Top Ten Cars Produced by AMC
The Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company merged in 1954 to create the American Motors Corporation, AMC, which would be the fourth biggest car company in America until it was acquired by Chrysler in 1987. Over their 33 year run, AMC managed to create cars that if not better than the big three, always seemed to be unique and interesting. Often AMC would lead the way, only to be over taken in the long run by foreign companies and the big three. So to better understand the history of AMC, here is a list of the top 10 cars sold by the American Motor Corporation, and also Jeep, the “crown jule” of AMC.
In 1981, Jeep under AMC released the CJ-8 Scrambler, a long wheelbase truck version of the CJ-7. Unlike other trucks at the time, the bed was not separate from the cab, but connected to the rest of the body, creating a small bed in the back. The car was officially named the CJ-8, but became known as the “Scrambler” after a popular appearance package pictured above. One notable owner was US president Ronald Reagan, who many of you will also remember owned a Subaru Brat, telling me he must have had a soft spot for small trucks or something. The Scrambler was built to battle new imports, and to widen the range of customers Jeep had without having to design a completely new vehicle. The positives of the Scrambler are it’s appearance, which is charming, and it’s utility as it is still a good off-roader but also a truck. One downside of the Scrambler, as with all AMC jeep products at the time, was that the components from the AMC parts bin, especially the engine, were not exactly grade A material, so you couldn’t expect a lot of speed or reliability. Overall, the CJ-8 Scrambler was one of AMC Jeep’s better ideas, but they have had much better sellers, and revolutionary vehicles later in the list. Outside of this list, I still have a soft spot for this sporty little Jeep truck and its quintessential 80s styling
The AMC Rambler and it’s successor the Hornet were cool American compact cars before compact cars were cool. I don’t have much to say about the base models other than that they seem like nice basic cars, but the SC versions are both batsh!t insane in a good way. Hurst and AMC partnered together to create the Hurst SC Rambler with a 315 hp 390 cu. in. (6.4L) V8, which propelled the compact muscle car to the quarter mile in 14.4 Seconds @ 100 mph. Other features included a unique multi-color paint job shown above, a nice Hurst Shifter, a functional hood scoop with gaudy “air’ logo in front, factory ready for (NHRA) F/Stock class, and under $3,000 (priced at under $20,000 adjusted for inflation, but would likely be priced at closer to $30,000 today). In short, the Hurst SC Rambler was the late 60s drag car equivalent to the modern Subaru WRX STI! Later, when the Rambler was replaced by the Hornet, we got a less beast, but more beautiful SC 360 HornetWhat the 360 SC lost in craziness it made up for in more reasonable styling and practicality. The SC had standard a respectable 245 hp, which could be upped to 285 with an optional “GO” Package, which added a four-barrel carburetor and a ram air induction system. The car was supposed to be a hit, but less than 800 were produced due to raised insurance premiums, and the car was only ever made in 1971, with the 360 cu in engine becoming just an option in 1972. Overall, these were both good cars, but they failed to impress in sales and were not completely revolutionary idea wise. In a better world, we would have seen more of the Hornet SC 360, but the dieting muscle car market destroyed a neat little car, at least little for its era anyway.
The classic civilian jeep continued under AMC, and the biggest change was marketting. Instead of just being for retired vets, and work, the CJ was now for all people old and young, who wanted to have fun with no top and doors in the sun (excuse my sporadic rhyme). AMC campaigns to turn the CJ from old war veteran to symbol of youth were successful and a true act of brilliance! As with the Scrambler, AMC engines were a help at first for a car with outdated Willys acquitment, but left much to be desired. Still, the CJ-5, and especially the CJ-7 became more desirable vehicles under AMC, and are still enjoyed by many off-roaders and young people wanting a fun car today. I would’ve place higher, but I have to say the biggest updates to the car came under Chrysler when they updated the design to create the Jeep Wrangler, which added in the area of creature comforts while retaining it off-road ability and a better power-plant.
7. AMC Pacer
The classic AMC Pacer is known for being cheap, unreliable, and shaped like a fish bowl. For all its negative qualities, I think the AMC Pacer doesn’t deserve to get such a bad rap. The engine for the AMC Pacer was originally supposed to have a Wankel Rotary engine sold to them by General Motors, but GM scrapped the entire program last minute, as the Rotary engine was bad on emissions and gas mileage. With some luck and a little elbow grease, an inline six was fit under the hood. At first, all was well, as the car doubled the maximum sales projections as AMC struggle to meet demand. For the next two years, the Pacer was a success with small size and futuristic styling. The trouble was, that after the first two years of success, the cracks in the program started to show. Quality was low as the development and production were both rushed, and AMC’s inline six lacked both power and efficiency. This lack of efficiency saw the AMC Pacer loose market space to similarly small Japanese imports with more fuel efficient engines. The Pacer is the result of great ideas and good people who lacked the resources to see the project ever reach its full potential. A few improvements, and it could have sold millions. The Pacer is often said to be a car that was ahead of its time, but really its not time that was against AMC, but money. Still, even though the Pacer missed the mark, its still a unique peace of automotive history, and has a timeless design which still makes you look at it twice to this day.
6. Jeep Wagoneer and 2 Door Cherokee
Even though it was developed under Willys, AMC produced the car for the longest run with its own engines. The most remarkable is how untouched AMC left the Wagoneer, and the 2 door Cherokee on the same platform (SJ). The Wagoneer became the go to luxury SUV for the family up until its dieing years under Chrysler. The wagoneer had class, practicality, and a long life with steady sales success. The Wagoneer could only be replaced by an even better car, the Jeep Cherokee and the later Grand Cherokee as a testament as to how good a car the Wagoneer was, and how AMC knew if it wasn’t broken, don’t fix it.
5. AMC Gremlin
Like the Pacer, the AMC Gremlin is often seen in a negative light, but there is a legitimate case for the Gremlin’s place in automotive history. The AMC created the Gremlin by shortening their new AMC Hornet to create the first American sub-compact hatchback. Strangely the car was released on April 1st, and given the name Gremlin, suggesting it was a prank and had lots of little mechanical devils. The Gremlin was a hit, and had an important place in the market with its good gas mileage as the 70s would see emissions restrictions, and oil embargos. Maybe the best thing about the Gremlin, was that it was just a cool car. It was small, rear wheel drive, and had the option of a V8 in the Gremlin X. The AMC Gremlin X with V8 was made even crazier by drag racers, and could set impressive times with a light body with a roomier engine compartment than the Pacer. Also, the Gremlin cost less for AMC to develop, making it cheaper to produce as many parts were shared with the Hornet. Overall, the Gremlin may have had its flaws, but it proved a true success for AMC, and was the first of many subcompact economy cars to be sold in America.
Few people recognize AMC as a producer of muscle cars like the big three, but AMC did in fact make a big muscle car to compete with the likes of the Chevy Chevelle , Ford Torino, and Dodge Charger. The Rebel was AMC’s “mid size car”, but today it would probably be under the category of full size car. The base rebel was already a pretty solid car, but not one with performance intent. The Rebel Machine was a one year model in 1970. AMC gave the rebel their 390 cu in. V8 with 340 hp and 430 lbs. ft torque with a four barrel carburetor upgraded internals, and required high octane gasoline. Dealer options including the $500 service pack which raised the horsepower to 400 hp, were offered. In 1971, the Machine became an option for the new Matador. In its one year the car AMC attempted to market this car to a specific brand of young Rebels: those who demonstrated because they loved their country and fellow citizens. This car was for the person who loved their country but not their government, but this didn’t really factor into sales, more the cheap drag race ready performance. The machine was a success for AMC selling more than 2,000 in one year, but unfortunately tightening and emissions laws, and other factors including the switch to the Matador relegated this amazing car to be just a meager option.
If any car was ahead of its time, the Eagle was ahead of its time, even more than the Pacer and Gremlin. At the time, Subaru was selling 4WD wagons in the US, but these Subarus were not at the quality they are today. AMC decided to create the Eagle, a 2 coupe and 4 door wagon design, which was a practical car with 4WD, which slotted between the Subaru and below the Wagoneer. Demand was so high, that AMC ditched the Pacer for more space on the production line. The Eagle was the last true AMC car to survive the Renault alliance, and died shortly after Chrysler’s purchase of AMC. The Eagle was so close to being AMC’s savior, but the same restrictions that plagued the Pacer hurt the long term sales for AMC. The car’s styling barely changed from its Concord routes from the 70s, as it was introduced in 1980 and discontinued in 1988, which saw sales go to the big three and more reliable foreign cars. The AMC Eagle, especially in wagon form was the spiritual predecessor to the Subaru Outback, and slightly more upmarket Audi All-road. The AMC Eagle also foreshadowed the crossover revolution in which Americans realized they didn’t need a hardcore offroad vehicle to gain AWD safety. The AMC Eagle and it full time all wheel drive, were revolutionary and brilliant, but nothing can save a company when funds are low and your cars seem outdated compared to the competition. When ever you see a lifted wagon or crossover, let the AMC Eagle linger in the back of your mind.
