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The American Motors Marque

As the Rambler brand name began to lose its appeal in the mid-60s, AMC gradually phased it out. The 1966 Ambassador and Marlin were American Motors models, no longer Ramblers. After the 1969 model year, the Rambler name was gone. The company seemed unable to settle on a consistent name or logo for several years: a script "AM" logo was used for a time, followed by a stylized "A" with the words "American Motors", which finally became "AMC". It's little wonder that most people of a certain age still think of the company as "Rambler". 

AMC's share of the market rose significantly in the "stagflation" era of the early 70s, when solid, economical cars like the Hornet and Gremlin lured new customers, just as the Rambler had in the late 50s. Unfortunately, the company was unable to sustain its temporary success in the face of mounting competition from imports and federal regulations that demanded technical sophistication beyond its means. Two expensive product development efforts -- the Matador Coupe and the Pacer -- used up cash that might have been better spent on new engines or a downsized intermediate sedan. AMC was forced to consolidate, and in 1981 was left with three models (Concord, Spirit and Eagle) based on a single platform -- just like in the early 60s. 

AMC's early 70's lineup: Ambassador, Matador, Javelin, Hornet, Gremlin

1971 Hornet SC 
(photo provided by chris)
The 1970 Hornet, which replaced the seriously outdated Rambler American, was a fairly unremarkable car but proved to be one of the most important in AMC's history. Luckily for AMC the Hornet's pleasantly contemporary styling held up well over the years, because its chassis and sheet metal served as the basis for most of the company's output over the next 18 years: the Gremlin, Concord, Spirit, and Eagle 4WD cars all sprang from the Hornet's loins.
Taking its name from a legendary Hudson model of the 50s, the Hornet debuted in 2- and 4-door sedan versions on a 108-inch wheelbase. The most collectible Hornet is the 1971 SC/360, which could be had with some fairly serious performance equipment. Only 784 were made. Several Hornet models are pictured in Norbert Vance's Hornet Photo Sampler.

1972 Hornet Sportabout
AMC wagons were always popular, and the Sportabout was no exception, accounting for a large percentage of Hornet sales. Introduced for the 1971 model year, the basic body style survived until the 1988 season as a Concord and then as an Eagle model. An attractive "Gucci" package, introduced in 1972, was among the first of many designer models offered by U.S. automakers.
The Hornet line expanded again in 1973, when the attractive hatchback model appeared. To anyone out there who doesn't believe AMCs can be fast: check out Thomas Grandmaison's Hornet Hatchback (pictured at right). Thomas writes:

I found the car in a warehouse in 1988. The guy bought it brand new and put it in storage planning to race it. It had only 4 miles on it. The car has ladder bars and coil over shocks for rear suspension and stock front suspension. Engine is 380 c.i., based on the 4 bolt T/A block and a destroked 390 crank. Ross 13-1 pistons, ported heads, Donovan valves, Comp Cams roller cam, Manley rods, Edelbrock torker intake, and Holley 1150 dominator carb. Transmission is by ProTrans, and convertor by A-1. Rear end is 9" Ford with Lenco spool and 5.14 gears. It took a long time to build it, but it sure is fun driving it! The car always attracts a crowd -- nobody can believe it is AMC powered.

Hornet Hatchback
(photo credit: Thomas Grandmaison)

