American Motors Corporation (AMC) arrived on the carmaking scene after Nash and Hudson merged in 1954, and its mid-sized line of the early 1960s offered a smart and more fuel efficient alternative to most of Detroit's products. But as the muscle and pony car era got under way, and as AMC came under new leadership, all that was about to change.
Under the direction of stylist Dick Teague, AMC designers went to work on a small two-door fastback with 2+2 seating. Based on the Rambler American and dubbed the Tarpon, it was the car company leaders hoped would shed AMC's stodgy image. It received a warm response at its limited showings, but by the time the car hit the streets as the Marlin in 1965, the philosophy behind it had changed: The car’s proportions grew significantly and seating was now for six. Still, the fastback design was striking if not controversial, and it represented a new concept in American auto design.
Power came from AMC's 232-ci six, which put out 155 horsepower. A trio of V8s gave the Marlin some oomph: a 287-ci unit delivered 198 hp, while a 2-barrel 327-ci V8 provided 250 hp and a 4-barrel 327 put 270 horses to the rear wheels. By the end of production in 1967, the 327 would grow to 343 ci.
Amenities set the Marlin apart from its rivals. Standards included power disc brakes, deluxe interior and exterior trim, and reclining seats. A long options list offered a little something for everyone, including an AM/FM stereo, power windows, power steering, tinted glass, the Twin-Stick manual transmission, heavy-duty suspension, air conditioning, a limited-slip differential, and more.
Changes for 1966 were minor and mostly aimed at distinguishing the Marlin not only among its competitors, but within the AMC lineup: The car received a new grille and all Rambler emblems were removed from the exterior. In 1967, the Marlin was restyled and moved to the larger Ambassador platform, a calculated move to make room for the Javelin, due in 1968.
The 1967 is generally regarded as the most appealing of the lot, as the car's overall proportions and its curvaceous lines worked well together. But no amount to restyling could help boost sales, which had plummeted from more than 10,000 in 1965 to just 2,500 in 1967. For the Marlin, that was all she wrote.
Though originally intended to create a new image for AMC, in retrospect, the Marlin actually served as a placeholder until the Javelin—which really was a small, 2+2 fastback coupe—hit AMC showrooms.