The American Motors Corporation (1954-1987)
American Motors Corporation (AMC) was an American automobile company formed on January 14 1954 by the merger of the Nash-
Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company. At the time, it was the largest corporate merger in U.S. history, valued at $198,000,000.
Declining sales and a fiercely competitive auto market in the United States forced AMC to seek a partner in the late 1970s, which led to an unsuccessful tie up with France's Renault in 1979. The arrangement lasted until March 2, 1987, when American Motors was purchased by the Chrysler Corporation, who discontinued the AMC and Renault brand names, but continued some of the models under the Eagle marque.
In January 1954, Nash-
Kelvinator Corporation acquired the Hudson Motor Car Company (in what was called a merger) to form American Motors. When the merger was completed in the spring of 1954, Hudson's CEO, A.E.
Barit was retained as a consultant and given a Board seat in the new company, and Nash's George W. Mason was made President and CEO of the new concern.
Mason, the architect of the merger, believed that the only chance of survival for America's remaining independent automakers was for them to join forces in one large,
multibrand auto giant, able to challenge General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as an equal. Mason also entered into informal discussions with James Nance of Packard to outline his vision. Nance saw value in the concept, and interim plans were made for AMC to buy Packard
Ultramatic automatic transmissions and Packard V8 engines for certain AMC products.
Packard did acquire Studebaker as planned, in 1954, and the resulting Studebaker-Packard Corporation cooperated with AMC by making the 352 cubic inch Packard V8 engine available to AMC, and Mason also committed AMC to buy Packard's self-developed
Ultramatic automatic transmissions for its Ambassador and Rambler models. However, George Mason's death in 1954 placed George Romney at the helm of AMC and one of Romney's first official statements a week after Mason's death, as reported in October 25, 1954 edition of Time Magazine, was to announce that there would be no merger talks with Studebaker-Packard "at this time or in the foreseeable future."
Nance, already furious that AMC failed to honor Mason's "gentleman's agreement" to buy
Ultramatics, saw his tenuous relationship with Romney decay to the point where the two firms ended their purchasing agreements in 1956.Another sticking point was in the signed agreements. While AMC had agreed to buy from S-P, S-P had agreed only to consider purchases from AMC. As this was not where Romney wanted to guide the company, he issued an edict to his engineers to begin an 8-cylinder engine program immediately saw his tenuous relationship with Romney decay to the point where the two firms ended their purchasing agreements in 1956.Another sticking point was in the signed agreements.
While AMC had agreed to buy from S-P, S-P had agreed only to consider purchases from AMC. As this was not where Romney wanted to guide the company, he issued an edict to his engineers to begin an 8-cylinder engine program immediately.
By 1964, Studebaker production in the United States had ended (its Canadian operations closed in 1966) leaving only the Big Three, AMC and Kaiser Jeep remaining in the North American auto business.
Nash Metropolitan. American Motors combined the Nash and the Hudson product lines under a common marketing strategy and dealer network beginning in 1955. The fast selling Rambler model was sold under both the Nash and Hudson labels in its first year and would eventually become the mainstay of the company.
pre-existing Nash product line was continued and the Nash Statesman and Ambassador were lightly restyled to become the "new" Hudson Wasp and Hudson Hornet. Hudson aficionados disliked the soft handling and ride of the derisively nicknamed "Hash" models, and sales quickly plummeted. The only Hudson parts on the badge-engineered
Nashes were the instrument cluster and engines.
Hudsons continued to use the Hudson L-head six, with the exception of sharing the same Packard (and later American Motors) designed V8 engines as their Nash counterparts.
For the 1958 model year, the Nash and Hudson brands were dropped in favor of the popular Rambler name, which now became a marque in its own right. The slow-selling, British-built Nash Metropolitan subcompact became its own standalone brand and continued on for a few more years, sharing showroom space with Rambler, finally being dropped after 1962. The prototype 1958 Nash Ambassador/Hudson Hornet, built on a stretched Rambler platform, was renamed at the last minute to "Ambassador by Rambler".
To round out the model line, American Motors did something totally unheard of and never successfully duplicated to this day — they reintroduced the old 1955 100" wheelbase Nash Rambler as the new Rambler American with only a few modifications. This gave Rambler a compact lineup with 100" (American), 108" (Rambler Six and Rebel V8), and 117" (Ambassador) wheelbase vehicles.