1976 Gremlin 
(photo credit: Lynn Matthews)
On April 1, 1970, American Motors introduced the first American sub-compact, the Gremlin. It was basically a Hornet with most of the back end lopped off, riding on a 96-inch wheelbase. The Gremlin was much heavier than other companies' small cars and thus less economical, but its solidity, conventional drivetrain, relatively beefy engines (up to a 304 V-8), and interesting styling endeared it to many buyers, particularly as a delivery vehicle.
During the mid-70s gas crisis, AMC touted the combination of Gremlin's huge gas tank and respectable gas mileage, which gave it the longest driving range of any car on the market. Total Gremlin production (1970-78) exceeded 700,000 units, making it AMC's most popular single model. This picture shows Lynn Matthews' yellow 1976 Gremlin parked next to a periwinkle model. Additional Gremlin pix are in Norbert Vance's Gremlin Photo Sampler.
For 1977 the Gremlin received its first significant styling changes, including a shorter front end that reduced overhang by four inches and a larger, all-glass rear liftgate. The popular Gremlin X package (shown), which had been available since the 1971 model year, featured a particularly attractive stripe treatment in 1977.  Also new in mid-year 1977 was a four-cylinder engine option (acquired from Volkswagen). In 1978, Gremlin's last year, a "GT" package was offered, including full wheel flares and a front air dam. The GT is rare and very collectible.
1977 Gremlin X 
(photo from Zee's Gremmy Page)

1974 Matador Wagon
The Matador replaced the Rebel in the 1971 model year. The new car had slightly cleaner styling and rode on a longer wheelbase (118 inches). Perhaps because AMC changed its midsize line's name so many times, the Matador was not exactly well known, so AMC poked fun at itself with the "What's a Matador" advertising slogan. 1974-78 models sported the "coffin-nosed" look inspired by federal 5 mph bumper standards.
In 1974 a radically restyled 2-door coupe model appeared, on a 114-inch wheelbase (learn all about it at the Coupe Coop). The coupe failed miserably in its dual missions of increasing showroom traffic and winning NASCAR races, and its tooling costs helped speed AMC's demise, but examples built without the disfiguring landau vinyl roof, opera windows and two-tone paint are quite striking (if a bit bizarre). The Matador sedan, wagon and coupe soldiered on with minor changes through 1978. Norbert Vance's Matador Photo Sampler includes the pictures shown here plus other images.
ca. 1974 Matador Coupe
Ambassador, R.I.P.    

1967 Ambassador Convertible (photo provided by: Colin Brodsky).
Starting in 1966 the Ambassador was no longer a Rambler, it was badged as an American Motors model. As the 60's progressed, the Ambassador grew larger and more luxurious, part of AMC's ultimately misguided effort to compete head-on with the Big Three's product lines. The last Ambassador convertible was built in 1967, and it was a stunner. Only 1260 of the beauties were built.
The Ambassadors for 1967-69, particularly the two-door hardtops, were exceptionally good-looking cars, with smooth, flowing curves; although somewhat reminiscent of some Big Three products (especially Chrysler's big cars), they were distinctive enough, and the stacked quad headlamps on the 67-68 Ambassadors were especially interesting. Unfortunately, the styling was altered for the worse in 1970, with more massive rear quarters and a very ungainly "C" pillar treatment for the 2-doors that foreshadowed the Gremlin's. The wheelbase grew from 116 inches in 1966 to 118 in 1967, and again to a whopping 122 inches in 1969, when the Ambo received a new grille treatment and a more conventional headlight arrangement.
1968 Ambassador SST
(photo credit: Bill Bucci)

1973 Ambassador
(photo credit: Colin Brodsky).
Flagship of the Nash, Rambler, and AMC lines since the 1930s, the Ambassador didn't survive the 70s. Sales of the "Ambo" were never very high, and AMC lacked the money to invest in the full-sized car market (which didn't look like a good bet during the oil embargo era in any event). The last Ambassadors rolled out of Kenosha in 1974. I've always had a soft spot for Ambassadors like Colin Brodsky's '73, especially yellow ones! Colin's Ambassador Homepage has lots of photos and historical information. More late-model Ambo pix are in Norbert Vance's Ambassador Photo Sampler.
When the Pacer debuted in March 1975, it was unlike any other car on the road. And it still is. The Pacer was subcompact in length but as wide as a Cadillac, and it featured a huge expanse of glass, a longer door on the passenger side, and a sloping hood that was a decade ahead of its time. Some of the Pacer's design ideas were brilliant, but the car was doomed from the start. AMC had planned to use a Wankel rotary engine (bought from GM) and front-wheel drive, but fuel economy concerns killed the rotary motor, forcing the use of an inefficient conventional drivetrain. Sales were fairly good at first but plummeted in later years, and the Pacer was killed after the 1980 model year. AMC's large, unrecovered investment in the Pacer contributed significantly to the company's decline, but in recent years the Pacer (along with the Gremlin) has become a 70's icon in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials, ironically preserving AMC's memory in popular culture. Check out Jeni Barovian's super-cool Pacer Page and visit the Washington Grove Pacer Farm.
1975 Pacer
(photo credit: Jeni Barovian).

