The Rambler 770 may have been, by the American definition, a "Compact", but the standards of just about any other country, it remained very much a large car. Like the large American cars then available, the 770 was both conventional and familiar, the mechanical specification including a long-stroke six-cylinder engine, live rear axle with coil springs, torque tube and a Panhard rod, and large diameter drum brakes all round.
The Rambler was the focus of AMC's management strategy under the leadership of George W. Romney. American Motors designed and built some of the most fuel-efficient, best-styled and well-made cars of the 1950s and 1960s Their "compact" cars helped AMC to achieve sales and corporate profit successes. In 1961, the Rambler marque ranked in third place among US domestic automobile sales.
In basic form the 770 Six came with a three-speed manual gear box and the option of overdrive. Optional was the Borg-Warner Flash-O-Matic automatic transmission, which had three speeds and a torque connverter - this combination dating back to the previous Rambler models, although the power was increased from 127 b.h.p. at 4,200 r.p.m. to 138 at 4,500. In addition, the body was completely restyled, featuring exceptionally clean and unadorned lines.
To take full advantage of the higher engine speeds the overall gearing was lowered by a change of final drive ratio plus smaller wheels, the net effect being to decrease the road speed at 1,000 r.pm. in top gear from 23·7 to 22.4 m.p.h. This resulted in a maximum speed little higher than before (91.5 m.p.h. compared with 90·8) but the acceleration was substantially improved throughout.
From rest to 80 m.p.h. came down to 33·9sec (8·1sec less) and the standing quarter-mile has improved from 21·4 to 19·9sec. The 770 was not only quicker off the mark, but in each gear the times taken to accelerate through a 20-m.p.h. speed range decreased in every case, often by as much as 3sec.
In place of the press-button selector arrangement previously fitted, a steering column lever is now used, which protruded to the right and operated a central indicator. The standard layout of P-R-N-D-L was used, but the drive position was split into D1 and D2 to give the driver an unusual amount of control. With the selecter in D1 all three gears were in use, with the customary kick-down switch beyond the accelerator's normal travel for changing down. In the D2 position low was blanked off, forcing the 770 to start in intermediate and only change between this and top.
Standing starts in D2 were naturally slower than when low was being used, but they were much smoother and only increased the 0 to 60 m.p.h. time by about 3sec. In exceptionally slippery conditions you could use this to reduce wheelspin when moving off, and also to avoid the transmission inadvertently changing down into low in situations where the extra torque could be problematic) such as negotiating a tight corner).
As was the case with any auto trans, it was not economical to drive all the time in D2, because churning losses in the torque converter are high at low speeds, but there were always times when it would come in handy. With D1 selected, the automatic changed at full throttle from low to intermediate at 33 m.p.h. and then from intermediate to top at 59 m.p.h. However, the engine would run happily up to speeds of 43 and 71 m.p.h. before it began to feel rough, and road tests of the era indicate the best acceleration times were made with changes at 39 and 65 m.p.h.
That meant, if you wanted to extract maximum performance from the 770, it was a prerequisite that you override the automatic change-points manually - a rather involved procedure. With the selector in the lock-up position, low was held to the required speed and then the lever moved to D1 (across a gate) for the change into intermediate. To avoid a change into top at 59 m.p.h. you needed to move the lever back (across the gate) to L again, which held intermediate until you were finally ready to select top by moving it back yet again (across the gate) to D1.
Making matters worse, the action was sticky, and regular use of auto in a "semi-automatic" style would quickly become a chore. Fully automatic ran from rest to 60 m.p.h. only 1 second slower, but on the road certain manoeuvres, such as overtaking, called for much use of the intermediate hold. Automatic gear changes were not particularly smooth either, reviews noting the tendency for the front of the Rambler to "twist" on its soft suspension with the torque reversals. Kicking down caused some delay before a lower gear engaged, the maximum speeds at which the switch would operate being 53 and 20 m.p.h. for intermediate and low respectively. When driving normally in D1, low was engaged instead of intermediate at speeds below 10 m.p.h.
Steering Akin To A Tiller
The suspension was soft with large wheel movements, so body roll during cornering was very pronounced. Taken to the limit on a test track, a combination of surge and roll was so pronounced that, during one test review, there was fuel starvation and a temporary loss of engine power. During these tests there was acute understeer, arguably you hay have been able to compensate if you had been able to power down through the corner, but with loss of power it sure made things tough.
On the road the biggest deterrent to fast cornering, apart from the problem of staying in the seat, was the excessively low-geared steering that required 6·3 turns from lock to lock on a mean turning circle of just under 38ft between kerbs. With the steering wheel mounted high up and close to the driver's chest, arm movements were cramped, and although the strong castor action allowed the wheel to spin back quickly, winding on the lock called for considerable agility.
