1956-57 Nash and Hudson Rambler

1956 Nash and Hudson Rambler
1957 Rambler

1956 Rambler
1956 Rambler

General Information

A new, larger Rambler was introduced in 1956 -- one that made a good car for a small, young family as well as an economical second car for a more affluent family. It was still very much a compact at the time, though it would be considered an intermediate by today's standards. The new body had a wheelbase of 108" compared to the previous Rambler's 100" wheelbase. This gave the car much more room, especially for back seat passengers, which was just what it needed to be THE family car instead of being relegated to secondary duties. It was also five inches wider, now capable of seating six in reasonable comfort rather than cramping three people in a barely-wide-enough front bench seat and two in a rear seat positioned between the wheel wells.

The extra length and width naturally made the car heavier by 400 pounds. The old four door Rambler had used a 90 hp, 195.6 cid version of the 1941 Nash L-head engine. This was considered adequate, but the 400 pound heavier car needed a little more "oomph" to adequately push it around. American Motors had three other engines at their disposal, the 252.6 Nash OHV six and the Hudson 202 or 308 L-head sixes. These designs were much older than even the 1955 Rambler engine (based on a 1941 model), so it was decided to overhaul the basic design of the L-head by converting to a more modern and efficient OHV (over-head valve) configuration. The heads of AMC probably thought that the new car would make much more impact with a new powerplant as well. This change added 30 hp, enough to make the bigger car feel at least as powerful as the smaller 1955 model.

The "new" engine wasn't really all that new. Many parts will interchange with the older L-head, major parts like the crankshaft, rods, and timing chain and gears. The conversion to OHV wasn't as simple as bolting on a new head though. The block design was changed, though only on the right side in the L-head valve area and in the front above the timing chain cover. On the right side the block was narrowed at the top by removing the valve and intake/exhaust area. A solid, slanted casting took the place of the valve area with space left for the pushrods. From the top of the side covers down the block was identical to the old L-head. The front of the block was modified to receive a water pump behind the fan. This is a common arrangement today, but in 1956 it was relatively new. The 1950-55 L-head had a waterpump on the left side of the block driven via an extansion shaft by the generator. A fan shaft was bolted to the front of the block in the same position as the new water pump. Rambler sales literature mentions that the new design eliminated the long hoses required to reach the older model water pump, increasing reliability. Another reason was that the exhaust manifold of the new OHV head extended into the area formerly occupied by the side mounted water pump.


Styling for the new Rambler was very different than the big cars. This was in stark contrast to the 1950-55 models, which looked very much like "baby Nashes". AMC needed to breathe new life into their vehicles as the big Nash and Hudson cars were not selling well. A new look for the Rambler just might help bolster sales, and it did. Of the 104,190 AMC cars built in 1956, 79,166 were Ramblers.

These cars are often referred to as "basket handle" Ramblers because of the distinctive rearward slant of the "C" pillar at the back of the roof. It doesn't take much to imagine a giant reaching down and picking the car up by the "handle" roof on the sedan.

To save money their were only four door body styles, no two doors. This allowed all models to share a great deal of parts, reducing costs and increasing profitability. In order to keep an upscale model in the line-up, AMC engineers created a four door hardtop and a hardtop wagon. Kaiser first introduced the four door hardtop in 1949 for the same reason (costs), but this was the first hardtop wagon ever made. The only new major body part required to make the four door hardtops is the center door post. A few minor pieces on the doors (including trim) and new glass were the only other parts required.

The station wagon (post or hardtop) is an expensive body to make, mainly because of the large rear quarter panels and roof. The wagon had been very popular in the Rambler line ever since its intoduction in 1950 as a two door. A four door version was introduced in 1954 and accounted for almost one third of Rambler sales that year, and closer to half for 1955. That there were never any wagons in the other Nash or Hudson lines explains some of the high Rambler wagon sales, but there had to be a wagon in the Rambler line regardless of cost. As it turned out, nearly half the 1956-57 Ramblers sold were wagons.

One special Rambler model has gained some notoriety in collectors circles -- the 1957 Rebel. This was a limited production version of the hardtop sedan with the 255 hp 327 that was introduced in 1957 for the big Nash and Hudson models. A 288 hp version with an electronic fuel injection unit, the Bendix "Electrojector", was tested but reliability issues with the electronic control unit prevented production. All 57 Rebels were painted a metallic silver-grey with a gold anodized aluminum insert in the trim spear along the side. Only 1500 were made. The only 1957 car with a faster 0-60 time was the fuel injected Corvette! In reality it was the first muscle car -- a compact with a big car engine. Because of its four door configuration and unpopular maker it is almost universally overlooked by muscle car enthusiasts who insist that a muscle car must be a two door, and some even insist on a two door hardtop or sport coupe.

