Even though gasoline was in the 20-cent range in 1958, the state of America's economy was in a downfall and the thrifty six-cylinder engines used in the American series were well built and quite reliable. The base six-cylinder was an L-head design featuring a cast iron block and cylinder head displacing 195.6 cubic inches. Its 3.18-inch bore and a fairly long 4.25-inch stroke, when combined with its 8.0:1 compression ratio, yielded 90 hp. The crankshaft ran in four main bearings, and had solid valve lifters and a single Carter YF-2014S one-barrel carburetor.
The only optional engine, first available in 1960, was another six-cylinder with the same bore and stroke, but a slightly higher compression ratio of 8.7:1 and an additional 37 hp, despite the same one-barrel carburetor. According to Warren Patterson, an AMC mechanic for a Rhode Island dealership from 1958 to 1966, "these basic engines were quite durable and did not require many repairs, especially when equipped with the optional screw-on oil filter that kept the oil cleaner longer. Back in those days, everything was optional." The flathead six featured no visible intake manifold, but rather was integrated within the cylinder head; the exhaust manifold is a log-type and looks like a long tube.
The base transmission was a column-shifted Borg-Warner three-speed manual; overdrive was optional. The three-speed manuals had but one synchronizer, found between second and third gear only. Some owners say it was basically worthless and hardly ever worked. Despite that shortcoming, Warren told us that if it wasn't abused or power shifted, these transmissions held up well, provided the gear oil was changed regularly. An optional automatic transmission featuring an aluminum case was offered and called a "Flash-O-Matic." These units function well, are very reliable and offer long life if properly maintained. This transmission also was used by Ford, Mercury and Studebaker at the time; AMC simply gave it the "Flash-O-Matic" name.
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