The 1917 Nash Model 671 was the first vehicle produced to bear the name of the new company’s founder. Nash enjoyed decades of success by focusing its efforts to build cars “embodying honest worth … [at] a price level which held out possibilities of a very wide market.”
The four-wheel driveJeffery Quad truck became an important product for Nash. Approximately 11,500 Quads were built between 1913 and 1919. They served to move materiel during World War I under severe conditions. The Quad used Meuhl differentials with half-shafts mounted above the load-bearing dead axles to drive the hubs through hub-reduction gearing. in addition to featuring four-wheel steering. The Quad achieved the reputation of being the best four-wheel drive truck produced in the country. The newly formed Nash Motors became the largest producer of four-wheel drives. By 1918, capacity constraints at Nash meant the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company began to assemble the Nash Quad under license and Nash patents. Nash became the leading producer of military trucks by the end of World War I. After the war ended, surplus Quads were used as heavy work trucks in fields such as construction and logging.
Charles Nash convinced the chief engineer of GM’s Oakland Division, Finnish-born Nils Eric Wahlberg, to move to Nash’s new company. The first Nash engine introduced in 1917 by Wahlberg had overhead valves.Wahlberg is also credited with helping to design flow-through ventilation that is used today in nearly every motor vehicle. Introduced in 1938, Nash’s Weather Eye directed fresh, outside air into the car’s fan-boosted, filtered ventilation system, where it was warmed (or cooled), and then removed through rearward placed vents. The process also helped to reduce humidity and equalize the slight pressure differential between the outside and inside of a moving vehicle. Another unique feature of Nash cars was the unequal wheel tracks. The front wheels were set slightly narrower than the rear, thus adding stability and improving cornering. Wahlberg was also an early proponent of wind tunnel testing for vehicles and during World War II worked with Theodore (Ted) Ulrich in the development of Nash’s radically styled Airflyte models.
Nash’s slogan from the late 1920s and 1930s was “Give the customer more than he has paid for” and the cars lived up to it. Innovations included a straight-eight engine with overhead valves, twin spark plugs, and nine crankshaft bearings in 1930. The 1932 Ambassador Eight had synchromesh transmissions and free wheeling, automatic centralized chassis lubrication, a worm-drive rear end, and its suspension was adjustable inside the car. A long-time proponent of automotive safety, Nash was among the early mid- and low-priced cars to offer four-wheel brakes.
The Nash was a success among consumers that meant for the company “selling for a long time has been 100% a production problem… month after month all the cars that could be produced were sold before they left the factory floor.”
Creation of the Ajax
1925 nash ajax-englebert
For the 1925 model year, Nash introduced the entry-level marque Ajax. A car of exceptional quality for its price, the Ajax was produced in the newly acquired Mitchell Motor Car Company plant in Racine, Wisconsin. Mitchell was the manufacturer of Mitchell-brand automobiles between 1903 and 1923. Sales of Ajax automobiles, while quite respectable, were disappointing. It was believed that the same car would sell better if it were called a Nash. Thus the Ajax became the “Nash Light Six” in June, 1926 and sales did improve, just as expected. In an unusual move, Nash Motors offered all Ajax owners a kit to “convert” their Ajax into a Nash Light Six. This kit, supplied at no charge, included a set of new hubcaps, radiator badge, and all other parts necessary to change the identity of an Ajax into that of a Nash Light Six. This was done to protect Ajax owners from the inevitable drop in resale value when the Ajax marque was discontinued. In this way Nash Motors showed the high value they placed upon their customers’ satisfaction and well-being. Most Ajax owners took advantage of this move, and “unconverted” Ajax cars are quite rare today.
1926 Nash Ajax Six Sedan Motor Car Company Kenosha Wisconsin Salute Art Ad
Acquisition of LaFayette
LaFayette Motors was the producer of a large, powerful, expensive luxury car. The company started in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1920, and later moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The principal stockholder in LaFayette Motors was Nash Motors Company. Other major stockholders were Charles W. Nash and friends and business associates. The high quality, high priced LaFayette cars did not sell well.
In 1924, Nash absorbed LaFayette Motors and converted its plant to produce Ajax automobiles. The LaFayette name was reintroduced in 1934 as a lower priced companion to Nash. LaFayette ceased to be an independent marque with the introduction of the 1937 models. From 1937 through 1940, the Nash LaFayette was the lowest priced Nash, and was replaced by the new unibody Nash 600 for the 1941 model year.
Era of George Mason and Nash Kelvinator
Nash Special Six Series 430 Coupé 1929
Nash Standard Six Series 422 Convertible Coupé 1929
Before retiring, Charlie Nash chose Kelvinator Corporation head George W. Mason to succeed him. Mason accepted, but placed one condition on the job: Nash would acquire controlling interest in Kelvinator, which at the time was the leading manufacturer of high-end refrigerators and kitchen appliances in the United States. The resulting company, as of January 4, 1937, was known as the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. Nash as a brand name continued to represent automobiles for Nash-Kelvinator. This was the largest merger of companies not in the same industry up until that time.
In 1938, Nash introduced an optional conditioned air heating/ventilating system, an outcome of the expertise shared between Kelvinator and Nash. This was the first hot-water car heater to draw fresh air from outside the car, and is the basis of all modern car heaters in use today. Also in 1938, Nash, along with other car manufacturers Studebaker and Graham, offered vacuum-controlled shifting, an early approach at removing the gearshift from the front floorboards. Automobiles equipped with the Automatic Vacuum Shift (supplied by the Evans Products Company) had a small gear selector lever mounted on the dashboard, immediately below the radio controls.
In 1936, Nash introduced the “Bed-In-A-Car” feature, which allowed the car’s interior to be converted into a sleeping compartment. The rear seat back hinged up, allowing the rear seat cushion to be propped up into a level position. This also created an opening between the passenger compartment and the trunk. Two adults could sleep in the car, with their legs and feet in the trunk, and their heads and shoulders on the rear seat cushions. In 1949 this arrangement was modified so that fully reclining front seat backs created a sleeping area entirely within the passenger compartment. In 1950 these reclining seat backs were given the ability to lock into several intermediate positions. Nash soon called these new seat backs “Airliner Reclining Seats”.
In 1939, Nash added a thermostat to its “Conditioned Air System”, and thus the famous Nash Weather Eye heater was born. The 1939 and 1940 Nash streamlined cars were designed by George Walker and Associates and freelance body stylist Don Mortrude. They were available in three series – LaFayette, Ambassador Six and Ambassador Eight. For the 1940 model cars Nash introduced independent coil spring front suspension and sealed beam headlights.
The 1941, Nash 600 was the first mass-produced unibody construction automobile made in the United States. Its lighter weight compared to body-on-frame automobiles and lower air drag helped it to achieve excellent fuel economy for its day. The “600” model designation is said to have been derived from overdrive-equipped examples of this car’s ability to travel 600 miles (966 km) on a 20-US-gallon (75.7 l; 16.7 imp gal) tank of gasoline. In other words, it would achieve 30 miles per US gallon (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg-imp). The 600 models used an unusual steering/front suspension system with extremely long king pins. Inadequate lubrication became a problem for these systems, commonly resulting in premature failures. The design of the cars was improved by new front ends, upholstery, and chrome trim from 1942 to 1948. The larger Ambassador models shared the same bodies with the 600 but placed this unibody structure on top of a conventional frame, resulting in an extremely strong car.
Post-World War II passenger car production resumed on October 27, 1945 with an Ambassador sedan first off the assembly line. There were few changes from 1942 models, most noticeable were longer and slimmer upper grille bars and a projecting center section on the lower grille. The 600 models got a new, more conventional front suspension & steering system. The inline 8-cylinder Ambassador model did not return in 1946. The large Ambassador engine thus was the seven main bearing, overhead valve 234-cubic-inch six-cylinder developing 112 brake horsepower. For the 1946 model year Nash introduced the Suburban model that used wood framing & panels on the body. It was similar to the Chrysler Town and Country and Ford Sportsman models. Suburbans were continued in 1947 and 1948 models with 1,000 built over all three years. In 1948 the Ambassador convertible returned with 1,000 built.
Introduction of the Nash Airflyte
The aerodynamic 1949 Nash “Airflyte” was the first car of an advanced design introduced by the company after the war. Its aerodynamic body shape was developed in a wind tunnel. Nils Wahlberg’s theories on reducing an automobile body’s drag coefficient resulted in a smooth shape and enclosed front fenders. The “cutting-edge aerodynamics” was the most “alarming” all-new postwar design in the industry since the Chrysler Airflow. A one-piece curved safety glass windshield was used on both models. Wide and low, the automobile featured more interior room than its 1948 predecessor although its height was 6 inches less. Due to its enclosed front fenders Nash automobiles had a larger turning radius than most other cars. The 600 models used a 112-inch (2,800 mm) wheelbase while the Ambassador models stretched to 121 inches (3,073 mm). Both shared the same bodies. Coil springs were used on all four wheels. Three trim lines were offered in both models; Super, Super Special, and the top line Custom. Power was provided by an 82 Horsepower 176 cubic inch flathead inline 6 cylinder in the 600 and an 112 HP OHV 234 cubic inch inline 6 in the Ambassador.
Nash Statesman 2-Door Sedan 1951
The few changes for the 1950 Airflytes were a wider rear window, concealed fuel filler cap, some dashboard features and addition on Ambassadors of a GMHydramatic automatic transmission option. The 600 models were renamed the “Statesman”. A new first for an American car were seat belts, also new was a five-position Airliner reclining front passenger seat back, both optional in both models. The stroke on the Statesman engine was increased 1/4 inch giving 186 cubic inches and 85 HP and the Ambassador received a new cylinder head that increased HP to 115.
Changes for the 1951 model Airflytes were to the rear fenders, elongated to incorporate vertical taillights, a new conventional dashboard replacing the Uniscope mounted on the steering column, a new vertical bar grille with horizontal parking lights and addition of GM Hydramatic as a Statesman option also. The three best sales years for Nash up to that time were 1949, 1950 and 1951.
Nash-Kelvinator’s President George Mason felt Nash had the best chance of reaching a larger market in building small cars. He directed Nash towards the development of the first compact of the post war era, the 1950 Nash Rambler, which was marketed as an up-market, feature-laden convertible. Mason also arranged for the introduction of the Austin-built small Metropolitan from Britain, which was introduced as a 1954 model.
The full-size Nash Airflytes were completely re-designed for 1952, and were promoted as the Golden Airflytes, in honor of Nash Motors’ 50th anniversary as an automobile builder (the company now counting the years of the Thomas B. Jeffery Company as part of their own heritage.) “Great Cars Since 1902” became one of the company’s advertising slogans. Nash was one of the few American car manufacturers to introduce an all-new 1952 model other than Ford Motor Company. The new Golden Airflytes presented a more modern, squared-off look than did the 1949–1951 models, which were often compared to upside-down bathtubs. Pininfarina of Italy was contracted by Nash to design a body for the new Golden Airflyte; however management was unhappy with the design and the result was a combination of an in-house design and Pininfarina’s model.
Using its Kelvinator refrigeration experience, the automobile industry’s first single-unit heating and air conditioning system was introduced by Nash in 1954. This was a compact, affordable system for the mass market with controls on the dash and an electric clutch. Entirely incorporated within the engine bay, the combined heating and cooling system had cold air for passengers enter through dash-mounted vents. Competing systems used a separate heating system and an engine-mounted compressor with an Evaporator in the car’s trunk to deliver cold air through the rear package shelf and overhead vents. The alternative layout pioneered by Nash “became established practice and continues to form the basis of the modern and more sophisticated automatic climate control systems.”
Introduction of the Nash-Healey
1952 Pininfarina-styled Nash-Healey roadster
1951 saw the introduction of the Anglo-American Nash-Healey sports car, a collaborative effort between George Mason and British sports car manufacturer Donald Healey. Healey designed and built the chassis and suspension and also, until 1952, the aluminum body which another British manufacturer, Panelcraft Sheet Metal Co. Ltd., fabricated in Birmingham. Nash shipped the powertrain components. Healey assembled the cars, which were then shipped to the U.S. for sale. In 1952 the Italian designer Battista Farina restyled the body, and its construction changed to steel and aluminum. High costs, low sales and Nash’s focus on the Rambler line led to the termination of Nash-Healey production in 1954 after 506 automobiles had been produced.
Mason commissioned Farina to design a Rambler-based two-seater coupe called the Palm Beach, which may have been intended as a successor to the Nash-Healey. However the project did not progress beyond a concept car
For European endurance racing Healey and his staff designed and built three special Nash-Healeys with spartan, lightweight aluminum racing bodies. These competition versions entered four consecutive Le Mans races and one Mille Miglia. They bore no outward resemblance to the production Nash-Healeys, none of which ever contested these races.
At Le Mans they achieved fourth overall in 1950, sixth overall and fourth in class in 1951, third overall and first in class in 1952, and eleventh overall in 1953. In the Mille Miglia they finished ninth overall in 1950 and seventh overall, fourth in class, in 1952.
Creation of American Motors
1955 Nash Rambler Cross Country station wagon
In January 1954 Nash announced the acquisition of the Hudson Motor Car Company as a friendly merger, creating American Motors Corporation (AMC). To improve the financial performance of the combined companies, all production beginning with the 1955 Nash and Hudson models would happen at Nash’s Kenosha plant. Nash would focus most of its marketing dollars on its smaller Rambler models, and Hudson would focus its marketing dollars on its full-sized cars.
For 1955, all senior Hudson and Nash automobiles were based on a shared common unitized body shell, but with individual powertrains and separate, non-interchangeable body parts. This mimicked the longtime practice Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) that allowed for maximum manufacturing economy. Even with the merger forming AMC, the independent automakers held to a total of about four percent of the market and had to innovate to lower their expenses and tooling costs for new models.
The Nash Metropolitan produced with the British Motor Corporation, which had been marketed under both the Nash and Hudson brands, became a make unto its own in 1957, as did the Rambler. The Ramblers quickly overtook Nash and Hudson as the leading line of cars manufactured by AMC.
Soon after the 1954 merger, CEO George Mason died. Mason’s successor, George W. Romney, pinned the future of the company on an expanded Rambler line of compact-sized cars, and began the process of phasing out the Nash and Hudson nameplates by the end of the 1957 model year. Romney decided to leave the standard full-size car market to the Big Three. Nash and Hudson production ended with the last Hornet made on June 25, 1957. From 1958 to 1965, Rambler was the only marque sold by AMC, other than the Metropolitan, which remained in dealer showrooms until 1962. Under the tenure of Roy Abernethy, the Rambler name was phased out beginning in 1965 and discontinued after 1969.
