Remembering AMC

Judged by the design and styling of their day, Hudson and Nash motorcars seemed odd to many people.  As a kid, I only remember Hudsons from auto museum displays.  Nash cars were more familiar because one of my uncles drove a green Nash Ambassador.  I thought it was an exceedingly homely car. I couldn’t help but think it looked like an inverted bathtub. I was a typical car-conscious boy of the 1960s. I liked the styling and power of cars from General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. AMC-Nash

American Motor Company’s Ramblers were the last of the “funnelling” down of the numerous American car companies of the 20th Century.  When the automotive era started, there were hundreds of car companies. The great shakeout happened with the Great Depression.  Nearly all of the smaller companies folded. The big three, Chrysler, Ford, and GM survived along with the most healthy independents. The indies included Kaiser-Frazer, Willys, Studebaker, Packard, Checker, Hudson, and Nash-Kelvinator.

Only the Checker Cab avoided the ensuing merger madness. Kaiser absorbed both Fraser and Willys, then Studebaker paired up with Packard. The idea was to retain the best aspects of each partner then create an integral, larger company patterned after the model of the big three.

AMC-HudsonHornetThe American Motors Company was the result of a merger between Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson corporations on January 14, 1954. Nash-Kelvinator’s George Mason had wanted to create an umbrella corporation similar to that of General Motors in order that the remaining independents could survive. Checker was not considered, but Studebaker-Packard was seriously invited.  That proposal crashed because of personality clashes. So, Studebaker/Packard staked out on their own and eventually folded in the mid 1960s.

In 1964, the North American tally looked like this: The Big Three, American Motors, Kaiser Jeep, International Harvester, Checker Cab, and Avanti.

To keep competitive with the Big Three, AMC introduced product innovations long before they were federally mandated. For example, Rambler offered the automatic transmission selector sequence of PRNDL and PRND2D1L first. Today’s industry standard dual-tandem master brake cylinders were standard equipment in Ramblers in 1962, six years ahead of everybody else. Air conditioning was made standard equipment for all 1988 Rambler Ambassadors, far ahead of Cadillac, Imperial, and Lincoln.

AMC had a policy of not following the expensive styling race of the Big Three manufacturers.  However, by 1965, car body styling updates were phased in to counter lagging sales figures. The Kelvinator Appliance Division was sold to provide cash for the introduction of AMC “pony car” models to compete with Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, and Barracuda. The AMC Javelin and AMX cars were favorably accepted by the buying public.

The sluggish name “Rambler” was dumped after 1969 in favor of AMC or American Motors.  The last corporate acquisition was the purchase of Kaiser-Jeep Corporation, in 1970. The new American Eagle all-wheel drive cars were introduced in the 1980s.

Early, in 1977, reports of financial difficulties for AMC reached the public. Record sales of Jeeps and back-orders of AM General transit busses did not make up sales losses for the rest of the company.  In March, 1978 French automaker Renault and AMC entered into joint manufacture and distribution to benefit both companies and AMC would stop making transit buses. Following U.S. economic difficulties, AMC sales continued to plummet. In December of 1980 shareholders approved the French government owned Renault as principal owner of American Motors.

Renault chairman Georges Besse directed the companies apparent resurgence in the U.S. market and oversaw the rising popularity of the Jeep Division. Then, on November 17, 1986 Besse was assassinated by Action Directe, a clandestine, extremist cadre. The militants’ communique’ said the murder was in retaliation for Besse’s firing of 25,000 workers from Renault and 34,000 workers from aluminum manufacturer PUK-Péchiney.

Under pressure from Renault shareholders and the French governement, Renault sought to dump the sluggish AMC Division. On March 9, 1987, Chrysler agreed to purchase all AMC shares for approximately $1,500,000,000. Chrysler renamed the division “Jeep-Eagle”.  Renault, meanwhile, withdrew from the American market altogether until they acquired controlling intrest in Japan’s Nissan Motors.

When Chrysler phased out the Eagle nameplate in 1988, the last vestige of Hudson/Nash-Kelvinator’s American Motors was Jeep.


The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that this author has some fond nostalgia for his uncle’s old Nash Ambassador.


About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, History, Transportation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Remembering AMC

  1. Doug says:

    My first car was a 1970, American Motors “Hornet”. Bright red with nice chrome rims. I loved that car and still miss it today. Occasionally I’ll do a picture search for my Hornet, just for the good memories that I had with that car.

    • swabby429 says:

      AMC had some pretty cool cars in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s too bad they caught on so late in AMCs lifetime. It was difficult to overcome the boring Rambler aura and reputation.

  2. cityfella says:

    Love AMC… The Hornets, Ambassadors, AmX, and the Matador….
    no love for the Gremlin……..

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