Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Jim Schutz wasn’t sure what kind of car he wanted when he began snooping around for a new hobby vehicle last winter. He was just hoping he’d know the right one when he saw it.
The right car turned out to be unique on many fronts. Not only was it an AMC, it was a first-year 1965 Marlin — a pretty scarce sea creature these days. And this particular AMC might be the only meticulously restored true “barn find” Marlin in existence.
“Two guys in Concord, N.C., restored it, and they found it in a barn with the rear end sticking out and everything practically falling down on it,” says Schutz, a resident of Fond du Lac, Wis. “It wasn’t done by a body shop or anything… They were a couple of good ‘ol boys that decided they were gonna do it, and that’s one of the things that’s so cool about the car, is how it was done."
The men sold the car to a local dealer when they were done, and Schutz came across the car while browsing online earlier this year. After seeing a lot of photos and visiting with the dealer on the phone, he pulled the trigger and had the car shipped to Wisconsin.
“I sold my ‘36 Olds street rod and then told my wife I was going to go look for a classic car, and preferably an AMC, seeing it was made in Kenosha [Wis.,],” Schutz said. “I was thinking maybe it would be my last car. I was looking for an AMC car and what I found in the Midwest, of course, was everything was rusted and I could have got it cheap, but it would have cost me X amount of dollars to put it back together. So I decided on this one after calling the dealership about five times. I think he got a little tired of listening to me.
“They stored it all winter for me as long as I had it insured, and then we vacation in Gulf Shores, Ala., in the winter, and when I came back I called a broker and he brought it up …A guy out of Delaware brought the car up to me and I’ve been enjoying it ever since.”
According to the story Schutz got, the two brothers spent about three years rebuilding the Marlin. That included changing the color scheme from blue-on-blue to white with a red interior. The original 232-cid six-cylinder was rebuilt, the interior was completely re-done and all the chrome was either re-done or replaced. In short, the car was made to look new again — a proposition that didn’t likely didn’t turn much of a profit for the restorers, but certainly produced a terrific specimen. “I guess you can’t call it a frame-off restoration, because it doesn’t have a frame,” said Schutz, referring to the Marlin’s unibody construction. “It wasn’t rusted, because it was down there in Raleigh, N.C. The body panels were all straight. There were no dents or anything in it … They bought it from the original owner. It was finished 3 years ago and it took ‘em 3 ½ years on their own to put it back together. Then they evidently sold it to the dealership, and that’s where I found it.
“Everything is like you’d buy it off the showroom floor. It’s got the 232 six-cylinder Jeep engine in it. It’s got the Borg-Warner automatic in it. It’s a closed rear end and its got the torque tube rear end in it, like the old Buicks would have. And it’s quiet. You can hardly hear it run going down the highway. They rebuilt all that themselves, evidently.”
A new fish in the sea
The ’65 1/2 Marlin had the hot fastback look of the Mustang 2 + 2, but could a Rambler really hang with hot new Ford and all the other muscle and sports cars that were on the drawing boards in the mid 1960s? Ramblers were supposed to be low-budget economy cars, but the Marlin was a different animal.
The Marlin roofline bowed on the 1964 Tarpon show car, which utilized the compact Rambler American’s 106-inch stance. The Tarpon seemed to take aim at Plymouth’s Valiant-based Barracuda and the ‘65 Ford Mustang, but the AMC brass blew Dick Teague’s design up in size and sat it on the mid-size Rambler Classic chassis. From the beltline down, the two had the same body.
The 112-inch-wheelbase Rambler Classic was restyled for 1965 and grew about 5 inches longer. It now had distinctions from the upscale Ambassador, which got four additional inches of wheelbase and more individual styling.
Instead of stressing go-power, the Marlin emphasized comfort and roominess. It featured an Ambassador instrument panel and could be had with individually reclining front seats or slim bucket-type seats with a center console or center cushion. And it could carry six people — two more than the Mustang.