In 1970, American Motors acquired Kaiser Jeep (the descendant of Willys-Overland Motors) and its Toledo, Ohio, based manufacturing facilities. In the early 1980s, AMC entered into a partnership with Renault which was looking for a re-entry into the American market in the 1980s. AMC was ultimately acquired by Chrysler Corporation in 1987, becoming the Jeep-Eagle division.
Nash Six Touring 1927
Nash Standard Six Series 420 4-Door Sedan 1929
Nash Single Six Series 450 4-Door Sedan 1930
Nash Twin-Ignition Six Series 481 Convertible Coupé 1930
Nash Series 871 Convertible Sedan 1931
Nash Ambassador Eight 4-Door Sedan 1934
Nash Advanced Six Series 3520 4-Door Sedan 1935
Nash 3540 400 4-Door Sedan 1935
Nash 3540 400 4-Door Sedan 1935
Nash Lafayette Series 3610 4-Door Sedan 1936
Nash Ambassador Six 3620 4-Door Sedan 1936
Nash 4-Door Sedan
Nash Ambassador Six Series 3728 4-Door Sedan 1937
Nash Lafayette Series 3818 4-Door Sedan 1938
Nash Ambassador Six Series 3828 4-Door Sedan 1938
Nash 2-Door Sedan 1940
Nash 4-Door Sedan 1946
1950 Nash Rambler Convertible Coupe
Detail from a Nash Metropolitan
Nash dealership in Alabama, ca. 1930-1945
Nash automobile brands
LaFayette Four-Door Coupe, 1921
The LaFayette Motors Corporation was a United States-based automobile manufacturer. Founded in 1919, LaFayette Motors was named in honor of the Marquis de la Fayette, and LaFayette autos had a cameo of the Marquis as their logo.
LaFayette was originally headquartered in Mars Hill, Indianapolis, Indiana and made luxury motor cars, beginning in 1920. LaFayette innovations include the first electric clock in an auto. In 1921, Charles W. Nash became president of LaFayette. Nash was already president of Nash Motors, but for a time the two brands remained separate companies, although Nash Motors was the principal LaFayette Motors stock holder. In the 20’s rumors circulated about Pierce-Arrow merging with LaFayette, Rolls-Royce or General Motors.
In 1924, Nash Motors became full owner of LaFayette Motors, and the name was retired soon after. Its factories were quickly put to a new, more profitable use: the manufacture of Ajax motor cars.
In 1934, Nash re-introduced the LaFayette name, this time for a line of smaller, less expensive autos. In 1935, Nash introduced a series known as the “Nash 400” to fill the perceived price gap between the LaFayette and the Nash. By 1937, it was determined that this perceived gap wasn’t so important after all, and that Nash Motors was marketing too many models. The LaFayette and the Nash 400 were combined into a single model called the Nash LaFayette 400 for 1937, and the LaFayette ceased to be regarded as a separate make of car. For 1938, this became simply the Nash LaFayette, and the LaFayette line continued as Nash’s lowest-priced offering through 1940. For 1941, the LaFayette was replaced by the all-new unibody Nash 600.
The Ajax was an American automobile brand manufactured by the Nash Motors Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1925 and 1926. The Ajax was produced in the newly acquired Mitchell Motors Company plant in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1926, all Ajax models were converted into Nash Light Sixes.
Demand for Nash automobiles was so high that by November 1924, the company’s existing plants were operating around the clock six days a week and Charles W. Nash announced a US$1 million expansion at the automaker’s original Kenosha facility.
Mitchell Motors Company was the manufacturer of Mitchell brand automobiles from 1903 to 1923. In April 1923 the company was forced into bankruptcy. At the 31 January 1924 auction of the Mitchell land and buildings with 500,000-square-foot (46,000 m2) of floor space, Charles Nash offered the winning bid of $405,000.
The Ajax was built using machinery moved from Nash’s other acquisition, the LaFayette Motors Company of Milwaukee, and installed in the Racine plant. Thus, new Ajax was based on an earlier design, premium version of the Lafayette from the early 1920s. The Ajax was available in three body styles: 4-door sedan, 4-door touring, and a 2-door sedan. The advertised retail price was $865 for the five-passenger touring car, and $995 for the five-passenger four-door sedan.
The Ajax came standard with engineering and quality features that included a 170 cu in (2.8 L) L-head Nash straight-six engine with a seven main bearing crankshaft, force-feed lubrication system, three-speed transmission, four-wheel brakes (at that time unusual for a car of its price), steel disc wheels, as well as mohair velvet upholstery and an electric clock. The Ajax Six produced “genuine 60 mph” (97 km/h) driving, and its features were not found on cars of this size and low price.
Despite receiving good reviews from the automotive press and the general public, the Ajax brand was discontinued in 1926 after over 22,000 models were sold. Charles Nash ordered that the production continue instead as the Nash Light Six. The Nash was a known and respected automobile brand that was the name of the company’s founder. Production was stopped for two days while Nash hubcaps, emblems, and radiator shells were trucked to Racine where all unshipped Ajax brand cars were converted into Nash badged automobiles. Likewise, changeover kits were sent to dealers to retrofit all unsold cars by removing Ajax badges such as hubcaps.
One of the first cases of “badge engineering” began in 1917 with Texan automobile assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, that made use of
Elcar bodies made in Elkhart, Indiana. However, the transformation of the Ajax was “probably the industry’s first example of one car becoming another.” Nash even made the kits available at no charge to consumers who bought Ajax cars, but did not want to own an orphaned make automobile, to protect the investment they had made in a Nash Motors product.Because of this, few unmodified original Ajax cars have survived.
Sales of the rechristened Nash Light Six improved with the more known moniker. The 1926 four-door sedan was now advertised for $1,525. The combined Ajax and Nash Light accounted for more than 24% of the automaker’s total production in 1926.
George W. Mason was the architect of the merger to reap benefits from the strengths of the two firms to battle the much larger “Big Three” automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). Within a year, George W. Romney, future governor of Michigan, took over, reorganizing the company and focusing AMC’s future on a new small car line. By the end of 1957 the original Nash and Hudson brands were completely phased out. The company struggled at first, but Rambler sales took off. A Rambler won the 1959 Mobil Economy Run and by 1960, was the third most popular brand of automobile in the United States, behind Ford and Chevrolet.After two model years (1963 and 1964) of only producing compact cars, AMC focused back to larger and more profitable cars like the Ambassador line from the perceived negative of the Rambler‘s economy car image. In the face of deteriorating financial and market positions, Roy D. Chapin, Jr., took charge to revitalize the company, and designer Richard A. Teague economized by developing several vehicles from common stampings. While prices and costs were cut, new and more sporty automobiles were introduced, and from 1968 AMC became known for the Javelin and AMXmuscle cars.
AMC purchased Kaiser’s Jeep utility vehicle operations in 1970 to complement their existing passenger car business. Beginning in the early 1970s, they moved towards all-new compact car designs based on the Hornet, including the Hornet itself and the Gremlin. Other new models in the 1970s included the Matador and Pacer. In an effort to create a more efficient cost structure, in the 1979 model year, AMC eliminated the Matador line and then in the 1980 model year, eliminated the Pacer, focusing almost exclusively on their Hornet-based cars and the Jeep line. While the new lines of the late 1970s, such as the Spirit and Concord, were variations on the Hornet’s platform, the company continued with innovations on existing designs: the 4-wheel-drive AMC Eagle, introduced in 1979, was one of the first true crossovers.
From 1980, AMC partnered with France’s Renault to help finance their manufacturing operations, obtain much-needed capital, and source subcompact vehicles. By 1983 Renault had a controlling interest in AMC. In the 1983 model year, the AMC brand focused entirely on AWD autos; the company stopped producing two wheel drive cars. AMC facilities were used to produce Renault Alliance and Encore compact and subcompact cars. In 1985 Chrysler entered an agreement with AMC to produce Dodge Diplomats and Plymouth Furys as well as Dodge Omnis and Plymouth Horizons in AMC’s Kenosha, Wisconsin plant. At the time, AMC had excess manufacturing capacity thus contract manufacturing for Chrysler made sense. In 1987, after further new vehicle development that included the Medallion (a re-badged Renault 21) and Giorgietto Giugiaro’s Italdesign new full-sizefront-drive sedan that became the Eagle Premier, Renault sold its 47% ownership stake in AMC to Chrysler. Chrysler made a public offer to purchase all the remaining outstanding shares of AMC stock on the NYSE. Renault left the US market completely as a brand in 1987. The Renault Medallion was sold through the newly formed Jeep Eagle Division of Chrysler as an Eagle, not a Renault. AMC’s badge would be used on the Eagle Sports Wagon through the 1988 model year, then be eliminated entirely. The Jeep/Eagle division of Chrysler Corporation was formed from the AMC Jeep Renault dealer network. The Jeep and Eagle vehicles were marketed primarily by former AMC dealers. Ultimately, the Eagle Brand of car would be phased out like Chrysler’s DeSoto, Plymouth, and Imperial by 1998.
In January 1954, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation began acquisition of the Hudson Motor Car Company (in what was called a merger). The new corporation would be called American Motors Corporation. (An earlier corporation with the same name, co-founded by Louis Chevrolet, had existed in New Jersey from 1916 through 1922 before merging into the Bessemer–American Motors Corporation.)
The Nash-Kelvinator/Hudson deal was a straight stock transfer (three shares of Hudson listed at 11⅛, for two shares of AMC and one share of Nash-Kelvinator listed at 17⅜, for one share of AMC) and finalized in the spring of 1954, forming the fourth-biggest auto company in the U.S. with assets of US$355 million and more than $100 million in working capital. The new company retained Hudson CEO A.E. Barit as a consultant and he took a seat on the Board of Directors. Nash’s George W. Mason became President and CEO.
American Motors dealership sign
Mason, the architect of the merger, believed that the survival of the US’ remaining independent automakers depended on their joining in one multibrand company capable of challenging the “Big Three” – General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler – as an equal. The “frantic 1953–54 Ford/GM price war” had a devastating impact on the remaining “independent” automakers. The reasons for the merger between Nash and Hudson included helping cut costs and strengthen their sales organizations to meet the intense competition expected from autos’ Big Three.
One quick result from the merger was the doubling up with Nash on purchasing and production, allowing Hudson to cut prices an average of $155 on the Wasp line, up to $204 on the more expensive Hornet models. After the merger, AMC had its first profitable quarter during the second three months of 1955, earning $1,592,307, compared to a loss of $3,848,667 during the same period in the previous year. Mason also entered into informal discussions with James J. Nance of Packard to outline his strategic vision. Interim plans were made for AMC to buy Packard Ultramatic automatic transmissions and Packard V8 engines for certain AMC products.
In 1954, Packard acquired Studebaker. The new Studebaker-Packard Corporation (S-P) made the new 320 cu in (5.2 L) Packard V8 engine and Packard’s Ultramatic automatic transmission available to AMC for its 1955 Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models. When Mason died in 1954, George W. Romney succeeded him. Ironically, Romney had once been offered Nance’s job. In 1948, Romney received offers from Packard for the post of chief operating officer and from Nash for the number two position in the company. Although the Packard offer would have paid more, Romney decided to work under Mason because he thought Nash had a brighter future. S-P President James Nance refused to consider merging with AMC unless he could take the top position (Mason and Nance were former competitors as heads of the Kelvinator and Hotpoint, respectively), and a week after Mason’s death Romney announced, “there are no mergers under way either directly or indirectly.” Romney agreed with Mason’s commitment to buy S-P products. Mason and Nance had agreed that in return S-P would endeavor to purchase parts from American Motors, but S-P did not do so. As the Packard engines and transmissions were comparatively expensive, AMC began development of its own V8. AMC also spent US$40 million developing its Double Safe Single Unit monocoque, which debuted in the 1956 model year. In mid-1956, the 352 cu in (5.8 L) Packard V8 and TwinUltramatic transmission were phased out and replaced by AMC’s new V8 and by GM Hydra-Matic and Borg-Warner transmissions.
By 1964, Studebaker production in the United States had ended, and its Canadian operations ceased in 1966. The “Big Three”, plus the smaller AMC, Kaiser Jeep, International Harvester, Avanti, and Checker companies were the remaining North American auto manufacturers.
American Motors combined the Nash and Hudson product lines under a common manufacturing strategy in 1955, with the production of Nashes and Hudsons consolidated at Kenosha. The Detroit Hudson plant was converted to military contract production and eventually sold. The separate Nash and Hudson dealer networks were retained. The Hudsons were redesigned to bring them in harmony with Nash body styles.
The fast-selling Rambler model was sold as both a Nash and a Hudson in 1955 and 1956. These badge-engineered Ramblers, along with similar Metropolitans, were identical save for hubcaps, nameplates, and other minor trim details.
The pre-existing full-size Nash product line was continued and the Nash Statesman and Ambassador were restyled as the “new” Hudson Wasp and Hudson Hornet. Although the cars shared the same body shell, they were at least as different from one another as Chevrolet and Pontiac. Hudsons and Nashes each used their own engines as they had previously: the Hudson Hornet continued to offer the 308 cu in (5.0 L) I6 that had powered the (NASCAR) champion during the early 1950s; the Wasp now used the former engine of the Hudson Jet.
The Nash Ambassador and Statesman continued with overhead- valve and L-head sixes respectively. Hudson and Nash cars had different front suspensions. Trunk lids were interchangeable but other body panels, rear window glass, dash panels and braking systems were different. The Hudson Hornet and Wasp, and their Nash counterparts, had improved ride and visibility; also better fuel economy owing to the lighter unitized Nash body.
For the 1958 model year, the Nash and Hudson brands were dropped. Rambler became a marque in its own right and the mainstay of the company. The popular British-built Metrooolitan subcompact continued as a standalone brand until it was discontinued in 1961. The prototype 1958 Nash Ambassador / Hudson Hornet, built on a stretched Rambler platform, was renamed at the last minute as “Ambassador by Rambler”. To round out the model line AMC reintroduced the old 1955, 100 in (2,540 mm) wheelbase Nash Rambler as the new Rambler American with only a few modifications. This gave Rambler a compact lineup with 100 in (2,540 mm) American, 108 in (2,743 mm) Rambler Six and Rebel V8, as well as the 117 in (2,972 mm) Ambassador wheelbase vehicles.
