Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Internet / American Motor Corporation... Rambling, Disjointed Thoughts For The Weekend

It's amazing how times have changed. I was telling someone about this blog last night and he mentioned that he always wanted a Triumph Spitfire. A couple of quick mouse clicks and I was able to print out a list of 7 nice ones that were for sale within a 100 miles radius of where he lives.

In 1983 I decided to buy a Sunbeam Alpine. I made the decision in maybe January, but didn't buy one until June. The reason it took so long had nothing to do with time or finances or any of the usual stuff that keeps us from buying a car, the problem was finding one. I'd have to wait each week for the new edition of WantAdvertiser, AutoTrader, or some such publication to appear at the local supermarket and then look for an ad. Most of the time there weren't any Sunbeams listed for sale. Each month I'd wait for Hemmings to show up. Hemmings usually had a few Sunbeam ads, but very few, if any, had pictures. I wasn't about to drive from Massachusetts to Ohio to look at a car that may or may not be a rust bucket.

I finally found a Sunbeam. The woman I was dating at the time spotted one listed in her local newspaper and told me about it. I bought it, but it was wrecked shortly after I registered it when a girl in a Ford F-Something pick-up crossed over into my lane and hit me head-on. The Sunbeam took the hit amazingly well and I was unhurt, but the car was totaled by the insurance company. I wanted another Sunbeam, but the idea of going through the whole "waiting for publications" thing wasn't appealing, so I bought a MGB that was sitting at a local car lot. (I did wind up buying another Sunbeam a few years later)

If that had happened today I could have jumped online and within seconds found 20 ads for Sunbeam Alpines. Most would have had high quality pictures and good descriptions (Remember, back in the day of just print ads you paid by the word for the ad. The less words you used, the less it cost you. People wanted to save money, so, to put it bluntly, the descriptions usually sucked.) I could have replaced my wrecked one within 24 hours.

We have it pretty good today.

We need to reassemble AMC's management team and let them run Chrysler and GM.

I recently did a post about an AMX and it got me thinking about just how amazing the American Motors Corporation was.

Looking back, it is truly incredible what AMC did with the very little money and resources they had.

AMC, more than any other company, created the SUV market. In the seventies someone at AMC had the idea of throwing some leather and luxury items into their aging Jeep Wagoneer model. The vehicle became a huge success. It took Range Rover another 10 years or so to come out with something to compete with the Wagoneer in the US and the rest of the auto industry soon followed suit, but AMC, unarguably started the luxury SUV craze with the Wagoneer.

The Wagoneer wasn't the only breakthrough SUV AMC created. The Cherokee was the first mid-sized 4 door SUV. GM had to scramble to come up with the S10 line, Ford eventually introduced the Explorer, but the Jeep Cherokee was the first (and, in my eyes, still the best - I've owned several). Every mid-sized SUV available today is here because of what AMC started with the Jeep Cherokee.

Along with SUVs, AMC created some interesting, even groundbreaking, cars. The Rambler was one of America's first compact cars. The Gremlin was laughed at for being an AMC Hornet with it's back end lopped off, but look now at how many car companies add or subtract a trunk and create a different model (Jetta? Can you say pin the tail on the Rabbit?). With the Eagle, AMC was the first American company to offer 4WD in a passenger car. AMCs most notorious flop, the Pacer, might not have done so badly had GM not pulled the plug on the rotary engine that was supposed to be fitted to it, forcing AMC to jam its inline 6 cylinder engine into a space that was not created for such a large engine. As for the styling, take a look at a Subaru's successful Impreza wagon and tell me they weren't looking at a Pacer when they designed that car.

With an aging factory and a tiny (compared to the Big 3) dealer network, AMC could never consistently turn a profit. Eventually they were bought by Renault, the French car company that had been trying to crack the US market since the 1950s, with very little success. Renault ultimately discontinued most of the AMC lineup and started selling Renault designed cars through the AMC dealerships. Americans didn't take to American built Renaults any more than they did to the French built ones and in 1987 Renault sold Jeep and what was left of AMC to Chrysler and retreated back to France.

With GM living on borrowed money and virtually bankrupt, it could use some of AMCs know-how in creating interesting cars on a shoestring budget.

Chrysler is about to hook up with Fiat, a company, like Renault, that never had any real success in the US despite years of trying. I'm pretty certain that AMCs management team, looking back on their Renault disaster, could offer Chrysler and Fiat a few tips on what to avoid in this marriage.

AMC was around for a little over 30 years and built some very good vehicles that just now are getting the recognition they deserve. Given what little resources they had to work with, it's pretty amazing what AMC accomplished. GM, Ford and Chrysler should take note.


Anonymous said...

So right on both ccounts.

Anonymous said...

I have a different view about AMC: they only survived as long as they got government contracts. That is why in the 1970s all the government cars were Hornets and Concords. They were designed and built to meet GAO specifications for fleet purchase. You mention the Pacer. This was a classic case where they should have spent their R&D on engineering a front-wheel-drive car, instead of a re-style of the Hornet/Gremlin.I'm not sure what the US auto industry needs right now, but it can't be a return to cars designed to meet a bean-counters' budget for battalions of bureaurocrats.

Jason said...

I have to agree with Alden. AMC didn't create cars, they assembled them. Most parts were sourced from other manufacturers. The Rambler was well thought out car back in the fifties, but the Hornet and Gremlin were just the same car with different bodies 25 years later.