A history of American Motors Corporation

By Jake Kaywell, Viking Fusion Videographer

Before anyone decides to grip the edge of their seat with excitement, this is not the AMC story you are all thinking of. There will be no suspiciously well-connected high school science teachers or frantic survivors of stereotypical zombie apocalypse here. Instead, we will be focusing on the other AMC that I suspect only your professors would have had first hand experience with here at Berry. It would be the American Motors Corporation, and 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of their buyout and subsequent dissolution by the Chrysler Corp.

Why should you care about something that happened in a time when Reaganomics and polyester was all the rage? Well, for starters, the AMC-Chrysler deal is the reason why Jeep still exists. However, if I’m to really tell the tale of AMC, then I should start from the very beginning.

1962 Rambler Classic two-door sedan; photo Jake Kaywell
1962 Rambler Classic two-door sedan; photo Jake Kaywell

In the heady days of 1954, the Nash-Kelvinator Corp. and the Hudson Motor Car Company decided to merge, thereby having more capital and assets to take on the Big Three in earnest (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler). A fellow named George Romney was quickly placed in charge of the newly formed American Motors and he set to work making AMC more competitive.

By 1958, he had killed off the Hudson and Nash lines and focused solely on the Rambler nameplate. Like the Kenosha, Wisconsin, plant they were based out of, the Rambler was an heirloom from Nash. It was a basic little vehicle that featured a straight-6 style engine, better than average build quality and great fuel economy. These were just the traits Romney needed to stand out in the business.

Romney recognized that there were plenty of Americans who were looking for change. He directed AMC to throw everything it had at that segment of the auto market, to great personal and corporate success. This slightly nerdy ethos of a simple, quality-built compact car that any reasonably successful person could afford continued through the rest of the 50s and throughout the 60s.

In the 70s, however, AMC felt pressure from the Big Three as well as the rising tide of imported machines. Without Romney at the wheel anymore and strapped for cash, the Kenosha concern was fighting tooth and nail to stay alive. While Javelins, AMXs, Ambassadors, Pacers, Rebels, and Matadors were valiant defenders, none of them were able to conquer the enemy hordes.

1962 Rambler Classic two-door sedan; photo Jake Kaywell
1962 Rambler Classic two-door sedan; photo Jake Kaywell

The Hornet, the replacement for the outmoded Rambler, arrived in 1970 and would serve to be the foundation for many of AMC’s products thereafter. The other beneficial decision AMC made in 1970 was to purchase the rights from the Kaiser Corp. to make the Jeep.

Gremlin, Concord, Spirit, and Eagle. Three out of these four nameplates were all that was left of AMC by the 80s. By 1982, the beleaguered company was forced to broker a deal with Renault, a multinational automobile manufacturer. AMC ultimately received a much-needed cash infusion and modernization of their management and production techniques while Renault gained a foothold in the American market. Profits rebounded and things were finally looking up. Hope was restored.

Everything changed when Georges Besse, then president of Renault, was assassinated outside his Paris home on November 17, 1986 by Action Directed, a far-left terrorist group with a bone to pick with bourgeoise folks. There was a mad scramble at Renault’s home office and before long the company found itself selling all its shares of AMC to the Chrysler Corp. They scrapped AMC and kept Jeep for themselves. By 1989, all remaining AMCs were sold off dealer lots and the rest is history.

It is worth asking, though, what AMC might be like if the company still existed: Mass Market? Specialist? Making something other than cars? The company would most likely still be innovative and take risks like it was known for. For this reason and more, the death of AMC is lamentable.

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