Sales of Ramblers soared in the late 1950s in part because American Motors focus on the compact car and its marketing efforts. These included sponsoring the hugely popular Walt Disney anthology television series and as an exhibitor at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. George Romney himself pitched the Rambler product in the television commercials.
While the “Big Three” introduced ever-larger cars, AMC followed a “dinosaur-fighter” strategy. George W. Romney‘s leadership focused the company on the compact car, a fuel-efficient vehicle 20 years before there was a real need for them. This gave Romney a high profile in the media. Two core strategic factors came into play: (1) the use of shared components in AMC products and (2) a refusal to participate in the Big Three’s restyling race. This cost-control policy helped Rambler develop a reputation as solid economy cars. Company officials were confident in the changing market and in 1959 announced a $10 million (US$81,175,799 in 2016 dollars) expansion of its Kenosha complex (to increase annual straight-time capacity from 300,000 to 440,000 cars). A letter to shareholders in 1959 claimed that the introduction of new compact cars by AMC’s large domestic competitors (for the 1960 model year) “signals the end of big-car domination in the U.S.” and that AMC predicts small-car sales in the U.S. may reach 3 million units by 1963.
American Motors was also beginning to experiment in non-gasoline powered automobiles. On April 1, 1959, AMC and Sonotone Corporation announced a joint research effort to consider producing an electric car that was to be powered by a “self-charging” battery. Sonotone had the technology for making sintered plate nickel–cadmium batteries that can be recharged very rapidly and are lighter than a typical automobile lead–acid battery.
In an effort to stay competitive, American Motors produced a wide range of products during the 1960s, and added innovations long before the “Big Three” introduced them.
For example, the Rambler Classic was equipped with a standard tandem master cylinder in 1962, six years before U.S. safety regulations required that safety feature.
Rambler also was an early pioneer in offering an automatic shift indicator sequence (P R N D2 D1 L, where if one selected “D2”, the car started in second gear, while “1” started in first gear) on its “Flash-O-Matic” transmission which is similar to today’s “PRNODSL”, made mandatory in 1968, which requires a neutral position between reverse and drive, while General Motors still offered a shift selector that had reverse immediately next to low gear (PNDSLR) well into the 1960s.
In 1964, the Classic was equipped with standard dual reclining front seats nearly a decade before the Big Three offered them as options. Bendixdisc brakes were made optional on the Classic in 1965, while the Big Three didn’t offer them until 1969 on many models.
In the early part of the decade, sales were strong, thanks in no small part to the company’s history of building small cars, which came into vogue in 1961. In both 1960 and 1961, Ramblers ranked in third place among domestic automobile sales, up from third on the strength of small-car sales, even in the face of a lot of new competition. Romney’s strategic focus was very successful as reflected in the firm’s healthy profits year after year. The company became completely debt-free. The financial success allowed the company to reach an agreement on August 26, 1961 with the United Auto Workers for a profit sharing plan that was new in the automobile industry. Its new three-year labor contract also included generous annual improvement pay increases, as well as automatic cost-of-living raises. However, in 1962, Romney resigned to run for Governor of Michigan. His replacement was Roy Abernethy, AMC’s successful sales executive.
Abernethy believed that AMC’s reputation of building reliable economical cars could be translated into a new strategy that could follow AMC buyers as they traded up into larger, more expensive vehicles. AMC in reality had produced large cars throughout most of its history, The Rambler Ambassadors were every bit as large as a Full Sized Ford or Chevy. There was only an absence of Full Sized cars from the AMC lineup in 1963 and 1964The first cars bearing his signature were the 1965 models. These were a longer Ambassador series and new convertibles for the larger models. During mid-year a fastback, called the Marlin, was added. It competed directly with cars like the Dodge Charger, AMC’s “family-sized” car emphasized personal-luxury. Abernethy also called for the de-emphasis of the Rambler brand. The 1966 Marlin and Ambassador lost their Rambler nameplates, and were badged as “American Motors” products. The new models shared fewer parts among each other and were more expensive to build.
The continuing quest “in the business world’s toughest race – the grinding contest against the Big Three automobile makers” also meant annual styling changes requiring large expenditures. American Motors’ management total confidence “that the new 1965 models would stem a bothersome decline” actually began falling behind in share of sales. Moreover, a new line of redesigned cars in the full and mid-sized markets was launched in the fall of 1966. The cars won acclaim for their fluid styling, and Abernethy’s ideas did work as Ambassador Sales increased significantly. The dated designs of the Rambler Americans, however, hurt its sales which offset gains from Ambassador sales. There were quality control problems with the introduction of the new full-sized cars, as well as persistent rumors of the company’s demise because of their precarious cash flow. Consumer Reports negative ratings for AMC’s Safety didn’t help either.
American Motors did not have their own electric car program as did the Big Three, and after some negotiation a contract was drawn in 1967 with Gulton Industries to develop a new battery based on lithium and a speed controller designed by Victor Wouk. A nickel-cadmium battery powered 1969 Rambler station wagon demonstrated the power systems that according to the scientist was a “wonderful car”. This was also the start of other “plug-in”-type experimental AMC vehicles developed with Gulton – the Amitron and the Electron.
Abernethy was ousted from AMC on January 9, 1967 and damage control fell to the new CEO, Roy D. Chapin Jr. (son of Hudson Motors founder Roy D. Chapin). Chapin quickly instituted changes to AMC’s offerings and tried to regain market share by focusing on younger demographic markets. Chapin’s first decision was to cut the price of the Rambler to within US$200 of the basic Volkswagen Beetle. Innovative marketing ideas included making air conditioning standard on all 1968 Ambassador models (available as a delete option). This made AMC the first U.S. automaker to make air conditioning standard equipment on a line of cars, preceding even luxury makes such as Lincoln, Imperial, and Cadillac.
The company introduced exciting entries for the decade’s muscle car boom, most notably the AMX, while the Javelin served as the company’s entrant into the sporty “pony car” market created by the Ford Mustang. Additional operating cash was derived in 1968 through the sale of Kelvinator Appliance, once one of the firm’s core operating units.
The Rambler brand was completely dropped after the 1969 model year in North America, 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 Eagleall-wheel drive passenger cars were marketed as the American Eagle in the 1980s.
Chapin 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 MUTT line of military Jeeps and the DJ-Series postal Jeeps. AMC also expanded their international network. The military and special products business was reconstituted as American Motors General Products Division, later reorganized as AM General.
1970s product developments
1972 Gremlin X
AM General transit bus
1974 Matador X Coupe
1975 AMC Pacer
1976 Hornet Sportabout
Jeep Cherokee (SJ) Chief S
1979 Spirit GT
In 1970, AMC consolidated all passenger cars under one distinct brand identity and debuted the Hornet range of compact cars.
The Hornet and the later Gremlin shared platforms. The Gremlin, the first North American-built subcompact, sold more than 670,000 units from 1970–1978. The Hornet became AMC’s best-selling passenger car since the Rambler Classic, with more than 860,000 units sold by the time production ended in 1977.
Starting in 1974, the Matador sedan and station wagon were mildly refreshed, with new boxier front ends. The Matador two-door hardtop, known as the “flying brick” due to its poor aerodynamics in NASCAR competition, was replaced at great cost with a sleek, smoothly shaped, and radically styled two-door coupe. The model received praise for its design, including “Best Styled Car of 1974” by Car and Driver magazine, customer satisfaction,and sold almost 100,000 coupes over a five-year period. The Matador Coupe shared few components with the Matador sedan and station wagon other than suspension, drive train, some trim, and interior parts.
The Ambassador was redesigned and stretched 7 inches (178 mm) to become the biggest ever, just as the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo sparked gasoline rationing across the nation. The additional length was due to a new front end design and stronger energy absorbing bumpers required of all automobiles sold in the U.S. Sales of all large cars fell due to economic problems and rising gasoline prices. The full-sized Ambassador was discontinued as AMC’s flagship line after the 1974 model year. Nash and AMC made Ambassadors from 1927 to 1974, the longest use of the same model name for any AMC product and, at the time, the longest continuously used nameplate in the industry.
In 1974, AMC’s AM General subsidiary began building urban transit buses in cooperation with Flyer Industries of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Metropolitan coach had sold 5,212 units when production ceased in 1978.
The AMC Pacer, an innovative all-new model introduced in March 1975 and billed as “the first wide small car”, was a subcompact designed to provide the comfort of a full-sized car. Its pre-production development coincided with two changes in U.S. Federal passenger auto laws: first, the reduction in permissible emissions for passenger auto engines, which the Pacer would have met with the Wankel-type engine it was designed for, as the Wankel’s compact dimensions allowed space for extensive emission control equipment in the engine bay; second, a tightening of U.S. passenger auto safety laws, which accounted for the Pacer’s designed-in safety features, e.g. internal door beams. These, together with the wide body and large glass area, added considerable weight.
With the advent of the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, General Motors aborted the Wankel rotary engine around which the Pacer had been designed, as its fuel consumption exceeded that of conventional engines with similar power. Therefore, AMC’s existing 258 and 232 cu in (4.2 and 3.8 L) AMC Straight-6 engines were used in the Pacer instead. Fuel economy was better than a rotary, but still relatively poor in light of the new focus on energy efficiency. Also, as the Pacer shared few components other than drivetrain with other AMC cars, it was expensive to make and the cost increased when sales fell steeply after the first two years.
Development and production costs for the Pacer and Matador Coupe drained capital which might otherwise have been invested in updating the more popular Hornet and Gremlin lines, so that toward the end of the 1970s the company faced the growing energy crisis with aged products that were uncompetitive in hotly contested markets. However, “AMC used cars, as far back as 1967, had the advantage of good warranty coverage … so most owners were conscious of low-cost car maintenance … AMC units [became] some of the very best buys on the used car market” by 1975.
The 1977 Gremlin had redesigned headlights, grille, rear hatch and fascia. For economy in the fuel crisis, AMC offered the car with a more fuel-efficient Volkswagen-designed Audi 4-cylinder engine 2.0 L (122 cu in). The engine was expensive for AMC to build and the Gremlin retained the less costly but also less economical 232 cu in (3.8 L) as standard equipment.
The AMX nameplate was revived in 1977. It was a sporty appearance package on the Hornethatchback featuring upgrades, as well as the 258 cu in (4.2 L) inline six as standard with a choice of three-speed automatic or four-speed manual transmissions. The 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 engine was optional with the automatic transmission.
As all Matadors now received standard equipment that was formerly optional (e.g. power steering, automatic transmission), the “Brougham” package was dropped. Optional on the Matador coupe was a landau vinyl roof with opera windows, and top-line Barcelonas offered new two-tone paint.
For 1978, the Hornet platform was redesigned with an adaptation of the new Gremlin front-end design and renamed AMC Concord. AMC targeted it at the emerging “premium compact” market segment, paying particular attention to ride and handling, standard equipment, trim, and interior luxury.
Gremlins borrowed the Concord instrument panel, as well as a Hornet AMX-inspired GT sports appearance package and a new striping treatment for X models.
The AMC Pacer hood was modified to clear a V8 engine, and a Sports package replaced the former X package. With falling sales of Matador Coupes, sedans and wagons, their 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 engine was dropped, leaving only the 258 cu in (4.2 L) Inline-6 (standard on coupes and sedans) and the 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 (optional on coupes and sedans, standard on wagons). The two-tone Barcelona luxury package was offered on Matador sedans, and two-tone red paint introduced as an additional Barcelona option. Matador production ceased at the end of the model year with total sales of 10,576 units. The Matador was no longer attractive as automakers struggled to overcome economic woes including continuing fuel price increases and double digit domestic inflation.
In 1979, the Spirit sedan replaced the Gremlin. A new fastback version of the car, the Spirit Liftback, proved successful.
In December, Pacer production ceased after a small run of 1980 models was built to use up parts stock.
Concords received a new front end treatment, and in their final season, hatchbacks became available in DL trim. On May 1, 1979, AMC marked the 25th anniversary of the Nash-Hudson merger with “Silver Anniversary” editions of the AMC Concord and Jeep CJ in two-tone silver (Jeeps then accounted for around 50 percent of the company’s sales and most of their profits); and introduced LeCar, a U.S. version of the small, fuel-efficient Renault 5, in dealer showrooms.
Concord and Spirit models were dropped after 1983.
Financial developments, Renault partnership
Late 1970s to early 1980s
1978 AMC Concord
AMC Spirit liftback
1981 AMC Concord
Jeep Grand Wagoneer
In February 1977, Time magazine reported that although AMC had lost $73.8 million in the previous two fiscal years, U.S. banks had agreed to a year’s extension for a $72.5 million credit that had expired in January; that Stockholders had received no dividends since 1974; and that Pacer sales did not match expectations. However, Time noted record Jeep sales and a backlog of orders for AM General’s buses.
On March 31, 1978, AMC and Renault announced a sweeping agreement for the joint manufacture and distribution of cars and trucks that would achieve benefits for both. A month later, AMC announced that it would halt the production of standard urban transit buses after about 4,300 were sold by its AM General subsidiary during three years. In May 1978, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered the recall of all AMC’s 1976 cars (except those conforming to California emissions regulations) – some 270,000 vehicles— plus 40,000 1975 and 1976 Jeeps and mini trucks, for correction of a fault in the pollution control system. Total cost was estimated at up to $3 million—more than AMC had earned the previous quarter.
American Motors lost an estimated $65 million on its conventional (non-Jeep) cars for the fiscal year ended September 30, 1978, but strong Jeep sales helped the company to an overall $36.7 million profit on sales of $2.6 billion. However, AMC faced costly engineering work to bring their Jeeps into compliance with a federal directive for all 4-wheel-drive vehicles to average 15 mpg-US (16 L/100 km; 18 mpg-imp) by 1981.
A year later, with its share of the American market at 1.83%, the company struck a deal with Renault, the nationally owned French automaker. AMC would receive a $150 million cash injection, $50 million in credits, and also the rights to start building the Renault 5 in 1982. (A deal for Renault products to be sold through the AMC-Jeep dealer network had already been made in 1979.) In return, Renault acquired a 22.5% interest in AMC.This was not the first time the two companies had worked together. Lacking its own prestige model line in the early 1960s, Renault assembled CKD kits and marketed Rambler cars in France.
