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No DeLoreans Allowed

Over at the Car Lust blog, one of the authors is sharing a little pipe dream of his. Chris Hafner imagines he invents a time machine and goes back to the 1970s to save the American Motors Corporation. (No, he won't do anything really worthwhile, like preventing disco.) His plan to save AMC? Bring back cars from the then future to revamp AMC's lineup. And he's got the entire AMC lineup to replace.

The criteria he's using is the new cars have to replace an existing model in the AMC lineup, be significantly better than the competition of the time, and not be instantly recognized as versions of other makes and models.

He started off by replacing the much-maligned Gremlin with a 1997 Acura Integra.

It's a fun notion, and I hope Chris keeps up the conceit of the piece -- writing as a journalist of the time evaluating these "new AMC models."

He also issued a tacit challenge -- what models would you choose to replace the AMC lineup? Here are the models and categories:

  • AMC Gremlin--the subcompact economy car
  • AMC Pacer--the innovative compact people-mover
  • AMC Hornet--the small sedan and wagon
  • AMC Eagle--the go-anywhere, do-anything AWD wagon
  • AMC Matador--the mid-size sedan and stylish coupe
  • AMC Ambassador--the full-size sedan
  • AMC Marlin--the casual, feel-good sporty car
  • AMC Javelin--the more serious sporty car
  • AMC AMX--the hard-core sports car

I decided to take up that challenge. But I decided to make my choices to cars that featured major changes to appearance, performance, or other capabilities. Cars that were in no way instantly identifiable as related to existing makes or models. I skipped the Gremlin, 'cuz that was already covered. And I'm not quite certain about a couple of them, but here's my first draft.
  • Pacer -- 2000 Ford Focus
  • Hornet -- 1992 Saturn S-series
  • Eagle -- 2003 Honda Element
  • Matador -- 1984 Ford Taurus
  • Ambassador -- 1992 Cadillac Seville STS
  • Marlin -- 1989 Ford Probe Turbo
  • Javelin -- 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX
  • AMX -- 1990 Mitsubushi 3000GT VR-4
The Focus, coming in 3-door, 4-door, 5-door, and wagon form, was (and still is) one of the best small cars ever made, and its angular styling makes it look like nothing else on the road.

The Saturns were simple, cheap, efficient, flexible, and their use of plastic body panels was a major departure.

For the Eagle, most people would want to go for a Subaru as a "go-anywhere, do-anything AWD wagon." But I can't do what everyone else would do, and Subarus are just distinctly odd. The Element, though, looks truly unique.

The Ford Taurus changed the way American sedans were made. Front-wheel drive and exceptional (for the day) aerodynamics gave the Taurus a futuristic look, and still influences cars today.

The first Seville STS was unlike any other Cadillac ever made. Big, luxurious, but swoopy as hell and very aggressively styled -- but still with the sharp edges that define "luxury." Coupled with the legendary Cadillac Northstar engine, it reshaped the Cadillac line.

The Ford Probe was another groundbreaker -- a performance coupe with front-wheel drive, a four-cylinder engine, and out-of-this-world looks. It wasn't a huge performer, but it was good enough.

At about the same time, though, Mitsubishi was taking that niche and just owning it. The Eclipse GSX took a tiny, aggressive as hell body and wrapped it around an amazingly powerful (for the day) engine and an all-wheel-drive drivetrain.

Then the Mitsubishi engineers took those basic ideas and cranked it up to 11 with the 3000GT. The top-of-the-line model had a twin-turbo V6, all-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering, active aerodynamics, and a body that looked like it was starting to change into a giant robot.

I'm not entirely satisfied with my choices here. I think there's too much overlap between the Focus and the Saturns, and the Eclipse might be a little small for the Javelin. Plus, there is a decided lack of familial looks between the Taurus and the Seville, when they should bear a bit of resemblance to each other. But overall, I think it's a decent list.

Anyone else wanna take a stab at it?


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Comments (19)

You'd have better ... (Below threshold)

You'd have better luck with this if the new cars were more than just efficient transportation modules.

