The Tarpon was a design study for a small rear-wheel drive two-door monocoque pillarless hardtop. Characteristic was its sleek sloping fastback roof that narrowed as it met the rear bumper. The Tarpon featured two huge and deep taillights that flowed down from the shoulders of the rear fender. The show car was finished in red with a black roof accenting its clean shape from the windshield back to almost the rear bumper. The smooth roofline was unbroken by the almost horizontal rear window. However, there was no trunk lid or outside hatch to access the cargo area. The Tarpon generated wide interest as it toured the auto show circuit starting in January 1964. It was well received at the Chicago Auto Show before the so-called "pony car" market segment was established. The Tarpon appeared together with the Mustang II (a concept design shown before the production version was unveiled) at the 1964 New York International Auto Show.
The Tarpon was made on the compact-sized Rambler American platform. A convertible chassis was used (106 inch or 2692 mm wheelbase), but the Tarpon was slightly longer, 180 inches (4572 mm) compared to 177.25 inches (4502 mm) for the production Rambler American. The Tarpon's roof was lowered two inches making it only 52.5 inches (1333 mm) high for an even more dynamic look. A swept back, double compound curved windshield further enhanced the Tarpon's low appearance. The wheels were also smaller to make the car lower. The Tarpon had polished 13-inch aluminum wheels, rather than the normal production 14-inch steel rims. The interior had a complete set of dial-type gauges under a padded dash, a deep-dish aluminum steering wheel rimmed in walnut, and custom bucket seats.
The Tarpon did not go into production. At that time, AMC was still developing its "GEN-2" light-weight V8 engine that would fit the small Rambler American chassis. If produced, the Tarpon would have been a competitor to the Plymouth Barracuda, a fastback derivative of the second-generation compact Valiant. Utilizing an existing compact platform would have paralleled the Mustang's design approach whose chassis, suspension, and drive train were derived from the Ford Falcon. However, AMC's market research indicated that offering only a six-cylinder power plant would not satisfy the intended target market segment. The new V8 engine was introduced in 1966 in the sporty hardtop model of the Rambler American called Rogue. Moreover, AMC's CEO, Roy Abernethy, wanted the company to move away from the marketing image of Ramblers as being only small, economical, and conservative models and designs.
Under Abernethy's leadership, the company was introducing larger cars that had more options, prestige, and luxury. For example, the new convertibles and more upscale Ambassador potentially offered higher profits. Therefore, even though the four-seat Tarpon was shown to the public long before the Mustang was unveiled, the decision at AMC was to build its sporty fastback "image" model on the company's mid-sized or intermediate Classic platform. The new production model, called Marlin, was introduced mid-year 1965 and it added more "sport" to AMC's car line-up. However, the Marlin had six-passenger capacity and was equipped with features as a personal luxury car, rather than a competitor in the economy pony-car segment. Nevertheless, the production Marlin incorporated many of the design features that were the trademarks of the Tarpon show car. Because it was a much larger car, the Marlin had even more pronounced shoulders extending laterally behind the rear wheels than those on the Tarpon. Although the Tarpon show car pointed the way, AMC waited until the 1968 model year to introduce a small fastback, the Javelin, that was aimed directly at the market segment created by Ford's Mustang.
The automotive design team at AMC was headed by Richard A. Teague. Stuart Vance was Manager of Engineering and this included the body development, as well as the prototype shop. Others involved with the Tarpon were Teague's right hand man Fred Hudson (who later contributed to the Javelin), Vince Geraci (who contributed to final look of the Marlin), Chuck Mashigan (Advanced Studio manager), Robert Nixon, Jack Kenitz, Donald Stumpf, Neil Brown Jr., Bill St. Clair, Jim Pappas, as well as Jim Alexander (who designed the interior).
Teague was an automobile designer at AMC for 26 years. He was responsible for some of AMC's timelessly beautiful and advanced vehicles, as well as for some of the company's disappointments. After his retirement as Vice President at AMC, Special Interest Autos Magazine (SIA - a Hemmings Motor News publication) interviewed Teague for their August 1986 issue. He described the development of the fastback design:
- "... We originally had a car called the Tarpon, which should have been produced ... it was really a neat car, a tight little fastback. We showed it to the S.A.E. (Society of Automotive Engineers) convention (February, 1964 in Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan) and everybody was steamed up about it! But the thing that killed the Tarpon was the fact that we didn't have a V-8 for it at that time.... [AMC president] Roy Abernathy didn't like little cars. Never did. He liked big cars, because he was a big guy -- hell of a nice guy. And he felt that this car was too small, so he said, "Well, heck, Teague, why don't you just put it on the Rambler Classic wheel-base? That way you've got V-8 availability and you've got more room inside it." And then on top of that he added an inch to the roof while I was in Europe. I still have never gotten over that..."
Teague was also responsible for the design of AMC's compact Javelin, as well as the two-seat AMX. Both were ground breaking small fastback sport coupes with well proportioned and timeless lines.
Legacy of the Tarpon
The Tarpon was the influence for the 1965-1967 AMC Marlin. Moreover, components of the original Tarpon design returned to a production car in 2004. Principal appearance statements of the small two-seat Chrysler Crossfire include its boattail-like fastback and rear end design. Numerous automotive journalists have noted the Crossfire's resemblance to the AMC Marlin and the original Tarpon's rear-end. For example, Rob Rothwell wrote:
- "...when I first espied the rear lines of the Chrysler Crossfire I was instantly transported back to 1965 and my favorite car of that year, the Rambler Marlin." "
- American Motors (AMC) Public Relations Department, various press releases.
- American Motors (AMC) Annual Reports.
- Lienert, Paul. "Crossfire's looks sizzle, performance sputters" The Detroit News, March 26, 2003.
- Rothwell, Rob. "2004 Chrysler Crossfire Coupe Road Test" American Auto Press, May 2, 2004 road test Retrieved on: July 16, 2007.