In 1979, AMC announced a record $83.9 million profit on sales of $3.1 billion (US$10,107,336,084 in 2016 dollars) for the fiscal year ending in September—this despite an economic downturn, soaring energy prices, rising American unemployment, automobile plants shutting down, and an American market trend towards imported cars. In October, the company’s car sales surged 37%, while they sank 21% for the industry as a whole.
However, a drop in Jeep sales caused by the declining economy and soaring energy prices began to constrict AMC’s cash flow. At the same time, pressure increased on the company’s non-Jeep product lines. The face-lifts and rebranding of AMC’s once-innovative and successful cars were not enough in a competitive landscape that had changed dramatically. No longer was the threat limited to the Big Three automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). The Japanese manufacturers (Honda, Toyota, Nissan) used streamlined production methods such as outsourcing and Just In Time (JIT) supply-chain management. They had new, highly efficient assembly plants in the United States. And now they targeted the heart of AMC’s passenger product line: small cars.
While Americans turned to the new imports in increasing numbers, AMC continued its struggle at the inefficient and aging Kenosha, Wisconsin facilities—the oldest continuously operating automobile plant in the world, where components and unfinished bodies still had to be transported across the city.
In early 1980, the banks refused AMC further credit. Lacking both capital and resources for the new, truly modern products it needed to offer, the company turned to Renault for a $90 million loan (US$258,477,383 in 2016 dollars). By September that year, AMC’s U.S. market share had fallen to 1.7%, and in November sales dropped 19.1%. AMC warned stockholders that the company could be bankrupted if they did not approve a plan for Renault to acquire as much as 59% of the company. On December 16, 1980, AMC shareholders “overwhelmingly approved making the French Government-owned Renault” their company’s principal owner.
In January 1982 the company’s former president W. Paul Tippett Jr. replaced Gerald C. Meyers as CEO, and Jose Dedeurwaerder, a Renault executive, became president. Dedeurwaerder brought a broad perspective at this critical time: as an engineer and international business executive with 23 years at Renault, he is credited with streamlining many of AMC’s arcane management techniques. He also instituted important improvements in plant layouts, as well as in cost and quality control.
Renault, having increased their stake in the company several times to keep it solvent, eventually owned 49% in 1983. This development effectively ended AMC’s run as a truly American car company.
New ownership and new management heralded a new product venture for AMC: a line of modern front-wheel drive cars, designed by Renault, to be produced at Kenosha.
1980s product developments
1981 AMC Eagle Wagon.
In August 1979, for the 1980 model year, AMC introduced four-wheel drive versions of the Spirit and Concord, calling the collective line the AMC Eagle. Eagles rapidly became one of the company’s best-known products and is considered one of the first “crossover SUVs“. Eagles used the 2-wheel drive body shells mounted on an all-new platform developed by American Motors in the late 1970s. Featuring an innovative full-time four-wheel drive system, it sold best in snow-prone areas. Sales started strongly but declined over time. While the two-wheel drive Spirit and Concord were both discontinued after 1983 as the company concentrated on its new Renault Alliance, the Eagle survived for five years longer, albeit only in station wagon form, into the 1988 model year. This meant the four-wheel drive Eagle was the lone representative of the AMC brand from 1984–1988. All the company’s remaining output was branded Renault or Jeep. The last AMC Eagle was built on December 14, 1987.
Later Alliance model with AMC badging in place of Renault
The Renault Alliance was the first joint product of the AMC-Renault partnership. Introduced in 1983, the Alliance was a front-wheel drive Renault 9 compact restyled for the American market by Richard Teague and produced by AMC at Kenosha. The car was initially badged as a Renault, and some cars carried both Renault and AMC badges, however most 1986 and all 1987 models had only AMC branding; it was available as a sedan with two or four doors, a hatchback (introduced in 1984 and badged as Encore), a two-door convertible and, for the final 1987 model year, a higher-performance version of the 2-door sedan and convertible sold as the GTA.
The new model, introduced at a time of increased interest in small cars, won several awards including Motor Trend Car of the Year. Motor Trend declared: “The Alliance may well be the best-assembled first-year car we’ve ever seen. Way to go Renault!” The Alliance was listed as number one on Car and Driver‘s list of Ten Best cars for 1983, The positive reception and sales of 200,000 Alliances by 1984 was hindered by the availability of only two body styles. The Alliance was a European-designed car and not fully suited to U.S. market demands. The distribution network was also not well supported, which led to lower quality delivered by dealerships with “disastrous consequences” for the image of the automobiles, as well as high warranty costs. Alliance production ended in June 1987.
Jeep Cherokee Laredo
Jeep Comanche Pioneer
More beneficial to AMC’s future was the introduction of an all-new line of compact Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer models in the autumn of 1983 for the 1984 model year. The popularity of these downsized Jeeps pioneered a new market segment for what later became defined as the sport utility vehicle (SUV). They initially used the AMC 150 C.I.D. (2.5L) OHV four-cylinder engine with a carburetor, and a General Motors-built 2.8 L (171 cu in) carbureted V6 was optional. In 1986, throttle-body injection replaced the carburetor on the 2.5 L I4 engines. A Renault 2.1 L (128 cu in) Turbo-Diesel I4 diesel was also offered. Starting with the 1987 models, a 4.0 L (244 cu in) I6 engine, derived from the older 258 cu in (4.23 L) I6 with a new head design and an electronic fuel injection system, replaced the outsourced V6. American Motors’ “new” engine was designed with help from Renault and incorporated Renault-Bendix (Renix) parts for fuel and ignition management. The 4.0 developed an outstanding reputation for reliability and toughness. Retained by Chrysler after the buyout, the design continued to be improved and refined until its discontinuation at the end of the 2006 model year. The 4.0 engine saw extensive application in XJ Cherokees and Wagoneers, Grand Cherokees, and Wranglers, and many of those engines saw (or are seeing) extremely long lives, quite a few exceeding 300,000 mi (480,000 km). The XJ Cherokee itself was built by Chrysler until the end of the 2001 model year in the U.S. and until 2005 in China.
Three other designs continued to be used after the Chrysler buyout: the Grand Wagoneer full-size luxury SUV, the full-sized J-series pickups, built on the same chassis as the earlier SJ model Wagoneers and Cherokees that dated from 1963 with the AMC 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8, and the Jeep Comanche (MJ) compact pickup, which debuted in 1986. Unlike most sport-utility vehicles which are based on adapted pickup truck designs, the Cherokee XJ SUV came first and the Comanche was designed as a later pickup truck version.
Production of the full-sized pickups ceased after 1987. The Grand Wagoneer and 360 V8 engine were dropped after 1991 (the last American-made vehicle whose engine used a carburetor for fuel delivery), and the Comanche bowed after 1992.
1985 and the final buyout
Marketplace and management changes
There were significant changes in 1985 as the market moved away from AMC’s small models. With fuel relatively cheap again, buyers turned to larger more powerful automobiles and AMC was unprepared for this development. Even the venerable Jeep CJ-5 was dropped after a 60 Minutes TV news magazine exposé of rollover tendencies under extreme conditions. AMC also confronted an angry work force. Labor was taking revenge, and reports circulated about sabotage of vehicles on the assembly lines because of the failure to receive promised wage increases. There were rumors that the aging Kenosha plant was to be shut down. At the same time, Chrysler was having trouble meeting demand for its M-body rear-drive models (Dodge Diplomat, Plymouth Gran Fury and Chrysler Fifth Avenue). Because they were assembled using the old “gate and buck system” and the tooling could be easily moved, Chrysler could supply the components and control the quality, while AMC assembled the car. Therefore, Lee Iacocca and Joe Cappy reached an agreement to use some of AMC’s idle plant capacity in Kenosha.
These problems came in the midst of a transfer of power at AMC from Paul Tippet to a French executive, Pierre Semerena. The new management responded with tactical moves by selling the lawn care Wheel Horse Products Division and signing an agreement to build Jeeps in the People’s Republic of China. The Pentagon had problems with AM General, a significant defense contractor, being managed by a partially French-government-owned firm. The U.S. government would not allow a foreign government to own a significant portion of an important defense supplier. As a result, the profitable AM General Division was sold. Another milestone was the departure of Dick Teague: AMC’s design vice president for 26 years, he was responsible for many Jeep and AMC designs including the Rambler American, Javelin, Hornet, Gremlin, Pacer, and Matador coupe.
Problems at Renault and the assassination
American Motors’ major stockholder, Renault, itself was experiencing financial troubles of its own in France. The investment in AMC (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. Renault was down to just three alternatives regarding its American holdings: (1) They could declare AMC officially bankrupt thereby lose its investment; (2) They could come up with more money, but Renault management perceived AMC as a bottomless pit; or (3) AMC could be put up for sale and the French could get back part of their investment. Against these detractions, Renault’s chairman, Georges Besse, continued to champion the French firm’s future in the North American market; pointing to the company’s completion of the newest and most-advanced automotive assembly plant in North America, then known as Bramalea Assembly, as well as the recent introduction of the thoroughly modern, fuel-injected 4.0 L and 2.5 L engines. In addition, Jeep vehicles were riding an unprecedented surge in demand. It seemed to Besse and others that AMC was on course for profitability.
However, on November 17, 1986, Georges Besse, who had a high profile among French capitalists, was assassinated by Action Directe, a clandestine militant extremist group variously described as communist, anarchist and Maoist, which professed strong sympathies for the proletariat and the aspirations of the Third World. The murder was carried out by members of Action Directe’s Pierre Overney Commando (named after a Maoist militant killed by a Renault factory guard). The group stated that the murder was in retaliation for Besse having sacked tens of thousands of workers – 34,000 from the French aluminum producer PUK-Péchiney and 25,000 from Renault.
Chrysler purchase AMC Stock
Under pressure from Renault executives following Besse’s death, Renault’s new president, Raymond Levy set out to repair employee relations and divest the company of its investment in American Motors. Renault owned 46.1% of AMC’s outstanding shares of stock.
The earlier agreement between Chrysler and AMC in 1985, under which AMC would produce M-body chassis rear-drive large cars for two years from 1986–88, fed the rumor that Chrysler was about to buy AMC. According to the head of manufacturing for Chrysler at the time, Stephan Sharf, the existing relationship with AMC producing a car for a competitor facilitated the negotiations.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee was the driving force behind Chrysler’s buyout of AMC; Lee Iacocca wanted the design. Chrysler completed development and released it to the public in late 1992, and continues to use the nameplate today.
On March 9, 1987, Chrysler agreed to buy Renault’s share in AMC, plus all the remaining shares, for about US$1.5 billion (US$3,124,340,949 in 2016 dollars). AMC became the Jeep-Eagle division of Chrysler. It was the Jeep brand that Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca really wanted – in particular the ZJ Grand Cherokee, then under development by Jeep engineers, which ultimately proved highly profitable for Chrysler (the nameplate remains in production today). However, the buyout included other attractive deal sweeteners for Chrysler. Among them was the world-class, brand-new manufacturing plant in Bramalea, Ontario, which offered Iacocca an unprecedented opportunity to increase his company’s production capacity at a fire-sale price. AMC had designed and built the plant in anticipation of building the Renault 25 based Eagle Premier. Additional profitable acquisitions were the AMC dealer network (the addition of which strengthened Chrysler’s retail distribution – many AMC dealers switched to selling Chrysler products); and AMC’s underrated organization and management talent – which Chrysler quickly assimilated (numerous leading Chrysler engineers and executives were ex-AMC). AMC was fully merged as of March 29, 1990.
The sale came at a time when the automotive press was enthusiastic about the proposed 1988 lineup of Renault, Eagle and Jeep vehicles, and reports that the financial outlook for the tiny automaker were improving. AMC quarterly results for all of 1987 were positive, Chrysler purchased AMC at a time the company appeared to be in very good financial position with its new product line.
The sale marked Renault‘s withdrawal from the North American market (excluding Mexico) in the 1988 model year. However, the French company has since returned to that market with its subsequent purchase of a US$5.4 billion controlling stake in Nissan in March 1999. In contrast to the AMC/Renault partnership, Carlos Ghosn, CEO and President of Renault of France and Nissan of Japan, is guiding the Renault-Nissan alliance away from national identities.
American Motors was forced to constantly innovate for 33 years until Chrysler absorbed it in 1987. The lessons learned from this experience were integrated into the company that bought AMC. The organization, strategies, as well as several key executives allowed Chrysler to gain an edge on the competition. Even today, the lessons gained from the AMC experience continue to provide benefits to other firms in the industry. There are a number of legacies from AMC’s business strategies.
AMC had an ability to formulate strategies that were often evaluated by industry critics as “strokes of brilliance”. According to Roy D. Chapin Jr., AMC realized they were up against the giants of the industry, so to compete successfully they had to be able to move quickly and with ingenuity. An essential strategy practiced by AMC was to rely on outside vendors to supply components in which they had differential advantages. This approach was finally accepted within the U.S. auto industry, but only after each of the Big Three experienced the failure of attempting to be self-sufficient.
The smallest domestic automaker did not have “the massive R&D budgets of General Motors, Ford, and foreign competitors … [thus] AMC placed R&D emphasis on bolstering the product life cycle of its prime products (particularly Jeeps).” In 1985, AMC originated product lifecycle management (PLM) as a strategic business approach according to Sidney Hill, Jr., executive editor for Manufacturing Business Technology, in an effort to better compete against its much larger rivals by ramping up its product development process.
Another example of AMC’s agility was the ability of management to squeeze money out of reluctant bankers, even in the face of bankruptcy. These core abilities helped save the company from collapse and after each obstacle, give it the wherewithal to keep it operating. Ironically, AMC was never stronger than just before its demise.
AMC’s managers anticipated important trends in the automotive industry. It preached fuel efficiency in the 1950s, long before most auto buyers demanded it. Led by AMC’s Rambler and several European cars, the small car innovation reduced the Big Three’s market share from 93% in 1957 to 82% in 1959. The company inherited foreign manufacturing and sales partnerships from Nash and continued developing business relations, decades before most of the international consolidations among automobile makers took place. AMC was the first U.S. automaker to establish ownership agreement with a foreign automaker, Renault. Although small in size, AMC was able to introduce numerous industry innovations. Starting in 1957, AMC was the only U.S. manufacturer to totally immerse all automobile bodies in primer paint for protection against rust, until competitors adopted the practice in 1964. Even one of AMC’s most expensive new product investments (the Pacer) established many features that were later adopted by the auto industry worldwide. These included aerodynamic body design, space-efficient interiors, aircraft style doors, and a large greenhouse for visibility. AMC was also effective in other areas such as marketing by introducing low rate financing. AMC’s four-wheel drive vehicles established the foundation for the modern SUV market segments, and “classic” Jeep models continue to be the benchmark in this field. Roy D. Chapin drew on his experiences as a hunter and fisherman and marketed the Jeep brand successfully to people with like interests. The brand developed a cult appeal that continues.