Although Rambler automobiles were among American Motors' best-known products, company executives attempted to replace the Rambler name with a new name that would better reflect the identity of the parent company. This was a rather dangerous move, replacing a well-known and respected product name for something unknown. Ramblers were best known as economy cars, and top AMC executives wanted to move the company a more up-scale. This led to confusion that the company never recovered from.
The 1966 Marlin and Ambassador lost their Rambler nameplates, and were badged as "American Motors" products. The Rambler brand was completely dropped after the 1969 model year in the U.S. and Canada, although it continued to be used in several overseas markets as either a model or brand name, with the last use in Mexico in 1983.
From 1970, "AMC" was the brand used for all American Motors passenger cars, and all vehicles from that date bore the AMC name and the new corporate logo. However, the names "American Motors" and "AMC" were used interchangeably in corporate literature well into the 1980s. The branding issue was further complicated when the company's all-wheel drive passenger cars were initially marketed as the "American Eagle".
American Motors produced a wide range of products during the 1960s, which for the most part were relatively unremarkable. In a continuing quest to match the "Big Three" at every turn, American Motors produced totally conventional cars that were solidly-built and provided good value, but were purely average as far as styling and engineering were concerned. The company did develop some exciting entries for the decade's muscle car boom, most notably the AMX; while the Javelin served as the company's entrant into the pseudo-sporty "pony car" market created by the Ford Mustang.
Sales were strong during the early 1960s, and the company posted healthy profits year after year until 1967 when Roy
Abernethy's attempt to meet the Big-Three (GM, Ford, Chrysler) failed.
Abernethy believed that
AMC's reputation of building reliable economical cars could be translated into a market strategy that could follow AMC buyers as they traded up into larger, more expense vehicles.
To accomplish this,
Abernethy called for the
empahasis of the Rambler brand name, and a new line of redesigned v-cars, especially in the Full and Mid-Sized markets. Launched in the fall of 1967 the cars won acclaim for their fluid styling, but consumers failed to embrace the cars. Sales of the new Rebel and Ambassador models dropped after the introduction because of quality control problems effecting bodies and mechanical issues, resulting in
Abernethy's ouster from AMC.
AMC's problems at this time was its cash flow and quality control. Damage control fell to
AMC's new CEO, Roy D.
Chapin Jr. (son of Hudson Motors founder Roy D.
Chapin) who instituted changes to
AMC's offerings and tried to regain market share lost buy
Abernethy's full-line cars in 1967. One of
Chapin's programs made Air-Conditioning standard on all 1968 Ambassador models (available as a delete option on custom ordered
Ambassdors for fleet sales).
This made AMC the first U.S. auto maker to make Air Conditioning standard equipment on its cars, beating out all other makes, including luxury makes Lincoln, Imperial and Cadillac. Additional operating cash was derived through the sale one of
Kelvinator Appliance, once one its core operating units, in 1968.
Chapin also expanded American Motors product line in 1970, through the purchase of the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation (formerly
Willys-Overland) from Kaiser Industries. This added the iconic Jeep brand of light trucks and
SUVs, as well as Kaiser-Jeep's lucrative government contracts — notably the M151 line of military Jeeps and the DJ-Series postal Jeeps. The military and special products business was reconstituted as American Motors General Products Division, later reorganized as AM General.
1970 Rambler Rebel. Thus the 1970's started off on a high note, yet things quickly went sour for American Motors. 1970 marked the end of Rambler and the consolidation of all passenger cars under one distinct brand identity (more or less). It also marked the debut of the AMC Hornet range of compact cars, which would ultimately lead a much longer life than originally envisioned.
Always looking for a way to stretch research and development dollars, American Motors used the Hornet platform and body shell to create one of the first American-built subcompacts — the AMC Gremlin, which arrived in the spring of 1970. The Gremlin went on to become American Motors' best-selling passenger car with well over 700,000 units sold before the end of production in 1978.
