(first posted 4/30/2013) The 1970s was the decade of pop psychology. How could anyone alive during that time forget the phenomena of I’m OK, You’re OK and Jonathan Livingston Seagull? But one of the greatest hits of the decade was found on posters in apartments of middle-aged women everywhere: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” — such a great sentiment, capturing the hope and promise of a life well-lived, starting TODAY! That statement, applied to this car, sort of sums up the life of American Motors, but in the most depressing way.
Is there a single car more representative of AMC than the Hornet? Whether as a Hornet, Gremlin, Concord, Spirit or Eagle, this platform was in production longer than any other throughout AMC’s 35-year existence. AMC may have climbed the mountain on the back of the Rambler, but the Hornet would take the company from its peak all the way down to the bottom, when the keys to the building in Kenosha were handed over to Iacocca and Co. of Highland Park. There’s much to be said about this workhorse that seemed to get flogged increasingly harder as it got older. But a look at the car when it was new and fresh should give us a different perspective, that of a car that could hardly have hit the market more squarely when it was introduced.
Nineteen seventy must have been the very zenith of American Motors. If George Romney can be credited with reversing the slide of Hudson and Nash by promoting a niche product like the Rambler, AMC under Roy Abernethy had spent the 1960s running away from Romney’s concept. Abernethy had no use for an AMC that was “the Rambler company”, a producer of sensible cars sold to sensible people. Under his ill-fated attempt to make AMC into a member of the in-crowd (which is well documented elsewhere), the 1960s brought a number of new AMC cars in an ever-broadening lineup that included the midsize Rebel and even larger Ambassador, the Marlin, the Javelin and the AMX. Nineteen seventy also marked AMC’s purchase of Kaiser Jeep which, by bringing Jeeps and trucks under the AMC umbrella, would generate an entirely separate line of business for them. Yes, by 1970 AMC had become quite a success–at least from external appearances. What’s often lost in most discussions of AMC’s growth (and ever-sexier cars) is that AMC’s bread-and-butter line remained the little Rambler (CC here), which had become rather outdated by the end of the 1960s.
The folks at AMC, also well aware that the car was nearing the end of its life cycle, had hatched plans for the Rambler’s successor as early as 1966. Following the industry trend, the new car would be both a bit larger and much more stylish than its predecessor. While honing the concept, AMC’s styling department, under Dick Teague, created two separate prototypes that would give a glimpse of what would appear in showrooms three years hence. The Cavalier was a stylish but practical sedan that highlighted AMC’s design frugality by its use of mirror-image doors that could be made from a single set of stampings.
The Vixen, however, was a sexier coupe that more accurately predicted the eventual lines of the Hornet. The Vixen in particular shows that in 1966, AMC’s stylists had a very good grasp of the direction the industry as a whole would take as 1970 began to loom. Teague’s body of work at AMC was, shall we say, somewhat uneven. In fairness, he was often hobbled by budget constraints more severe than those of the competition. The Hornet, though, may have been the best-ever design to come out of American Motors, without a bad line anywhere on it.
We should not dismiss the size of the Hornet project, particularly for a company of AMC’s size. AMC’s advertising claimed that the project that took three full years, one million man hours, and cost forty million dollars. Not a single piece of the Rambler’s unit body structure would carry over to the Hornet: While the older car’s fairly modern engines and drive train components would largely carry over, the body structure was 100% new. The Hornet also sported a new front suspension design that proved to be quite hearty, as it was shared with the larger Rebel and Ambassador. With the Hornet, frugal AMC would continue its habit of parts interchangeability with such pieces as a common bumper at both front and rear, and a common roof stamping shared by coupes and sedans.
The car’s name was highly significant, in an AMC kind of way. It was apparent from the outset that the Nash-Hudson merger was going to be more of a takeover, one in which the Nash side more or less erased any Hudson lineage in the post-merger cars–which must have been quite galling to longtime Hudson loyalists. After all, The Hudson Hornet (CC and a follow-up Capsule here and here) was one of the most memorable cars of the early post-WWII period, the terror of NASCAR tracks all over the country. The choice of the Hornet name tells us that AMC expected big things from its newest compact.
