I think it was at the Detroit Auto Show in 1969,
I first saw the AMC Amitron all electric concept car……
( I was just a kiddie-winkie, mind you… )
A lot of people were crowded around it, and talking about how we’d all be driving electric cars in ten years time.
Of course, the same problems that AMC faced in developing their electric cars like Amitron and Electron, are still challenges today — having to do with consumer concern over range and charging infrastructure.
I find it interesting, though…
The Amitron’s piggyback battery system, with two nickel-cadmium batteries and two lithium batteries, was built to go about 150 miles at 50mph on a single charge–
… while today’s all-electric vehicles still average less than 70 between charges.
( A notable exception is the 2013 Tesla Roadster, which can go 175 miles. )
This was due in large part to the Amitron’s innovative Energy-Regeneration Brake system, would automatically switch the drive motors to generators at lower speeds to recharge the batteries.
The lightweight body was designed to be aerodynamic, and along with the solid state electronics, worked to minimize power loss by reducing resistance, drag and improved weight to power ratio.
It was a cool concept then and now– it even had inflatable seats to save weight and provide extra space.
The Amitron’s looks were novel, too.
It reminds me of another one of AMC’s cars, the Gremlin.
I liked the Gremlin.
It was a very reliable car.
And, actually pretty fuel efficient ,
at a time –
– at least when it was first introduced –
…… when fuel efficiency wasn’t a big consumer priority.
Best of all was the Gremlin’s starting price — under $2000.
That was a lot of car for a little money.
Sure, a lot of people thought it was as ugly as an Elton John hat,
…….. but it was also kinda cool, in a Gremliney kinda way.
In 1967, AMC’s chief designer Richard Teague had been working on a project to develop a body style for a new subcompact car.
Subcompacts had not been a priority in the American market up until then, but one auto executive had reported ” an alarming increase in imported fuel efficient models “.
AMC saw the opportunity for a well made, efficient American made subcompact, and Teague was thought to be the man to design it.
Stumped, he is said to have drawn his design sketch on an air sickness bag during a flight- of an AMC Javelin with the rear tail cut off.
This design, although not the one used for the Gremlin, was used for the AMX-GT, first shown at the 1968 New York Auto Show.
AMC marketed the AMX as a sports car- and a direct competitor to Thunderbird, and Corvette.
The Gremlin’s design was handed over to another designer, Bob Nixon, who used the AMC Hornet as a template instead.
Again, the rear of the Hornet was simply truncated, and voila — the Gremlin was born.
And that’s basically the way the American Motors Corporation operated most of the time–
An independent car maker on a shoestring budget, trying desperately to compete with the Big Three — Ford, GM and Chrysler.
One writer compared their management style to the “Wake Island Marines”, and described the AMC mentality this way: ” with almost no resources, and fighting a vastly superior enemy, they were able to roll out an impressive succession of new products. ”
AMC was original, creative, innovative– they were the only American manufacturer who immersed the entire car body in rust protective primer from 1957 to 1964, when the other companies followed suit.
And after 1987, when the company got swallowed up by Chrysler and became the “Jeep-Eagle Division”, it was this part of the company, the old AMC, that was most responsible for the renewal of Chrysler viability.
AMC had come to be in 1954, as a result of a merger between two of the largest independent American car manufacturers, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company.
The idea of a merger, to create a company that would become, in effect, a fourth player in a game dominated by the “Big Three” belonged to the industrialist George W. Mason…
Mason had mapped out a strategy that, if it had been fully implemented, would have turned the new company into a strong contender.
Unfortunately, Mason had a penchant for chain smoking cigars, and pneumonia killed him that same year- before he could bring the plan to fruition.
The new management team, headed by George Romney, had no time for the subtleties of Mason’s plan, and lacked the necessary diplomacy to keep the whole thing glued together, especially in regard to a very important agreement between AMC and the Studebaker-Packard Corporation.
This agreement had Studebaker swapping engines and transmissions with AMC, so that the new company could produce a variety of different size vehicles without the necessary plant space, but the chairman of S-P disliked Romney, and wouldn’t continue with the arrangement after Mason’s untimely death.
The Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet lines used the Packard 320 V-8’s and “Ultramatic” transmissions — and S-P’s position now forced AMC to develop their own V-8 engine.