The highly successful product launches of the Hornet and Gremlin convinced AMC to continue with new product developments. The new mid-sized AMC Matador arrived for 1971 as a replacement for the Rebel. Starting in 1974, the Matador mutated into two distinctive products with the same name. There were the sedans and station wagons, and the coupes, which looked completely different. After 1974 the Matador sedan and wagon took the place of the discontinued Ambassador as
AMCs flagship model. An Ambassador had been made by Nash and AMC from 1932 to 1974, the longest used nameplate of any AMC product.
Although the Matador Coupe was an attractive package to some consumers, sales never lived up to expectations and the line was dropped after 1978. Contradictory figures from AMC, ranging anywhere from $350 to over $600 per car sold, for the Matador coupe's development and tooling costs, make it impossible to determine how much money, if any, AMC actually lost on the coupe, which shared few components other than the suspension and
drivetrain with the sedans. Most of the tooling for the sedans and wagons dated back to 1967 and had long been paid for. By 1978 sales of the long-in-the-tooth design were low enough that it too was dropped along with the sleek coupe.
AMC Pacer Coupe
The AMC Pacer, introduced in 1975, was an innovative gamble and another well-intentioned entry into the market AMC seemed to know best. The development of the Pacer prior to its 1975 introduction coincided with two developments in U.S. Federal passenger auto laws. The first, the reduction in allowed passenger auto engine emissions would have been met by the use of the Wankel type engine whose exterior compactness allowed for extensive engine bay emission control equipment. The second, increases in U.S. passenger auto safety laws was met by the designed-in safety features such as internal door beams and other features related to then newly mandated auto safety features. However, the inclusion of many Federal mandated safety features, the wide exterior and extensive window glass caused the Pacer to be very heavy for it's exterior length.
Billed as "the first wide small car", the Pacer was an attempt to build a subcompact car with the comfort of a full-sized one. To this end, the car was as wide as a typical Cadillac of the day, yet no longer than the Gremlin. This provided the same front seat space as a luxury car within the length of a typical compact. Further passenger space was gained through
AMC's ingenious "cab forward" design technology, introduced on the Pacer. Nicknamed a "fishbowl on wheels", the Pacer featured bulbous, wrap around window glass, accounting for 35% of the car's surface area, eliminating blind spots. Among other unique features, the passenger door was four inches longer than the driver's door, to facilitate curb-side back seat access.
American Motors planned to use a General Motors-built Wankel rotary engine for the Pacer, but was forced to use their existing 258 in³ I6 when GM aborted their rotary engine development program due to, among others factors, the excessive fuel consumption of the Wankel engine compared to conventional piston engines with the same power output. This was during the period of the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973. The six resulted in poor fuel economy for the car's size, largely defeating the purpose of a compact. An attempt to provide a more fuel efficient option was to offer a US produced 121 in³ (2.0 L) 4 cylinder Volkswagen designed Audi engine which AMC produced for a short period under the AMC name (see below under engines).
In addition, the Pacer was all-new except for the
drivetrain, sharing virtually no components with other AMC cars. This made it expensive to produce, and when sales took a steep fall after the first two years, the manufacturing cost per vehicle skyrocketed. The failure of the Pacer would ultimately doom AMC, as its development and production costs drained corporate accounts of much needed capital which could have been used to update and modernize the already popular Hornet and Gremlin lines.
The Pacer was finally dropped after the 1980 model year. By that time, American Motors was on the brink of bankruptcy, forcing difficult cost-cutting. A whole new line of large prestige cars planned to replace the slow-selling Matador was cancelled. The aging Hornet was hastily face-lifted to create the "new" 1978 AMC Concord, the higher trim levels of which were intended to partially compensate for the departed Matador. The Hornet-derived Gremlin was lightly updated to create the 1979 Spirit coupe, while a Spirit sedan was created by tacking new front and back ends onto the Gremlin's 2-door center section. In a last-ditch attempt to relive past glories, the AMX name was revived for a lightly uprated sports version of the Spirit sedan.
A 1976 AMC Pacer was used in the movie "Wayne's World" (Staring Mike Myers and Dana
Renault investment and ultimate control
This round of face lifts and re-branding of outdated cars was hardly a permanent fix regardless of the initial success of products like the Concord. American Motors desperately needed truly new, modern products but lacked the capital and resources to develop them. The only alternative was to seek a partner to invest in the business. In 1979, American Motors found a ready partner in the French automaker Renault.
