In previous installments of this column, we’ve had a look at some fabulous examples of low-volume muscle cars from Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Those manufacturers certainly possessed a large share of the performance market in this country during the Golden Era of muscle cars. But, there was a fourth American company that produced several performance vehicles as well.
The American Motors Corporation, the smallest domestic automaker in the ’60s and ’70s, was perhaps best known for producing the Javelin and the AMX. Both vehicles had bonafide street credentials, but no version of either car was built in numbers small enough to justify covering here.
Another of the company’s offerings, however, was as little known as the number it produced – in spite of its prodigious capabilities. It makes a perfect car to focus on, to break us out of the Big Three monopoly that has so far dominated these installments.
The 1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler is this month’s “Rare Rides!”
For those who don’t know much about AMC, or are too young to remember it, a bit of history is in order.
The American Motors Corporation was founded on May 1, 1954, as the result of a corporate merger of the Hudson Motor Car Company and Nash-Kelvinator. The idea behind joining the two companies was to bring the nameplates under one umbrella and better compete with the Big Three in the consumer vehicle market.
Three years after the merger, the Hudson and Nash brands were retired, replaced by the Rambler and Metropolitan monikers. Essentially badge-engineered clones, Ramblers and Metropolitans differed only in terms of minor trim. Sales were a considerable success straight through the end of the 1950s, mostly because the cars were smaller, nimbler, and more economical vehicles than the behemoths of the Big Three at the time.
The focus changed in the ’60s, however, as AMC planned to offer a wider variety of vehicle types. No longer would AMC be synonymous with compact, basic cars. The company also innovated in terms of automotive systems and features to draw consumers to its products. Standard disc brakes, unique transmissions, and various safety devices were amongst the items that made AMC cars unique and often leaders in their class.
The Ambassador was lengthened and reintroduced as a full-sized car. A new, stylish fastback called the Marlin was also released. But, it was AMC’s attempt to cash in on the pony and muscle car craze of the late-’60s that really concerns us here.
In 1968, AMC introduced the brutish AMX as its premier muscle car and the swoopy Javelin as its Mustang competitor. What it did to its venerable econobox – the Rambler – was truly startling, though.
The origins of the Rambler predate the forming of AMC and stemmed from the Nash Rambler, first introduced in 1950. The original design received refreshes in 1958 and 1961, with minor trim changes in the intervening model years. But, 1964 saw AMC release a comprehensively reworked Rambler.
With a six-inch-longer wheelbase resulting in a more spacious interior, the car was brought up to contemporary standards with sleek Jet Age styling. Elegant and streamlined features replaced the former generation’s boxy styling, enough to prompt the automotive press to praise the new car as the best-looking compact car extant.
A variety of body styles were available, including a coupe, two-door hardtop, two-door convertible, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon. Additionally, buyers could choose from a host of mechanical configurations, with engines ranging from a rather anemic 90 horsepower, 195-cubic-inch Flathead inline-six, all the way up to the high-compression 343-cubic-inch V8 churning out 280 horsepower and a robust 365 lb-ft of torque.
Sales were brisk as a result of the redesign. AMC continued to offer the car with only minor changes until the end of 1969 when the all-new Hornet replaced the Rambler.
AMC’s Chairman and CEO, Roy D. Chapin, Jr., sought to commemorate the history of the long-running and successful model before its retirement and gave the green light to a performance version for 1969.
The parameters for the project dubbed the AMC Hurst SC/Rambler (SC for “Super Car”) were simple: cram the most powerful engine the company had into a lightened Rambler chassis. The design team also gave it the bits and pieces needed to rival all-comers on the street and the strip in the NHRA’s F/Stock class. To accomplish this, AMC designers turned to the fabled performance firm, Hurst, for collaboration.
Work started on the car by installing the top performance engine from the AMX – the vaunted 315 horsepower, 425 lb-ft, 390-cubic-inch V8 equipped with a Carter AFB four-barrel carb. This lump featured a bore and stroke of 4.165 inches by 3.574 inches, a 10.2:1 compression ratio, heavy main-bearing-support webbing, as well as forged rods and crankshaft.
Behind the 390, AMC mated a Borg-Warner T-10 manual four-speed transmission outfitted with a metal T-handle shifter courtesy of Hurst. The clutch was a 10.5-inch with a three-finger long-style Borg and Beck pressure plate. Power was delivered to an AMC Model 20 3.54:1 Twin-Grip limited-slip differential, replete with Dana internals and outer wheel hubs attached through a spline and keyway mechanism.
Cast-iron manifolds carried gasses to a true dual exhaust with Thrush minimally-baffled oval mufflers and chrome tips.
The front suspension consisted of unequal-length control arms, coil springs, telescoping shocks, and a thick anti roll bar. Out back were parallel semi-elliptic leaf springs, torque links, and staggered rear shock absorbers explicitly designed to eliminate wheel hop under acceleration. These shocks required a bespoke plate riveted in the trunk pan for mounting.
AMC swiped the AMX’s hydraulic vacuum assist system, front 11.2-inch discs with dual-piston Bendix calipers, and 10 x 2-inch drums in back, as standard equipment for stopping.
Rolling stock consisted of Blue Magnum 500 stamped-steel wheels measuring 14 x 6-inches with chrome rings and AMC hub centers shod with Goodyear Polyglas Red Line 4-ply E70-14 tires.
Additional strengthening to the chassis included connectors between the front and rear subframes.
There was no mistaking an SC for a standard run-of-the-mill Rambler. All SCs wore white paint to which one of two unusual accent schemes were added. In the “A” paint scheme, a full-body-length red billboard was applied to the car’s sides, while a blue stripe adorned the roof and trunk lid. The more conservative and rarer “B” scheme had red and blue accent stripes below the car’s beltline and dispensed with the top stripe.
On the “A” scheme, a large, blue arrow on the hood with the legend “390 CU. IN,” pointed rearwards towards a massive, functional, vacuum-operated, box-type hood scoop. The scoop, in turn, wore an “AIR” sticker (denoting American International Racing) on both sides.
Other exterior touches included a blacked-out grille and tail-panel, hood pins, and Hurst racing mirrors (also used on that year’s Hurst/Olds). “SC | Rambler Hurst” badging behind the front wheel openings and in the center of the tail-panel led to the car’s “Scrambler” nickname. A 390 emblem in red, white, and blue lived ahead of the front wheel arches. Rolled-back front and rear wheel openings were also added to allow for larger tires.
Inside, the car was as spartan as you’d expect from a factory drag strip steed. The dash was factory-standard Rambler, save for a Sun Tach 8000-rpm tachometer strapped to the steering column. A blank plate covered the hole left from the deleted radio.
Small red, white, and blue headrests topped silver/gray vinyl reclining front bucket seats. Interior sound-deadening material was kept to the bare minimum for the sake of weight savings.
All of this added up to a rather potent muscle car for the period. Automotive magazines were routinely able to launch the 3,160-pound car to 60 mph in a then-scant 6.3 seconds. It tripped the quarter-mile in as little as 14.3-seconds at 96 mph. Its top speed was roughly 120 mph.
The press applauded the SC’s propensity to get light at the front axle at launch to the massive amount of torque on hand at the rear. It also explains the cacophony emitted from those twin exhaust tips.
AMC offered this little beast for a paltry $2,998, which helped increase demand beyond the 500 examples they initially planned to build. In the end, though, the company was only able to find 1,512 folks who wanted to take one home, turning the 1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler into one “Rare Ride.”