Although a static test revealed no lost motion in the mechanism, once the Rambler was rolling the wheel could be sawed through half a turn without having much effect on the course of the car. In a cross-wind on the highway you could find yourself needing to turn the wheel through 90 deg to keep the car straight, while you would quickly learn to anticipate still-air pockets under bridges and in the lee of large vehicles and apply correction early so that the car did not veer too violently.
But not all was bad. The Rambler was very stable, and provided comfortable ride on almost any surface, with only occasional bottomming thump. Operating without servo-assistance the brakes were not unduly heavy, and recorded a maximum retardation of O·90g at 1OOlb pedal load with the rear wheels locked and very little slewing. They were not as violent at city speeds as many American systems, and stood up well to fade tests without becoming rough and uneven. With a full load on board, however, they lost a good deal of their effectiveness after a couple of stops from speed.
The handbrake worked through a pull-out T -handle under the right of the dashboard and held the car firmly on a 1-in-4 test hill. Restarting was accomplished on this and 1-in-3 with the customary ease always demonstrated by torqueverter automatics. Inside, the car had ample width for three; but the back seat had little padding over the transmission tunnel. The front seats were separate, and their backrests could be reclined, but the adjustment was far too coarse to be of much use to the driver. Leg-room in the back was good, but not outstanding, and the seat springs were bouncy.
All the switches were mounted in front of the driver under the rim of the steering-wheel. A sad link with the past was that vacuum-operated wIndscreen wipers were fitted, but there was a measure of speed control governed by how far the knob was pulled out. Although the wiping speed dropped drastically as soon as the throttle was opened, reviews at launch noted that it was adequate for most conditions. High up under the facia to the left of the brake pedal was a small foot lever for the washers. These squirted through four jets and send a real torrent of water all over the large screen.
The brake pedal was wide enough for left or right foot. The organ-type throttle pedal had a vertical angle that conflicted with a drivers natural ankle movements. Another bad failing was the difference in levels (a full 4in.) between this and the brake, making it easy to catch your shoe under the brake. At least the Rambler's heating and ventilating system was comprehensive and efficient. There were cold air vents each side under the facia, and the heater could be made to give a real blast of hot air in all directions. There was a two-speed booster fan and progressive temperature and air flow controls - the latter prone to coming adrift and shutting off the supply.
Under both sides of the facia were lamps that came on when either front door was opened, or they could be turned on with the doors shut by a little switch above the handbrake. On the left of the dashboard was a roomy glove locker fitted with its own illumination. Options included whitewall tires, and the Rambler transistorized radio, which featured five piano-type keys for selecting preset tuning, and gave an excellent tone with no overlap of stations.
The boot was large, spring-loaded and with its own key, which had a distinctive shape from the main one for the doors and ignition. To open the bonnet a hidden lever was pulled through the grille, and this was cleverly linked to release the safety catch on the last part of its movement. Battery and screenwash were both within easy reach, and the dip-stick was ingeniously mounted inside the oil filler cap.
On main beams the dual headlamp system had excellent range and spread, and on dipped beams there was good cut-off without a drastic loss of penetrating power. The turn indicators worked within the side lamps, and were mounted low down in the bumpers at the front where their glasses tended to quickly become obscured with road grime. By the early 1960's maintenance had been virtually eliminated on most American cars. On the Rambler the only attention necessary was to change the engine oil and filter at 4,OOO-mile intervals, and to apply grease every 33,000 miles - about once every 3 years.
Silent and almost free of vibration, the engine could often be mistaken for a V8, and in normal driving conditions it was rare that you would need the extra punch of a larger unit. Right-hand drive Ramblers were built in Canada, and Renault were also building the car under licence both in France and Belgium, so there were enormous supplies of spares throughout much of the motoring world. Descended from the old Essex and Hudson, the Rambler's lineage was classically tough. It was not a great car by any stretch of the imagination, but it was honest and easy to live with.
The 1966 models received minor trim changes, and were available for the first time with a four-speed manual transmission and a dash mounted tachometer. The two door hardtop models received a more formal and angular "crisp-line" roofline, while the roof area over the cargo area on station wagons was at the same level with the rest of the roof, no longer dipped down as in prior years . The name Classic was no longer considered a positive factor in the marketplace and AMC began reschuling model names in 1966. A top-of-the-line version of the two-door hardtop Classic was offered under the historic Rambler Rebel name. It replaced the 770-H and featured special badges and checked upholstery with two matching pillows.