I won't deny the engineering advances, they are manifold. What has been edited out is any sort of PERSONALITY. They're cookie cutter cars. As such, there is all the appeal of a rotted tree stump.

I spent 40 years as the friendly person who fixed your car right the FIRST time,so I can speak with some authority here.

The oldies have an honest charm that can't be denied--something not to be said of a Chevy Cavalier,, or Pontiac Sunfire, or a Ford Fiesta (pick your example here).

The whole AMC thing just es... (Below threshold)
jim m:

The whole AMC thing just escapes me. It's not like a Packard or a Studebaker that produced cars of some quality or character. Why even pretend to bring back a marque that is remembered by many as ugly cars with poor quality?

AMC, huh? In the early 70'... (Below threshold)

AMC, huh? In the early 70's, was assigned AMC as my term project in a college financial course. The question to answer - was it a good sound, long-term investment. Spent many a late night at several local college libraries doing research. Report ran about 40 pages. Didn't recommend them, said they'd be lucky to be in business in 10 years (missed it by 4 years ). Could probably do the same background research on the internet today in about 1 hour.

Laugh all you want - and ye... (Below threshold)

Laugh all you want - and yes, by the mid-1970s AMC was living on borrowed time with long-in-the-tooth cars - but their 1960s offerings were GOOD cars. I finally sold my 1965 Ambassador convertible in 1983 because I couldn't find replacement rubber bushings for the front control arms and the car sounded like a piledriver hitting a bump. I still miss that car, from its electric-razor front grille and stacked quad headlights back to its Packard-inspired narrow vertical taillight lenses and low bumper in the rear. It had almost 200,000 miles on it, and wearing its fourth Haartz convertible top, and looked as good the day I sold it as when I bought it.

I can't for the life of me ... (Below threshold)
Pile of Pooh:

I can't for the life of me figure out this fetish so many kids have with the Integra. It's just another typical Jap-crap econobox, from my perspective. The Gremlin, for all its problems (and they were many, believe me), at least had character, irongrampa alludes to above. An Integra has all the character and appeal of cold pancakes.

Gremlins, by the way, are a favorite on the amateur drag race circuits. They're cheap, have a very stable, shortish wheelbase, wide wheel wells for shoving in big power rubber, and they've got enough space in the engine compartment to wedge in some serious grunt. Watching one that's been heavily modified launch off is hysterical; it looks like it's been hit in the rear by a tractor-trailer rig moving 60mph.

As for your 3000GT/Stealth, JT, it was an innovative car in several ways. Unfortunately, it weighed as much as a moderately large shrimp boat and handled like a pregnant mare. And the maintenance costs... ugh! Had a friend owned one, and he couldn't wait to get rid of the thing. He had to virtually take out loans to buy the parts for it.

I'm still looking for '73 Javelin in decent condition that I can use as a retirement project car. Outside of the hemi-Cudas, I think it was the best-looking muscle car of the era, though my wife would argue the case for her beloved (and long-deceased) '70 Mach 1, which she used to temporarily block a drainage ditch many years agone...

Now now Jay Tea...here I am... (Below threshold)

Now now Jay Tea...here I am one of your biggest fans and you dish disco...Oh the disappointment...Not sure if I'll even be able to sleep tonight...Oh the inhumanity...Wait this post is about cars...Still I'm standing up for disco...Toodles!

"I spent 40 years as the fr... (Below threshold)

"I spent 40 years as the friendly person who fixed your car right the FIRST time,so I can speak with some authority here."

You're not *the* Gus Wilson, are you? (c:

Nah, Gus has his own web si... (Below threshold)

Nah, Gus has his own web site...


Slightly O/T, but why wasn'... (Below threshold)

Slightly O/T, but why wasn't AMC "too big to fail"?



Them kermit colored pacers ... (Below threshold)

Them kermit colored pacers and gremlins were sure a sight when they started to rust. Which is about 3 winters in Minnesota.

Barry is too small minded to succeed.