The car hit showrooms in late 1969. Although the line would expand in later years, initial choices were limited to the number of doors (two or four) and trim level (base or SST). Power trains were largely unchanged from those of the Rambler. There were two sixes, sized at 199 cu.in. (3.3-liters) and 232 cu.in. (3.8-liters), as well as the 304 (5.0-liter) V8. Tansmission choices carried over as well, comprising three- or four-speed manuals and the aging Borg-Warner Shift Command automatic. In all, the inaugural power options seem strangely subdued for a car named after the the most successful racer in the AMC family tree. For whatever reason, the larger 258 cu.in. (4.2-liter) six and 360 (5.9-liter) V8 would not be along until 1971. Actually, the 1971 Hornet SC/360 was quite a fire-breather, and a car that would have done ol’ Doc Hudson proud.
As we all know, the 1970 Hornet was a blowout success, propelling AMC to two decades of unprecedented prosperity. No, wait – I’m thinking of some parallel universe. Actually, for all of AMC’s efforts, the “little rich car” was met with a resounding “meh”. The 1970 Hornet was certainly no flop, selling slightly over 100,000 units. However, the elderly ’69 Rambler had sold about 96,000 cars (although in fairness, about 13,000 were wagons that were not initially part of the Hornet lineup).
This isn’t to say the Hornet was a bad car. Popular Science magazine did a comparison test of the Nova, Duster, Maverick and Hornet (found here), and the result was that both Jan Norbye and Jim Dunne would have chosen the Hornet, despite chassis dynamics that were several years behind the leading brands. Perhaps the biggest problem was that the car didn’t do any one thing particularly well…or that it came from AMC, take your pick. Of course, now the car is a highly prized collector’s item, at least according to the sign in its window. Or perhaps the owner of this Golden Lime Metallic base coupe is a mite optimistic in his $15,000 asking price.
When I was in high school, I worked with a kid who came from an AMC family, and his daily driver was a white ’70 Hornet SST sedan with the 304/automatic. I wanted to like the car, I really did. It was attractively styled and quite powerful for its size. Unfortunately, the car did not do anything for me. If you liked all-out durability and conservative style, there was the Valiant and Dart. If you liked good looks, the Nova and Maverick were both attractive cars. Also, by now, AMC cars were not giving off a vibe of deep-down quality that the Ramblers of the 1960s had offered. In all, this one just fell into sort of a “me-too” zone that made it just a face in the crowd.
I have often referred to this car as AMC’s 1953 Studebaker. The ’53 Stude is remembered as that company’s last clean-sheet design, and the one that served as the basis for every car the company built afterwards right up to the end. On further reflection, this analogy is not really so close. AMC in 1970 was in a much stronger position than Studebaker in 1953, coming out with at least three new clean-sheet cars (’71 Javelin, ’74 Matador Coupe and ’75 Pacer) after the Hornet. Also, unlike the ’53 Stude line, the Hornet was moderately successful, certainly by AMC standards.
I suppose we can say that the Hornet’s strength was that it was the only AMC platform that had the legs, the wind and the heart to keep pushing forward as the company’s newer cars collapsed because of changing styles and market conditions. Maybe the Hornet should not be thought of in terms of ’70s pop psychology, but rather within a more old-fashioned paradigm of hard work and tenacity. In a way, it may have been AMC’s Samwise Gamgee, who urged on his master Frodo Baggins, despite impossible odds.
In the fall of 1969, nobody knew that a version of the Hornet (called an Eagle) would be in showrooms as late as 1988, even after American Motors had ceased to exist. In this way, the debut of the Hornet did indeed mark the beginning of the end of AMC. Perhaps it’s time to give the Hornet some long-overdue respect. After all, none of its competitors lived nearly so long, or was relied on so heavily by its maker for so many seasons. Well done, little Hornet, well done.
I’d give him $15 for the hornet emblems and the hornets themselves.
