Table of contents:
- AMC in Russia today is known only by enthusiasts, and this is quite understandable: its century was short-lived and ended even before the Iron Curtain fell. In addition, none of the AMC models have become truly iconic - like, for example, the disastrous but immortal DeLorean. As a result, the brand is slowly forgotten even in native America … But everything could be quite different
- It was the biggest alliance in history, and the brand hype blew everybody's mind
- AMC built the coolest muscle cars of its time
- AMC got it right with one of America's top hatchbacks
- With another hatchback, AMC did not guess right
- AMC predicts all modern crossovers
- AMC's story ended in a sad and inglorious way
Video: Hunters For Mastodons: The History Of The Forgotten AMC Brand
2023 Author: Natalie MacDonald | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 13:59
AMC in Russia today is known only by enthusiasts, and this is quite understandable: its century was short-lived and ended even before the Iron Curtain fell. In addition, none of the AMC models have become truly iconic - like, for example, the disastrous but immortal DeLorean. As a result, the brand is slowly forgotten even in native America … But everything could be quite different
The life of the American Motors Corporation is woven from brilliant and failed ideas, from powerful luck and the same big failures, but the main thing is the story of how a small company with a big name tried to challenge the Big American Three. And even almost succeeded. We filmed a video about the incredible AMC Eagle - a car that anticipated all modern crossovers, and at the same time decided to tell where this brand came from and how else it surprised contemporaries. True, this story is so large-scale that we are forced to stop at its most important stages.
It was the biggest alliance in history, and the brand hype blew everybody's mind
Today, in the era of globalization, mergers and acquisitions are not surprising, but in the mid-fifties the world lived in a different order - therefore, the merger of the Hudson and Nash companies, issued on May 1, 1954, shook the entire industry. The amount of the transaction amounted to a record $ 200 million - in terms of the modern exchange rate, about two billion will come out. The alliance was proudly named American Motors Corporation.
It was planned that this is only half the battle. The AMC was still supposed to include the merged Packard and Studebaker, but everything died out at the stage of figuring out who would lead the resulting corporation. But even without that, the potential of American Motors was not bad: for example, Hudson brought racing glory with it. It was in those years that the Hornet coupe shone on NASCAR tracks - the prototype of Doc from the animated Cars, who in reality won 66 (!) Races out of 108. And Nash professed an atypical American craving for compact cars with monocoque bodies - and a little later it turned out that this particular ticket was the winning one.
At this time, the Big Three embarked on a ruinous arms race: more and more pathos and luxury, a complete renewal of model lines once a year - in general, even the combined companies could not afford such games, and sales of large cars of the AMC alliance were steadily sinking. And the small and affordable models, although they made a good cash register, brought fashion chaos, because they were offered under two brands at the same time: for example, Rambler was sold both as Nash and as Hudson.
As a result, such a confusion ensued that the leadership of the alliance decided to abandon both brands altogether, and since 1958 all cars are sold under the common Rambler brand. In honor of the most popular model Nash, named after the pre-war Rambler, which became part of Nash … Difficult? Check out the illustrations.
How model names changed
In 1958, the American economy freezes in a recession, and cheap Rambler come to the court: while the sales of competitors are falling, they are the only ones of all steadily increasing the pace. In the 60s and 61s, Rambler even ranks third in popularity in the US - Ford and Chevrolet are unattainable, but Chrysler is already behind.
Where is AMC, you ask? So far, only in financial and legal documents. This abbreviation will become a trademark only in the late sixties, when the leadership finally believes that it is possible and necessary to fight the Big Three - and on their own territory. Here, another change of image will be required so that new cars - large and powerful - are not associated with old and weak ones.
AMC built the coolest muscle cars of its time
A rebellious (literally) spirit lived in American Motors engineers even during the Ramblerian simplification: the Rambler Rebel model now no one remembers, but it was she who anticipated the emergence of muscle cars as such. It's 1957, before the transformation of the Pontiac Tempest into a titanic GTO, seven more years, and the guys from AMC are already stuffing such an immodest V8 engine into the modest Rambler Custom sedan.
The volume of 5.4 liters, the power of 259 horsepower - and an incredible acceleration at that time: up to 60 miles per hour (97 km / h) Rebel bullet in just 7.5 seconds! And if in terms of maximum speed it was still inferior to the super-powerful one-year-old Chrysler 300C, then in terms of dynamics there were simply no equal to the "Rebel".
As we found out a little higher, it was in those years that the Americans were slightly not up to power and speed, so AMC had to stop experiments until the whole country went crazy on pony and muscle cars. But when the party did start, the company could not miss it. In 1967, the Javelin coupe appeared on sale - a direct rival to the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.
