Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the American Motors Corporation as a truly American enterprise. In 1983, Renault of France bought a controlling interest in the company, bringing to an end some of the most stunning shoestring budget innovation that the American auto industry had ever seen. Here are five of our favorite oddball AMCs:
1954-62 Metropolitan: American Motors was among the first of the U.S. automakers to see the value in trying to compete with foreign companies who were beginning to send large numbers of small cars into the United States by the 1950s. The Metropolitan was a tiny VW Beetle fighter that came in hardtop and convertible body styles. A bit of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” type of thing, it was built by Austin of England and sold under the Nash, Hudson and Metropolitan names in North America. Collectors like them today for their bright two-tone color schemes and their “almost too cute to function as a car” appearance.
1965-67 Marlin: The introduction of the Ford Mustang in April 1964 caught most of the competition flatfooted. Like its similarly fishy competition from Plymouth, the Barracuda, it had a bit of a makeshift appearance to it with a strange fastback grafted on to an existing design. It gave way to the much prettier (and far less weird) Javelin in 1968.
1975-80 Pacer: The Pacer may well be one of the strangest cars ever to come from a U.S. manufacturer. Built to house GM’s stillborn rotary engine, it made due mostly with AMC’s ancient 258 cid six. Seemingly almost as wide as it is long, the Pacer, due to an appearance in the film “Wayne’s World,” was briefly popular as a collectible “nerd car” along with the next car on the list.
1970-78 Gremlin: AMC had a wonderful history of talented designers making due with miniscule budgets, which often meant new models were slice-and-dice versions of older models. And so it was with the Gremlin, which was basically a truncated AMC Hornet. The advertising of the day even made light of this fact with a commercial in which a grizzled gas station attendant looked quizzically at a Gremlin and asked the owner, “Where’s the rest of your car, toots?”
1980-88 Eagle: The Eagle was perhaps AMC’s most brilliant mash-up of existing parts, marrying a drivetrain from its Jeep division with the AMC Concord wagon to create the first successful mass-produced four-wheel-drive passenger car. The Concord wagon-based cars still turn up in places like Colorado and Alaska in regular use. The Gremlin-based Kammback is particularly weird and nearly extinct.