The Rambler Marlin remains a rare sight in the world of classic cars, but the car’s utterly unique appearance makes them a welcome visitor to any venue. Naturally, that time we heard the Marlin Auto Club was holding a “Gathering of Marlins” at the American Motors Owners Association (AMO) International Convention in Rockford, Illinois, we had to check it out. An even 10 Marlins—mostly 1966 models for their 50th anniversary—turned out for the Gathering, and a pre-production Rambler Tarpon clone even dropped by the AMO’s big show the second day. We also got a chance to talk to artist Vince Geraci, head of the American Motors Corporation’s design studio in charge of of the AMC Marlin, who gave a brief presentation on the car.
Marlin Prehistory: The Rambler Tarpon Concept
The original concept for the Marlin came in the aerodynamic form of the Rambler Tarpon that debuted at the 1964 Chicago Auto Show, where Richard Teague’s design marked a radical departure from the normally conservative look of Rambler’s and AMC’s offerings. While a bit smaller and lacking some of the refinement of the production Marlin, the Tarpon was essentially the same basic concept: a pillarless coupe that fell somewhere near the personal luxury coupe market. The most striking feature is the sloped fastback roofline that terminates at the rear bumper. That long aerodynamic “teardrop” shape harkened back to mid-century designs like AMC’s predecessor, the Nash Airflyte.
Built on a convertible Rambler American, the Rambler Tarpon toured the country on the auto show circuits and came back with favorable enough reactions that AMC president Roy Abernethy greenlit production of the car with a new name, Marlin, for the 1965 model year.
A Pony Car Is Born
Like the Tarpon, the ’65 was built on the Rambler American platform, but the overall design was changed from a 2+2 coupe that might have slotted into the burgeoning “pony car” market to a larger 3+3 family coupe designed to appeal to the market’s trend toward bigger cars with more appointments.
The request for more passenger room was handled in no small part by Geraci and his designers.
“The feedback came that the headroom in back was insufficient,” Geraci said. “They wanted 1.5 inches more of headroom [for the rear seats]; We hated that, thought it took away the sleekness.” Nevertheless, Geraci’s studio went to work on Abernethy’s request for more headroom.
“[Designer] Kevin Goodnough disguised that change very well, I think,” Geraci said.
AMC Rambler Insignia
The small trunk opening on the slanted rear wore an unmistakable glass Marlin insignia badge and the overall appearance was spruced up from the Tarpon, including the addition of a lip to the rear deck, giving just a tiny nod to the design’s borrowed aeronautical elements.
The Marlin’s first two years of production didn’t result in high sales volume, but with the introduction of a new AMC platform in 1967, the Marlin got a redesign on the Ambassador’s wider track width and wheelbase. “[The ’67] was the most attractive Marlin because we were able to get a new package with a new body,” Geracis said. That new body included a redesigned roofline and a smaller C-pillar. The company branding also switched all Rambler badging to AMC in 1967, making the ’67 officially the “AMC Marlin.” Sales struggled with only a few more than 2,000 being sold in 1967 and Marlin production ended.
Even among AMC’s contemporary designers, opinions on the Marlin’s design are a mixed bag. Bob Nixon, who worked for AMC and Jeep for decades, has been quoted calling the Marlin an “ugly embarrassment.” But Geraci still thinks highly of the design and the proof is always in the pudding for him.
“The ’65 Marlin is still an attractive car,” he said. “When you take it to a car show, in a sea of 150 Corvettes, people always gravitate toward the Marlin.”