I really don’t miss my old 1970 Hornet. Electrical and hardware problems galore. I wanted it to be my car but it never was
I owned a 1970 SST, I fell in love with the body style and bought it left over in January for $2150.00 plus T&L. The car out of the showroom was fun to drive. It had the 6 cyl 232 cid. I guess because of its weight it was quick for a 6cyl. But that is where it ended. At 10K miles the battery went dead. It turns out the battery bracket wore a hole in one of the cells and I was stranded on a gravel road in rural Georgia! I lived in NY and until a short vacation had never befor or after rode on gravel roads. At 14K the brakes were worn out. I didn’t ride the brakes!!!! At 15K the right rear axel hub wore out and had to be replaced. At 16K the accelerator cable frayed and was hanging up. At 30K I needed new ball joints although I was fanatical about maintenance the car continued to break down. Finally at 36K the transmission started to slip. I ended up trading the car in for a 73 Plymouth Duster. I never had any trouble with the Duster for the 7 years I owned it
That so often seems to be the story – if only they’d specified better quality materials and built them properly.
I could live with a Hornet,if I had a choice then i would probably get an A body.Nice overlooked car,as a kid the only AMC cars i liked were Javelins and The machine.Is that tough guy actor Sam Elliott in the ad?
I was a teenager and a Ford guy in the 60s lusting after 428 CJ Mustangs and Torinos, and paid zero attention to wagons – but I remember the first time I saw a 1970 Hornet Sport wagon, and thought,wow, that’s an amazingly good looking car – an absolutely beautifully clean design. I still think it’s the most attractive wagon ever.
As I got older, I came to appreciate the talent of the late Dick Teague, a superb designer and a real car guy. Would love to have an original early 70s Hornet Sport Wagon today.
The Sportabout wagon came out as a 1971 model, and promptly became the best selling bodystyle. I too always had an attraction to the Sportabout.
I’ll second that motion. Just a tremendous design.
Didn’t the basic Sportabout design essentially live on through ’88 as the Eagle? Different platform with the 4×4, but the sheetmetal always looked quite similar to me.
Yes, which is how I calculated the 19 year life of the Hornet platform. Recall that when the Hornet came out, the whole post-merger history of AMC was only 15 years. From 1970-on, the Hornet was sliced and diced a dozen ways, culminating in the Eagle wagon.
Sometimes I’m guilty of skipping to the comments before I finish the article!
It had the USP the rest of the line was lacking – until the Aspen/Volare came out in ’76 it was the only domestic compact wagon, bigger than the cramped two-door Vega and Pinto and smaller than the barely-smaller-than-full-size Chevelles and Gran Torinos.
A Hornet Sportabout wagon, equipped with the 304 V8 engine and AMC’s freezing c-c-cold factory A/C and the Gucci interior package has been on my “Wish List” since day one.
Sadly, VERY few so equipped cars were available, new or used, here in New Orleans.
First: Tremendous writeup of this often overlooked but nonetheless important automobile!
Second: Fifteen THOUSAND dollars?!!? Holy crap, what’s that dude smoking? If the driver’s door matched the rest of the car I’d offer him $2k.
Hindu Kush and Sour Diesel, mostly.
After busting on Richard about the picture of his Buick dash yesterday, I see that mine is pretty pathetic today. I found an internet picture of a slightly newer version. This design was always unusual for its prominent raised center area. Also, you got an underdash shelf (like the Maverick) and a glovebox (like the Nova and Valiant) – the best of both worlds?
That dash is my exact dash, except for 3 on the tree. Here is my *beloved* Hornet. Boy did I get stung.
That raised center area was ideal for the a/c getting all around the interior quickly.
Even as a frothing at the mouth AMC guy the original version of the Hornet doesn’t do much for me. I too think there’s one too many zeroes on the asking price, but good luck regardless. Nice article by the way, hadn’t thought of it in those terms.
And I ask again, is there something preservative, radioactive or otherwise special about this particular shade of green that ever single AMC survivor seems to have this paint color?
My grandfather’s 70ish Matador was the same shade of green. Pop-Pop was a frugal man who always waited until the end of the year to take the last of the previous year’s model off the dealer’s hands. Which is to say his car was always painted the ugliest color available.