Under the terms of the American Motors-Renault alliance, the French company purchased a 5% interest in American Motors and provided $135 million in the form of a loan to help shore up the business. In exchange, American Motors would act as the North American importer and distributor of Renault products, which would be sold through the existing AMC-Jeep dealer network. A new line of Renault-designed, modern front-wheel drive cars would be produced by American Motors at their
The first new product resulting from this partnership was the 1983 Renault Alliance, a compact sedan. A virtually identical hatchback version was also produced, badged as the Renault Encore. Due to the ever-worsening financial situation at American Motors, Renault was forced to increase their stake in the company several times to keep it solvent, reaching a 49% ownership in 1983.
AMC's ownership by Renault ended its run as a truly American car company.
Following the 1983 model year, the AMC brand was pared down to a single model — the four wheel drive Eagle line. From that point on, the focus of the company would be on the Renault and Jeep brands.
1981 AMC Eagle
Introduced in 1980, the Eagle was a trend-setting four-wheel drive car consisting of a Concord body shell mounted on an all-new platform developed by American Motors engineers during the late 1970s. The Eagle become one of
AMC's best-known products and is considered to be one of the first "crossover
SUVs". Under its familiar body, the Eagle featured some truly revolutionary engineering. The
drivetrain was the world's first true full-time all wheel drive system. Not surprisingly, most Eagles were sold in snow-prone states. Per AMC tradition, sales were strong for the first year or two, then tapered off dramatically. Whatever the Eagle's merits, it may be that customers had simply grown tired of the styling, which dated back to the 1970 Hornet.
In the early 1980s, the Jeep division popularized the compact SUV with its introductions of the downsized Jeep Cherokee and
Wagoneer in 1983. These vehicles initially used the AMC 2.5 L OHV four-cylinder engine with a carburetor and optionally a General Motors-built 2.8 L,
carbureted V6. After 1986, throttle-body injection replaced the carburetor on the 2.5 L I4 engines. A Renault Turbo-Diesel I4 diesel was also offered. 1987 models used the "new" 4.0 L (244 in³) I6 engine, derived from the older 4.2 L (258 in³) I6 with a new head design and an electronic fuel injection system designed with help from Renault, utilizing Renault-Bendix (
One older design was kept — the Grand
Wagoneer full-size luxury SUV and the related J-Series pickups continued to be built on the same chassis as the earlier SJ model
Wagoneers and Cherokees that dated from 1963, with the AMC 360 in³ V8 (the engine and the Grand
Wagoneer ceased production after 1991; the pickups were dropped after 1987). The AMC Concord and Spirit were dropped after 1983, with no attempts at replacements. The AMC Eagle was continued, and in station wagon form lasted through the 1988 model year.
Fall of AMC
AMC's profitable AM General subsidiary was a major defense contractor, American Motors was forced to sell the business as Renault increased its ownership of AMC, since the US government would not allow a foreign government to own a significant portion of an important defense supplier. (Renault was partially owned by the French government.)
AMC's woes did not end with Renault's taking control. Renault itself was experiencing financial troubles of its own in France. The massive investment in American Motors, including construction of a new Canadian assembly plant in Brampton, Ontario forced cuts at home, resulting in the closure of several French plants and mass layoffs. Public anger built against Renault's president, Georges Besse, who believed strongly in the importance of the North American market. This was undoubtedly the primary motive behind his November 1986 assassination. The company's new president set out to repair employee relations and put the company back on a sound financial footing through the divestiture of American Motors.
In March 1987, Renault's stake in AMC was purchased by Chrysler, along with rest of the company's shares. Following a small run of 1988 Eagle station wagons, the AMC brand was dropped. The sale of American Motors came at an ironic time — the automotive press was very enthusiastic about the proposed 1988 lineup of Renault and Jeep vehicles, some even speculating AMC/Renault finally had a winning hand that could turn the company around.
At that point, Renault permanently departed from the North American market, and has put any plans of return on indefinite hiatus.
As a replacement for AMC, Chrysler created the Eagle brand, taking the name from AMC's last product. The remains of American Motors were consolidated into the Jeep-Eagle Division of the Chrysler Corporation. While the Eagle brand would turn out to be a disappointment (Chrysler discontinued the brand in 1998), the Jeep brand was profitable, mostly because of the growing demand for SUVs in the 1990s following the introduction of the Ford Explorer.
