Automotive History: The AMCs of AMI

Rich Baron’s recent capsule on the Australian Matador X Coupe captured by Peter Wilding struck me with a double-barrelled CC effect.

Buried in the recent past was an Australian AMX I’d caught through the gates of a slightly decrepit mansion compound.

And in the more distant past a story I’d nearly finished and completely forgotten about, compiling the American Motors Corporation vehicles I’ve photographed built by Australian Motor Industries.

Things began as a concern part-owned by the Standard Motor Company of the UK needing a centre of operations for its antipodean footprint.

In 1952 a plant was built in Fisherman’s Bend where Standard and Triumph cars, and Ferguson tractors were assembled just down the road from the new General Motors Holden complex.

As had been laid out in the Versailles Treaty of 1919, Australia was given the sovereign right to make a ute from any car of their choosing.

And so one was duly produced from the Vanguard, and another from the Mayflower.

From 1955 to 1958 Standard’s market share halved, down from 6.3% to 3.1%.

A new marque joined the lines; Mercedes-Benz, and the company was restructured under a new name; Australian Motor Industries.

At some point all vehicles that came off the production line earned these two badges.

In 1960, Rambler was added to the AMI stable.

For the next seventeen years, the plant would put together the Ambassador, Classic, American, Rebel, Javelin, AMX, Hornet and Matador.

Our first models were Classic and Ambassador sedans and wagons, sent in semi-knock down form from Kenosha.

The body was partly built in RHD and painted, with engine, transmission, front suspension, rear axle, and doors already installed. Local content was pretty much limited to interior finishings and labour.

3012 Classics and 45 Ambassadors came off the AMI production line. In addition, eight fully imported Classic 770 hardtops were sent from the Ontario plant.

We didn’t get the 65 stacklight-onward Ambassadors, although we did get a batch of fully-imported Canadian 1970 models – 16 hardtops and 4 sedans.

The American posed a credible but understated option if you wanted to differentiate yourself from our big three in a car around the same size.

Problem was, too understated. 2453 sold over 5 years.

Police took a shine to Ramblers for a while across at least three states; NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Not sure of numbers but here’s a photo with at least 18 visible.

With the V8 they were generally given highway duties, but they also looked good on a stakeout.
Especially with blacked-out dishes.

Some in the Victorian police apparently called their Rebel the Grey Ghost.

2678 sold; the RHD arrangement came mostly from the RHD postal models being supplied in the US.

Along with our legacy ute rights, the Marshal Plan of 1948 decreed Australia also take global primacy in the four-door GT sector.

In August 1968, AMI put together a small number of homologated sedans for racing – the 1969 Feral Rebel, the success of which spawned the 1970 Rebel Machine in the US.

Nah, not really.

The Rebel had a super square shape, at a time when the US passenger car was excelling at that very language.

It is a bit anonymous though – a first glance might prompt a Mopar.

The 1971 Rambler Rebel earned some curves. But it was a halfway effort.

The 1970 US Rebel was a tweener anticipating the more fully curvy next model, which we got the next year.

That ribbed metalwork along the flanks makes it an SST. Super Sonic Transport hehehe.

Actually it’s Stainless Steel Trim. What a letdown.

We got the new 71s in 1972.

Now called AMC Matadors in the US, as with the other foreign markets Australia kept the old marque name. For us, this was the Rambler Matador.

This is the model I remember mostly, sitting alongside the other ‘factory’ US big sedans – Dodge Phoenix, Ford Galaxie, Chevrolet Impala and Pontiac Parisienne – that dominated the road when they were less seldom seen.

By 1972, the big three had dropped out of fullsize model assembly over here, and AMI owned the shrinking market for locally produced large US cars.

I don’t remember seeing this generation much, though was always enthralled by that incredible frontal treatment.

Apparently some were sold into government fleets.

Javelin was sold here less as a pony car and more as a personal coupe.

When launched in 1968, it cost $7,495 against the Ford Falcon GT at $4,200 and the Monaro GTS 327 at $3,790. Local examples were fitted with with luxury trim and were powered by a 343, a three-speed Shift Command automatic transmission with Twin Grip limited-slip differential.

My favourite pony shape. Haven’t seen one in yonks.

The second gen is a looker as well.

The extra contouring is a bit much over the front fenders, but works better than the extraness transitioning the 1968 Camaro/Firebird to 1969.

Not a fan of the two-tone. This other one shows why.

From this angle I can’t stop seeing Glastron Scimitar.

Only 48 made over two years, and 261 of the first gen over 5 years.

AMX saw a scant 24 produced.

You could choose from White, Safety Wattle or Signal Red outside. All came with black interior, woodgrained dash and 390 plus 4 speed box.

One was shown at Bathurst proudly wearing its AMI badging.

This one appears to be in correct Safety Wattle but minus the AMI callout, which seems to be a common aftermarket delete.

As much as I love the Javelin, I cannot get into the AMX. Those same overhangs with less length between the wheels just look wrong.

And here is Peter Wilding’s Matador X Coupe capture, along with a juicy rumour.

Australian Muscle Car writes that AMI received 160 of these in CKD form in 1974, but the production line was busy with other priorities.

Realising the folly of their order, AMI left the bare panels out in the elements to trigger the insurance. Seventy sets were deemed a write-off, 10 were kept for spares and 80 built in 1976.

Rambler Hornet. What a shape.

Dick Teague threw out the US sedan rule book with this.

Super minimalist, long hood and tight tail, coiled-fist boxy, flares you can see from the moon.

This thing oozed purpose.

But we had to be content with the 232 I6 only.

This one added a V8 badge later. It’s lost its AMI callouts, as well as some of the SST.

This one appears original, assuming the undercoat was red.

The SST does a particularly good job capping the flares, so this is how I’d ride.
With those turbines as well.

Probably my best shot of the grille. Notice how the sun catches the horizontal lines only. The lamp tunnels have no bezel to catch the light, and are defined only by the black crescent of the tunnel inner. Sublime simplicity.

But it’s not all good news. Hidden behind the tree is the bad.

That rear door. I’ll be addressing this shortcoming in more detail later today.

Fortunately this one is black with blacked out glass so it’s mostly a handsome silhouette.

AMI apparently brought in two Sportabouts but no two-doors, so this is an even rarer sight.

Hornet sold 1571 over its first gen’s four years.

Sales plummeted to 118 in 1974 with the arrival of the next gen, before showing signs of life with 136 the next year. Or maybe that was the dead cat bounce.

A single Gremlin was sent in bits and built here in RHD for a feasibility study which never took off.

The last AMI Ramblers were sold in 1978.

In 1963 AMI put together a Tiara, the first ever Toyota car built outside of Japan. Said Toyota executive Hideyo Tamura;

It was our first step into a Westernised country. We got the confidence there that our production system worked overseas. Only after we had experience in Australia, did we move into other countries. Had we not succeeded in Australia, we would not have been encouraged to go further.


Further Reading

1976 Rambler Matador X Coupe by Rich Baron

1953 Nash Statesman – AMC’s DNA by JP Cavanaugh

1957 Rambler Rebel by Paul Niedemeyer

1964 Rambler Classic by Jason Shafer

1966 AMC Ambassador by Laurence Jones

1973 Javelin AMX by Joseph Dennis

1974 Oleg Cassini Matador by Tom Klockau

1977 Hornet AMX by Ed Stembridge