Nice little cars. I’m picturing a suburban driveway in Wisconsin with an Ambassador for the “family car” and a Hornet to run for groceries. Not a bad picture in my head… 🙂
I dispute the ’71 Javelin being a clean sheet. It was actually a heavily facelifted version of the original. The windshields interchange in both, which is a sure sign of common platformage. Also, FWIW, Hornet-Gremlin-Concord-Spirit-Eagle windshields are also in common with Javelins.
A good point. However, I would argue that a clean sheet for AMC might require a slightly relaxed definition, as they always had a way of making do with less. The 71-74 Javelin was a very heavy and deep facelift, much as the 71-73 Mustang was – which is to say that the newer car made its roots virtually unrecognizable. Another point, in comparisons with Studebaker, was that the Stude was a body on frame design, which was relatively cheap to change. AMC cars were all unibody, and a deep restyling was always an expensive undertaking.
The 1971 Javelin carried over a lot of the same components, such as door sheet metal, trunk lid, windshield and rear window.
The Mustang, in contrast, had completely new sheetmetal. Not even the windshield was carried over.
Yep, The 71 front end lines up on the 68-70 body
Yes, there’s 68-70 Javelin hiding under the bulging hips ove every 71+ Javelin. A bit of cosmetic augmentation surgery.
Rear window (and roof) of ’71 Javelins are wayyyydifferent than rear window of the 68-70 Javelins.
Surely he means $1,500?
Ironically, the very last car showroom I visited before getting out of the air force in August, 1973, was an AMC dealership on Fulton Avenue in Sacramento!
What car REALLY caught my eye? You guessed it – an AMC Hornet. The fastback model. The example on the showroom floor was that metallic brown color that was a tad reddish, saddle tan interior, flip-open back windows (it was a deluxe model…) and some nice trim. Overall, a fine-looking car.
After I got home, I bought a 1970 Duster, gave it to my parents and got a nice 1972 Nova. Not a Hornet in my future, but a Gremlin! Mom later got a Concord.
Pleasant memories of AMC.
Were you at Mather or McClellan? Between the two big bases and Aerojet Sac used to be very much a USAF company town. A bunch of the adults in my Scout troop had ties as well.
My father bought our 1990 Subaru Wagon on the Fulton dealership row the day before thanksgiving. One of ways my father keeps the dealer games to a minimum is to go it 30-45min before closing so they wont be inclined to grind you down with time. He likes to tell the story of how he got a good deal out of them as they just wanted to go home and start their holiday.
I was stationed at Beale AFB, 40 miles north from 1969-1973. Really good times back then.
Fulton Avenue was the original Auto Mall, and lots of fun hanging around all makes of cars, going from dealer to dealer, plus all the small independent lots which had some good stuff.
Always stopped at Scheidel’s Bavaria for a Löwenbrau Dark or two on the way back on Saturday nights!
Best 4 years of my young, single life.
My grandfather was an Air Force major at Beale AFB during the 60s and 70s, and he bought a couple of Matadors during that period of time, probably from the same AMC dealership
What about Collier Motors ? Still open ? It may be time for a pilgrimage .
Roy Abernethy knee-capped AMC by expanding the brand too fast and without a successful goal. He was handed a winner with Rambler and didn’t appreciate the success it had become and why it was successful. Abernethy believed in growth, but also believed that growth was inherently good for it’s own sake. His competition made it look so easy. Ford, GM and Chrysler seemed to be successful even when manufacturing mediocre trash. Abernethy didn’t recognize that Rambler didn’t have the foundation strong enough to put out mediocre cars, that AMC was still in a position where it needed to put out the best cars and hope Americans bought them. Mediocre was good enough for Abernethy, who believed that just putting it out on the streets was good enough for growth.
So he saw no problem expanding from a strong Rambler base in a niche market, into every possible US auto market, even when AMC was definately not ready to do so. While it had cash in the early 1960s, competition against Rambler by the Big Three’s compacts and intermediates was going to take it away. Abernethy gambled and lost the edge AMC had by 1965.
In 1965, it took the Federal Government, through the US Postal Service, to buy up all the AMC cars available and unsold, in order for AMC to have the cash necessary to stay open. Had AMC not had this second chance, there would not only have been no Hornet, there wouldn’t have been a 1966 Rambler.
