Big Fish in a Quirky Pond: 1966 AMC Marlin

By Nathan Avots-Smith

The American Motors Corporation is largely remembered today for its (ahem) quirkier products—think Pacer, Gremlin, AMX, and Eagle—and while they tend to have a somewhat dorky reputation, each of these cars contained some ingenuity in their design, showing what a small company could do with limited resources to compete with the big boys, or at least find a niche that others were ignoring. One of the first of these niche AMCs was the 1965-67 Marlin, and while it didn’t prove ahead of its time like the Eagle, or become a pop culture icon like the Pacer, it’s still a cool and unique piece of offbeat automotive history. If that speaks to you, check out this ’66 Marlin, listed here on craigslist out of Boise, Idaho, with a $6,250 asking price (archived ad).

My great-great grandfather was a Hudson dealer from 1917 to 1952, and for a couple of decades after that his family remained somewhat brand loyal, transferring their loyalty to American Motors after the merger with Nash in 1954. They had drifted away by the ’70s, so there are no Pacer or Gremlin memories in my family (other than the Gremlin loaners my mom would get when she took her Renault LeCar in for service), but a great aunt did have a Marlin. I imagine she thought it was quite the swingin’ car for a single piano teacher and church organist!

The seller of this Marlin shows the self-effacing sense of humor required of a modern AMC owner when enumerating the car’s pros and cons:

Good: It runs, stops, and shifts.

Bad: It is a 51 year old car.

That about sums it up, but they do go further into detail, noting that the Marlin recently served daily driver duty, and that despite considerable surface rust, there is very little rot on the car beyond some holes in the floor of the trunk. A previous owner was responsible for the replaced or reupholstered seats, which are a bit of a bummer in that they throw off the all-turquoise-all-the-time vibe, as well as a couple of auxiliary gauges and a modern head unit. That is a seriously classy dash, with turned aluminum trim, marred only by a large crack.

This Marlin sports the rarely-seen standard 232-cubic inch six under the hood, good for all of 145 horsepower. Of 10,327 Marlins built for 1965, about 19% had this engine; I couldn’t find a similar breakdown for 1966, but considering that total production fell to just 4,547, if the take rate was similar, that would mean about 860 or so cars thusly equipped that year. Not exactly a powerhouse befitting the Marlin’s semi-sporting looks, but a sensible Rambler engine, perfectly suited to the Marlin’s conflicted character.

An enlarged take on the “pony car” formula, the Marlin failed to start a trend, although the first-generation Dodge Charger was remarkably similar—and similarly short-lived—and unlike the original compact Rambler or the all-wheel drive Eagle, it wasn’t a concept whose time had not yet come, just one that nobody was asking for. But in no way was it an objectively “bad” car, either, and as a collector car, its dead-end status adds to its quirky appeal. Any of our Barn Finds readers ready to fall hook, line, and sinker for this survivor-driver AMC?

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  1. angliagt

    Always liked these.I worked on one years ago.
    I was surprised to find it had front disc brakes.
    AMC cars were well built,& had some innovative ideas.

    • Eric Gerren

      In 1965 disc was standard on these cars. I have a 66 and it was an option that mine does not have

      • That AMC guy

        I had one of these years ago, a 1965 model with the 327 V8, Flash-O-Matic, and standard front disc brakes. Not a muscle car by any stretch of the imagination but a very comfortable highway cruiser.

        The cars equipped with front discs had a strange non-servo rear drum brake that did not need a proportioning valve. Although you can still get parts for the 4-piston Bendix front discs, anything for those rear brakes has been unobtainium for decades. The two-piece rear axle shaft and hub assembly that AMC used makes converting to more conventional rear brakes a somewhat difficult proposition.

      • Jacob

        Swapping the non servo assist drums to ultra common servo drums is easy as HELL! not sure what you’re talking about. All you have to do is pull the hub off with the correct puller swap that backing plates… and that is it.

  2. XMA0891

    I pretty-much like all AMC’s, but as a marque, the Marlins always skewed toward the bottom of my list. The ’67s IMO fall just short of garish, but to my eye the ’65s and ’66s looked like the Barracuda – A very popular car. Swing and a miss AMC.

  3. Vincent

    The AMC Eagle… quirky ???!!!???

    Visionary, ahead of its time, yes.

    But not quirky.

    You take that back!

  4. racer417

    My dad was a Rambler dealer in the early 60s. AMC had a showcar called the Tarpon, which was on the same wheelbase as the American. It would have been a head to head competitor with the Barracuda and Mustang. They really missed the target with the Marlin, which was also very expensive compared to the pony cars.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Staff

      Not only did the Tarpon-to-Marlin transformation involve a wheelbase stretch, AMC president Roy Abernathy, who was 6′ 4″, insisted that he should be able to sit in the back seat, forcing the roofline to be raised by an inch. Designer Richard Teague was out of the country at the time, and felt that the change was even worse than the longer wheelbase!

      • T Mel

        Always wondered why the roofline looked so dorky. What a goof. He messed up what could have been a really slick design.

      • Larry Grinnell

        At least he didn’t demand, like Chrysler’s K.T. Keller, that a man should be able to wear a hat while driving, hence the high roofs on Chrysler products through 1954. Once Exner was in charge of styling, all bets were off.

  5. LAB3

    If you want something different you can’t go wrong with this one, another affordable example you’re not likely to come across at the classic car meet and greet.