Tucked under the hood was the same new 232-cid/155-hp Torque Command six used in the Ambassador. A pair of Gen-I AMC V-8s were optional. The first was a mild 287-cid 198-hp version. The second was the 327-cid/270-hp V-8 that had been around since the days of the 1958 Ambassador.
In the transmission department, a three-speed standard shift came as the base unit. On cars without buckets, overdrive or three-speed Flash-O-Matic was optional. Those with the console and buckets had an interesting option called Twin-Stick overdrive, which boasted five forward speeds. You could also get Shift-Command Flash-O-Matic, which could be shifted manually if preferred.
AMC retained the outdated torque-tube-drive system with its enclosed drive shaft. There were coil springs at the rear. However, power disc front brakes and flanged rear drums were standard. Different taillights were used, but the grille was of the Classic type with the vertical division bars removed. A special Marlin hood ornament was used.
Not a screamer, the 327 Marlin was capable of average intermediate performance. Mechanix Illustrated’s Tom McCahill found such a Marlin, with automatic transmission, capable of 0-to-60 mph in 9.7 seconds.
The factory base price for the Marlin was $3,100. There was sufficient curiosity in it to draw a modest 10,327 orders in the short first-year run that followed its February 1965 introduction. That would be a high-water mark, so to speak, as the 1966 Marlin, minus the Rambler nameplate, some previously standard equipment and with the addition of an optional four-speed manual gearbox, found only 4,547 customers. It was in that model year that the 1966 1/2 Dodge Charger was introduced. It used the same formula with a fastback body on an intermediate chassis and sold better.
“I got a little static from my friends when they heard I bought a Marlin. ‘That car is ugly!’” laughs Schutz. “Well, I don’t think it’s ugly, I think it’s got great lines. Everybody thinks AMC had nothing but square cars and wagons and stuff. No, they did have cars that had style, and had a lot of options. This car had a tremendous amount of options. You could have had a vinyl roof, vinyl trunk, bucket seats, console, four-speed, electric windows … They had a choice of four engines in ’65, and they went up to seven engines in ’66. And then they made the car bigger in ’67 and put it on the Ambassador chassis.”
Schutz was hoping to find a nice, reliable cruiser, and preferably something a little unique that might stand out a little at car shows around Wisconsin and on cruises in the streets near his home. He says he hit the bulls-eye on both counts with his gorgeous Marlin.
“This is just a nice, straight, family car, that you can put six people in,” he chuckles. “It handles well, the front end is solid. It’s got coil spring suspension all the way round so it doesn’t handle as well as some cars with leaf springs, or a Mustang II front suspension, but it does run well.”
Schutz’s car is one of only about 2,000 that left the factory with the 232 — the smallest engine available that year. The fact that it’s still got its original engine adds to the car’s uniqueness.
“It’s got the 232. It’s got power steering and power brakes, that’s about all,” he says. “It’s got an AM radio and a clock and neither one of them work. I don’t care if they do.”
Schutz is prepared to answer questions from other drivers or onlookers even when he takes the car out for short stints. He knows the questions will probably be repeats of two he has heard many times already in the short time he has owned the car: “What is it?” and “How did you get it in this kind of condition?”
“When I take it to Fleet Farm or wherever, there is always somebody standing by it when I come out that I have to talk to. And at filling stations, you pull in and the next thing you know the truckers are standing there by the car… You don’t see these, and that’s why I bought it. They are a conversation piece, and that’s what I like. I love talking with people at shows, and I love walking around and visiting, and this car gets a lot of attention. People really can’t believe the condition of the car. They always ask, “Where did you get this?”
Schutz jokes that he doesn't golf and doesn’t have a ton of other hobbies. He likes to be the grandpa with a cool car to his grandkids, and he loves to go to weekend car shows. The way he figures it, he’s pretty much landed the perfect ride.
“I really don’t have to do anything to it,” he says. “I’m just enjoying it and taking care of it. My wife says, ‘You really got lucky, getting a car like this in this condition.’ And she’s right.”
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