With so many models and lines, it soon became simply too much infrastructure to run economically.
The Nash and Hudson lines were discontinued, and the company focused on producing smaller cars, and there were several years of very lean times while AMC tried to find it’s market niche.
One of the casualties of this move was the Nash-Healey, a striking, 2 seater sports car popular in Europe, and well thought of by the automotive press, but not a big seller in the U.S.
I frankly think it was one of the best looking cars of all time, but it was discontinued along with the rest, including the storied Hudson Hornet, and the sleek Nash Ambassador.
After the demise of the Nash-Healey, AMC would not make another sports car until the AMX.
In 1959, AMC’s new redesigned (and rebadged- originally a Nash line) Rambler models did manage to capture the public’s attention, and between 1959 and 1962, they were the third best selling car line.
The market changed quickly, however, and the Rambler ‘compact car’ image started to wear thin with consumers.
AMC was struggling to develop new models and fresh concepts …
To economize on their production costs, they began to regularly use common stampings, and do away with inefficient production facilities.
To compete with the Big Three in the muscle car market, especially with the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and the Plymouth Barracuda, AMC modified the basic setup of the AMX, and in 1967- introduced the AMC Javelin.
Richard Langworth wrote about the development of the Javelin:
“Despite management’s insistence on things like good trunk space and rear- seat room, Teague managed to endow the Javelin with what he termed the wet T-shirt look: voluptuous curves with nary a hint of fat..”
The Javelin was a good value for the money, priced under $2800, and was available with various sporty options– “GO Pacs”, that made the car very attractive to young buyers.
AMC had acquired Jeep from Kaiser in 1970,
…. which also made a range of vehicles, including pickup trucks.
They had discontinued the Rambler line in 1969, which had developed a stodgy, old fashioned image, and revived the old Hudson ‘Hornet’ name for the new AMC Hornet.
They dropped the Rebel line in favor of a new one called Matador, a vaguely familiar looking car —
( it was, at first, just a Rebel with new badging),
which earned the nickname in NASCAR racing as the “Flying Brick”.
As it developed, the car got stranger looking, until, in 1974, Richard Teague’s newly re-designed Matador Coupe was released…
This was the car used as the bad guy’s ‘flying car’ in the James Bond film “Man With The Golden Gun”.
(The car in which James Bond and Sheriff JW Pepper gave chase was also a AMC product– an AMC Hornet. )
Some thought the looks of the Matador were cutting edge, others thought it beautiful…
Me, I thought it was uglier than any other American made car before or since..
“Bug-eyed and bulbous” was what I wrote about it in the late 70’s.
But, it did come with a distinct market advantage — the first 12 month, 12000 mile Bumper to Bumper Warranty — called the ‘AMC Buyer Protection Plan’.
They also started to produce all-wheel drive passenger cars under the name “Eagle“.
One model AMC will always be remembered for was the unique AMC Pacer.
The Pacer was first conceived in 1971, and the first model rolled off the production line in Kenosha, Wisconsin in late 1974.
The car was innovative in many ways.
It was the first American mass produced car utilizing the ‘cab forward’ concept,
It was the first to use rack and pinion steering,
It’s passenger door was four inches wider than the driver door, for easier loading.
It’s wide stance gave it a very firm handling feel, and came to be advertised as the “First Wide Small Car”.
It had a low drag coefficient, and was reasonably fuel efficient.
It was considered to be a very safe car in a crash.. the B pillars had been designed as a pseudo-roll bar, and many of the safety features incorporated into the design were later mandated by the Federal NHTSA.
It got some cynical, but also very positive press coverage.
Car and Driver called it the ” Flying Fishbowl”, and ” the seventies answer to George Jetson’s mode of transportation” .
Some of the intended Pacer innovations never made it into the final car, however…
Money was always tight at AMC, and many times, this meant contracting out essential components.
For instance, the car was originally conceived to utilize a Wankel rotary engine.
But the company who had contracted to make them for the Pacer, General Motors, changed their mind at the last minute, and never produced the engine.
The Pacer had to be hastily reconfigured to accept AMC’s existing 232 c.i. straight six.
(A 258 c.i. I-6 was optional )
Still, the car remains an icon of the company once known as American Motors Corporation,
……. and it’s corporate culture of ‘innovations on a shoestring’.