cid V-8s were now gone, though the 232 6 cylinder was carried over.  There was also a new 290 cid V-8 to consider.


For 1967 the Marlin lost its exclusive sales brochure and now shared space in AMC’s Ambassador brochure. Owners of the 1967 Marlin also had to soldier along with a joint Ambassador/Marlin Owner’s Manual.


The significant styling differences between the Marlin and the Ambassador, besides the fastback body, included a blacked out grille with driving lights just inboard of the stacked quad-head tights, the Marlin script, the rear bumper and tail lights, and a red reflector insert at the extreme rear end of the quarter panels, which served to compensate for the speed bulge, which was no longer required because of the special Marlin rear bumper.


The 1967 Marlin was a very attractive automobile. Then why were there only 2,545 sold? Well, AMC wasn’t alone in the fast-back lane. Dodge had introduced its Charger in 1966. But, it was more likely that the fast-back fad had simply run its course. Too bad, because the sleek appearance of a fast-back Marlin certainly set the driver apart from the hurly-burly crowd of standard sedans.