Book documents last independent automaker’s tale
ONCE upon a time in America, there were hundreds of automakers.
As the industry matured, however, many manufacturers disappeared, while others were consolidated into larger brands.
By the late 1940s, there weren’t many independent automakers left. Those still building vehicles included Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Packard and Willys-Overland.
These companies were doing just fine immediately after the Second World War, selling all they could produce. But an intense sales battle between Ford and Chevrolet that began late in 1953 put the independent builders in serious jeopardy.
“By early 1954, each of the remaining independents realized it needed to merge with some other company to survive,” writes Patrick R. Foster in his book, American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker.
“Each needed to create new products, but the cost of tooling and dies had skyrocketed after the war. The Big Three could afford the cost because they shared the expense across their several brands, using shared body shells. The independents needed to be able to do the same thing — to spread their tooling costs over a larger number of cars than in the past — and the only way to do that was to share body shells with another firm.”
Foster’s book (ISBN: 978-0-76034425-5, published by Motorbooks, hardcover, 208 pages) documents in detail the trying times of the auto industry in the early 1950s and explains how, in 1954, Hudson and Nash joined to become American Motors Corporation.
When they amalgamated, Hudson had the Wasp, Super Wasp, Hornet and Jet. Nash was producing the Ambassador, Rambler and Metropolitan.
Foster explores each product, giving design details and specifications. He also provides sales figures and AMC’s income — all of which provide insight into the very tenuous nature of the new company.
From 1954 to 1958, AMC’s president, George Romney, worked hard to right the ship, and sales steadily increased. By 1958, the company’s bread-andbutter product was the Rambler line, which included the Rambler Six four-door sedans, hardtops and station wagons. There was also the Rambler Rebel line, which saw a 250-cubic inch V8 installed in the same body styles.
The company still made the compact Metropolitan, which competed with imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle. Foster notes 1959 was the best year for Metropolitan sales, and Romney remained dedicated to the compact car segment — a market that had been mostly ignored bby the Big Three.
In subsequent chapters, Foster discusses highs and lows at AMC and shares with readers many behind-the-scenes tales of product development — both the hits and misses, including the 1964 Tarpon pTarpon concept car.
The Tarpon never saw production. It was a “sporty fastback coupe” and it would likely have given the Ford Mustang some competition.
By 1967, AMC was perilously close to going under, but new management reinvigorated the automaker, and, although late to the ‘pony car’ market, introduced the Javelin.
With sales increasing once again, in early 1970, AMC purchased the Jeep Corporation, and introduced the subcompact Gremlin — a vehicle that became an immediate hit and proved popular during the upcoming fuel crisis.
Eventually, however, AMC again entered turbulent waters, joining with French automaker Renault and introducing the all-wheel-drive Eagle. The company was unable to stay afloat, and in 1987, the last independent automaker was sold to the Chrysler Corporation.
Foster has a soft spot for AMC. His writing is clear and concise, and he eloquently evokes the nearly halfcentury history of AMC and its automobiles. He does, however, point out where the automaker made mistakes.
Foster’s book is well-illustrated with many factory photographs, concept sketches and archival literature. Anyone with even a passing interest in AMC will glean new nuggets of information about America’s last independent automaker.
Patrick R. Foster’s American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker documents the trying times of the auto industry in the