This little green 1980 Concord was a three-generation family car, owned by my grandfather, my aunt and myself. Like the title says, I didn’t know what I got:
When Grandpa’s 1971 Toyota Corona was succumbing to rust in the early ’80s, Dad and I had a conference on what car should replace it:
– It had to be simple; Grandpa would not deal with complicated controls.
– It had to be inexpensive; retired carpenters did not have a lot of money.
– It had to be cushy; after the tiny and tinny Corona, my grandparents needed something a bit nicer to sit in
We decided an AMC Concord might fit the bill, and within a few weeks Dad had traded the Toyota in on a pre-owned, deep green 1980 Concord DL. As you can see from the ad above, this was exactly the Concord’s mission when it was introduced in 1978: to provide some big car comfort in a smaller package that used the hardware AMC had available at the time.
In our case it was perfect–not too big, with comfy tan velour seats that matched the vinyl roof, roll-up windows, AM radio, PS/PB/Auto, and that’s pretty much it. Grandpa liked it a lot, and was proud enough to carry buckets of water down to his apartment parking lot to keep the Concord washed.
I got my first real taste of highway driving in the Concord just after getting my beginner driver’s licence. I accompanied my grandparents on a day trip to visit some relatives. Having learned to drive in his 40s, Grandpa eschewed highways and took minor roads, which turned the two-hour drive into an eternity. After our visit he turned to me, dropped the keys in my hand and simply said “You drive. Take the highway.”, before settling into the back seat of the Concord without another word. Once on the 401 I was freaking out a bit. I didn’t really know how to get home and here I was with my grandmother, who didn’t drive, or even speak much English. Between hand gestures and my making some guesses about what she was telling me in Dutch, we did manage to make it home.
The Concord served Grandpa well for his remaining years, and after his death ownership passed to my aunt, who had moved in to care for my grandmother. Grandma never had a drivers license but enjoyed being driven in the Concord for her errands.
Now here’s where I come in. In 1991, I’d graduated from school and returned home with my 1972 AMC Matador, which was far too ratty to drive to job interviews. As a supposed serious professional engineer I needed something more dignified. Meanwhile, the Concord had a flickering oil light and was making ominous clattering noises. Removing the valve cover revealed that the 258 six was severely coked up despite (or perhaps because of) its low mileage. So I solved both problems by buying the Concord for $100 and transplanting the Matador’s 258 into it.
Going in I wasn’t sure that everything would bolt up because of the eight-year difference but it did, and the resulting mongrel turned out to be a really good car. The combination of the 1972 emissions-free engine with the 1980 electronic ignition and lockup converter transmission drove very well, and since the Concord weighed some 500 pounds less than the Matador it had decent performance. I suspect that the rear gears were taller too, because the Concord cruised effortlessly on the highway.
I attempted to spruce up the Concord by using my AMC rally rims, and mounted an AMX grille from the wrecking yard. Sure, it wasn’t a real AMX, but then again neither was the car I’d removed it from. The biggest problem was the headliner, as the cloth had detached and was hanging down tent-like. Removing the cloth improved visibility, but bits of foam and dried glue would sift down on me while driving so I removed the whole thing, and using house paint made the headliner into a giant Canadian flag and re-installed it. Sort of an inside out General Lee motif from the wrong country.
I got a job, I moved out, and I pounded around in the Concord which was very reliable and felt like a well put together little car. Since the Concord was really just a refresh of the 1970 Hornet, AMC had been making the same car for 10 years and had it down pat. The doors closed with a satisfying thunk, it was quiet inside, the paint was shiny and it didn’t rust. It was cheap to run and insure, and I paid off all my student debts while driving the Concord.
At the time I was listening to a lot of Beach Boys music, and as I drove I developed my own version of “Little Deuce Coupe”. I’ll spare you the complete lyrics of “Little Green Concord”, but the best line was:
And if that aint enough to make you flip your lid,
There’s one more thing, it’s got a tan velour interior
I drove on, singing, for two years with almost no problems, which was great value for a $100 car. When my friend Bill was getting rid of his RX-7 I heard the siren call of the cheap sports car and decided that it would be more fun to drive than the Concord. It was, but you can read all about how that turned out here:
COAL: 1985 Mazda RX-7 – Reality Steps In
One of my co-workers was looking for a old car for her teenage son to fool with, so I gave them the Concord. I had gotten such good service out of it I couldn’t charge money for it. To my surprise, they put it back on the road. Until I moved out of that town some months later I would occasionally pass the Concord going the other way.
I wish I knew how much longer it lasted–chances are it was still going long after the RX-7 wasn’t. Maybe if I’d known what I got I wouldn’t have been so quick to let it go, but that’s part of the carefree days of youth.
AMC cars couldn’t get no respect. I don’t know what the company could have done to alter this!