But, Studebaker went belly up in 1965 and watching AMC do the same made politicians scramble for a backdoor deal to save AMC. Romney was in the news as a successful Michigan governor with presidential aspirations, and the combination of Romney and Studebaker made the Deal possible. By 1965, AMC was on it’s deathbed, and it took politics to save it long enough to kick the can down the road a while longer.
This meant that when the Hornet was unveiled, it was already a compromised vehicle design. AMC did not have the unlimited resources to do what they wanted with it. Had AMC kept it’s cash dry without expanding into every market with sloppy vanilla products, they could have put out a better vehicle in the compact market in 1965. Had AMC the foresight to put out a Javelin in 1965, based on a really new compact, they would have had no disasterous 1965, and no need for a Federal Government backdoor Post Office deal.
AMC was on borrowed time after 1965. Anything AMC put out after 1965 into the market was slick looking mediocre cars on outdated chassis and engines. AMC was cheap, because they couldn’t figure out what else they could do to stay in the market, except to go cheap. With Kenosha unable to really take advantage of new manufacturing technologies, AMC couldn’t keep selling cheap cars unless they kept putting new crap on top of outdated cars, keeping overhead as low as possible.
Ironically, Romney was right. There was a real need for an excellent compact and subcompact car. Had AMC dedicated itself during the 1960s to do just that, it would have been the go-to brand when the gas crisis hit. No one really wanted a Pinto, Vega, Gremlin or Beetle in 1974, but nothing else was available that got over 15 mpg and looked like fun and fashion at the time. Had AMC unveiled the Hornet and Javelin in 1965, instead of the market bombs of the Marlin and bigger Ambassador, AMC would have had the best small cars on the market in 1970 when America was ready for great small cars.
By the time America wanted a great small car, it’s great small car company had shot it’s wad builing boring crappy drivel that appeals to us today only when viewed nostalgically.
Car sales fell in 1965 but AMC wasn’t yet in a financial crisis. That occurred in 1967 when a major redesign of the company’s bigger cars flopped.
AMC historian Patrick Foster has written about the US Postal Service getting 3,745 Ambassadors in 1967. The sale “was probably engineered by the government to give the company a quick cash infusion.”
Given that AMC sold a total of 291,090 cars in 1967, it strikes me as a reach to suggest that the federal purchase single-handed saved the company. Of greater importance was probably AMC’s quick sale of assets such as the financing arm for Kelvinator (which would also be sold off within a year).
I don’t understand why you say that after 1965 AMC engines were “outdated.” The company introduced a substantially redesigned six-cylinder engine in 1964 and a range of larger V8s in 1966-69.
Agreed, that AMC’s engines were the least of its problems in the sixties. In fact, both the six and V8 were just about the youngest designs for any US manufacturer. And they were certainly competitive.
One of AMC’s consistent problems was the lack-luster chassis development work. The cars tended to feel older than they were, when driven. That’s where AMC seemed not to be able to keep up, at a time when especially GM started investing more money and effort in making their cars handle well.
I’ll 2nd Paul on the engines. With fuel injection and a better head the I6 had a long career as “the” Jeep engine of the 80s and 90s.
I think in a marco sense their size gave them little room for error. Its hard to be the mouse surrounded by the proverbial T Rex and Brontosauri. Volvo saw the writing on the wall and sold their car business to Ford to focus on Trucks and Heavy Equipment. The last business cycle claimed Saab.
It seems like the only way you can be a smaller semi-independent automaker now is as a client state of a major OEM.
+3 on the engines. The problems facing the company in the 1960s was that they were a fraction of GM’s size…while trying to out-GM GM. They made a perfectly-good car; this is later proof; but they lacked the R&D to make it OUTSTANDING in ANYTHING.
And that was their problem, right from the time George Romney left them. Their reach exceeded their grasp. They could neither match their competitors niche-for-niche; nor develop Jeep into a Power-Wagon line. They eschewed the elderly market; but lacked the marketing budget to craft an IMAGE-driven car.