The purchase of AMC was instrumental in reviving Chrysler. According to Robert Lutz, former President of Chrysler, the AMC acquisition was a big and risky undertaking. The purchase was part of Chrysler’s strategic “retreat-cum-diversification” plan that he states did not have the right focus. Initially the goal was to obtain the world-renowned Jeep brand. However, Lutz discovered that the decision to buy AMC turned out to be a gold mine for Chrysler. At that time, Chrysler’s management was attempting to find a model to improve structure and operations, “something that would help get our minds unstuck and thinking beyond the old paradigms that we were so familiar with“. In this transformation, “Chrysler’s acquisition of AMC was one of the all-time great moments in corporate serendipity” according to Lutz “that most definitely played a key role in demonstrating how to accomplish change“.
According to Lutz (1993), while AMC had its share of problems, it was far from being a bunch of “brain-dead losers”. He describes the “troops” at AMC as more like the Wake Island Marines in battle, “with almost no resources, and fighting a vastly superior enemy, they were able to roll out an impressive succession of new products”. After first reacting with anger to the purchase, Chrysler managers soon anticipated the benefits. To further solidify the organizational competencies held by AMC, Lee Iacocca agreed to retain former AMC units, such as engineering, completely intact. In addition, AMC’s lead engineer, François Castaing, was made head of all engineering at Chrysler. In an unthinkable strategic move, Castaing completely dismantled the entrenched Chrysler groups. In their place AMC’s “platform team” was implemented. These were close-knit cross-functional groups responsible for the whole vehicle, as contrasted with Chrysler’s highly functional structure. In this capacity, Castaing’s strategy was to eliminate the corporate administrative overhead bureaucracy. This move shifted corporate culture and agitated veteran executives who believed that Chrysler’s reputation as “the engineering company” was being destroyed. Yet, according to the popular press, by the 1980s Chrysler’s reputation was totally shot, and in Lutz’s view only dramatic action was going to change that. In summary, Chrysler’s purchase of AMC laid the critical foundation to help re-establish a strategy for its revival in the 1990s.
Top managers at Chrysler after the AMC buyout appeared to have made errors similar to those by AMC. For example, Chrysler invested heavily in new untested models while not keeping up its profitable high-volume lines.
After the DaimlerChrysler merger, the combined company also encountered the problem of having too many platforms. It also failed to achieve synergies by sharing components and from Chrysler’s paperless design and supplier capabilities. Mercedes-Benz managers were protective of their designs and components and “advanced R&D was clearly put under German direction.” This policy increased production costs. They could have observed the experience of the Nash and Hudson merger designed to achieve manufacturing efficiencies and savings from component sharing. The first product combining Chrysler and Mercedes technology and engineering with a Mercedes name was in 2006, eight years after DaimlerChrysler AG was created.
The AMC influence also continued at General Motors. GM recruited a new executive team to turn itself from near bankruptcy in the early 2000s. Among the new strategists at GM was Lutz who brought an understanding of the importance of passion in the product design. Lutz implemented a new thinking at GM that incorporated the systems and structures that originated from AMC’s lean and focused operations.
Renault implemented the lessons it learned from its investment in AMC. The French firm took a parallel approach as it did with its initial ownership of AMC and applied it to resurrect the money-losing Nissan automaker in Japan.
In 2009, in a deal brokered by the Obama administration, Italian automaker Fiat initiated a white knight takeover of Chrysler to save the struggling automaker from liquidation. The deal was immediately compared to the AMC-Renault deal; Some commentators noted the irony in that Chrysler now faced the same fate that AMC faced 30 years earlier, while others expressed skepticism of whether the Italian firm could save Chrysler, given how the Renault deal failed. However, there have been key differences between the two; Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne became CEO of Chrysler as part of the deal and immediately began globally integrating Fiat and Chrysler’s assets and product lines; The Fiat-Chrysler merger doesn’t face the political opposition the AMC-Renault deal did since Fiat is entirely private and independent and the US Government supported the merger; Most importantly, while AMC proved to be a continuous money-loser for Renault, Chrysler returned to profitability fairly quickly and has since become an important source of revenue and profits for Fiat, which has been struggling to maintain volume and profitability amid the European debt crisis. The two firms would later fully marge to create Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2014.
Legacy of products
Chrysler revived the “Spirit” name dropped by AMC after 1983 for use on one of its A platform cars, (the Dodge Spirit) from 1989–1995. The planned Renault Medallion was sold as the Eagle Medallion in 1988 and 1989. A Renault/AMC concept, the Summit, 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 theBrampton Assembly plant (Brampton, Ontario—originally called the Bramalea Plant) was built, was sold by Chrysler as the 1988–1992 Eagle Premier, with a rebadged Dodge Monaco variant available from 1990–1992. The full-sized Premier’s platform was far more advanced than anything Chrysler was building at the time. After some re-engineering and a re-designation to Chrysler code LH, the Eagle Premier went on to form the backbone of Chrysler’s passenger car lineup during the 1990s as the Chrysler Concorde (a revived model name that was briefly used by Plymouth in 1951 and 1952), Chrysler New Yorker, Chrysler LHS, Dodge Intrepid, and Eagle Vision. Plymouth almost received their own rendition of the LH platform, which was to be called the Accolade, but Chrysler decided to nix this idea not long before LH production started. 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 after 1998.
Chrysler marketed the SJ Jeep Grand Wagoneer until 1991, leaving it almost entirely unaltered from the final AMC rendition before the buyout. The Jeep Comanche pickup truck remained until 1992, while the Cherokee remained until 2001 in the U.S. (the XJ Cherokee was produced in China through 2006 as the Cherokee 2500 [2.5L] and Cherokee 4000 [4.0L]). Although it was not introduced until 1993, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was initially an AMC-developed vehicle.
Traces of AMC remained within. AMC’s Toledo, Ohio plants continued to manufacture the Jeep Wrangler and Liberty, as well as parts and components for Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles (although Toledo Machining and Forge was closed in 2005). AMC’s main plant in Wisconsin, albeit heavily downsized, operated as the Kenosha Engine Plant, producing engines for several Chrysler Group products including the Wrangler. The plant was closed as part of the post bailout restructuring of Chrysler in October 2010. The 4.0 litres (242 cu in) engine was used until the 2006 model year by DaimlerChrysler in the Jeep Wrangler. AMC’s technologically advanced Bramalea Assembly and Stamping Plants in Brampton, Ontario later produced the LX-cars – the Dodge Charger and the Chrysler 300, and the now discontinued Dodge Magnum.
In terms of AMC-related parts, some were used as late as 2006, when the Jeep Wrangler (the last new product introduced by AMC before the Chrysler deal) was still using the AMC Straight-6 engine in some models, as well as the recessed “paddle” door handles that were used since the 1968 model year by AMC. Both were retired when the Wrangler was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year.
AM General, sold by American Motors in 1982, is still in business building the American Motors-designed Humvee for American and allied militaries. AM General also built the now-discontinued civilian variant – the H1 – and manufactured a Chevrolet Tahoe-derived companion, the H2, under contract to GM, who acquired the rights to the civilian Hummer brand in 1999. GM was forced to phase out the Hummer brand in early 2010 as a part of its bankruptcy restructuring after offering it for sale, but failing to find a suitable buyer.
Although Chrysler introduced new logos for its brands in the 1990s and again in 2010 after the Fiat Group took control of the company, Jeep still uses the AMC-era logo introduced shortly after AMC’s purchase of the brand in 1970. Until the Chrysler purchase, Jeep’s logo also featured the AMC emblem.
Legacy of divisions and facilities
During its history, American Motors bought or created, then later sold and divested itself of several specialized divisions, some which continue to exist today:
Kelvinator, the subdivision of Nash-Kelvinator, was sold by American Motors in 1968 to White Consolidated Industries and subsequently became part of Electrolux. The Kelvinator Company is still in business.
Jeep is now a brand of the Chrysler Group. Many Jeep models retained the mechanical specifications and styling cues that were developed by AMC well into the 1990s or even into the first decade of the 2000s.
AM General is now owned by MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings and the Renco Group. It was organized as an LLC in August 2004.
Beijing Jeep was established by AMC in 1983 to produce Jeeps for the burgeoning Chinese market; the joint venture was inherited by Chrysler and continues under the ownership of the new Chrysler. AMC’s trials with the venture were the subject of a fairly well known book on the venture, “Beijing Jeep”, by James Mann.
AMC World Headquarters (1954–1975) was located at 14250 Plymouth Road in Detroit and was widely known as the Plymouth Road Office Center (PROC). In 1975, AMC moved its headquarters from the facility on Plymouth Road to a newly constructed building on Northwestern Highway in Southfield, Michigan known as the American Center.
The initial building had been built in 1926–27 by the Electric Refrigeration Corporation (subsequently Nash-Kelvinator) with design by Amedeo Leoni, industrial layout by Wallace McKenzie, and tower enclosure and industrial units by William E. Kapp, of SHG. The original 600,000 sq ft (56,000 m2) three-story factory and four-story administration building had been headquarters to Nash-Kelvinator from 1937–1954 as well as a factory for refrigerators, electric ranges, and commercial refrigeration—as well as airplane propellers for the U.S. military effort during World War II.
During World War II, the U.S. War Department contracted with Nash-Kelvinator to produce 900 Sikorsky R-6 model helicopters. As part of that contract, a 4.5 acres (1.8 ha) site north of the factory was used as the smallest airport in the world as a flight testing base. Nash-Kelvinator produced about fifty R-6s a month during the war. When the contract was terminated at the end of the war, a total of 262 helicopters had been constructed.
During Chrysler’s occupancy of the complex, it was known Jeep and (Dodge) Truck Engineering (JTE), including facilities for Body on Frame (BoF) work as well as testing facilities and labs. The buildings included 1,500,000 square feet (140,000 m2), approximately one third devoted to engineering and computer functions.
As of 2007, Chrysler still employed over 1,600 people at the complex, moving those operations in mid-2009 to the Chrysler Technology Center. PROC was made available for sale by Chrysler in early 2010.
American Center – AMC’s corporate headquarters in Southfield, Michigan is still standing, still open, and still called “American Center”. The original “American Center” signage at the top of the building remained until 2005, although the AMC logo has been removed. The signage has since been changed to Charter One. The 25-story building is rented to several different organizations and companies as office space. After the Chrysler acquisition, Chrysler Financial occupied as much as 175,000 square feet (16,300 m2) of the building.
Toledo South Assembly Plants – Torn down in 2007 by Chrysler. Until it was demolished, still visible on most of the signage on the outside of the factories were areas where Chrysler painted over the AMC logo.
Toledo Forge – Torn down by Chrysler in 2007.
Brampton (formerly Bramalea) Assembly and Satellite Stamping Plants. – still in use by Chrysler. AMC designed this US$260 million (US$592,203,716 in 2016 dollars), 2,500,000-square-foot (230,000 m2) plant, which was operational by 1986. This plant was designed and built by AMC for the specific purpose of building the Eagle Premier. Like the older Brampton plant (see “Former Factory Facilities”, below), this factory was also part of American Motors Canada, Inc., and with the Chrysler buy-out in 1987, became part of Chrysler Canada Limited. The plant currently builds the LX series of vehicles including the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Charger. Also Producing a slightly modified version of the lX series; renamed the LC series; supporting the Dodge Challenger nameplate.
Kenosha “Main” Plant – Portions of the Kenosha Main Plant (later Chrysler’s Kenosha Engine plant with some new additions) at 52nd Street and 30th Avenue continued to be run by Chrysler as an engine-production factory. This plant closed in October 2010as part of Chrysler LLC’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure which resulted from the automotive industry crisis. Demolition of the plant began in early December 2012.
Canadian Fabricated Products Ltd. – An AMC division (part of AMC Canada, Ltd.) in Stratford, Ontario; established 1971 and sold post-buyout by DaimlerChrysler in 1994; produced automotive interior trim.
Guelph Products – An AMC division (also part of AMC Canada, Ltd.) in Guelph, Ontario; opened in 1987, and subsequently sold by Chrysler in early 1993; the operation supplied moulded plastic components to the Brampton Assembly Plant.
Coleman Products Corporation – An AMC subsidiary in Coleman, Wisconsin. Manufactured automotive wiring harnesses for AMC and other automakers. (Not the same as Coleman Company)
Evart Products Co. – An AMC subsidiary in Evart, Michigan. The plant was established in 1953 with 25 workers and eventually expanded to over 1,200, becoming Osceola County’s largest employer. This factory manufactured injection molded plastic parts (notably, grilles) for AMC (supplying 90% of in-house needs), as well as for other automakers. In 1966, Products Wire Harness was built. After Chrysler’s purchase of AMC, Collins & Aikman took over the factory.
Mercury Plastics Co. – Mercury Plastics operated a plant at 34501 Harper Ave., Mt. Clemens, Michigan. The company was acquired in 1973 for 611,111 shares of AMC stock. The company produced plastic parts for AMC, as well as for uses in other industries.
Windsor Plastics Co. – Windsor Plastics, 601 North Congress Avenue, Evansville, Indiana was acquired in 1970. The division produced plastic parts for AMC and other industries. The company was sold to Guardian Industries in 1982, and underwent a name change to Guardian Automotive Trim, Inc. It is still in operation today. The original factory in Evansville continues to manufacture plastic parts for the OEM and aftermarket automotive industries. Items manufactured include grilles, bezels, and other parts.
The AMC Proving Grounds – The former 300 acres (1.2 km2; 0.47 sq mi) AMC Proving Grounds in Burlington, Wisconsin had initially been Nash’s test track and subsequently became Jeep’s test facilities (after AMC’s acquisition of Willys in the 1970s). The grounds fell into disuse after Chrysler’s takeover of AMC in 1987 and subsequently became the engineering and test facility for MGA Research. The company rents out this proving grounds to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), for “ride-and-drive” events by automakers, as well as for movies and commercials.
Axle tooling equipment – sold in 1985 to Dana Holding Corporation, and they named the AMC-15 axles as Dana 35. Dana manufactured the AMC-20 axles for AM General‘s Hummer H1. The company also continues to produce the AMC-15 axle as well; however they have been upgraded from AMC’s original design with multiple variations (including front axle designs).
