Just outside of Janesville, WI, I came across this black-on-silver 1965 Marlin shining under a liquid blue sky, and offered for sale in the middle of these recently planted corn fields.
The Marlin was produced by American Motors Corporation in Kenosha, WI from 1965 to 1967, and is most recognized for its extreme “fastback” rear glass treatment and its unusual two-tone paint schemes.
In 1965 American Motor’s Rambler brand was firmly established as sensible, economical and – old.
The Marlin represents a valiant (or desperate) attempt by AMC to go head-to-head with “The Big Three” in the higher-margin luxury and “sporty” car market segments. The original concept for the Marlin – the Tarpon - was designed on a smaller chassis and was meant to steal market share from Ford’s phenomenally successful Mustang and Plymouth’s Barracuda fastbacks. These cars had uncovered a whole new market segment – the small “sporty” car. Previously, small cars (like Ramblers) had been perceived as entry-level; cheap, underpowered and boring.
Due to corporate politics (see George Romney and Lee Iacocca) and a poor marketing decision that Marlin should be positioned to bridge the sporty-luxury gap, the production Marlin ended up being built on the larger Rambler Classic chassis. So the Marlin was doomed by the conflicting priorities of those two market segments. (Sporty equals small and light, luxury equals size and mass.)
Consequently, the poor Marlin was born neither fish nor fowl.
Its larger size presented a muddied image to the market, resulting in poor sales and the short three-year run. By comparison, Ford’s Mustang brand has been in continuous production since the launch in 1964.
The Marlin is a unique, if flawed, design which proved unable to change people’s perception of American Motors. If you have ever seen pictures of a Black Marlin, this car really does resemble the great fish.
The Marlin’s branding was obviously intended to be evocative of the coastal lifestyle. You can practically hear the Beach Boys flowing out of its surfboard-shaped side glass.
The car-buying public found it too much of a stretch to believe that surfer-cool could come from the shores of Lake Michigan, I guess.
All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell