American Motors Corporation: The Little Car Company That Could… Until It Couldn’t

Click on the anaglyph S3D image to launch a Flash player and view the entire photo gallery in 2D or your choice of stereographic 3D formats.

I have yet to find a car enthusiast that doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for American Motors. It’s not that so much that they did so much with so little, it’s that they managed to do anything at all with so little. The truth is, however, that they frequently punched above their weight and stayed in business for over 30 years, about 30 years longer than most expected. The first generation Javelin was a credible muscle car and while the AMX (whose design actually came first, before the Javelin) doesn’t fetch the prices that Hemi ‘Cudas and Boss Mustangs get, the two seat AMC has a dedicated body of enthusiasts and they are indeed more valuable than run of the mill pony cars. AMC had only a single basic V8 design that was made in 290, 304, 260, 390 and 401 cubic inch displacements. Though a little heavier than a small block, it was lighter than the Big 3’s big block engines of similar displacements so the Javelin and AMX could surprise big engined Fords and Chevys (I don’t think anyone could surprise the Mopar products – the 426 Hemi probably was close to 600 HP). AMC didn’t just compete, they changed the automotive market.

One could argue that the Rambler was the first successful American compact car and there’s no question that the Marlin’s fastback design predated that of Dodge’s Charger. Unfortunately for the Marlin, AMC executives stupidly decided to base the car on their midsize Rebel, not the smaller American/Rambler, which screwed up stylist Dick Teague’s proportions. The Gremlin, essentially a Hornet with a Kamm hatchback, may have been the punchline to jokes but it seems to me that I occasionally see a Gremlin on the road, whereas I almost never seen Pintos, Vegas or even Dodge Darts/Plymouth Valiants. That AMC six cylinder is quite possibly the most durable engine ever made by an American car company. Between the AMC versions and Chrysler’s 4.0 upgrade, that engine was in production for 4 decades. Here is a collection of AMC vehicles that we’ve shot in the past few months. The orange AMX picture above is one of three AMXs that Dick Teague personally owned. I’m not sure if the yellow Hornet AMX below is original or a recreation.

AMC did it’s best to look like a smaller version of the Big 3. It even replicated some of Ford, GM and Chrysler’s own devaluing of treasured brands like the Mustang II Cobra, the Nova based 1974 GTO (not really a bad car, I’d love to have a police Nova, a 4 dr Z28, only the Nova body was stiffer than the F-Body) and the Mitsubishi built Challenger. I’m not sure if the yellow Hornet AMX below is original or a recreation, but slapping the AMX moniker on the Hornet in 1977 was not the worst indignity that AMC bestowed upon that storied brand name. No, that dishonor goes to the 1979-80 Spirit AMX. The Spirit was AMC’s attempt to recycle the Gremlin by giving the little Kammback a fastback roofline and hatch. Ths Spirit AMX, so, was essentially a Gremlin AMX. Now to be honest, the Gremlin was a shortened Hornet with a bobbed tail, so really, philosophically the Spirit was no worse an AMX than the Hornet version, but still…

Click on the anaglyph S3D image to launch a Flash player and view the entire photo gallery in 2D or your choice of stereographic 3D formats.

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