C'mon, admit it - you gotta love American Motors products.
(Those of you under 30 are forgiven if you've never heard of American Motors. It's time you learned.)
The merger of Nash and Hudson to create AMC in 1954 was supposed to be followed by another merger with the Studebaker-Packard liaison to form a full-line car maker to turn the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, Chrysler) into the Big Four.
That latter marriage never happened. Both Packard and Studebaker eventually died, but AMC soldiered on for a few more decades.
Among its many successes, AMC introduced the concept of a 'compact' car with the original Rambler in the late-1950s (OK, maybe the Henry J got there first, but its parent company Kaiser died soon afterwards). The others (Chevrolet Corvair, Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant) slavishly followed AMC's brilliant lead.
At the time Ramblers were the only domestic cars with reclining front seats. Although they generally appealed to older customers (who could have a wee nap on their way back to the retirement home from the bingo hall) their owners often wondered why their grandchildren always wanted to borrow Grampa's car to take their, um, friend to the drive-in movie.
(Those of you under 30, ask your Grampa what a 'drive-in movie' is.)
The Ramblers of the mid-'60s were very handsome cars, styled as they were by one of the true and largely unsung geniuses of domestic car design, Richard Teague. AMC was chronically under-financed, so Teague would be given a budget of about $25 and told, "Go come up with all-new cars!"
It was amazing what he did accomplish - this is a Rambler Ambassador 990 2-door coupe:
Even the much-maligned Hornet (of which, as regular readers know, I own a fairly pristine and amazingly original example, a 1977 hatchback, orange as only a mid-'70s AMC product could be, fake cast alloy wheel hubs, white pin stripes, vinyl roof, white buckets, 39,000 original miles, runs like a top, if it had an 8-track it'd be PERFECT) was an exceptionally well-proportioned car.
No, seriously. Park your prejudices and take another look. Simple but elegant front end; long, low hood; thick C-pillar and tall rear deck (on the sedan and coupe); gorgeous flared wheel openings - all design concepts that would later find their way into cars ranging from the Volkswagen Jetta to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
True, those wheel wells were usually filled with tires not much bigger than those off a Schwinn bicycle (ask Grampa...).
But the fundamental elements were there.
AMC rang an amazing series of changes off this basic platform - about the only one they had. Sedan, coupe, hatchback, and the extremely lovely wagon.
Lop off about two feet, and you had the Gremlin.
Pop on a fishbowl body, and there's your Pacer, again much maligned (Wayne's World, anyone?)
But as usual, there is a story.
As I heard it, the Pacer was supposed to be a much smaller automobile, powered by the Wankel rotary engine which General Motors was developing at the time. But AMC couldn't afford a new (or even a revised) platform, so the Pacer went on the same old guts, making it larger than it was intended to be. GM also canned the Wankel project, so the Pacer front end had to be stretched to accommodate either the stove-bolt six or one of AMC's V8 engines.
Even small changes to a car's proportions can ruin its looks; major alterations at the (relatively speaking) last moment like these meant the Pacer never had a chance, despite some clever advertising ("Is that the new 'Alfonzo di Credenza??'")
Later in the Hornet's life, AMC jacked up the body, stuffed the Jeep four-wheel drive gubbins underneath, and created the Eagle line. Don't let anyone ever tell you Subaru or anybody else invented the 'crossover'.
Ah yes, Jeep. AMC had acquired the rights to this fabled brand name, as well as the ancient "Cherokee" which had begun life as a Willys. For better or for worse, AMC also created the whole SUV craze.
Renault bought AMC in the early '80s, in yet another of the French company's (always vain) attempts to establish itself in the North American market. When that failed, Chrysler bought what was left of AMC - namely, the Jeep brand - and AMC went to that corporate automotive boneyard in the sky.
Now, these blogs are supposed to be short, quick hits. But once I start to wax on AMC, well, this is what you get.
Your chance to learn more about AMC and to see some amazing automobiles occurs today (as you likely read this; Saturday June 26 in any event) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Northern Ramblers Car Club of Canada's 15th Annual Rambler-Rama American Motors Car Show and Swap Meet (maybe I can find an 8-track) at Haugen's Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Manchester Ontario, just west of Port Perry. Take Highway 12 north out of Whitby - there are signs to Haugen's all over the place around there - or call Steve Johnson on the day of the event at 416 702 1053.
Registration to show your pre-1988 AMC (or related - Jeep, Rambler, Nash, Hudson, even Essex) product is $10, $20 for vendors. Owners of lesser marques can come and admire.
Rain (oh no!!) or Shine.
See you there!
*** OOPS!! ***
UPDATE: The beloved Hornet fired right up this morning, and was splashing merrily along towards the 427. Traffic was considerably heavier than it was yesterday; rain, construction near Hurontario and possibly an earlier collison - an OPP cruiser was still there. But once it opened up again, I started to feel a strong vibration somewhere in the driveline. U-joint, maybe? It only happened at around 100 km/h, so from the "the better part of valour is discretion" file, I took the back roads home. I'll have Bill, our car guy, take a look at it at his earliest opportunity.
Sorry, Northern Ramblers and AMC fans - I'll try again next year.