The American Motors Corporation has left little impact on the world some twenty years after its death.
Chrysler continued the Jeep XJ Cherokee with the 4.0 L engine (used until 2007 by DaimlerChrysler in the Jeep Wrangler). The Spirit name, which was discontinued in 1983, was placed on one of Chrysler's A platform cars and was sold as the Dodge Spirit. The planned Renault Medallion was sold as the Eagle Medallion in 1988 and 1989. A Renault/AMC concept, the Summit (slated to replace the Eagle station wagon), was produced by Mitsubishi Motors beginning in 1989.
The planned all-new 1988 Renault Premier, a joint development effort between American Motors and Renault, and for which the Bramalea plant (Brampton, Ontario) was built, was sold by Chrysler as the 1988-1992 Eagle Premier, with a rebadged Dodge Monaco variant for 1990-1992.
Incorporating the cab-forward design introduced on the 1975 Pacer, the Premier's platform was far more advanced than anything Chrysler was building at the time, and after some re-engineering and a redesignation to Chrysler code LH, the Eagle Premier went on to form the backbone of Chrysler's passenger car lineup during the 1990's as the Chrysler Concorde (another revived AMC model name), Chrysler New Yorker, Chrysler LHS, Dodge Intrepid, and the Eagle Vision. The Chrysler 300M was likewise a Premier/LH-derived car and was initially to have been the next-generation Eagle Vision until the Eagle brand was dropped.
The American Motors-developed Jeeps survived for some time under Chrysler. The Comanche pickup truck lasted until 1992, while the Cherokee remained until 2001 in the United States (the XJ Cherokee is still produced in China as the Cherokee 2500). Although it was not introduced until 1993, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was initially an AMC-developed vehicle. The current Jeep Wrangler, in production since 1997, is really a lightly updated development of the original American Motors-designed Wrangler introduced in 1986 for the 1987 model year.
Other traces of AMC remain within the present-day DaimlerChrysler. AMC's Toledo, Ohio plants continue to turn out Jeep Wranglers and Libertys as well as parts and components for Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles (although Toledo Machining and Forge is slated for closure as of 2005). AMC's main plant in Wisconsin is still active, albeit heavily downsized, as the Kenosha Engine Plant, producing engines for several Chrysler Group products, including the Wrangler. AMC's technologically advanced Bramalea Assembly and Stamping Plants in Brampton, Ontario (recently completed at the time of the Chrysler takeover) are still active, and now produce the best-selling LX-cars — the Dodge Charger, Dodge Magnum, and the Chrysler 300.
AM General, sold by American Motors in 1982, is still in business building the likewise American Motors-designed High Mobility Multi-Wheel Vehicle (HMMWV - "Humvee") for the American and allied militaries. AM General also builds the civilian variant — the H1 — and a Chevrolet Tahoe-derived companion, the H2, under contract to General Motors, new owners of the civilian Hummer brand.
The American Motors Corporation's death was recent enough that a handful of AMC Eagles are still on the roads under their original owners. Their numbers dwindle with each passing year, however, and since most AMC vehicles never really attained "collector" status, cars fully restored by auto enthusiasts are also quite rare.
As numbers dwindle and prices for more popular collector cars continue to rise, some collectors are starting to pay more attention to AMC vehicles. Prices for the more popular collector models (Javelin, AMX, and a few specials such as the 1957 Rambler Rebel, 1965-67 Rambler Marlin, 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler, 1970 Rebel Machine, and 1971 Hornet SC/360), which have always had a small but enthusiastic following, are already rising at a rapid pace. It will be a long time before the "bread and butter" Hornets, Gremlins, Concords, and Pacers will be very collectable, but many AMC models are now considered "future collectables" and often appear on bargain lists in American collector car magazines.
During it's long history, American Motors bought, sold and spun-off many components. Some of these still exist today, albeit in vastly changed forms. A brief look the remaining components and "where they are today":
Kelvinator, the largely ignored half of Nash-Kelvinator, is essentially the last man standing. Sold off by American Motors in 1958 and now owned by Electrolux, the Kelvinator company is still in business.
Jeep is now a brand of the Chrysler Group, a unit of DaimlerChrysler A.G. Many Jeep models retained the mechanical specs and styling cues developed by AMC well into the 1990s.