2. Jeep Cherokee (XJ)
The XJ Cherokee was created by AMC’s Jeep division as a more affordable smaller SUV below the Wagoneer. The car was perfect in so many ways: it had great styling, loads of practicality, and remained a capable off-road vehicle. The Cherokee was a hit, in part because the Jeep division at AMC was better funded due to its profitability. The Cherokee would see even more success under Chrysler’s ownership, proving Jeep had a real winner on its hand. Also, unlike other AMC products, the Cherokee came at the right time, just before the start of the SUV boom. Old Jeep XJ Cherokees are still on the road today and is a good cheap car for anyone who needs off-road capability with everyday driving practicality. Bonus picture below!
The AMC AMX was a car that AMC always wanted to turn into an amazing sports car, and even after the AMX entered production, dreams continued in the form of prototypes of an amazing car that sadly could never be built. AMC’s original Project I AMX Concept depicted what would basically become the first-generation AMX shape and close to the 4 seat Javelin too. One thing that didn’t make it to production was the AMX I Concept’s neat rumble seat, which was not seen in a production car for years, and the only thing close to it since the AMX I Concept was the Subaru Brat and its rear facing bed mounted seats. With the AMX, AMC was shooting for the stars, but as they say, at least they landed on the moon. The original AMX looked like a muscle or pony car, but really it was a sports car, its closest competition the Chevrolet Corvette, which beat the AMX in the power department. The AMX saw a good release, and 1970 was the peak for the AMX, with the top end 390 cu in. engine being cranked up to 325 hp and still over 400 lbs. foot torque like in the Machine and previuos AMX models with the 390. After 1970, the AMX became a sub model of the new AMC Javelin, which looked even more like a sports car, but whose days were now numbered.
Racing the Javelin
In 1968 AMC officially entered with the Javelin into the Trans-AM road racing series placing as a “Cinderella” teaam in third and the only factory team to ever finish finish every race. 1969 was a poor season, so AMC moved on from the teams original leader Kaplan, to Roger Penske and Penske Racing and added legendary driver Mark Donohue. In 1970, the AMC Javelin was the only real competitor to the Ford Mustang Boss 302, and finished second. The Javelin would go on to win AMC the Trans-Am construters title in 1971, 1972, and one last time in 1976 with Donohue winning the unrewarded top drivers honor in 1971, George Follmer taking top spot in a Javelin in 1972, and Jocko Maggiacomo taking the drivers title in an AMC Javelin in 1976. This Trans-Am success along with NHRA drag racing really served to increase AMC’s and the Javelin’s street cred, and even more to its track cred.
The AMX was a great car, but AMC was ambitious and wanted to do better. In 1970, AMC created the AMX/3 concept, a mid engined AMX. AMC sent molds to Italian GT maker Giotto Bizzarrini, whose facility in Turin hand made working mid-engined and steel bodied cars. These prototypes used AMC’s 390 cu in. V8 and an Italian OTO Melara four-speed trans-axle. BMW did the road testing, declaring that the chassis was very stiff and handling neutral. Five cars were completed when the 2 Million dollar project was canned due to rising costs and new bumper regulations. One car was later completed using left over parts. Later, the Spirit AMX was created, but it was a shell of the AMX’s former glory.
The AMX Turbo Pace car was the only good result of the Spirit AMX, as the car received updated styling and a 450 hp Turbo and fuel injected inline six created by Turbo Systems Inc. The car was built to be 1 of 4 official safety cars used for the Indy Car series in 1981, and is still running and taken to car shows by a private collector in Florida.
The American Motors Company was with us just 33 years from 1954 to 1987. Its impossible to avoid calling AMC a failure, but they had many things that the big three lacked and still lack till this day. AMC wasn’t about the over-management and too big to fail nature of the big three, but a dream to innovate, and to be the underdog. I’m not going to say that no company as unique as AMC exists today, but i feel like America gravely misses AMC and its staunch rebellion against the big three and wish to liberate the Americans who couldn’t afford to by the excessive cars of the big three. As imports entered the US, American Motors was a casualty of the war, something I believe those in Britain feal over the downfall of British leyland and companies which died including Rover and Triumph. Will we ever see AMC again? The answer may be no, but the history remains, and in the end, AMC’s brilliant minds have finally been recognized as their failed ideas at AMC still live on in the car world. #blogpost
Honorable Mentions: AMC Matador, AMC Ambassador, Jeep Comanche, AM General Humvee, Jeep DJ-5, AMC Spirit, and AMC Concord.
The Auto Editor of Consumer Guide. Muscle Car Chronicle. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 2003. Print.
Henshaw, Peter. The Ultimate Guide to SUVs and Off-road Vehicles. Edison, NJ: Chartwell, 2005. Print.
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