My parents bought a ’60 Rambler new; it served well for 5 years and was still going strong, but they just didn’t like it. So they bought a used ’63 Olds which caused endless trouble. Later, after a good ’67 Valiant had been ruined by a flood, they bought a ’70 Hornet. They didn’t want it, but there wasn’t anything else available in the post-flood rush. Again it served well; again they just didn’t like it and returned to a new Valiant after only a few months.
Loyal service isn’t enough in modern America. You got to be COOOOOL, and AMC was never COOOOOOL.
Nice Concord, Doug. I like the “X Package” road wheels. There are still a handful of these being daily driven around here (Kenosha, go figure).
Hornets and Concords (and Gremlins) used galvanized rocker panels. The cars would rust all around them, but the rockers usually stayed good. Concords also were early adopters of what I consider a hugely underrated automotive advancement- the plastic fender liner.
I used to know someone who had a 1978 AMC Concord. According to him, it was the most reliable car American car he’s ever owned, that he’d buy another one in a heartbeat if it were for sale. I find the front end styling of the 78 Concord better looking than any of the later Concord.
In the early 70s my father found he had an older half sister. Aunt Jean was somewhat typical for a New Englander, she was somewhat private and quite frugal. One summer saturday afternoon she rolled casually into the backyard driving what was probably the only brand new car she ever owned, an AMC Concord 2 door sedan. Aunt Jean was so proud of that car, a light brown car with matching half vinyl roof and interior. It would be the last car she would buy.
I’ve always kind of liked the styling if these cars. The Eagle of course gets all the attention, but its refreshing to hear a story of Concord ownership, let alone a positive one.
Great story. Hindsight being what it is, I now wish I had paid more attention to these when they were more plentiful. I had always preferred the purity of the earlier Hornets, and considered these as overstuffed dullards. But now, I like what they did to the Hornet by making it more comfortable and luxurious.
It is also cool to have a three generation car. My 93 Crown Vic has played the same role in our family.
Great piece. Relatives who speak a complete nuther language; know that story.
Great article – I like the car too.
I love the little snapshot of a lost era – Dutch granny with not much English, you nervously trying to drive home, and all in an AMC product.
The fact it was an inverted (introverted?), northern General Lee made me smile too.
The Concord was a car that made sense in a non-sensical automotive time. It sounds like you had a good one and the green color looks terrific on it. So much better than the brown and fleet white I typically saw.
The parent’s of a high school friend had a ’79 Concord two-door. I rode in it several times and while details have become sketchy, I always liked that car.
Doug, I really enjoyed reading this.
Good story, good car, good song. A high school buddy wrote “Little Dodge Colt” for basically the same reason. 🙂
Good story, Doug.
There’s this famous quote about a meeting between Dutch minister Joseph Luns and J.F. Kennedy.
JFK asked Luns what hobbies he had.
Luns: “I fok horses…”
JFK: “Pardon ??”
Luns: “Yes, paarden !”
(fok means breed, paarden means horses)
Hehehehehehehe. I don’t understand dutchese but that’s funny even before the translation.
im restoreing a 78 dl inline 258 right now its gonna be a long road just barely runs right now
Great story. The bit about grandpa handing you they keys reminded me of the time my dad, a visiting aunt and I drove from Vancouver to LA. My dad “let” the 16 year old me do the driving into LA and San Francisco!
I told the story of mom’s 1979 Concord a few times before, so I won’t repeat it, but she bought it new after dad died, and she kept it until she stopped driving in 1990. She loved that car!
It was a great car and dead-reliable. Metallic brown, saddle tan vinyl interior, no vinyl top. The car did rust, however, and that’s why I sold it at only 55K miles.
Great story and its a good looking machine (at least to my eyes) with the rally style wheels.
I’ve sold many a known good car in search of something new and different. Probably not the best strategy for money saving but automotive variety is worth a little extra cost and hassle to me.
I was totally smitten with these cars when they first came out. In 1978 I was 14. Lilttle did I know that 13 years later, a ’78 Concord wagon would be my first car (yes I was really late in getting my driver’s license, at age 27). Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to insure the car so gave it to my Dad, who’s ’78 Ford LTD had given up the ghost. He really like it, and got 2 more years out of it. Over the next several years I owned an ’80 Concord 4-dr base model in dark green with a stipper tan interior. The thing had power steering but manual brakes, for heaven’s sake! What was AMC thinking? Then I owned an ’82 2 dr and finally an ’82 dark blue wagon with the most beautiful and sumptuous interior. But by the mid ’90s these cars were pretty thin on the ground and it was time to move on.
I really liked these cars, the right size, comfy seats (except for the base model I owned) and a very smooth 258 straight-six engine. Mated to Chrysler’s torque-flight automatic, it was a great and durable powertrain. Always wanted to own a fully loaded Concord Limited, but never did, alas. Still pine for these cars.
My sister’s boyfriend in high school in the early 80s owned what I consider a holy grail Concord: a triple black ’79 Concord Limited coupe. It was a loaded car and had the black color-keyed hubcaps. Not sure of the powertrain though. The Brougham factor of that car was off the charts. His family were AMC fanatics, and owned two early Pacers fondly named double bubble.
