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This is my first article in a long time, my writing "career" in the CL having hit another enforced hiatus.
In any case, this will continue the series on Nash, Hudson and AMC with the first two covering the individual marques and the third covering the first decade of AMC's existence (Which can be read here). Though this will deal with a much shorter period, it was nonetheless one of massive significance for the Kenosha manufacturer. Significant because the ambitions of George Romney's successor at the helm, Roy Abernethy, would bear full fruit.
When George Romney left AMC to pursue a political career, Roy Abernethy took the reins in Kenosha. Romney's strategy of focusing exclusively on sensible, economical products under the Rambler name had proven very successful, taking full advantage of the economic climate of late 50s America. Abernethy, however, would have a very different vision for what would be (by the end of 1966) the sole surviving "independent" passenger car maker in America. Perhaps Abernethy felt that with the automotive fashion and performance consciousness of the 1960s, AMC would have to adapt in order to ensure its own viability- ultimately, compete head on with the Big Three by trying to match their offerings. And starting with the 1965 model year, AMC would began to move away from what was perceived to be a "stodgy" image and attempt to expand its appeal.
Not much needed to be done with the basic product, because the basic product was very good indeed. However, some creative and flashier reworkings on these lines would be the AMC lineup for 1965. The Classic line got a facelift and an expanded engine range to include AMC's flagship 327 engine. The Ambassador, however, would see the biggest changes though utilising the same basic platform as '63-'64 models- a longer wheelbase and stacked headlights, and also an expanded engine range. Both lines offered a convertible- in fact the first "large" convertibles from Kenosha since the 1940s.
Perhaps a clearer indicator of AMC's new strategy would come with the Marlin. The Marlin was basically a Classic in a fastback body, albeit a highly practical fastback which could seat six. Overall, AMC sales that year did not rise drastically in what was a banner year for the industry.
The following year saw even more glamourous versions of the Classic and Ambassador offered. The "Rambler" nameplate was dropped for senior cars, and they would simply be known as AMCs. The American, already well-established in the compact segment, would still be known as a Rambler. 1967 saw new mid-size Rebel and full-size Ambassador lines, with the latter providing the last year of the Marlin. Styling was good, and the cars overall were good. AMC also began to get creative in marketing. But it didn't help sales and, it would seem, crisis was looming at AMC Central- enough to ensure Abernethy would leave his job.
In the car industry, as in politics, sport, and life generally, the old chesnut goes that things can and do get a lot better after they get worse. And this was most definitely true with AMC. For, indeed, 1968 would be a very, very special year. It would be the year that AMC's very own Pony Car, perhaps even the symbol of the marque's bid to challenge the Big Three, the Javelin would be unleashed onto the marketplace. And as if it wasn't exciting enough, a bona fide two-seater "sports car", the AMX, would join the stable. But these cars and new V8 engines introduced the year before weren't the only good news for AMC- indeed, 1968 would see a reversal of the declining sales of the previous few years. AMC management would no doubt have been delighted with this turnaround.
It was more or less the same for 1969 and 1970- products would be raised another level with a larger Ambassador for 1969 (fittingly one of the first cars to have standard A/C), and the Hornet replacing the venerable American for 1970. AMC also began to race cars in the latter half of the 60s, a complete reversal from company policy earlier in the decade- just look at the advertisements put out. AMC had began the decade focusing strongly on economy but finished the decade trying to go head on with Detroit Inc.
But for all that, the changes in no way diminished the interesting, somewhat quirky appeal, of AMC products. They were a somewhat different and enjoyable alternative to Detroit offerings. For instance, the 343, 390 and 401 V8 motors were neither big nor small block motors, but rather "medium block" motors which offered potentially big block power without the weight. This clearly paid off in the driveability of its compact and medium performance offerings, which only ehnances their desirability among enthusiasts.
Indeed, we can look upon the 1954-70 period as the halcyon era of American Motors Corporation. The little one from Kenosha stayed strong and stayed true. Unfortunately as the 1970s dawned, AMC would face far stiffer challenges and commit a series of blunders which to this day unfairly tarnish this fascinating marque.
 

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Re: Stepping Up A Gear- The Story of AMC 1965-1970 (David Votoupal)

Who couldn't love the AMX? It was the performance car for those who wanted to stray from the norm. And it was tough to beat with its compact size and 390-cube V8.
 

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Re: Stepping Up A Gear- The Story of AMC 1965-1970 (David Votoupal)

I've always had a thing for the AMC's. Probably because they built 'em here. There was a time where the majority of the blue-collar employees in Kenosha worked at the AMC plant. Then, in 1987 (or so) they got bought out by Chrysler. Now they build Pacifica engines in the old AMC plant.
My, how times have changed...
 

