Autography: The Rise and Fall of the AMC Empire Part 1

Christopher Ziemnowicz

The Birth

Jared Eastman

For every garage-startup success story there are about six million failures. Not everyone can be walking about in jeans and black turtlenecks, changing the world, only to die and have their company turn into a corporate machine churning out product after product with minimal increases in technology (and the systematic destruction of older tech). But, I’ve spun out a bit here, I just want my headphone jack back.

There are several companies that come on to the scene and explode in a fiery burst of passion only to sputter and die slowly, painfully, and being bought out by company after company trying to fix it (Saab being another example). This red giant of a company was the American Motors Corporation (AMC), a niche-filling juggernaut made from the merging of two old behemoths: the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company.

While traditionally a refrigeration company, the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation (Headquartered out of Kenosha, WI), has been known for several rides: the Nash 600 and the legendary Ambassador. The Ambassador is known for being in the 1950 Carrera Panamericana- where it lasted far longer than its crew did, who were disqualified for switching out (of course, it is also known for bootlegging). Further, they brought the Healey to America using the Ambassador’s powertrain; including the cheese-eating, beer-gulping state of Wisconsin on the hallowed list of assemblies for the model… before taking advantage of the lack of American automobile laws to bring the headlights into cross-eyed territory.

The Hudson Motor Car Company has a much more renowned history. Most will think of the Hudson Hornet or Hudson Eight, two greatly respected cars throughout automotive history. But, Hudson goes as far back as 1910 where they made one of the first “economical” cars, the Hudson Model 20. This barebones automobile sold over 4,000 units its first year, making Hudson a household name in a fortnight.

Both companies merged together in 1954, becoming the American Motors Corporation. Knowing they could never take on the Big Three in the mainstream market, AMC was a small company focused on niche groups. It was now headquartered entirely out of Kenosha, WI, and several current models got simple name-changes and re-badges. For example, the Nash Ambassador becoming the ‘new’ Hudson Hornet. Rambler became their compact flagship, an economical build-out of the Hudson Hornet with many variants: American, Sedan, Rebel.

With a focus on this compact, economical platform (and a bit of marketing savvy in partnership with the Mouse himself, Disney), the Rambler flew puttered out of the lots almost faster than AMC could make them. With the Big Three putting out great, brutish sedans as long as city blocks, AMC had made themselves a “dinosaur-fighter”. With their success, they expanded their assembly line to hit 440,000 cars made annually and had high hopes for the future. With the Gremlin, AMX, and Javelin on the horizon, it’s safe to say anyone else would have agreed with them. Join us next time on Autography, as we look at the height of AMC’s success and more insight into the innovations they brought to the automotive industry.


american AMC Hornet Rambler American