The 250 V-8 was an option for all 57 Rambler models. V-8 models were designated Series 20 while six cylinder models retained the Series 10 designation. See Series 20 for production and specifications for V-8 models. All shared information will be found in this section.

Both years appear to be almost identical -- base models can be difficult to tell apart. It takes a knowledgeable Rambler afficiando to tell the subtle differences. The grille of the 57 has a "floating" bar in the center of the upper opening, but is otherwise identical to the 56. Tail and front park lights are slightly different but are the same size and shape and will interchange. The side trim is different on Super and Custom models, with the main difference being that it comes to a point in the front on 56 models with a round "R" emblem replacing the point for 1957. There is one bit of information, however, that makes the task of identifying the year (by sight) easy. 1956 models will have either a Hudson or Nash hood badge and "N" or "H" hubcaps, depending on which dealer sold them. For 1957 the Rambler was sold as a separate make and only has Rambler and "R" emblems. In 1956 roughly 46,000 Ramblers were sold compared to only around 22,000 Nash and 11,000 Hudson models. For 1957 just over 10,000 Nash and 3,000 Hudson cars were produced versus over 109,000 Ramblers. The Rambler, originally introduced as a stylish and economical alternative to the big Nash, had grown to overshadow its "father", but as much by luck as by design. The US economy had started to slide into a recession in 1956. By 1957 the general population was eager to buy cars that were more economical to operate but didn't appear cheap or were to small and cramped. The Rambler just happened to be the right car at the right time.


Body Styles And Trim Levels

There were three trim levels and three body styles available. The body styles and trim levels can be determined from the model number on the Unit Body Identification Plate. The body styles and trim levels are: *4 door sedan in Deluxe, Super, and Custom trim *4 door hardtop sedan in Custom trim *4 door station wagon in Deluxe, Super, and Custom trim *4 door hardtop station wagon in Custom trim


In 1956 the only engine was the 195.6 cid OHV inline six, 1bbl, 120 hp. Power was increase to 125 hp by inceasing compression for 1957. A 135 hp 2bbl version was optional for 1957. See Series 20 for V-8 specifics, including the Rebel. There is a machined pad on the left (driver's) side of the engine near the front and just below the block/head division. This pad contains the Engine Serial Number. 1956-57 Engine Beginning Serial Numbers A letter was assigned to each engine size with one barrel carburetor, a following "B" was used for two barrel models along with a different letter. The serial number listed was the first used that year. Later model 195.6 OHV engines will fit and are often used as replacements. Check the engine code for the year before ordering replacement parts, especially the water pump, which came in at least three different configurations over the years. See other 58-65 Series 10 and 01 pages for later serial numbers. *1956 195.6 OHV 1 bbl - S1001 *1957 195.6 OHV 1 bbl - D341001 *1957 195.6 OHV 2 bbl - CB2001



The following Borg Warner transmissions were used in 1956-57 Rambler Six models. There is no way of knowing what transmission or type was originally installed in a vehicle made before 1966. *T-96 three speed manual, available with an optional Borg Warner overdrive unit *T-85 three speed manual, available with an optional Borg Warner overdrive unit, as a heavy duty option *1956 - mid 1957 - GM ))Dual-Range(( Hydramatic four speed automatic, dubbed "Flash-Away" by AMC. *Late 1957 - Borg Warner "Flash-O-Matic" three speed automatic (air cooled torque converter, cast iron case, vacuum modulator -- predecessor to model 35)

Production Numbers

Blank columns indicate that the body and trim style were not offered that year.