However, for Javelin it is not as offensive as for his relative AMC AMX - a mad son of a bitch who had no direct analogues in the United States at all. In fact, it was a short-wheelbase, lightweight and two-seater (!) Version of the Javelin, which received the most powerful engines at that time - from 228 to 345 horsepower. This is if officially. And in fact, the NHRA, which regulates American drag racing, measured as many as 420 "horses" in the 6.4-liter engine of the Super Stock special version …
But even conventional AMXs sprinted to a hundred in six and a half seconds and were among the fastest cars of their time. Even before the official debut of the model, American racer Craig Breedlove set 106 speed and endurance records on it, and in one of the attempts on Lake Bonneville, the AMX accelerated to 320 kilometers per hour! It's a pity that that race was not valid, but the official result is also impressive: 304 km / h.
At the same time, the AMX also knew how to turn: journalists and experts praised him for tuning the chassis, noting that the handling was close to racing. To call a spade a spade, only the Chevrolet Corvette could compete with this car, but AMX did not achieve equal success either: three years and 19 thousand copies as an independent model, and then a nameplate career on the "charged" versions of other AMCs. First Javelin, and then the banal Concord. So one of the most audacious cars in the United States was fading away, but American Motors did not even think to end up with experiments.
AMC got it right with one of America's top hatchbacks
It is generally believed that the big "Americans" were killed by the 1973 fuel crisis, but the trouble began to creep in earlier - in the form of affordable, economical and nimble cars from Europe and Japan. They were slowly eating away at the “Big Three” market, and American concerns reacted with their own compact models - first of all, these were Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega. And it would be weird if AMC stayed away, right? And it would be even weirder if her version turned out to be ordinary.
In general, the history of American Motors is best described by the phrase "craving for inventions". Engineers, designers and managers sought to squeeze the most out of their limited resources, while blurring the line between the adequate and the experimental. Not exactly at random, but - what if it works? Any normal company would have left the insane 1968 AMC AMX-GT concept in the status of a show car, and then two production models were born from it at once.
Failure? But no! Gremlin appeared in 1970, was warmly received by the market, and then only grew in popularity. Customers noted the reliability, availability and trouble-freeness of the novelty, and the loss to competitors in fuel consumption (mostly in-line "six" from the same Hornet were available) was compensated by the fact that the compact AMC was perceived as more solid and more mature than "purebred" small cars. Genes, as they say, cannot be drunk.
For Americans growing up in the seventies, this car became something like our "nine": they learned to ride on it, it was worn after fathers and brothers - even the young Clinton and Bush rode Gremlins. As a result, more than 600 thousand copies were released and reincarnated in the form of the AMC Spirit model, which became a deep restyling of Gremlin. But in parallel, a real drama was unfolding at American Motors.
With another hatchback, AMC did not guess right
Who, if not American Motors, could have convincingly responded to the expansion of Golfs, Corolls and Civics - so that from all of America at once? In the wake of Gremlin's success, the company embarks on the development of a revolutionary compact car, so that, with its modest external dimensions, it would give space comparable to "full-fledged" cars, drive just as comfortably and be extremely convenient in daily use.
This is how the AMC Pacer appears - a hatchback that was designed from the inside out. First, the layout of the cabin was determined, which allowed four adult passengers to comfortably accommodate, and only then everything else was gathered around it. The Pacer turned out to be unusually wide for its length, and besides, it was distinguished by an unconventional design and a huge glazing area, for which contemporaries called it an aquarium on wheels.
It was a harbinger of the cab-forward concept, which would become popular in America in the nineties: the hood was much shorter than the accepted one, the windshield went behind the engine shield to make the interior visually more spacious, and there were enough other innovations. For example, vibrations from the suspension and the power unit were damped by subframes mounted through elastic connections, the steering gear had a rack and pinion structure that was progressive at that time, and a high-tech rotary piston engine was supposed to be under the hood …
But here again AMC was out of luck. The fuel crisis puts an end to light and compact, but voracious "rotors", and the same limited resources prevent the idea of an extremely rational layout from being completed: for example, front-wheel drive for the Pacer was simply too expensive to develop. In the end, by 1975, when the hatch hits the market, it turns out to be a semi-finished product: the old "sixes", like on Gremlin, the classic layout - and too strange a design to be accepted by the market.
The first two years pass more or less tolerably, but then sales fall completely, so already in the 79th Pacer goes down in history. In order to stay in it as a car ahead of its time - after all, the pursuit of maximum space with minimum dimensions will become a trend for passenger cars in the coming decades. But in the same 1979 AMC “navang” even more successfully - and also at the wrong time.
