Car of the Week: 1967 AMC Marlin

Story and photos by Brian Earnest

American Motors Corp. was clearly looking for bigger oceans to swim in back in 1965 when the company unveiled its mid-size Marlin hardtop coupe. At the time, the company had rarely strayed from its blueprint for small, practical, inexpensive — and some would say boring — compact cars.

For three years, the Marlin lived as a curvy, handsome hybrid — a cross between a family car and the sports and muscle cars of the era. It was impossible not to compare it to the Charger. Both cars had the calling card fastback roofline. Where the Charger quickly became associated with performance and muscle, however, the Marlin never truly found its own identity. It was a little bit of everything, but maybe not distinct enough to make a serious statement of its own.

In the end, only 17,419 Marlins rolled off the assembly line of the AMC plant in Kenosha, Wis., including just 2,545 of the 1967 versions.

Keith Olson knew about such a car during his younger days, and one phone call was all it took to find it and eventually buy it. “I found this in a barn, with the original paint on it,” recalled Olson, a native of Shiocton, Wis., “I had known the guy who owned this car way way back when it was his wife’s daily driver. Then 20 years later, I saw one of these cars in a magazine and I called up the guy and asked him if he still had it, and he said ‘Yeah, I threw it in the back of the barn.’

“It just sat there. Keys were still in it. It just became an old car and they parked it and kind of just left it.”

Given the car’s low production numbers, Olson will never have too many other Marlin owners to rub elbows with. A little digging revealed that his car is a rarer than most Marlins. Actually, it’s the only one of its kind. “Only 33 of them came with a four-speed, and mine is the only one with a small-block 290 and a four-speed ever made. I did know it was one of the 33, the previous owner told me that. Then I got a hold of the [AMC Owners Club] and I talked to the president, and he remembered this car being bought in Wisconsin Rapids [Wis.] and he said ‘You do have the only car with that little motor in it.’”

Olson’s car hadn’t left the barn for many years when he extricated it. It was in surprisingly good shape, and with a little coaxing it even ran. “It sat for, I bet 15, 18 years,” Olson said. “All the tires were flat, the brakes were shot. You could put your foot to the floor.

“But it wasn’t seized up. We got some new fuel in there and pumped like heck and it fired up. It started up and ran and I drove it around for about a year before I did anything to it.”

Eventually, the car got some new seat upholstery, new Barbados Blue paint and an engine rebuild, but it is otherwise largely original. Finding the pseudo-paisley seat fabric turned out to be one of the biggest challenges for Olson. The original material needed to be replaced, but finding authentic fabric for a replacement was almost impossible. “I bought the last bolt … at a place in Portland, Oregon,” he said. “They had the last bolt of this color, and when it came in, it was all dusty.

“There’s no rust on the car. It’s got the original undercoating on it. I literally worked on this car every day for a year. I did something to it every single day for a year. That was my goal, and it all came together. It’s probably been 10 years [since it was finished].”

The new Marlin bowed in 1965 and emphasized roominess and comfort. It rode on the mid-size Rambler Classic chassis with a 112-inch wheelbase. The Marlins were based on the fastback 1964 Tarpon show car. Previously, AMC had been content specializing in smaller cars, but with a change of leadership — Roy Abernathy took over as president of AMC — the company decided to challenge the Big Three with bigger, sportier and more-powerful offerings.

For 1967, the Marlin was bigger and smoother looking, and the wheelbase grew by half a foot to 118 inches — sharing the same platform as the Ambassador. The hood was longer, the rear fenders featured a “Coke-bottle” profile and the lines of the Marlin were very Charger-like.

There were smoother body sides, a new rectangular gas filler door and Rally lights incorporated into the grille. Side marker lights could be seen on the trailing edge of the rear fenders, just ahead of the wraparound rear bumper ends. A full-length lower body molding followed the pattern seen on Rebels, arching over both wheel housings. The round medallion was removed from the trunk lid for 1967. The forward edges of the front fenders were decorated by V-shaped badges.

