In sitting down to write this article and brushing up on my American Motors history, the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line kept coming to mind, “I don’t get no respect.” Mention AMC and most of us immediately think of the Gremlin, Pacer or a variety of other “unique” looking vehicles that AMC produced over the years – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em. But seldom do we think of the great accomplishments of AMC. AMC was first U.S. car company to produce a full line of compact cars, consistently winning fuel economy competitions. They introduced the unit body frame construction to America, today widely used by all car makers. AMC was one of the top selling car brands in the late 50s and early 60s, even when the Big 3 U.S. auto manufacturers were introducing their own compact cars. Guess who introduced the dual brake system on American cars, almost a decade before the competition and government mandates? American Motors also produced several models of muscle cars in the 60s and early 70s, many that ran a faster quarter mile than comparable Fords, Chevrolets and Chryslers, at a lower purchase price. If you have a soft spot for the underdog, you gotta love AMC. Who else but those cash-strapped AMC engineers would think of sawing off the back half of their compact Hornet model and “Voila”, create the great selling sub-compact Gremlin? And don’t forget it was AMC that took over Jeep from the floundering Kaiser Corporation, a move that not only kept Jeep alive, but also set the stage to grow it into the profitable, iconic American brand it is today. Hey, how ‘bout a little respect here, huh?
In June I attended the monthly meeting of the Northern Branch of the Colorado American Motors Club. This club first started in Denver, but as membership grew in Northern Colorado, they formed a northern branch, still part of the Denver based club, but with separate monthly meetings for the convenience of its many members in Fort Collins, Loveland and surrounding areas. The group routinely meets at 7:00 pm on the second Tuesday of every month at the Sports Station in Loveland (the old Train Depot at 4th and Railroad Ave). At this meeting, they talked about the Club’s planned outing to the Fort Collins Drive-In attending the opening of Cars 2 (a Gremlin and a Pacer are ‘bad guys’ in the movie), as well as a July trip to “Rambler Ranch”, a private 600+ AMC car collection outside of Castle Rock, Colorado.
“Colorado American Motors Club is a good mix of both restorers and rodders” said Austin Hosterman, the Club’s Northern contact. Just as when AMC cars were sold new, many club members appreciate their preserved or restored AMC cars for their compact size, economy and deliberately different styling. Other members appreciate those same light-weight compact cars for the great power to weight ratio achieved when you stuff a big block V-8 engine into them! This was the formula that allowed AMC to successfully compete, both in terms of performance as well as profitable sales, with the great muscle cars it produced in the 1960s and early 70s: the Marlin, AMX, Javelin, the Machine, Gremlin X and S/C Ramber. Even today, AMC muscle cars can generally be purchased at a lower price today than equivalent Fords, Chevys or Mopars. Since AMC was eventually purchased by Chrysler, Mopar clubs will usually accept AMC muscle cars into their events as well.
AMC’s unique styling was part of the strategy to competete and survive, allowing their cars to stand out from all of the cookie-cutter cars from the Big 3 auto makers. But just like in the movie “Fargo”, actor Steve Buschmi’s character wasn’t described by the local North Dakotans as “unique”, but rather “funny looking”. Unfortunately for AMC, that’s how much of the buying public saw the different by design Pacer, Gremlin, Matador and other AMC products. I think the best way to view many AMC cars isn’t to compare them to their counterparts from GM, Ford and Chrysler, but rather appreciate and celebrate them for their uniqueness, as AMC faithful always have. After all, car collecting and hot rodding is all about having something unique, different and individualistic. Now that’s the respect I’m talking about!
Here’s some links to learn more about the Colorado American Motors Club and other AMC groups and sites:
Here’s this week’s Trivia Question: What was the year and what were the companies that joined together to form American Motors Corporation?
Here’s the answer to last week’s Trivia Question, asking who painted John Lennon’s Rolls Royce limousine in its psychedelic paint theme? The answer is – Gypsies! John Lennon owned a vintage horse-drawn Gypsy wagon that he kept in his garden at his home in England. When he decided to paint his Rolls Royce in a psychedelic paint theme, he was able to track down the Gypsy artists that painted his wagon and paid them to paint his Rolls in a similar pattern, which was actually a more traditional gypsy style than psychedelic.
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