AMC predicts all modern crossovers
Here we come to the most important car in the entire history of American Motors. Also born not from a good life, but with invention and courage, which large concerns could not boast. In 1970, AMC buys Jeep, which was then unprofitable and not nearly as strong on its feet as it is today. And yet, apart from variations on the aging Willys, Jeep had one very interesting model - the "combed" Wagoneer SUV, which is considered by many to be the harbinger of modern crossovers.
It has an independent front suspension instead of a continuous axle, rich interior trim, many "extra" options like air conditioning and electric windows - in general, Wagoneer balances somewhere between utilitarian "crooks" and expensive cars of those years. But even he - heavy, framed and gluttonous - is redundant for a mass American client. Which practically does not move off the asphalt, and buys all-wheel drive pickups and SUVs only for the sake of peace of mind on snow or rare primers.
It was in the head of Roy Lann, chief engineer at AMC and one of the creators of the famous Ford GT40, that the idea of a new car called the Eagle was born.
Lann comes up with a formula that, many years later, will be replicated almost verbatim by cars like the Subaru Legacy Outback and the Volvo V70 XC. For an ordinary AMC Concord passenger car, the ground clearance is increased (by about eight centimeters), the supporting body receives a protective body kit made of unpainted plastic, and most importantly, the transmission becomes all-wheel drive. And not simple, but hitherto unprecedented - based on viscous coupling.
So, almost a lightweight body, an all-wheel drive transmission with a clutch - this would already be enough to call the AMC Eagle the world's first true crossover. But in fact, the Americans did not come up with a crossover, but crossovers - in general, everything that we only know! Because the Eagle could be anything: a sedan, a station wagon, a coupe, a hatchback, and even a convertible. That is, everything that world manufacturers are experimenting with to this day was mass-produced by American Motors back in the eighties. So why is the Eagle practically forgotten today?
It's simple: he was very bold and progressive as a crossover, but at the same time conservative and old as a car. After all, the AMC Concord, which served as a donor, was nothing more than a deep restyling of the Hornet model - the one that sawed off its butt in 1970 to get the Gremlin. And in the eighties with such genetics it was no longer possible to survive. In the first two years, the Eagle sells well, but then circulations fall: the car, which is both ahead of its time and lagging behind it, becomes the latest development of AMC.
AMC's story ended in a sad and inglorious way
In the late seventies, due to the next crisis, now not fuel, but energy in general, and also because of the growing foreign competition, even the Big Three had a hard time. Well, American Motors eventually got to the point where banks stopped lending to it altogether: if the same Chrysler was considered too big to die and received a government loan of $ 1.5 billion, then no one believed in AMC with only a two percent market share. …
It was then that Renault, looking for exits to the US market, got in advance. Beginning in 1979, the French gradually expanded their involvement in AMC: from $ 90 million for using a dealer network to buying almost half of the shares and producing their own cars at American Motors facilities. So in 1983 Renault Alliance appeared - a slightly modified version of the European Renault 9. And it becomes very successful!
Motor Trend magazine calls Alliance the car of the year, sales on the run reach 142,000 units, next year they go over 200,000, but … In the second half of the eighties, fuel prices fall again, and Americans are returning to bigger and more expensive models. Which AMC, in fact, does not have at this moment. There is still Eagle - but it is already hopelessly outdated. And in his native France, Renault is not doing well: sales are falling, and too much has been spent on the story with American Motors. And finally everything collapses when the director of the company - the influential Georges Bess, who advocated American expansion - in November 1986, was killed by anarchists.
In the spring of 1987, Renault's share in AMC was bought by Chrysler, which is primarily interested in the Jeep brand. Indeed, by that time, the famous XJ-generation Cherokee had been produced for three years and work had begun on the future Grand Cherokee. The historical significance of both SUVs cannot be overestimated, but Chrysler is quite cynical about the rest of the legacy.
The AMC brand was instantly abolished: the brand was renamed Eagle, in honor of the last independent brainchild, and this brainchild itself was removed from the assembly line in 1988. For another 10 years, Eagle will sell redesigned Mitsubishi cars, after which the division will finally be closed. The path of Plymouth will then end, General Motors will abandon Oldsmobile and Pontiac, and Ford will close Mercury … But that's another story altogether.
But we want to remember the American Motors Corporation brand. For the courage to rush into battle with the giants of the industry. For cars, many of which were ahead of their time. And for the ability to be different from everyone else. It doesn't necessarily lead to success, but it definitely makes the world change.
By the way, would you like another famous name? The army Humvee SUV, which later turned into the very same Hummer, was developed by AM General. Where the letters AM stand for - that's right! - American Motors. But how this AMC division eventually got to General Motors and how it all ended, we'll talk another time. Moreover, the Hummer is about to rise from oblivion.
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