Holmes Foundry, Ltd. – AMC’s block-casting foundry was a major AMC factory which is now completely obliterated. Holmes had its main office and foundry at 200 Exmouth Street, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Holmes was established in 1918, by Mr. J. S. Blunt, and was called Holmes Blunt Limited. In the early years, Ford Motor Company contracted the plant for a steady supply of engine casting blocks. This factory had a reputation locally as a dirty, dangerous place to work. The company had three divisions, all operating on one site at the edge of Sarnia. Beginning in 1962, AMC contracted with Holmes Foundry to supply AMC with cylinder block castings. American Motors acquired 25% interest in the foundry in January 1966. In July 1970, AMC acquired 100% of Holmes Foundry through an exchange of shares, making it a wholly owned subsidiary. However, it was not until October 1981 that Holmes Foundry finally became a Division of American Motors, Canada. As part of its acquisition of AMC in 1987, Chrysler Corporation took ownership of the Holmes facility and its manufacturing business, but closed the operation on September 16, 1988. The industrial facilities were cleaned of their environmental contaminants in 2005, in preparation for a new highway interchange to be built on the site.
Kenosha “Lakefront” (Kenosha, Wisconsin) Plant – The AMC plant in downtown Kenosha along Lake Michigan was razed, and after reclamation the land was used for new development. At the company’s inception in 1954, the plant covered 3,195,000 sq ft (296,800 m2) and together with the Milwaukee plant had an annual production capacity of 350,000 cars.
Milwaukee Body (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) Plant – AMC inherited a 1,600,000 sq ft (150,000 m2) body plant in Milwaukee from Nash. The plant was the main body plant for Seaman Body Company, which did a lot of business with Nash and other makers assembling bodies of various designs. For AMC, the plant was sometimes an internal headache. For instance, in late 1961, George Romney himself stormed through the plant and threatened to close it and eliminate its 9,000 jobs due to labor problems. The plant survived until the Chrysler buyout. Chrysler later decided to dispose of the factory. Upon closure, the site was named as a Superfund site. The factory was demolished and the site rehabilitated and redeveloped.
Danforth Ave (Toronto, Ontario) Plant – Inherited from Nash. This plant was purchased by Nash from Ford of Canada in 1946. The first Canadian-built Nash rolled off the line in April, 1950. Upon the formation of American Motors in 1954, the plant assembled 1955 Nash and Hudson Ramblers (2- and 4-door sedans); as well as Nash Canadian Statesman and Hudson Wasp (4door sedans). In 1956, the plant continued to assemble Nash and Hudson Rambler (4-door sedans and wagons) and the Nash Canadian Statesman (4-door sedan); but The Hudson Wasp was imported. That same year, American Motors Sales (Canada) Limited was formed – taking over Nash Motors of Canada Limited and Hudson Motors of Canada Limited. In 1957, AMC assembled the Rambler Six and Rambler Rebel V8 at the Danforth plant; but in July, 1957, AMC closed the plant and imported Ramblers into Canada until 1961. The structure remains today as the Shoppers World Danforth Target store.
Tilbury, Ontario Assembly Plant – Another plant AMC inherited from the 1954 merger; this one via Hudson. Specifically, it was a contract with CHATCO Steel Products which actually owned the plant. American Motors ceased Hudson production at the Tilbury plant in 1955.
Brampton Assembly Plant – AMC opened a plant in 1960 in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. It was part of American Motors Canada, Inc. Rambler Drive, a small street just west of this plant, still exists and leads into a residential subdivision that was built in the 1960s. In 1987, with the Chrysler buy-out, the division and the plant were absorbed as well, becoming part of Chrysler Canada Limited. The plant was closed in 1994 and sold to Wal-Mart for use as their Canadian warehouse. This plant/warehouse was demolished in 2004 and redeveloped in 2007 with multiple smaller commercial buildings now onsite; a new Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse now takes up the largest section of this commercial development. Note that this is a separate facility from the current Brampton (formerly Bramalea) Assembly and Satellite Stamping Plants nearby.
In October 2006 its recent tenant, Union Stamping and Assembly, declared bankruptcy.
Earlier use of the name
The era of 1900 to 1925 saw various corporations, in several U.S. states, use similar “American” names, such as American Motor Carriage Company (Ohio, 1902–1903), American Automobile Manufacturing Company (Indiana, 1911–1912), and American Motors Incorporated (New York, 1919–1920). In 1916, An earlier “American Motors Corporation”, apparently unrelated to the more famous later corporation of the same name, was formed in 1916 in Newark, New Jersey, with Louis Chevrolet as vice president and chief engineer. By 1918 it was producing cars in a plant at Plainfield, New Jersey. In 1923 it merged with the Bessemer Motor Truck Company of Pennsylvania into Bessemer–American Motors Corporation, which lasted less than a year before merging with the Winther and Northway companies into Amalgamated Motors. The latter company apparently ceased soon after.
Later reuse of trademark
A new company was formed in Palmdale, California, in 2001. A registration for the American Motors trademarks was filed in 2001 by this California-based firm. The company’s website specifically claimed no affiliation to the previous American Motors, but used AMC’s history and logos on its website. The website is now dead, and the company’s claims to AMC’s trademarks expired in 2005.
The new Chrysler LLC holds a live registration for the name “American Motors”, which was applied for in 2005. The AMC trademark, complete with “A-mark” – as was originally used in 1970 and through the late-1980s – was registered and published for comment by Chrysler as of 2010.
AMC passenger cars
1982 Eagle SX/4
1957 Rambler Rebel
1970 The Machine
1976 Matador coupe
1957 Nash Metropolitan Series III Hardtop1955–1962: Metropolitan*
360 cu in (5.9 L) AMC V8 (Ending in 1978 for automobiles and through 1991 in Jeeps)
401 cu in (6.6 L) AMC V8 (Ending in 1974 as a regular production order in automobiles; was available in fleet/police use until at least 1975, in 1975 89 units were installed in Matadors; 4 coupes and 85 sedans-wagons. Available in full-size Jeeps through 1979, also used by International Harvester in 1974 in 1200 series pickups & Travelall during a strike at International Harvester, though IH called the engine a 400 CID)
Also: Kaiser Jeeps used the AMC 327, Buick 225 (“Dauntless V6”), Buick 350 (“Dauntless V8”), Willys 134 I4 (“Hurricane”). The Downsized Jeep XJ Cherokee/Wagoneer used the Chevrolet 2.8 Litre V6 in 1983–1984.
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.
Javelin with “Go” package
Ambassador hardtop wagon
Rambler American convertible
AMC models historically regarded by hobbyists as particularly “collectible” include the Javelin, AMX, and performance specials such as the 1957 Rambler Rebel, 1965–67 Marlin, 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler, 1970 Rebel Machine, and 1971 Hornet SC/360. These models enjoyed limited popularity when new, resulting in low production figures. In January 2007, the AMC AMX was “really taking off in the muscle car market” according to the editors ofHemmings Classic Car, and it had “left its mark among AMC collectors’ minds as a great alternative” to higher-priced Hemi-powered muscle cars.
The early Javelin (1968–70) stands out from the Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler pony cars. Car expert Jack Nerad noted in a 2007 article “several fully restored AMX models” listed for sale at “little more than half the price of a comparable Buick Gran Sport, Chevrolet Chevelle, Olds 4-4-2 or Pontiac GTO” in support of the author’s opinion that the 1971–74 Javelin was “clearly an outstanding alternative muscle car for the enthusiast on a budget.”
According to James C. Mays, automotive historian and author of The Savvy Guide to Buying Collector Cars at Auction, the “Wow! Factor” is an important and measurable pleasure to an owner whether their car is driven or sits in a climate-controlled garage. His “Wow! Factor” includes examples of a bright red 1969 AMX that according to its owner “is just a fast Rambler”, but draws more people at events than the more prestigious Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as a “million-dollar moment” when a Rambler owner was serenaded with the “Beep Beep” song by The Playmates while fueling at a travel plaza. Moreover, the author’s collector car, a 1969 Ambassador station wagon, made friends as strangers came to greet and host him as if “long lost kin”. Mays points out the ready availability of parts for AMC engines and his experiences in having service done on Ramblers without being charged for the work in exchange for the experience of driving a “sassy Rambler” (a 1966 American convertible) and having pictures taken with it.
Other AMC models, once somewhat ignored by the hobby, are now considered “future collectibles”. Examples include the 1959 Ambassador 4-door hardtop station wagon, of which only 578 were produced, and the Jeep Scrambler CJ8, a combined pickup truck-Jeep, of which only a few thousand were produced.
Hemmings Classic Car magazine included the 1969–70 Rebel SST and the 1974–78 Matador coupe in their 2008 list of “dollar-for-pound [weight]” cars that could be bought in show-quality condition for a comparatively modest outlay, The writer also noted that “most of AMC’s ’70s lineup” qualified for inclusion on the list.
The AMC Gremlin is described to have “a cult-like following in today’s collectible car market. The Gremlin shares components with some other AMC models its repair and restoration can be relatively inexpensive compared with other “historic cars”.
The AMC Pacer increased in value according to a Pacer owner who is the CEO of a major insurance provider for collector car owners.
There are active Rambler and AMC car clubs in the U.S. and elsewhere (examples in External Links).
Hot Rod Magazine revival April Fool’s joke
In April 2008, Hot Rod Magazine released an article claiming that American Motors was in the process of being revived. The vehicles in the works were to be the AMX, Matador, Ambassador, Pacer, and Gremlin. Illustrated with drawings of the concept cars entering production and accompanied by plentiful information, it was a popular article, although it was later revealed to be an April Fools’ joke.
In ’65, the car was marketed as “Rambler Marlin”. For ’66, the car featured “Marlin” identification only, named “AMC Marlin”, as was the ’67 model.
It’s fastback roof design was previewed on the 1964 Rambler Tarpon show car, based on the compact Rambler American. 1965 and 1966 model year production Marlins were fastback versions of the mid-sized two-door hardtop Rambler Classic, and 1967 brought a major redesign in which the car was given the new, longer AMC Ambassador full-size chassis. This version had a longer hood and numerous ‘improvements’ including more interior room and new V8 engines.
As consumer per capita income increased in the early 1960s, the U.S. automobile market expanded. Whereas American Motors’ profitable marketing strategy under George W. Romney had concentrated on compact, economical cars, Romney’s successor as CEO,Roy Abernethy, saw larger, more prestigious and luxurious models as a new profit opportunity. The objective was to compete with the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) by expanding AMC’s model lines into additionalmarket segments; particularly by developing a sporty, roomy, 6-passenger sedan that would occupy a unique niche in the market. The idea was that the new car would be a distinctive, low-volume model symbolizing a new Rambler look and spearheading a full product line. To be a distinctive competitor in the big league with the Big Three, it was decided that it should be flashy and intermediate-sized, and in an era when other automakers were stressing the power of muscle cars for their intermediate-sized image vehicles, the new model – the Marlin – was to feature comfort and spaciousness.
Initially, in response to a proposal for a sporty youth-oriented car, a four-seat fastback design study, the Rambler Tarpon, had been built on the compact-sized Rambler American platform. This was shown as a concept car at various auto shows but AMC’s current “GEN-1” V8 engine would not fit in the comparatively small Rambler chassis; also the new “GEN-II” V8 designs were still in development, and market research showed that a six-cylinder engine alone would not satisfy potential customers.
Ultimately, and in line with Roy Abernethy’s new marketing strategy, the decision was made to build the new fastback model on AMC’s intermediate-sized Rambler Classicplatform. The development team, under distinguished American designer Richard A. Teague, had to work with considerably smaller budgets than their counterparts at Detroit’s Big Three to create the new Marlin. They created a large, roomy and luxurious fastback which incorporated a number of design features from the Tarpon show car. (The roof was raised over the rear passenger area when Abernethy, who was six-foot-four (193 cm tall), insisted on being able to sit in the back seat of the design studies.) As the car was targeted at the evolving “personal luxury” segment, its long list of standard equipment was supplemented by numerous options that enabled buyers to personalize their Marlins.
232 cu in (3.8 L) 155 hp (116 kW; 157 PS) I6 2-bbl
287 cu in (4.7 L) 189 hp (141 kW; 192 PS) V8 2-bbl
327 cu in (5.4 L) 250 hp (186 kW; 253 PS) V8 2-bbl
327 cu in (5.4 L) 270 hp (201 kW; 274 PS) V8 4-bbl
Only the 1965 Marlins had the “Rambler” nameplate on the hood and rear panel
American Motors billed the Marlin as a new addition to the company’s self-styled “Sensible Spectaculars” model line. Backed by extensive advertising and merchandising, the car was officially announced on 10 February 1965, and unveiled in Rambler dealer showrooms on 19 March.
New car introductions, more significant in the 1960s than today, were often accompanied by special invitations and heavy publicity. The Marlin was advertised in 2,400 newspapers on its launch day, and American Motors’ news releases positioned it as aimed at buyers wanting a sporty fastback that was also roomy and comfortable. This contrasted it with the smaller Barracuda and Mustang fastbacks that had arrived a year earlier. AMC’s first model following the muscle car launches of the 1960s, the Marlin was intended to outflank competitors as a product they did not offer – a strategy now called “niche marketing“.
It followed signature design features of the Ford Galaxie “Sports Roof”, the Plymouth Barracuda, the Mustang 2+2, and the 1965 fastback models from General Motors, including the Chevrolet Impala “Sport Coupe” versions. A book on American muscle cars says V8-powered Marlins provided appropriate performance for the streamlined appearance.
The new model met with a mixed reception in the press. Popular Mechanics magazine recorded 0 to 60 mph in 10.8 seconds by manually shifting the automatic transmission, and fuel economy of 18.14 mpg-US(12.97 L/100 km; 21.79 mpg-imp) at a steady 60 mph (97 km/h). Tom McCahill‘s road test in Mechanics Illustrated recorded 0 to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds with the 327 engine.
Motor Trend magazine found the Marlin well balanced and said it added to the market’s various personal performance sports cars. The San Francisco Chronicle praised it and noted effortless cruising at 80 mph (129 km/h).” Hot Rod magazine, which described the car as “weirdly attractive”, ran the quarter-mile in 17.43 seconds at 79 mph (127 km/h) with the 327 cu in (5.4 L) and “Flash-O-Matic” transmission.
