Fans of defunct American Motors set to converge on Gettysburg

The American Motors Owners Association (AMO) 2017 International Convention will take place in Gettysburg, June 21-24. Pictured is an AMC Gremlin at the 2015 convention in Independence, Ohio. - (Photo / Nicole Chynoweth)

American Motors Corp. made cars with some of the coolest names in the auto industry: Rambler, Gremlin, Hornet, Matador.

Years after the last AMC rolled off an assembly line in 1987, the carmakers’ legacy still can be seen on the road, whether in a new Jeep model or a vintage AMX muscle car.

This June, enthusiasts of the AMC legacy will gather in Gettysburg for a long weekend to reminisce about the time in 1954 when a new company was created out of the remnants of Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motors. For 33 years, AMC’s leaders would use a mix of ingenuity and frugality — parts on some cars, such as door handles, would be used for years on various models — to compete with the Big 3 automakers of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

“It had a lot of impact on the auto world,” said Jeffrey E. Bliemeister, executive director of the AACA Museum in South Hanover Township, Dauphin County. “For a while there, it looked like there would be a Big 4 instead of a Big 3.”

His automobile museum — AACA stands for Antique Automobile Club of America — is even featuring a 1981 AMC Concord 2-door sedan in its “Detroit Underdogs” exhibit underway this summer.

For those who want to see more, about 200 to 250 vintage AMC cars and Jeeps will be on display at the AMO 2017 International Show in Gettysburg, scheduled for June 21 to 24. The American Motors Owners Association is coordinating the annual event, which it rotates among venues across the country, said Harley Smith of Annapolis, Md., an event coordinator for this year. About 50 vendors will be selling everything from parts to memorabilia, Smith said.

AMO Convention 2017

Where: Eisenhower Hotel & Conference Center in Gettysburg

When: June 21-24

For more info, click here.

Carl Whitehill, director of communications for Destination Gettysburg, said the show will bring in several hundred people, with the average spending per person of about $255.

Gettysburg hosts several car shows on its own each year, but it also gets spillover from people flocking to car shows in Carlisle and York, such as the annual Street Rods show held at the York Fairgrounds earlier in June.

“We can tell when there is a car show in Carlisle or York,” Whitehill said. “With its history, Gettysburg is popular with the car groups.”

Gettysburg also appeals to families who want to explore the history of the battlefields and enjoy small-town charm, both of which attracted the organizers of the AMC event. Smith said AMO organizers looked at five different sites in the Mid-Atlantic region but chose Gettysburg because it is family friendly and offered lots to do when people are not at convention events. One planned activity will be a trip to the AACA Museum, which is outside Hershey.

Of Ramblers and Romney

Smith, 74, said he was a “Hudson guy” who grew up around the AMC legacy. One of his first cars was a 1961 Rambler American convertible. Smith now has a 1970 AMX, a sleek, two-seat muscle car. The Green AMX still turns heads. Bliemeister said the Hershey museum has an orange 1969 AMX. The paint color was — and is — called “Big Bad Orange,” Bliemeister said.

“AMX really is a sweet-looking car,” said Bliemeister, adding the car was unique among its peers because of its two seats, an unusual feature in a vehicle that wasn’t a sports car. “It’s not a sports car but a muscle car.”

A look at AMC’s history, from start to finish line

May 1, 1954: American Motors Corp. is created out of the remnants of two American automakers, Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motors, that were formed about a half-century earlier. After several decisions and plant closings involving consolidation of the two companies, production is moved to Kenosha, Wis. Nash’s former president George Mason dies, and George W. Romney (father of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney) takes over at AMC.

1960s: Romney leaves and becomes governor of Michigan. He is replaced as president by Roy Abernethy, former sales manager. He is replaced later in the decade by William V. Luneburg. To raise capital, subsidiaries were sold off, including the Kelvinator brand of household wares, which left AMC solely as a car maker.

1970s: AMC buys Kaiser-Jeep. AM General also is formed, the company that later produced the Hummer and other rugged vehicles, largely for military and government use. In 1977, Luneburg retires as president and is replaced by Gerald C. Meyers, who eventually takes over as chairman and CEO from Roy Chapin. France-based Renault takes an ownership stake in the company.

1980s: The United States is in a recession, and AMC sees record losses early in the decade. Jose J. Dedeurwaerder, a Renault manager, is named president of AMC.

1987: Rival Chrysler buys AMC. American Motors becomes the Jeep/Eagle division of Chrysler.

Dec. 14, 1987: The last AMC, an Eagle Wagon, rolls off the line.

Source: www.american-motors.de/en/ and CPBJ research

AMC did well in the early years, when one of its leaders was George W. Romney, the father of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. George Romney would go on to become governor of Michigan, where the Big 3 were all based.

AMC’s bottom line was helped by the company’s purchase of Kaiser-Jeep in 1970. When Chrysler bought AMC in 1987, Chrysler kept the Jeep line, which still is in production today by Fiat Chrysler.

“Some people say that Jeep saved Chrysler,” Smith said.

In fact, Chrysler had previously been helped by a 1980 bailout package from the U.S. government.

The oil crisis in the 1970s was tough on all U.S. automakers, which were slow to adapt to a changing market in which consumers sought cars that sipped gas, instead of guzzling it. AMC created the iconic Pacer, which had a wide body and rounded back, with lots of glass.

“The Pacer was a hot seller,” Smith said. “But after the first year, those who wanted one already had one.”

As a small independent car maker, Smith said, the company was nimble when it came to innovations. The AMC Eagle was one of the first passenger cars to offer four-wheel drive, he pointed out. And it made pioneering advancements in body construction, dual-master cylinders for brakes and ceramic coatings on exhaust systems, he added.

The flipside of being small and independent was that the company was chronically short on cash.

In the 1970s, Renault took an ownership stake. The France-based company modernized some plants and created the hot-selling and critically acclaimed Renault Alliance as one of its products.

Then came the recession of the early 1980s, which hit AMC especially hard.

“It was ahead of its time in many respects,” said Mike Spangler, who runs the website www.amonational.com, which promotes all-things AMC, including the national convention in Gettysburg. “But it always was the underdog and always the small one. When it got behind, it couldn’t quite keep up.”

Smith put the end of AMC this way:

“Their demise was a lack of cash,” he said.

“But they had cars too cool to be forgotten.” Unlike their owners, he quipped, “They’ve gotten older and faster at the same time.”

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