  6. Madmatt

    AMC’s answer to the Barracuda?Charger ?,
    -minus the full on bubble glass rear-I always have liked these,
    and don’t remember when I last saw one on the road!
    would love to see one resto modded slightly,even tho they are pretty
    scarce,,did they offer a v8 ?,would be nice with a 304/360 -4speed
    why does turquoise always look so good on old cars?-but doesn’t
    make me smile when I see it on newer stuff?! –because most new stuff doesn’t
    make me smile — ever! LOL.

    • Eric

      they offered an AMC 327, no relation to the ABC.

    • Eric Gerren

      Mine has the optimal 327/270 horsepower v-8. Has a/c,power brakes, and Holley 600 factory.

    • Andrew Tanner Andrew Tanner Staff

      If its an answer to anything, its the Barracuda! Though they have a similar roofline, the Marlin beat the Charger to production and frequently gets incorrectly pegged as a Charger knockoff.

      • rancoracing

        IMHO the Marlin is not an answer to the ‘Cuda. Their profiles are completely different. Compare side views of each. If any, the Charger copied the Marlin. Their profiles are similar. Aside from that, developing a new body style in less than 1 year and going into full production would be quite a feat even if the Marlin did copy the ‘Cuda.


    My brother bought one new in 65. Had the 327 AMC engine and the Flash-o-Matic trans with the console and bucket seats. I always liked it. In my opinion they were built in response to the other “fish car” the Barracuda.
    Over $6k seems rather optimistic to me, but ya never know. That 6 banger, is a great engine, as long as you are patient, because they are slow
    Thanks for the memory

  8. Howard A Member

    What a cool car. Like the early Charger, if only it was a hatchback. I remember, as kids, we laughed at the Marlin. Nobody gonna buy that,,,and we were right. ( mostly copying what our old man said) Today, this is probably one of the neatest classics you can buy. You won’t be lonely at a car show with this, for sure.

  9. Dean

    Since I own three Javelin/AMX’s I take slight offense to them being called Quirky. The AMX, especially the ’69 and ’68 were the top of awesome when outfitted right. They put allot of Vettes to shame along with Mustangs and Camaros.

    • Nathan Avots-Smith Staff

      Nothing wrong with quirky! As you point out, the Javelin and AMX didn’t exactly hew to the standard “pony car” or “sports car” formulas, they put their own (awesome) spin on them, splitting the difference between a couple of distinct sporty-car market segments. Different does not mean worse!

    • carsofchaos

      I’ve had a couple AMX’s along with some Ramblers. I find that “quirky” is not an insult in my opinion. A vertical radio will always register as quirky to me, but in a good way. And that Pierre-Cardin optional interior…….

  10. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking Marlin. I used to know someone who had two of them. I got to ride in one of them. My favourite AMC cars are the Marlin, the Javelin, the Hornet, the Concord, the Matador, and the Eagle 4wd wagon.

  11. Mike

    I had a ‘65 Marlin with a black center stripe and black leather interior. Had a 350 with 90k. I sold it in ‘94 ish for 3500 and I regret it. Super fun car and always turned heads. The parts, particularly the exterior chrome trim is all but impossible to replace so if you find one that’s missing anything, you are going to have trouble. The interior has a TON of chrome and the dash might be my fave ever. The massive Marlin logo in the back is cool too. Great car.

  12. P T Cheshire

    They also had an optional Twin stick set up. Second stick was for Over Drive

    • thomas j schweikert

      that twin stick was super cool.i want 1

  13. richard douglass

    Marlin is a great car and quite powerful too. Here is our 1965 with 327 4 bbl at Hemmings Musclepalooza memorial day weekend.It was a crowd favorite as we had the only marlin out of 900 cars

  14. Femi

    Anyone know how i can get a handbook for the 1968 AMC Rebel 550. Just found one sat out on a farm x 20 years. Convertible.

  15. thomas j schweikert

    i believe the amc 327 was available a reasonably hot motor with 10 to 1 compression and 2 inch plus intake valves and fairly stout cam specs…yup amc

  16. Wayne

    oI always liked these. I like Barracudas (1964-66) Fox Body Capris and the original Charger.

  17. hank

    I’ve always wanted one of these. But for what’s there, it’s too pricey. You’re probably looking (without putting an 8cyl in there) about 12K in resto parts and labor, to say nothing of paint. Seller is not being practical about the price. More like a 3000.00 piece tops.

  18. Laurie Brown

    I worked for AMC and I was very proud of our “quirky” products. The Eagle was merely an extension of the Concorde (post hornet) with 4 wheel drive. Not quirky at all….innovative, I agree. SC Rambler not quirky, Rebel Machine not quirky, Green Hornet not quirky, Gremlin was a little quirky but a fore -runner to many future hatchback designs..became the Spirit again not quirky. I will concede that the Pacer…….a little quirky.
    The marriage of AMC and Renault resulted in a few quirks. ie:Fuego


    This one looks fun


    Work of art

  21. Larry Grinnell

    AMC’s marketing strategy for a lot of years, something that allowed them to survive for years beyond where they might otherwise have failed, was their policy of “hitting ’em where they ain’t.” Hence the Marlin, Gremlin, Pacer, and even the 4 wheel drive Eagles (among others). It bought them maybe another ten years…perhaps more.

  22. Hide Behind

    Wasn’t it in 66 that the 343 MAC V8 was brought out.
    I got short an engine in Javelin and a friend loaned me his 343 for the weekend and carb cam change and that sucker was not whole lot slower lap time.Steel crank, 10 c/r or 10.5, had my HOLLEY
    They departed from old 327 engine line and were one of first light WEIGHT block castings.
    Problem with most late 60’s was they had either nobody and too narrow wheel width and rolled and swayed like an overloaded haywagon.


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