The cars came with one of three base engines: a 199-cid six-cylinder rated at 128 hp; 232-cid six-cylinder rated at 145 hp; and a 287.2-cid V-8 — called a 290 by AMC — rated at 200 hp. Buyers who wanted a faster fish could upgrade to a four-barrel 290 rated at 225, or a 343-cid V-8 rated at 235 hp for the two-barrel or 280 hp for with a four-barrel.

A three-speed manual transmission was the base offering. Adding overdrive was a $115 upgrade on the Marlin.

Bench seats were standard, and you had to pony up about $280 extra if you wanted buckets and a center console. “Mine has airliner reclining seats. It had the center console, which is an option. The four-speed is definitely an option,” Olson noted. “It has an AM radio. It doesn’t have power steering, doesn’t have power brakes. It’s a base car. My personal belief is somebody ordered it with a four-speed and little engine for fuel economy.”

Other noteworthy Marlin options included Adjust-O-Tilt steering, cruise control, 8-track stereo, air conditioning, electric clock, tachometer and vinyl upholstery, which was actually a $15 upcharge.

The base factory price for the six-cylinder Marlin was $2,668. The 290 V-8 was about 100 bucks more.

Along with its sloping rear profile, perhaps the Marlin’s most distinctive feature was its tiny trunk lid. The curved deck lid was squeezed between the two large tail light assemblies and below the huge rear window, leaving plenty of room inside for cargo, just not much of an opening to get at anything. “The trunk lid is designed to get the spare tire out, and you can barely get it out, but the trunk goes all the way to the back seat. You can lay in there,” Olson said with a laugh. “But the way they designed the trunk lid, you can barely get the spare out.”

For all its sporty styling cues and sleek silhouette, the Marlin has manners more reminiscent of a big ’60s cruiser than a performance car. Measuring more than 201 inches from tip to tip and squashing the scales at more than 3,300 lbs., it’s no obstacle course champ. “It’s a cushy ride. A big, soft cushy ride, like an old Buick would be,” Olson said. “It doesn’t handle very well around corners. It’s got sway bars, but it likes to lean. But when you’re going down the highway, it’s one of those floaters.

“It’s very, very smooth, and very comfortable. That’s what they were trying to do — do the sports car with luxury, for the family … and it didn’t work!”

Olson let one of his Marlin’s two previous owners revisit the Marlins’ plush ride a while back. He said it was a fun experience for both current and past owner. “The lady who owned it and drove her kids around in it, I let her drive it a couple years ago and she was just in awe,” Olson said. “It was her daily driver. It just brought back memories of the little kids in the back seat and taking everybody to the grocery store. She thought that was pretty neat.”

At this point, Olson can’t envision a fourth owner getting his barn-find Marlin. He’s even hanging onto another 1967 Marlin as a parts car, just in case he needs some back-up.

“This one’s going to be a keeper,” he said. “It’s rare. It’s the last year they made them. With the stick shift,  it’s fun to drive. It’s not necessarily fast with that little 290 engine in there, but it’s just fun.

“I’m keeping this one. It’s just one of those cars.”

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13 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1967 AMC Marlin

  1. chris Christensen

    I read with interest your car of the week, the ’67 Marlin but I have a few points to clarify on the report.

    The type engine you mention as being installed in this ’67 Marlin is unfortunately incorrect. Basically the 287 cu inch in engine from 1966 Marlin was NOT turned into or called the 290 Cu in engine that the 67 Marlin had. That 290 and its cousin 343 (and later 390 in the ’68 AMX) were AMC designed and built second generation light weight V-8 engines . These engines in 70 ( 71 for the 401) became the 304, 360 and 401 and are basically the same engines with different bore, stroke, cam and valves.

    to back up in time, AMC needed a V-8 engine to compete with the other automakers in the 50′s. To save time and get into the market early they bought the 320 cu in V-8 with the Ultramatic transmission from Packard and put that in the big Nash and Hudson in 1955. It was a one year deal to get their own V-8 into the market. In 1956 they brought out their own designed and built engine, a 250 cu. in. solid lifter 195hp 2-bbl. In 1957 the 250 was retained and an enlarged 327 cubic inches hydraulic lifters and 4 bbl of 255 HP. was also added to the line. That engine weighed in at 638 pounds and was put into the Nash/Hudson while the 250 engine went into the rambler Rebel of which 500 were produced and was the first US muscle car. The 250 was enlarged to 287 in 1961 replacing the 250 and remained in production through 1966 when it was discontinued for the light weight 290, 343.