And what money they DID have…got Pacered and Matadored and otherwise wasted. Those…were AMC’s Waterloo. What those meant, was that the Hornet/Concord/Eagle would have to keep on slogging to the end…while Jeep got its one new model on money-for-favors from the fine young Frenchmen from Renault.
It’s interesting that sales of the 1967-70 Rebel dropped every year that the car was on the market, despite an all-new body and new rear suspension for 1967 and a strong market for intermediates in the late 1960s!
We could wonder if changing the name from Classic to Rebel hadn’t hurt some potential customers? Abernathy taught the Classic name was too close to Romney’s car image. Meanwhile, VAM in Mexico, continued to use Rambler Classic instead of Rebel and later, Matador. Here some screenshots of a 1967 Mexican Rambler Classic on IMCDB http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_254901-VAM-Rambler-Classic-1967.html
Meanwhile in Argentina, IKA (later acquired by Renault) continued to use the 1963-66 body until the mid-1970s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVWojCcqcmw
AMC had already passed its peak when Abernethy assumed leadership of the company in the wake of George Romney’s departure in 1962. AMC’s sales increased from 1961 through 1963, but it still fell several places in the sales race during that same time period. Its sales weren’t increasing as fast as those of the competition, despite the introduction of all-new Classics and Ambassadors for 1963.
Abernethy can be criticized for some of his decisions, but in retrospect it’s clear that Romeny left in the nick of time. The 1962-64 AMC line-ups were largely the work of Romney, even if Abernethy did make some minor changes (offering the V-8 in the Classic midway through the 1963 model year).
Abernethy had no choice but to expand AMC’s offerings. Ford invaded the intermediate segment in 1962 with the all-new Fairlane and Meteor, and GM jumped in with the new Chevelle/Malibu, Tempest/LeMans, F-85/Cutlass and Special/Skylark for 1964. Chrysler entered the segment in 1965 with the Belvedere/Satellite and Coronet.
Sales of the Classic and Ambassador had already fallen for 1964, despite a booming new-car market and the design being only a year old. Like it or not, AMC sales would have fallen even more in 1965 if AMC had elected to stand pat with lightly facelifted versions of the 1963-64 models.
It was Romney himself who had walked away from the idea of a premium small car, which was George Mason’s idea for the original 1950 Rambler. Romney’s emphasis on frugal, barebones cars for tightwads worked during the recession of 1958, when people began worrying about fuel economy and the Big Three were turning out outlandish, overblown, poorly built barges. Once the Big Three began improving quality during 1961-63, cleaning up their styling and bringing out more rationally sized cars, there really wasn’t much of a reason to buy a Rambler instead of comparable Chevrolet, Ford or Plymouth.
AMC’s continued use of outdated front and rear suspension designs, vacuum windshield wipers and manual transmissions that didn’t feature syncromesh in every gear didn’t help, either. They only cemented AMC’s image as a purveyor of outdated cars for cheapskates who didn’t know or care about cars.
Yeah, I think AMC was just as doomed as the rest of the non-Big 3 that went before them. It was simply a matter of the Big 3 pushing into (and quickly taking over) those markets that the independents counted on to survive (which, by the sixties, had been reduced to just the compacts). The Falcon, Valiant, Corvair, and (later) Nova were all Lark/Rambler killers, and were what really, finally, killed off the two remaining independents, once and for all.
When the Big 3 compacts arrived on the scene, AMC had little choice but to try and expand into those Big 3 markets where the independents hadn’t been before, and hope for the best. If Abernethy had stuck with the single Rambler line, alone, and just moved it upmarket, it wouldn’t have made much difference. Even if it had been built and been a success, the Big 3 would have just countered with their own versions.
So, either way, it just wasn’t going to be enough, and while AMC eventually, inevitably, succumbed, they sure had a good run.
The irony, of course, is that the Japanese would end up having the last laugh for exactly the same reason.
It’s hard to see any independent competing with a similarly priced and more or less similarly competent compact Chevrolet — just in dealer network and marketing reach alone, that was a tough position.
I would rank the Hornet third among the domestic compacts in terms of looks, behind the Maverick (which I think is really fairly attractive) and the Dart/Valiant. (Of, course, as I’ve often said, I can’t abide the 1968-74 Nova, especially the deeply awkward-looking two-door.) Even if it looked like a Bertone Lamborghini concept, it would have really faced an uphill battle.