AMC cars have always been o... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

AMC cars have always been one of my biggest passions. I just loved their high performance cars and the Gremlin, which made a great small hot rod body because of it's short triangle design of narrow in the front, wide in the back. I built two hot rod V8 Gremlins, one with a big fiberglass hoodscoop, big rear rubber, small front tires and neck snapping acceleration. I have many fond memories of having fun with girls while in my 20's in the backseat of one my hot rod V8 Gremlins, although I owned a 1973 firebird and Hornet hatchback too.

The 1979 AMX designed after the Spirit(a fastback Gremlin) was pretty cool as well. The last good AMC V8 car to hold the AMX name.

AMC's biggest financial mistake was the Pacer. The Hornet was carefully designed for just $40 million in tooling costs, and the Gremlin for a mere $6 million more. Both sold well for years where the 1970 Hornet became the basis for many AMC cars from 1970 until 1987's 4x4 Eagle wagon. However, the Pacer project was very expensive and only sold well in the 1975 calendar year, with sales sharply falling off by 1980. Further, the GM produced Wankel engine it was supposed to have never happened, where the big in-line six from AMC didn't fit the engine compartment, and hardly provided enough power because of the heavy weight of the Pacer due to so much glass. The 304 V8 engine in last Pacers were a better match, but offered piss-poor mileage.

AMCs best moment was the Renault designed Jeep Cherokee. These were so durable and long lasting compared to so many AMC products of the 80's which were poorly built and quickly fell apart compared to the much better built AMC cars of the 50's through 70's. By the 1970's, AMC bodies became had become rattletraps, with plenty of hardware problems, but their engines and Chrysler transmissions had very long lives. And most AMCs, especially the V8 ones just never offered real good gas mileage.

The company was a real mixed bag. But, and it was heartbreaking to me to see the brand disappear as Chrysler absorbed them because Chrysler wanted to acquire the Jeep division.

Today, I still drive a 1998 Chrysler Jeep in addition to my three motorcycles. Chrysler nicely improved the old AMC engine design, creating a trouble-free vehicle of highest quality and durability. I wish all AMC cars could have been this well built.

My first car was nearly a white AMC Ambassador. Some Uncle had died, and three kids inherited his stuff, and they were too drunk to sell me the car, so I walked away. I bought a 1973 258 six Red Gremlin instead. Our family has owned seven AMC's since.

It's difficult for me to come up with models comparable to the AMC ones. But the Javelin was always in the Mustang/Camaro mode. The 1968-70 AMX was a GT car, unlike the Corvette which was a true two seater sports car. The Ambassador was always like AMC's Cadillac, a full size luxury car for a full size Chevrolet price. But, the Gremlin was always a unique car. Strangely overpowered compared to other small cars, and drove something like a 1950's Austin Healey with a heavy, but powerful feel. Sort of like a high powered cast iron stove on wheels.

Gee, I hated to see AMC go away. I wish AMC cars could return with cool retro versions of the Gremlin, Javelin, AMX and Ambassador. Modern bodies, powerplants and suspensions.

Thanks so much offering this piece, Jay. You made my day. I'm very happy.

Nash to Rambler to American... (Below threshold)

Nash to Rambler to American Motors bought out by Chrysler and finally died. Am I correct?

More like Rambler renamed t... (Below threshold)

More like Rambler renamed to Jeffery, to Nash, merged with Hudson --> AMC, mix in Renault just to add insult to injury, then bought by Chrysler. ;)

On the other note - Compani... (Below threshold)

On the other note - Companies didn't get too big to fail until the government got too big to control.

I owned a '56 Nash and an e... (Below threshold)

I owned a '56 Nash and an early 60's Rambler. You got the order right?

Crap. Tons of history onlin... (Below threshold)

Crap. Tons of history online. Now I'm curious. I'll be back later.

<a href="http://amcrc.com/h... (Below threshold)


I hope the link works. It spells out the time line pretty well.

No DeLoreans? I always want... (Below threshold)

No DeLoreans? I always wanted to chrome one.

The Probe was a different s... (Below threshold)

The Probe was a different skin on the Mazda MX-6 which was a better car, roomier, better looking. At least Ford partnered with the right people on that one.






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