1978 Pacer Wagon
(photo credit: Eddie Stakes).
A wagon version of the Pacer was introduced in 1977, and it significantly outsold the coupe model for the rest of the Pacer's run. With a less unusual (and arguably better looking) rear-end treatment and vastly increased cargo capacity, the wagon broadened the Pacer's appeal but couldn't stop the sales slide. In 1978 and 1979 AMC offered the 304 V8 in the Pacer, which required a raised hood profile to fit the air cleaner. The new hood and grille treatment, which was used on all Pacers starting in 1978, badly compromised the Pacer's styling and for little real gain, since the 304 offered little extra power and very few were sold: 3,528 in two years.
The Concord replaced the Hornet in 1978. The biggest difference between the Hornet and the Concord was the name, but the Concord was a somewhat more luxurious package with significant chassis refinements. It continued through the 1983 model year with few major changes.
1981 Concord Wagon
(photo provided by Jim Weisflock)
Spirit Sedan
1979 Spirit Sedan
For 1979, the Spirit took the place of the Gremlin. A sedan version was nearly identical to the Gremlin, but with a more conventional rear side window design. The new liftback Spirit was one of the best looking cars to emerge from AMC in its later years. The Spirit line was dropped after 1983. Interestingly, after Chrysler acquired AMC it applied both the Concord and Spirit names to its own cars.
An "AMX" version of the Spirit liftback was offered for 1979 and '80. It featured special trim items, performance suspension, and white-letter tires, but speed was not its forte: the biggest powerplant on the 1979 AMX was a 304 V-8 capable of reaching 60 mph in a whopping 13.4 seconds. For 1980, the only engine was the 258 in-line six. Still, it's the last car to wear the "AMX" name, and it's understandably popular with AMC collectors.
1980 (Spirit) AMX
(photo credit: Eddie Stakes).
Spirit Race Car
Spirit Race Car
photo provided by Dennis Kupferschmid.
Click on the photo of the Spirit race car at left  to see a series of "pictures from the late 70's of Irv Hoerr and his team when they were racing AMC Spirits," sent by Dennis Kupferschmid. "This series of photos were taken at Road America, shortly after a shop tour of the Hoerr racing facility in Peoria, IL, with the local AMO chapter. Some of the modifications Irv described to us were very labor intensive and meticulous!"
The 4-wheel-drive Eagle, introduced in 1980, was the last true AMC car; its production run ended on December 15, 1987. Based on the Concord platform, the Eagle featured the first full-time 4WD system ever offered on a passenger car in the U.S. (the Subaru wagon had a part-time system). The transfer case was a British design built for AMC by Chrysler. The car rode high off the ground to accommodate the revised drivetrain layout. Instead of creating new sheet metal stampings, AMC used plastic filler panels to mask the gap between the tires and wheelwells. Most Eagles were 4-door wagons, but 4-door sedans were produced 1980-87 and 2-door sedans were made 1980-83.
1983 Eagle Wagon in its native habitat - the snow (photo credit: James B. Moran)
Eagle SX/4 and Kammback
Eagle SX/4 Sport
1981 SX/4 Sport
(photo credit: James Prior)
Shorter, Spirit-based Eagles were produced in 1981-83. The SX/4 was a surprisingly hot little number and is considered especially collectible, particularly with the Sport package. But the rarest Eagle of all is the 1981-82 Kammback, based on the modified Gremlin design used on the Spirit Sedan.
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