Hey, long time no Savant! But where better than here to shine a light on the works of the American Motor Corporation, more fondly known as AMC? And I for one do remember it fondly. Of course, it helps that the company and I lived for a number of years in the same town, Southfield, Mich., where its gleaming, monolithic headquarters building still stands, surrounded by a tangle of expressways and service drives.
The 26-story building went up in 1975, right in the heart of a decade that had, in retrospect, a lot more going for it style-wise than I recognized the first time around. Take these members of the AMC portfolio from the 1970s, all of which were being shown off at the recent 2013 Motor City All Family AMC Meet here in lovely Livonia, Mich.
Right off the bat, in 1970, the company introduced the AMC Gremlin. Now, at this stage in the game, any mention of the Gremlin around here immediately conjures up thoughts of the Oakland County Child Killer, who at one time was rumored to be driving in a blue-and-white one. The case was never solved, and as I write this, the authorities are now investigating a construction site in semi-nearby Genesee County, where they’ve turned up some suspicious buried Gremlin parts.
When I can put that out of my mind, I can appreciate the Gremlin for its classic sports car proportions, with its long hood and short/non-existent rear deck. It’s almost as if someone tried to reproduce a Jaguar E-Type using a cardboard box. AMC always did an effective job with its stripes and other graphics, and that shows here as well in the examples with full-body side stripes that run from the top of the rear side glass down through to the front of the car.
Then, just a year after the Gremlin went into production, the automaker updated its muscle-car entry in the form of the 1971 AMC Javelin. Rumor has it that the design of this car was purposely created to scare off half-hearted drivers who would otherwise settle for the more mundane Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang of the time. Its proportions can sometimes seem a bit off, but with those distinctively swoopy lines and leaping-forward stance, there was nothing like the Javelin. And that goes for the cockpit, too.
Check out the toggle switches for the lights and wipers, and the nifty metallic dash, and that shifter handle is a nice bit of work as well (considering it’s for an automatic transmission). Even when the Javelin rocked a landau roof, like that yellow car shown here, it did so with its own unique brand of panache.
But as the Javelin was being phased out, a new AMC Matador Coupe was being phased in, for the 1974 model year, and although the latter didn’t share much in the way of family resemblance to the former, the Matador did once again illustrate AMC’s penchant for avant-garde design. It’s unfortunately muddled by a challenging photo environment and the car’s vinyl roof (on the only Matador I saw at the show), but trust me, the big coupe’s low roof line and dramatically designed rear-quarter windows deliver a very Euro feel in person.
There’s also a notable similarity in design language between the Matador and another icon that launched around the same time, the AMC Pacer. It’s especially noticeable around the headlights and the way the rear quarter panels turn the corner into the vehicles’ rear ends.
On the other hand, I’m not going to attempt to defend the Pacer’s design much beyond the usual party line, that it was an innovative attempt at something new but utterly failed in its execution. Yet, it is surprising that no other automaker has worked the wide angle on a current compact; done properly, it could be a practical way to add more versatility and cabin space while minimizing an urban entry’s horizontal footprint, which was exactly the design brief for the Pacer.
But so was relying on a Wankel engine, although that’s another story … and one that helps me segue into another example of a distinctive technology that was supposed to help save AMC, and that’s all-wheel drive.
Way back in 1979, when the AMC Eagle first soared off dealership lots, all-wheel-drive was nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. Subaru was still almost 15 years away from becoming an all-all-wheel-drive concern at that time, but AMC offered it on these lifted wagons/crossovers, along with smaller cars like the AMC SX/4. Just keep in mind that these were the real deal in the off-road department, with sophisticated AWD setups that were backed up by the significant expertise of a separate AMC brand—Jeep.
Relatively popular when it debuted—selling more than 45,000 units in its first and highest sales year—the Eagle family sort of got lost in the shuffle of AMC’s persistent financial problems, and by the time Chrysler bought the brand in 1987, the market was just catching its breath before starting to binge on full-size SUVs. As a result, despite the introduction of more recent vehicles like the Audi allroad (in all of its incarnations) and the Subaru Outback, the Eagles’ combination of car-like styling and some sort of “real” all-wheel-drive system has yet to see the same success since.
Although wouldn’t it be fitting if AMC’s descendant by way of Fiat, the 500L Trekking, were able to don a Jeep-approved AWD system and fill that role?