The Hornet/Concord are respectable cars, and it’s always nice to see one loved like this Concord.
To this day I regret selling my 1979 Concord Sportwagon. What was I thinking?
Nice story to read over breakfast at the beach. This was the perfect automotive choice for him; a genuine grandpa-mobile.
We had 2 AMC dealerships literally across the street from each other. In fact, I ended up working at one of them for several years when it was a Jeep dealership. There were loads of AMC cars floating around my home town, especially due to the fact that these dealerships were fixtures there for years. The pastor of my parish drove a triple black Concord D/L sedan. I still remember seeing the overflowing aftermarket ashtray he had on the door of the car! The nuns from our convent drove a black on black 1973 Ambassador wagon, sans woodgrain. I remember one of them flooring it by me at a redlight and my sister laughing at the sight! The local pharmacist’s wife drove an Eagle Limited sedan. It was white and brown two-tone and had the plush beige leather interior. She loved that car so much – I remember asking her about it and she said it was the best car she ever owned. And one of the rarest AMC sightings was the proverbial little old lady driving the car she bought because of the color – it was an AMX hatchback – bright yellow with black interior! The dealership I worked at told me her story. She walked into the showroom and fell in love with the bright yellow “runabout” and said she wanted to buy it. She traded a mint condition Ford Granada Ghia in for it. She had that AMX for what seemed like forever. I think she drove it until she passed, as I saw that car all over the place and then one day it was simply gone.
Great story too. I love hearing about the old family outings and such. I can picture that green Concord motoring down the highway doing 55 mph. Memories!
Mine was a 78. Two door IIRC so the kid wouldn’t bail out the back seat. Light tan and 258 with a mopar transmission. Ran great. Took it to Guam for a 4 year tour and it did pick up some rust. Neighbor was a seabee with strong automotive skills so that got fixed cheap and easy.
Probably would have brought it back but had just bought a new 81 Datsun King Cab and a truck was going to be more useful so traded off the Corcord. If it had been a wagon I probably would not have bought the truck. Good car and we all let loose of stuff we would have been smarter to keep. I could probably fill a smalll museum with my mistakes. The one I kept (57 chevy handyman wagon) only got 13mpg so I guess it qualifies as one I should have sold but didn’t. Oh well.
Never fear, Lee – we are now awash in petroleum. I hear that we can barely store all the oil we have now, so I say it’s time to start pouring some of it through that 283. Come on, man – you are in Texas, so act like it! 🙂
Path not taken regret.
In 79, between monthly trips to the shop with the POS Zephyr, I made a field visit with the company’s rep in Wisconsin. He picked me up at the airport in Oshkosh in his Concord, dark green with white halo vinyl top. First thing I noticed was how quiet it was, compared to the wheezes, clatters and bangs of the Zephyr. By the time we had made a loop from Appleton, to Stevens Point, Rhinelander and back, I was pretty sure that Concord was better sorted out than the Zephyr would ever be, regardless how many times I dragged it into the shop.
…Wow, it’s my driver’s ed car!
Nice article – I thought the Concord (and Spirit) were very attractive updates to the Hornet and Gremlin – and the 258, while not the smoothest, had great low rpm torque.
I’d love to find a nice, low mileage one today.
During my very first driving lesson in 1991 the instructor directed me to get onto the 16 lane-wide 401 in the east end of Toronto while piloting his silver 1988 Mercury Cougar. His reasoning was that you should face your greatest driving fear right out of the gate. Even now I think that was a stupid choice he made as traffic was flying at 120 kph and as a driver I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground.
AMC had a habit of taking a toad and dressing it up enough to make it resemble something else; today they’d be able to take Bruce Jenner and make him look like a real woman. But that is another story…
I marvel at how much AMC did with so little resources.
Yes, the Concord was really a Hornet, but it looked mah-ve-louz in its new duds complete with vinyl roof, new sidew window, more chrome, and seats that didn’t look like they were covered in a former disco suit. Now they were covered in undertaker velour and when they said, “red”, oh it was fit for the parlor of some little whorehouse somewhere.
AMC would take the basic bones of the Gremlin and make it into a Spirit and normalized the window so much so that the car looked… er… normal.
How UN-AMC was that.
So too was the Concord – given its humble roots, the Concord also added faux wood on the dash and got rid of the center bump in the panel and suddenly the interior looked … er … normal!
I liked the newer grill better – the original Concord one looked too chrome for my tastes. I want to only tart up my frog, er Hornet, to just this much – not too much – just more tasteful.
Kudos for American Motors. They built some great garbage in the 1970’s and who knew the garbage they built was the best screwed together stuff available during that time!
The problem was with AMC, even if they WERE making reliable cars, in many cases much more reliable than GM, Ford, or Chrysler at the time, they couldn’t capitalize on it, partly because they had no clue how to market their cars, and partly because in many cases in the 1970’s and 1980’s, if someone got burned by an American car, they didn’t turn to another American carmaker, but to the Japanese or the Germans or the Swedes.