The Marlin emphasized the stretched-out hardtop (pillar-less) roofline that followed the contemporary styling vogue. Automobile Quarterly magazine thought the car very ugly and expressed dislike for the inadequacy of the rear-view window, the positions of the steering-wheel and stoplights, the softness of the front seats, and the design of the pedals.
Vincent Geraci (who became chief of product design and product identity at Chrysler after AMC’s buyout), viewed the Marlin as “an exciting program … We took a 1965 body design and turned it into a sportier version. But enlarging the car from its original concept [the Tarpon] and raising the roof produced an adverse effect on overall appearance.”
Bob Nixon (who after AMC’s buyout in 1987 became Jeep‘s design chief at Chrysler) dismissed the project as an “ugly embarrassment” and said that the assignment to create a sporty fastback on the Classic platform was “like trying to build a Corvette on a Buick sedan body. It just doesn’t work.”
Carl Cameron, designer of the original Dodge Charger, named the Marlin as the only competition for his 1966 car even though, he said, the Marlin lacked some of the Charger’s features and it was “very different”. Contrary to the view that the Charger was a “clone” of the Marlin, Cameron said that the starting-point for his design was the fastback 1949 Cadillac, and that any similarity to the Marlin was coincidental. He added that as a result of the exceptionally tall Abernathy’s insistence on being able to sit in the Marlin’s back seat, “those cars had big squared-off roofs” whereas the Charger’s roof treatment was “rounded off, much more pleasing to the eye.”
Vehicle appointments and options
1965 Marlin interior
Standard features, which focused on comfort and luxurious appearance, included deluxe exterior trim, individual reclining front seats, front and rear center armrests when bucket seats were selected, and interiors from AMC’s two-door Ambassador model, including dashboard and instrument panel. On the Marlin, the dashboard was trimmed with engine-turned aluminum. Interior door panels were finished with carpeting and stainless steel trim, when many cars at the time had cheaper stamped vinyl glued to cardboard. Retractable front seatbelts where optional. The reclining bucket seats could be ordered with headrests. The Marlin was also one of the first American automobiles with front disc brakes (four-piston design, by Bendix) as standard. It had drum brakes without servo assistance on the rear.
A total of 2,005 Marlins were built with the smallest engine option, a 145 hp (108 kW; 147 PS) 232 I6. The AMC-designed 270 hp (201 kW; 274 PS) 327 cu in (5.4 L) 4-barrel V8, often paired with an automatic transmission that had the shifter in a floor console, accounted for 42% of total production, while less than 6%, regardless of engine option, had the innovative “Twin-Stick” manual transmission (with overdrive). The center console-mounted controls offered one longer stick for the regular gears, with a second shorter lever for overdrive selection. It can be shifted as a 5-speed: from 1st to 2nd, to 2nd+OD, to 3rd, to 3rd+OD. Other options included “Solex” tinted glass (70% of production), power steering, heavy-duty suspension, “Twin-Grip” limited slip differential, air conditioning, adjustable steering wheel, power windows, and a choice of AM radio or an AM/FMmonaural unit (50% of production) with “Duo Costic” rear speaker and “Vibra Tone” system to simulate stereophonic sound (stereo broadcasting was not yet widely available in the U.S.). Only 221 Marlins were built without a radio. Wide-ranging interior colors and upholstery choices were available, and options for the exterior, including accent colors for the roof and side window trim, enabled further customization.
Pricing and sales
The MSRP price was US$3,100 (US$23,199 in 2015 dollars), compared with $3,063 for a bench seat (six-passenger) version of the Rambler Classic 770 2-door hardtop, which did not have the extra features and luxurious interior of the Marlin. 10,327 Marlins were sold in the abbreviated first year of production.
1966 AMC Marlin two-tone trim
1966 model with the optional 4-speed manual
The Rambler Marlin became known as the AMC Marlin starting with the 1966 model year. All references to the historic Rambler brand name were removed from the car and promotional materials. This was part of Roy Abernethy’s remake of AMC’s corporate identity, divorcing the larger car lines from the Rambler brand and the economy compact car image. The other changes were minor (e.g. a slight modification to the extruded aluminum grille, a front sway bar made standard on six-cylinder models, and an optional black vinyl roof cover that continued over the trunk opening). New was an electronic tach on the top of the dash.
The year also saw the introduction of the fastback Dodge Charger, a derivative of the intermediate-sized Dodge Coronet, and a sporty model in direct response to the Marlin.Together, the Charger and Marlin were “unusual, distinctive and in a class by themselves.” General Motors and Ford also positioned products similar to the Marlin as specialized “personal luxury” coupes and introduced 2-door fastback versions of their full- and intermediate-sized car lines.
AMC broadened the car’s market appeal by lowering the base price to US$2,601 (US$18,906 in 2015 dollars) and offering more options. For example: high-level trim packages that had previously been standard, as well as the availability of a floor or center console mounted 4-speed manual transmission and a dash-mounted tachometer, affected small changes in pricing and equipment that paralleled the competition. By comparison, Chrysler did a similar thing with the pricing and content of its Dodge Charger from the 1966 to the 1967 model years. Despite these changes, Marlin production fell to 4,547 in 1966.
Popular Science magazine road test comparison of three 1966 sporty fastbacks (Ford Mustang, Plymouth Valiant, and AMC Rambler) highlighted the Marlin’s quiet interior, high quality upholstery and positioned seats with adjustable backrests that “permit almost any driver to find an ideal seat-to-wheel-to-pedal relationship”, as well as the “best-balanced ride on good roads and bad”. The 287 cu in (4.7 L) two-barrel V8 engine with the three-speed automatic achieved 0 to 60 mph in 11.7 seconds, and was the quietest, but least responsive of the group. The test Marlin’s standard drum brakes were criticized as inadequate, with the authors recommending the optional disk brakes.
232 cu in (3.8 L) 155 hp (116 kW; 157 PS) I6 2-bbl
290 cu in (4.8 L) 200 hp (149 kW; 203 PS) V8 2-bbl
343 cu in (5.6 L) 235 hp (175 kW; 238 PS) V8 2-bbl
343 cu in (5.6 L) 280 hp (209 kW; 284 PS) V8 4-bbl
The Marlin was larger and more expensive for the 1967 model year. It was now built on AMC’s completely redesigned 118 in (2,997 mm) wheelbase “senior” platform, i.e. the AMC Ambassador chassis. The retooling for 1967 design changes that were mostly to the “senior” line of AMC cars (Ambassador, Marlin, Rebel) cost $35 million.(US$ 254,405,128 in 2015 dollars) The overall length of the new Marlin’s body increased by 6.5 inches (165 mm) with more rear seat legroom, as well as being wider resulting in 2.2 inches (56 mm) of additional interior room, but in the process the car gained 350 pounds (159 kg) compared to the previous models.
Making the Marlin larger was a design requirement in anticipation of the 1968 entry of the compact-platform based Javelin. Also the longer, wider car would improve product differentiation among AMC’s various model lines. Motor Trend magazine compared two “Sporty Specialties” – the 1967 AMC Marlin and Dodge Charger – concluded that both are “caught in the middle” because “neither has the compactness of the basic sports-personal archetypes such as the Mustang or Camaro, nor the posh elegance to social climb” to the models such as the Cadillac Eldorado or Buick Riviera. Rather, “both aim at the driver who wants a sporty-type car, but who doesn’t want to give up room and comfort and isn’t ready to move into more expensive category.” The 1967 Marlin was part of the “cool” car sales pie that featured sporty cars with “the popular fastback silhouette”.
The Ambassador chassis allowed for a longer hood that harmonized better with its fastback rear end, and the body was given a less angular appearance. A bright trim strip from the door opening to the rear bumper accentuates the slightly kicked-up “coke bottle” profile of the rear fenders. The front end shared the Ambassador’s protruding, vertically stacked headlights and an all-new recessed extruded aluminum grille with horizontal bars that bowed forward in the center. The grille was a black anodized version of the twin (parking and turn-signal) “rally light” grille on the Ambassador DPL models. The hood ornament was redesigned, with a small chrome marlin fish set in clear plastic inside a chrome ring.
The main feature was the Marlin’s fastback roof with “stylish elliptical C-pillars that ended “between two stubby, squared-off fins” in the rear. The decklid was the same as on the previous model, but now without the large round insignia. A bigger back window improved rear visibility. New taillights were similar to those on the first-generation car. The rear bumper was slightly different from the one used on the Ambassador and Rebel station wagons, the top edge being a continuous horizontal line that fits up against the body.
Teague said the 1967 car was ‘the best-looking Marlin we built.’ Motor Trend magazine described the all-new styling of AMC’s new full-size cars as “attractive” and “more graceful and easier on the eye in ’67.”
The second-generation Marlin did not have its own catalog, but was described within the large Ambassador sales brochure. The Ambassador’s standard features and options also came on the Marlin. The interiors continued to offer premium materials and fittings, including wood-grain trim, and were the same as on the Ambassador 990 and DPL two-door hardtop models (with the exception of the “Custom” package that had two matching pillows) that “rival more expensive cars for luxury and quality, yet are durable enough to take years of normal wear.” Many Marlins were ordered with the reclining buckets seats that not only featured a center armrest between them (with a center cushion for a third occupant or a floor console with gear selector), but also a foldaway center armrest for the rear seat. The interior design was new and featured a safety-oriented dashboard with the instruments and controls grouped in front of the driver, while the rest of the dash was pushed forward and away from the passengers. Protruding knobs and controls were eliminated from any area that the passenger or driver could strike them. The steering wheel was smaller than used before and the column was now designed to collapse under impact. A new lane change feature was made standard for the turn signal.
An entirely new family of V8 engines was offered. The six-cylinder was still available, but rarely ordered -only 355 were built. The base V8 was the 290 cu in (4.8 L) with a 2-barrel carburetor, while a pair of 343 cu in (5.6 L) V8s were optional: a 2-barrel that ran on regular-fuel, as well as a high-compression (10.2:1) premium-fuel version with a 4-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust that produced 280 hp (209 kW; 284 PS) at 4800 rpm and 365 pound-feet (495 N·m) of torque at 3000 rpm. An entirely new four-link, trailing-arm rear suspension system was introduced eliminating the previous torque tube design.
Motor Trend magazine’s road test of the Marlin with the 343 engine reported zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, and ran a 17.6-second quarter mile at 82 mph (132 km/h) with two passengers aboard, which was comparable to the performance of a Dodge Charger with a 383 cu in (6.3 L). Fuel economy with the 280 hp V8 averaged 15.3 mpg-US (15.4 L/100 km; 18.4 mpg-imp) city and 17.6 mpg-US (13.4 L/100 km; 21.1 mpg-imp) highway, while with the 155 hp straight-six the big Marlin averaged 17.3 mpg-US (13.6 L/100 km; 20.8 mpg-imp) city and 20.4 mpg-US (11.5 L/100 km; 24.5 mpg-imp) highway. The Marlin “also handled well” and featured reclining seats that are “well worth the extra $44.65 to anyone who travels long distances.”
Sales of the redesigned Marlin fell to 2,545. This was partly a result of customers’ diminishing confidence in the financial health of the automaker under Abernethy’s leadership, and partly confusion caused by AMC’s move away from its loyal “economy” customer market segments into segments dominated by the domestic “Big Three” (GM, Ford, and Chrysler). Furthermore, buyers did not turn to the “family”-sized fastbacks. Therefore the Marlin ceased production at the end of the 1967 model year.
The Marlin “was an overlooked performer on the muscle car landscape”, yet it was campaigned without factory support in motorsport venues. Roy Abernethy had instituted a prohibition on automobile racing and he was opposed to corporate sponsorship of activities that glamorized speed and performance. While the Big Three automakers in the U.S. were focusing on high performance during the early 1960s, AMC ran advertising that said: “Why don’t we enter high-performance Rambler V-8s in racing? Because the only race Rambler cares about is the human race.” Nevertheless, the 1965 Marlin was an attempt to attract younger customers. The Marlin was promoted as an image-breaking model and AMC dealerships began sponsoring Ramblers in auto racing.
Preston Honea achieved drag racing fame with the “Bill Kraft Rambler”. The effort began in 1964 when the Bill Kraft Rambler dealership had installed a highly modified AMC Ambassador V8 engine (the 327 V8 bored out to 418 cu in (6.8 L), four carburetors, special intake manifold) in a 1964 Rambler that ran 112 mph (180 km/h) at the Fontanadragstrip. For the 1965 season, Kraft built a new “Bill Kraft Rambler”, this time a fastback-bodied Marlin Funny Car on alcohol fuel and nitrous injection. The AMC engine was replaced by a Plymouth Hemi. On its first time out, the Hemi-powered car ran a 10.31-second quarter mile at 138 mph (222 km/h).
Roy Haslam, a 1999 inductee to Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame, raced his AMC Marlin Super Stock (image) in Canada and the U.S. He won the July Cup and was 3rd in the season point championships.
Brothers Larry and Don Hess raced a Marlin in the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona.Sponsored by Queen City Rambler, a Charlotte, North Carolina AMC dealership, the car ran almost stock, even a with radio antenna. The passenger seats were removed, a roll bar installed, and the factory exhaust system replaced with open headers that exited below the doors. The Marlin retired after 80 laps with overheating and steering problems, and was reportedly sold as a used car after the race.
American Motors designers and stylists made two operational show cars. Both used the platform of the first generation Marlin and promoted Rambler’s new emphasis on luxury and glamour.
The Black Marlin toured the 1965 auto shows along with attractive young women in sailors’ outfits. It was finished in black with “a sleek and stylish interior.”
The Tahiti luxury version toured the shows in 1966, starting with the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was finished in a brilliant fireflake blue with “bright South Seas floral upholstery”, and matching throw pillows.
A design experiment in 1966 was the manufacture of a first-generation Marlin with the front end of the Ambassador.
The Marlin II essentially foretold the switch to the longer wheelbase platform that occurred for the 1967 model year. The car was used by Richard Teague, and was sold in 1967.
George Barris customized a 1966 Rambler Marlin for Rader, a wheel manufacturer, to use for promotion. The car was repainted Candy Red with powdered gold leaf in the clear coat, and had Rader wheels with “thick wall” tires, a reworked mesh grille with four rectangular Cibié headlamps, and Black Pearl Naugahyde on the trunk. Later Barris worked with AMC to produce dealer-installed customizing kits for the AMX.
The roof was cut off a 1966 Marlin for the Florida Marlins, a professional baseball team based in Miami Gardens, Florida. With no seats except for the driver, the car was used in parades and on-field ceremonies at Pro Player Stadium and transported the team’s mascot “Billy the Marlin” for the fans to see during the ball club’s 1997 world championship season.