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AMC is special to me, because the very years you're discussing for this carmaker were the years when I became a huge AMC fan, thus breaking my "Ford Man" boyhood fetish, which lasted until '68, when I was 15, and tided me over until I "converted" to Eurocar-worship in around '72 or so. AMC was the little-guy, and they were also fast on their feet during this time, and we all benefitted from this, as the GREAT Dick Teague's talents came to the fore during this time at AMC. In a larger, more cumbersome corporate setting than AMC's, Teage may have not been able to show his talents the way he did with AMC's beautifully designed (sometimes not-so-beautiful, see Gremlin
) machines of these years.
I know that everyone concentrates on the Javelin and AMX, and rightly so, but if someone could put-up a nice photograph of a '67 AMC Ambassador (especially the Diplomat coupe model), we'd see that Teague was really an artist when it came to bread-and-butter cars, too. It was as clean and tasteful a full-sized Detroit-style car as there ever was.
 

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Re: Stepping Up A Gear- The Story of AMC 1965-1970 (vwlarry)

Quote, originally posted by vwlarry »
... but if someone could put-up a nice photograph of a '67 AMC Ambassador (especially the Diplomat coupe model), we'd see that Teague was really an artist when it came to bread-and-butter cars, too. It was as clean and tasteful a full-sized Detroit-style car as there ever was.





Let's not forget the Rebel though. As a 10 yr old gearhead-in-grooming, this is the AMC I liked in the late 60's:


and if I remember it right, this is the first one that caught my eye:

Funny-cars were just the coolest possible thing for me back then.
 

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Re: Stepping Up A Gear- The Story of AMC 1965-1970 (4x4s)

Man, thanx for the photos, and the memories! I actually watched the Grant Rebel Funny Car run a coupla times, at the late, great US30 Dragstrip ("Sunday...SUNDAY at bee-yoo-tee-full Yuu-Ess-Thirty Dragstrip!! Be there!!"
) in Schererville, IN (SE of Chicago one hour) back in those days. I also built a detailed model of that car from the AMT 1/24 kit. I didn't mean to slight the concurrent-to-the-Ambassador Rebels; they were also great-looking cars, and v. cleanly styled (although Teague's people sullied them in later facelifts with extra tinsel and trash, IMO).
Here's an AMC trivia question-and-answer for your next gathering of beer-drinking-and-trivia with your buddies: What was the unique interior feature of 1967 AMC Ambassadors, that was not matched by any other car in the world? Answer: The top-line DPL boasted a set of matching-fabric (elaborate brocade) throw-pillows as standard equipment. I'll bet there aren't ANY surviving Ambassadors with their original pillows still with them.
IIRC, the top-shelf Marlin in '67 also had the pillows as standard. Nice touch, if a little froo-froo.

Another AMC concept car from this period that deserves a viewing here would be the Tarpon, which was a really cool-looking (and still modern in concept) "sportwagon" that was a sleek and glassy compact wagon with styling that previewed the later-to-come Javelin. I went to the Chicago Auto Show every year back in the sixties and seventies, and AMC's exhibits at the show in the late sixties were always the most exciting and best-attended of all; even the Big Three's weren't as packed with people, especially kids like me.
For at least two years running, AMC's exhibit at the Auto Show featured an audience-participation game that was made up of a ring of about 30 or so Hurst shift levers mounted in a realistic gate, and the host of game (one year this was Craig Breedlove
, the land-speed legend and then-AMC spokesman) would start a movie of an AMX accelerating flat-out, with a loud soundtrack, whereupon the contestants had to match the shift-points precisely to win a prize (a poster or something I think). My buddies and me went back time and again, and couldn't get enough of it! I remember those Chicago Auto Shows at the Amphitheatre like it was yesterday...





Modified by vwlarry at 8:50 PM 9-11-2005
 

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Re: Stepping Up A Gear- The Story of AMC 1965-1970 (vwlarry)

The '64 AMC Tarpon:



A very lovely car - sort of reminds me of a Barracuda in a way. One big strike against it, however, is it's horrible name. Just imagine the horrid nicknames it would have gotten from 7th grade proto-enthusiasts by simply changing one letter. Remember, this was in the day of huge American brand loyalty. I was from a die-hard Chevy family myself, and if it didn't wear the bow tie, it had to be [email protected] My Ford and Mopar friends were the same way, and we had endless debates about why Chevy's or Ford's or Dodge's absolutely ruled. The one thing we publicly agreed on was that all AMC's were just crummy old Ramblers. Of course we were all full of bull-doody, and secretly envied many of the other brands, and would spend hours pouring through our Hot Rod magazines wishing that our beloved Nova's had this feature or that from the AMX, or that the Mustang would get an independent rear suspension like a Corvette.
Interesting how fanboys then and now have not really changed that much over the years.
 
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