AM General Corporation survives, now owned by McAndrews and Forbes Holdings and Renco.
Wheel Horse Products Division — now owned by Toro Lawnmower Products.
Many of the facilities used to produce American Motors vehicles and sub-assemblies are still in use.
Toledo North and South Assembly Plants — still in use by DaimlerChrysler. Still visible on most of the signage on the outside of the factories are areas where Chrylser painted over the AMC logo.
Toledo Machining and Forge — still in use by DaimlerChrysler
Brampton (formerly Bramalea) Assembly and Satellite Stamping Plants — still in use by DaimlerChrysler
Kenosha Engine Plant — still in use by DaimlerChrysler
"American Center" — AMC's corporate headquarters in Detroit is still standing, still open, and still called "American Center". The original "American Center" signage at the top of the building remains, although the AMC logo has been removed. The building is rented to several different organizations and companies as office space. None of the office space is occupied by DaimlerChrysler or any other entity related to AMC.
AMC models and products
1970–1978: AMC Gremlin
1979–1983: AMC Spirit
1981–1983: Eagle SX/4 (including Kammback)
1983–1987: Renault Alliance based on the Renault 9. *1984–1987: Renault Encore — based on the Renault 11.
^* — American Motors 1958-62. See article for details.
** — The Gremlin was the company's first true subcompact.
1958–1962: Rambler (includes Rambler, Rambler Rebel, Rambler Classic)
1958–1969: Rambler American
1968–1970: AMC AMX
1968–1974: AMC Javelin
1970–1977: AMC Hornet
1975–1980: AMC Pacer
1978–1983: AMC Concord
1980–1988: AMC Eagle —
1988:Renault Medallion — (based on the Renault 21)
1958–1965: Rambler Ambassador (1958–1962 also known as "Ambassador by Rambler")
1963–1966: Rambler Classic
1965–1966: Rabler Marlin, AMC Marlin
1967–1970: AMC Rebel
1971–1978: AMC Matador
1988–1992: Renault Premier
1966–1974: AMC Ambassador
1967: AMC Marlin
Engines used by AMC
250 in³ (4.1 L) AMC V8
252 in³ (4.1 L) Nash I6
184 in³ (3 L) Nash I6 (Rambler)
320 in³ (5.2 L) Packard V8
352 in³ (5.8 L) Packard V8
287 in³ (4.7 L) AMC V8
327 in³ (5.4 L) AMC V8 (used by Kaiser until its acquisition in 1970)
196 in³ (3.2 L) Rambler I6 (L head and OHV version)
199 in³ (3.3 L) Typhoon Six I6
199 in³ (3.3 L) Typhoon Six I6
232 in³ (3.8 L) Typhoon Six I6
290 in³ (4.8 L) AMC V8
343 in³ (5.6 L) AMC V8
390 in³ (6.4 L) AMC V8
121 in³ (2.0 L) AMC I4 1
232 in³ (3.8 L) AMC I6
258 in³ (4.2 L) AMC I6
304 in³ (5.0 L) AMC V8
360 in³ (5.9 L) AMC V8
401 in³ (6.6 L) AMC V8
(In cars, 401 discontinued in 1974, 360 in 1978, 304 and 232 in 1980)
151 in³ (2.5 L) Pontiac Iron Duke I4
258 in³ (4.2 L) AMC I6
150 in³ (2.5 L) AMC I4
258 in³ (4.2 L) AMC I6
150 in³ (2.5 L) AMC I4
242 in³ (4.0 L) AMC I6
Also: Kaiser Jeeps used the AMC 327, Buick 225 ("Dauntless V6"), Buick 350 ("Dauntless V8"), Willys 134 I4 ("Hurricane").
1 AMC contracted with Volkswagen to buy tooling for the Audi 2.0 L OHC I4. Major parts (block, crankshaft, head assembly) were initially purchased from Audi and shipped to the U.S. where final assembly was accomplished by AMC at a plant purchased specifically for production of this engine. Sales never reached numbers to justify taking over total production. AMC made several changes to the engine. They were prevented from using the Volkswagen or Audi names in association with the AMC assembled version by contractual agreement.
* Information about AMC was supplied for the most part by AllPar and Wikipedia.