New market segments
The intermediate-size fastback car was not a big hit in the marketplace. However, “there were many who welcomed the new breed of mid-size fastbacks as a breath of fresh air.” According to Consumer Reports, these cars defied “the usual guidelines to size and price class, and they cannot be measured against any standard”.
The Marlin had low sales overall but generated publicity and excitement, attracting potential customers to AMC dealers and creating sales opportunities for other models. American Motors’ claim to fame was as a maker of economical and undistinguished compact cars and the publicity and interest generated by the Marlin’s rather radical design facilitated a shift in public opinion about the automaker, as well as the contribution margin to the company’s sales. The Marlin’s first-year sales helped generate a profit of US$5.2 million (US$ 38,914,889 in 2015 dollars) for AMC in fiscal 1965, despite a three-week strike by the United Auto Workers.
The mid-sixties automobile market in the U.S. was marked an increasing influence of younger buyers who wanted a sporty image. Most of the “sportiness” of these was due to effective marketing. No longer satisfied with “standard” cars the market moved into new segments that included muscle models and personal-luxury cruisers. Many were heavily restyled derivatives of volume models and shared common parts. Moreover, they were image builders and big profit generators for their automakers. The objective of the Marlin was to move AMC in this direction. However, the AMC “had an established image as an expert in the small-car field”, and thus faced problems in marketing the Marlin as a sporty big car. Moreover, “the Marlin actually represented a double leap” for AMC: into performance, as well as personalization. The model had a good start, but sales quickly bottomed out in the 1967 model year. The automaker’s anti-racing philosophy turned around after $40 million (US$ 290,748,718 in 2015 dollars) was spent to develop a new V8 engine family and AMC turned to “competitive events as a means of knocking down its avidly gathered reputation for economy.”
Although the Marlin was discontinued in 1967, it paved the way for a successful replacement—the compact 1968 AMC Javelin. Therefore, the Marlin’s introduction in 1965 can be viewed as stopgap marketing move by AMC, influenced by the company’s lack of a V8 engine at that time to fit the compact Rambler chassis. As a mid-sized car, the Marlin was not a dashing, affordable pony car, and after three years of production, it would “step aside in favor of another two-door: the hip, new Javelin.”
In a television advertisement Romney and his wife Ann tenderly describe their first date and falling in love. Mrs. Romney recalls her husband pulling up in “some goofy-looking car” and running out of gas on the way home. Romney describes being embarrassed by the fact that in high school he drove a car that he says was “kinda awful.”
What Romney did not say in the ads was that the car was a brand new Marlin, from the company that was headed by his father, George W. Romney, from 1954 to 1962.
The rival Shannon O’Brien campaign responded that Romney “actually drove a cool car”—a “personal luxury car” according to AutoWeek magazine. The press release by the Democratic ticket chided: “…the fact that Mitt Romney was embarrassed by his brand new car shows just how out of touch with regular working people he is.”
Crossfire’s roof, rear fenders, and rear end design resembled the Marlin’s
Some of the main design components of the Marlin’s design returned in 2004 with the Chrysler Crossfire. The rear-wheel drive, two-seat sports car was developed when Chrysler was merged with German automaker Daimler-Benz (forming DaimlerChrysler) and shared most of its components with the Mercedes-Benz SLK320. The original concept car was styled by Eric Stoddard, the car was further refined by Andrew Dyson and built by the German coachbuilder Karmann. Both the Marlin and Crossfire became “known more for their rear view than their front styling.”
The new coupé displayed a fastback roof with broad rear fenders, a rear end treatment that prompted many automotive journalists to comment on the Crossfire’s resemblance to the AMC Marlin. Examples include automotive journalist Rob Rothwell, who wrote “…when I first espied the rear lines of the Chrysler Crossfire I was instantly transported back to 1965 and my favorite car of that year, the Rambler Marlin.” Automotive editor toThe Detroit News described the “distinctive boat-tail rear end that reminds more than one observer of the old Rambler Marlin.” Motor Trend also compared the “provocative boattail theme” of the 2004 Crossfire’s sheetmetal to that of the AMC Marlin. Even the handling characteristics of the Crossfire were compared by one British journalist to “a detuned 1967 AMC Marlin with locked-solid suspension.”
1965–1966 Marlins at a Marlin Auto Club meet in Kenosha, Wisconsin
A few of the 1967 Marlins attending a Marlin Auto Club show
The distinctive Marlin has found a niche among old car hobbyists and collectors of historic vehicles as evidenced by the backing of enthusiasts with a single marque antique auto club.It offers information to those interested in “these uncommon and fascinating cars.” Although a relatively low-production model, the Marlin is a derivative of AMC’s higher-volume models so it shares many common parts. Vehicles in various stages of appearance and mechanical condition can be found for sale. Plusses for collectors of the 1965 model include decent performance with optional drivetrains, historical oddity, plush, bucket-seat interior, and its still low prices; while the Marlin’s “distinctive” styling, rust issues, and slow appreciation in value are minuses. The Marlin’s low production numbers also means that there “will never have too many other Marlin owners to rub elbows with.”
There are also many active local and national (U.S. and other nations) Rambler and AMC car clubs that welcome Marlins.
A highly detailed Marlin promotional 1/25-scale model was manufactured under license from AMC by Jo-Han for the 1965 and 1966 model years. The only differences are their grilles and removal of the Rambler name on the 1966s. A friction model was also available from Jo-Han in 1966. Although available in a variety of single and two-tone color combinations, many of these “dealer promos” were done in aqua/dark blue two-tone plastic. Unwanted by AMC dealers as the 1966 model year neared its end, thousands of the models were given away to institutions such as children’s hospitals and orphan’s homes. They are now highly desirable and they command premium prices. Their value can be upwards of $200 to 400 for mint, in-the-box specimens that still have the hood ornament.
Jo-Han also produced 1/25-scale plastic kits of the 1966 Marlin, (Jo-Han C1900) and reissued it in the mid-1970s in the “U.S.A. Oldies” series (Jo-Han C-3666). They are based on the promotional models, but are less valuable today. According to Steve Magnante of Hot Rod magazine, Jo-Han appears to be poised for a comeback with its most famous unassembled model kits favoring offbeat subjects, “but save up-this stuff is pricey.”
Two types of die-cast toy models were sold under the Corgi Toy brand and manufactured by Mettoy Playcraft in the UK during the late 1960s. Both were done in 1:48 scale. One was a two-tone red and black Marlin with opening doors and a tow hook. The “Rambler Marlin Sports Fastback” (Corgi 263) scale model was released in 1966 and withdrawn from the market in 1969. In addition to the two-tone paint with chrome bumpers and grille, the model features a detailed interior finished in white and the front seat backs can be tipped forward (as in the actual cars). The second was a gift boxed set (Corgi GS10) with the Marlin finished in blue with a white roof and featuring a roof rack for a kayak, as well as towing a matching utility trailer with opening hatches. Released in 1968, this set had a short run of just 11 months.
Customized 1966 Marlin with 327 V8
The following is a digest of a section in “The Marlin Handbook – 2004” prepared by the Marlin Auto Club.
Front fenders, hood, as well as front and rear bumpers are interchangeable with the 1965 and 1966 Classic. The rear bumper from 1965 and 1966 Ambassadors will interchange, as well as the dashboard, seats, and other inside trim pieces. Windshields and the doors with their side glass are interchangeable with all two-door Classic and Ambassador models.
Drive train, front and rear suspension, brakes, radiators, master cylinders, trunnions, steering columns, power steering pumps, engines, transmissions, brake drums and rotors are interchangeable with 1965 and 1966 Ambassadors and Classics. Some parts are even interchangeable back to 1958 and earlier, while other components were used by AMC into the 1970s.
The 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 was used through the late-1970s. This engine was stroked and became the 258 cu in (4.2 L) that was used into the 1990s in Jeeps. Many engine components are shared. This engine was also upgraded into Jeep’s 4-liter workhorse. It is possible to transplant this high-output fuel-injected engine into a Marlin. (See: AMC Straight-6 engine)
The 287 cu in (4.7 L) and 327 cu in (5.4 L) V8s started out in 1956 and 1957 and were used in large Ramblers, Classics, and Ambassadors through 1966. The AMC 327 engine continued to be used in Jeep and marine applications into the mid-1970s. (See: AMC V8 engine)
Front fenders, hood, front bumper, are interchangeable with all 1967 Ambassadors. Windshields as well as doors and their glass from all two-door Ambassadors and Rebels are also interchangeable.
The 1967 Marlin similarly shares most major mechanical components with 1967 and up “senior” (Ambassador, Rebel, and Matador) models. The front suspension design was changed in 1970; however, brake components are interchangeable with later models. Mechanically, the track width for 1967, as well as 1968, was 58.5 in (1,486 mm). Starting in 1969 this was increased to an even 60 in (1,524 mm). In spite of the track width increase, the rear axle uses the same mounting points and spring locations. Therefore, complete rear-end assemblies from later models “bolt in” with some minor exceptions such as the different drive shaft rear universal joint sizes compared to those used in 1967.
Starting with the 1967 model year, completely new “GEN-II” V8 engines were used in all AMC vehicles. In 1968, the high-performance 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 was added. Then in 1970 and 1971 the 290 became the 304 cu in (5.0 L), the 343 became the 360 cu in (5.9 L), while the 390 became a 401 cu in (6.6 L). Many of the V8 parts are interchangeable with the 290 and 343. All “GEN-II” engines fit into the second generation Marlin. American Motors’ V8 engines were used through 1991 in the full-size Jeep Wagoneer.
The Tarpon was an “aquatically-named” design study for a small rear-wheel drive two-door monocoque pillarless hardtop. Characteristic was its sleek sloping fastback roof that narrowed as it met the rear bumper. The Tarpon featured two large and deep taillights that flowed down from the shoulders of the rear fender. The show car was finished in red with a black vinyl roof accenting its clean shape from the windshield back to almost the rear bumper. The smooth roofline was unbroken by the almost horizontal rear window. In a 1991 book about collectible cars, automotive historian Richard M. Langworth described the Tarpon’s sweeping roofline and “roughly elliptical side window openings suited the American’s handsome lines to a T, and the pretty well-peoportioned fastback looked a natural for showroom sale.” However, there was no trunk lid or outside hatch to access the cargo area.
The Tarpon concept “generated much excitement at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) convention in January 1964.” The concept was shown with the designers worked on a cutaway profile of the car on stage. The Tarpon then generated wide public interest as it toured the auto show circuit starting in January 1964. Its semi-boat tail roof design was accented with black vinyl first appeared at the Chicago Auto Show. It was well received at the automobile shows before the so-called “pony car” market segment was established. The Tarpon appeared together with the Mustang II (a concept design shown before the production version was unveiled) at the 1964 New York International Auto Show.
The automobile marketplace was changing in the early 1960s “when many young, first-time drivers entered the market … and bought cars with flair.” Early in 1963, American Motors’ management began development of “a new car with a sports flair” to modify its image. Richard A. Teague‘s styling team came up with an entirely new concept for AMC – a fastback design. He had a passion for pre-World War II automobiles and had a “passion for taking old styling and making it new again.” He observed the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette spit-window coupe design and the 1963 Ford Galaxie Sports Hardtop, which outsold the notchback models, followed the pattern set by Chevrolet’s distinctive 1942 Fleetline two-door fastback body style called the Aerosedan. Teague knew that his design team had to work with considerably smaller budgets than their counterparts at Detroit’s Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler).The small automaker was not willing to undertake the large investment that would be required all-new tooling, so his design team made imaginative use of existing tooling and create spin-offs from existing products.
The Tarpon was made on the compact-sized Rambler American‘s new design and platform already set for the 1964 model year. A convertible chassis was used 106 in (2,692 mm) wheelbase), but the Tarpon was slightly longer, 180 in (4,572 mm) compared to 177.25 in (4,502 mm) for the production Rambler American. The Tarpon’s roof was lowered two inches making it only 52.5 in (1,334 mm) high for an even more dynamic look. The top section of the new Rambler Tarpon was made of reinforced plastic. The windshield was described as “bulbous” and the fastback roofline featuring a “skylight” rear window. The swept back, double-compound curved windshield further enhanced the Tarpon’s low appearance. The Tarpon also featured polished 13-inch aluminum wheels. Production Ramblers rode on ordinary steel 14-inch versions, so the smaller wheels made the car lower. The interior had a complete set of dial-type gauges under a padded dash, a deep-dish aluminum steering wheel rimmed in walnut, and custombucket seats.
The Tarpon seemed to take aim at Plymouth’s new Valiant-based Barracuda and the soon to be announced Ford Mustang. Shown before the introduction of Ford’s compact Falcon-based Mustang, AMC’s Tarpon was “an instant success” with 60 percent of surveyed potential buyers stating they would buy one.
The Tarpon did not go into production. At that time, AMC was still developing its “GEN-2” light-weight V8 engine that would fit the small Rambler American chassis. If produced, the Tarpon would have been a competitor to the Plymouth Barracuda, a fastback derivative of the second-generation compact Valiant. Utilizing an existing compact platform would have paralleled the Mustang’s design approach whose chassis, suspension, and drive train were derived from the Ford Falcon. However, AMC’s market research indicated that offering only a six-cylinder power plant would not satisfy the intended target market segment. The new V8 engine was introduced in 1966 in the sporty hardtop model of the Rambler American called Rogue. Moreover, AMC’s CEO, Roy Abernethy, wanted the company to move away from the marketing image of Ramblers as being only small, economical, and conservative automobiles and designs. According to Abernethy AMC’s “main problem was its image lag — the fact that too many people still thought of American Motors as the builder of plain jane compacts.”
Under Abernethy’s leadership, the company was introducing larger cars that had more options, prestige, and luxury. For example, the new convertibles and more upscale Ambassador potentially offered higher profits. Although the small four-passenger Tarpon anticipated a new market segment that later became known as the pony cars, the decision at AMC was to build its sporty fastback “image” model on the company’s mid-sized or intermediate Classic platform. Teague recalled that “Abernethy had decided that instead of a 2+2 we would build a 3+3 sports-type car.” The new production model, called Marlin, was introduced mid-year 1965 and it added more “sport” to AMC’s car line-up. However, the Marlin had six-passenger capacity and was equipped with features as apersonal luxury car like the Ford Thunderbird or Buick Riviera, rather than a competitor in the pony-car