American Motors History (1954-1987)
Article by Mark Trotta
Based out of Wisconsin, the history of American Motors begins with the acquisition of Hudson by the Nash Motor Company in 1954. A name change to Rambler was seen from the mid-fifties until the late sixties, and then back to American Motors for the seventies and eighties.
Among Nash Motor Company's many innovations is the modern heating and ventilation system, which debuted on 1938 Nash models, and whose basic design is still in use today. In 1941, they became the first U.S. Automaker to mass-produce a unibody construction automobile.
Widely considered to be America's first compact car, the little Nash Rambler was the company's best selling model in the early 1950s.
Nash-Hudson Merger (1954)
With both companies lacking the dealer networks or advertising budgets to compete with the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler), Nash/Kelvinator bought out the Hudson Motor Car Company to form American Motors Corporation. The Nash side of the company would focus on the smaller Rambler models, while the Hudson side would focus on full-sized cars.
Starting in 1955 and continuing throughout 1956, Nash Ramblers were badged as both Nash's and Hudson's, with no obvious difference between the two. By 1957, the compact Ramblers made up the vast majority the company's sales, so it was decided to phase out the Nash and Hudson nameplates. AMC executives felt that using the Rambler name would help sell more cars.
The Rambler Years (1958-1969)
Rambler became a marque in its own right for the 1957 model year. Starting in 1958, the Nash and Hudson names were gone. All AMC-built cars built from 1958 through 1969 were Ramblers.
Nash Metropolitan (1954-1962)
Even smaller than the compact Nash Rambler, the Nash Metropolitan had an 85-inch wheelbase and measured just 12-1/2 feet long. At various times, the Metro was sold under the marques of Hudson, Nash, and AMC, the differences being only hubcaps and nameplates.
In 1960, Rambler as a company was the third most popular brand of automobile in the United States, right behind Ford and Chevrolet. This was mainly achieved by concentrating on small car production.
The entire Rambler line received the 1963 Motor Trend Car of the Year award.
Dick Teague Joins AMC
Before working at AMC, Richard "Dick" Teague held automotive design positions at General Motors, Packard, and Chrysler. As chief stylist, he was responsible for many models, including the Rambler American, AMC Javelin and AMX, Gremlin, Pacer, and others.
AMC Performance Years
In the mid sixties, Rambler was best known for producing safe and economic cars. However, safe and economic cars were not selling, so newly-appointed chairman Roy Chapin Jr. proposed getting the struggling company back on its feet by entering the performance ring.
The company began gaining credibility with performance fans in 1967, when the Marlin and the Rebel models were offered with an optional 343ci V8 producing 280 horsepower.
Javelin And AMX
A year later, the Javelin pony car and the two-seat AMX debuted. Both cars were available with an optional 390ci V8 producing 315 horsepower.
S/C Hurst Rambler
AMC collaborated with Hurst Performance and offered the one year only, limited edition S/C Rambler. The red white and blue, 315 horsepower compact two-door was one of the fastest American cars you could buy in 1969.
Read: S/C Rambler Muscle Car
Looking to expand their product line, AMC purchased Kaiser-Willys Jeep in 1970. Through the next 17 years, the Jeep CJ went through many changes, being offered in an wide array of trim packages and special editions.
Rambler/American Motors Name Change
The company began to phase out the Rambler name, and in 1970 began selling cars as American Motors. Throughout the Rambler years, over 4.2 million cars rolled off the Kenosha, Wisconsin assembly line.
The pinnacle of the muscle car years was 1970, and AMC was not to be left out. Their smallest V8, the 290, was increased to 304 cubic-inches. Likewise, the 343ci V8 was increased to 360 cubic-inches. In addition to increased displacement, a new cylinder head design gave a power boost to all AMC V8's.
The 1974 Bricklin sports car was powered by an AMC 360 V8.
AMC Rebel Machine
Based on the mid-size Rebel platform, the Rebel Machine came standard with a 390ci V8 producing 340 horsepower and 430 lb/ft of torque. A 4-speed transmission with Hurst shifter was also standard, along with a 3.54:1 rear axle ratio.
A large ram-air intake hood scoop painted electric blue housed a large tachometer visible to the driver. For those looking for a sleeper, the Rebel Machine could ordered without special paint or graphics.
AMC Hornet (1970-1977)
Available in two and four-door sedan, station wagon, and hatchback coupe configurations, the compact AMC Hornet replaced the Rambler American, and proved to be one of AMC's best selling models.
In 1971, the AMC 390 V8 was increased to 401 cubic inches, and was available in the Javelins, Matadors, Ambassadors, and certain Jeep models. It also saw use in several 1973-1974 International light trucks.
OPEC Oil Embargo
The 1973 oil crisis blindsided most U.S. car manufacturers. Consumers began demanding smaller and more fuel efficient cars, and AMC responded with several new compact models.
AMC Gremlin (1971-1977)
From the front bumper back to the B-pillars, the Gremlin was nearly identical to the Hornet. By reducing the Hornet's wheelbase from 108 to 96 inches, AMC was able to produce the new sub-compact fairly inexpensively. Over 671,000 Gremlins were produced from 1970 through 1978.
AMC Pacer (1975-1980)
Introduced in February of 1975, the AMC Pacer was an innovative car in many ways. The cab-forward design featured a low beltline and gave the driver excellent visibility. Other features included rack and pinion steering, only the second mass-produced U.S. car to feature one.
Exhaust System Recall
In 1978, all 1976 AMC cars and trucks were recalled for potential leaking exhaust. Approximately 310,000 vehicles were involved, at an estimated cost of three million dollars.
The AMC Eagle was launched late in 1979 for the 1980 model year. First-year models were full-time all wheel drive only, subsequent models were full or part-time.
As was the Eagle, the Concord and Spirit models were based on the Hornet platform.
Renault Purchases Partial Stock
AMC's unstable financial condition led to a 49% buyout by the French-based Renault Corporation in December 1980. In 1986, American Motors had lost $91.3 million, with Renault owning much of the company's outstanding shares of stock.
Chrysler Corporation Buys American Motors
In March of 1987, Chrysler Corporation bought Renault's share in American Motors, plus all remaining shares, for an estimated $1.5 billion. Many say the purchase was instrumental in reviving Chrysler.
After 33 years in business, American Motors became the Jeep-Eagle division of Chrysler. Perhaps the biggest reason for their demise was, they were just never large enough or profitable enough to compete with the Big Three.