Body & Trim Style 1956 1957
4 door sedan 31.912 42.996
4 door hardtop 3.342 1.097
Rebel 4 door hardtop   1.500
4 door wagon 30.525 38.924
4 door hardtop wagon 794 182
t o t a l 66.573 84.699

Note1:Production numbers include all trim levels for this body style.Sources are copies of AMC internal memoranda for 1956 and 1957 model year production supplied to me by former AMC executive John Conde. AMC also produced approximately 4.550  1956 and 3.313 1957 Ramblers at their Toronto plant; the 1956 total was a record number for this plant which had been opened in 1950. Obviously this car was popular in Canada. Unfortunately, the financial situation of AMC in 1957 forced them to close and sell the plant. (Canadian production figures from Ward's Canadian automotive yearbook issues for 1956 and 1958,  Automotive news almanac issues for 1957 and 1958 and Bob Watson's Guide to Canadian car ID numbers.).    Dates of model introductions: 1956 - November 22, 1955 1957 - October 25, 1956


Serial Numbers & Body Tag Decoder

Serial Numbers Before January 1966, all cars had a manufacturers assigned serial number, not a VIN, which was mandated by the U.S. government for all cars built from 1966 (calendar year) on. The serial number is on a tag located on the top of the right side shock tower in the engine compartment. The serial number gives no information except year and model series. Technically, any changes can be made to the car that were available from the factory and it will be "correct". Serial numbers were assigned to the car when it was ordered from the factory. Numbers with a single letter are assigned to cars made in Kenosha, WI. Special "knock-down" kit cars were made in Kenosha for final assembly at overseas locations. These kits typically excluded upholstery, tires, belts, batteries, and other items that could be supplied from the country of final assembly and a "KD" after the first letter. Hudson had an assembly plant in Toronto, Canada, that ceased operations after 1956. These cars have a "T" before the serial number. Starting serial numbers (first number used for the model year) are listed below: *1956 - D276101; DKD5601; DKT5401 *1957 - D341101

Unit Body Identification Plate

The Unit Body Identification Plate for a 1956-57 Rambler Six can be located on the driver's side front door frame between the hinges (not on the door itself as with later models). It can be decoded as follows: Body This is the number assigned to the body as it was being produced. It is different than the serial number. Bodies were produced in batches, so the numbers aren't consecutive to each series. Model This identifies the body and trim styles. The first two digits are the year, the last two or three identify the series, body style, and trim level. Canadian assembled models usually have a "1" as the first number in addition to the four or five described above. Blanks indicate that the body and trim style was not available for the year in question.

Code w/Body Style and Trim 1956 1957
15 = 4 door sedan, Deluxe (base) X X
15-1 = 4 door sedan, Super X X
15-2 = 4 door sedan, Custom X X
18-1 = 4 door wagon, Super X X
18-2 = 4 door wagon, Custom X X
13-2 = 4 door hardtop wagon, Custom X  
19-1 = 4 door hardtop sedan, Super   X
19-2 = 4 door hardtop sedan, Custom X  
18-2 = 4 door station wagon, Custom X X

Trim Trim codes indicate interior color and seat material. 1956-57 trim codes are unavailable at this time.

Paint The following colors were available in 1956-1957. The original color can be determined by looking at the Paint code on the Unit Body Identification Plate. If there are two codes separated by a dash, the first code is the primary body color and the second code is the upper body (sometimes roof) or accent color. For example, a car that was black with a white top would have a paint code of 1-72. Paint codes may also be prefixed with a P or suffixed with an A. Note that some cars were painted non-standard colors. These cars will typically have a code such as "00" or "SPEC". This was normally reserved for large orders in the special color, usually for fleet use. COLOR CHART BELOW IS NOT COMPLETE!

Paint Code Color Years

Instrument panels were painted body color (primary body color if two tone). Remaining interior moulding and trim was painted one of the following colors to harmonize with interior trim. Interior colors were usually semi-gloss to reduce glare. Interior color codes are unknown at this time." Color samples can be viewed at http://autocolorlibrary.com/aclns.html

Sequential Assembly Number The unlabeled number at the bottom of the Unit Body Identification Plate is the Sequential Assembly Number. This number was assigned to the vehicle as it entered the final assembly line. Vehicles were assembled in batches as needed -- i.e., 10 Americans may be assembled then 20 Classics followed by 15 Ambassadors, etc. Minimum and maximum sizes of batches are unknown -- in some cases single cars may have gone through the lines. At this time there was only one final assembly line in Kenosha; the second line wasn't in operation until 1961. The code for cars assembled in the old Hudson plant in Totonto, Canada, in 1956 (it was closed after 1956) is unknown.


The following sources were used to verify the information contained on this page: Standard Catalog of American Motors, ISBN 0-87341-232-X, Krause Publications

  • 1956-57 American Motors Technical Service Manuals
  • 1956-57 American Motors Sales Flyers
  • The Compact Chronicles, copyright 1992, Frank Swygert


This page is up for adoption! Send an e-mail to Frank Swygert (farna@att.net) or Matt Haas (mhaas@one.net) for information.