    Chief Stylist Dick Teage always wanted the Marlin to be built on the larger Ambassador chassis and had one built on the 66 chasis. He sold the Idea and on the then completely new body shell, the 67 Marlin grew and had better proportions the the shorter Rambler Classic based predicessor car. Unfortunatly Marlin name was associated with the shorter heavier car and while the ’67 is the better year of the three years Marlins were built, but by then the image was already lost in the market.

    The reason I know all this is that between my Grandfather, Father and me, we have 90 years with the company starting in 1910 and running through 1975. Grandpa was chief gearcutter and later foreman of the Transmission department, My Father was Manager Design Services Chassis Engineering who designed the chassis of this Marlin and drove experimental versions of this vehicle home at night while I was a grunt in the Planrt engineering Department. I worked with the other engineers doing tooling, setting up and putting into production the new engines and the new car bodies for 1967.All ne manufacturing lines and a complete checkout of the tunnels and dip tanks and clearances for the the new body shape and size.

    I was always amazed that they would give a salary to a car nut like me and on top of this they gave me unlimited access to every part of the automotive faciliy. Thought I died and went to heaven every Monday Morning.

    Love you e-mail magazine and keep up the good work, but just needed to give you a heads up on the engine and body thingy.

    Chris Christensen

  2. Ron McAfee

    I recently read the article about your ’67 Marlin, and note that it says you have a second one as a parts car.
    I also have a 1967 Marlin (all original) but need to replace a couple of minor parts that have been lost over the years.
    Are you willing to sell any parts off your second car?
    Ron McAfee

    1. George

      I am polishing up my 67 that I bought in Feb 68. Just alittle TLC. I also have 2 complete parts cars. One is a little tired and the other good. I would be willing to sell parts if you need and the car has. What do you need?

      1. Steven

        Hello George. I picked up on Keith Olsens Old Cars Weekly 67 Marlin feature thru the reply comments that you have 2 ? 67 Marlins with parts available? I have been in touch with Keith and he mentioned the new owner of his blue beauty bought his parts car too, who I am going to get in touch with for parts availability. About me : I live in Masterton New Zealand. Lower east side of the North Island. I am 53, a devout Rambler enthusiast. Have owned a 1970 Ambassador SST H/T since 1991. It was sold NZ new, factory RHD. No a/c or p/w. Imported via AMI Australia. 1 of 7 that year. 5 still exist in G/C. Other 4 in our South island. Also recently imported a 67 Marlin (ex Texas), and a 66 Rogue (ex NM) Both with 290/auto. Rogue pretty much road ready, Marlin a little further off. It is missing some parts, & some are tired ,damaged or jaded. Mine is near identical to Keiths. Color/trim, bar auto and black vinyl inside. Barbados blue is an awesome color. I have new SMS vinyl/cloth I pick up from port tomorrow along with a lot of other parts ex Rock Auto to help road ready the car. I am hoping you may be able to assist me with missing/jaded parts on mine. I am lead to believe it is the only 67 in (possibly) Australasia. Half a dozen 65-6′s in NZ. I will refrain from listing what I require until I hear back from you. I have a NM friend/contact who parts can be sent to, and also a friend is bringing a car in soon, so parts can be sent to the shipping agent in Compton Ca. Hope you can help, Regards, Steve Pops

  3. Bernard

    i have one of these cars too not as nice and its an automatic on the floor 343 4 barrel engine. i’d like to chat w/ the owner some time mine is a work in progress

  4. keith olson

    As of july 1st I sold the car to a collector in minnesota, after 11 years of fun and enjoyment I had to let the car go,I just hope he gets as much enjoyment as I did.
    Keith Olson

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