Hindsight is 20/20, I realize, however Roy Abernethy was not a man who was sold as Mason and Romney were before him, on the small American car.
AMC, after Romney, needed to either continue their success within the compact car field with better cars, expand into the subcompact field with a new Metropolitan and see what happened, or expand into the intermediate and full size markets which could be profitable if successful. In 1964, we see the boom of the pony car, which was a sporty compact loaded with profitable options. AMC blew it completely.
Instead of producing a better compact car with a profitable pony car, AMC’s Abernethy went with the Marlin. He did this for a couple of sound reasons. If it worked, the Marlin was profitable and a good addition to the Rebel and Ambassador lines. AMC had no Thunderbird, which was seen as a cash cow for Ford. GM was launching personal luxury cars at the same time and if the Marlin could bridge the gap between sporty and personal, it could have found a niche.
So, instead of going with the AMC Tarpon, which would have expanded their compact line up, Abernethy went with the Marlin.
The drawback for the Marlin/Ambassador/Rebel direction was obvious. It was a new line of more expensive cars AMC had never fielded before. Believing it couldn’t expand compact markets further, AMC left it behind with a dated product, hoping for greener pastures and profits. While AMC had established itself as a good compact car company, Abernethy did a Don Quixote against the Big Three’s most profitable and popular cars. There was no more room in those market niches with millions of the Big Three saturating it so completely. Even with a good full size car, AMC did not have the credibility to saw off a profitable chunk of that market.
Abernethy was probably also hounded by dealers wanting a full size car.
Considering what was known at the time, and the personalities tempered by 1950s style auto management, Abernethy’s move was traditional and seemingly safe – but wrong for AMC. The success of the Rambler and AMC during this period was due to being contrarian, not traditional. Mason was too ahead of his time regarding American small cars, and Romney was on target. However, with his pursuit of the White House, AMC ended up with a leader too conservative to succeed.
The VW Beetle was hugely successful at this time and not traditional.
The Ford Mustang was hugely successful at this time, and not traditional.
The booming compact market was not traditional. These were signs of market change favoring the kind of cars AMC succeeded in making, but Abernethy didn’t seem to want to risk continuing in it.
There is a part of me that felt AMC executives wanted a car to park alongside Chryslers, Cadillacs, Buicks, Lincolns and the Rambler Classic might have satisfied a Romney who thrived being the opposite of the rest of the auto executives – but a Rambler didn’t satisfy the gentlemen from AMC after they saw their company climb into the Top Three name plates in the early 1960s. They felt they arrived in the Big Leagues, and no longer wanted to show up handing the keys over to a valet at their country clubs while driving a Rambler Classic.
I bet there were a lot of senior executives itching to return to a more familiar full size car market and the Ambassador name plate they respected and represented before Romney shanked it down into the compact car field as a glorified Rambler. They knew he save the company, but they felt with the 1957-58 recession long over, it was time to return to the days when they designed a Nash Ambassador or a Hudson Hornet to compete with the Big Detroit Three.
So Abernethy went big, shot their Rambler cash wad, changed their name to AMC, and began their losing streak. By 1967, their gamble failed, their products were seen as dated, they had nothing new, improved and exciting in the small car field they were so successful in earlier in the decade, and played defense until the end.
Certainly Abernethy was a big car guy, but one reason he went with the Marlin was because AMC wouldn’t have a V8 that fit its compact platform until 1966. Could a 1965 Tarpon have sold very well with just a six? Perhaps better than the Marlin but it would have been widely viewed as operating from a competitive disadvantage.
Even the Tarpon wasn’t quite the right concept because it didn’t have any practical advantages, e.g., the Barracuda’s added cargo capacity due to its fold-down rear seats. As AMC found out later with the Javelin, they couldn’t generate adequate sales with merely good looks.
As a pre-teen, for the longest time, I thought AMC was owned and operated by the US government because of the name of course and also because I would always see government workers getting out of them.
I knew from my Dad that there was a Mr. Buick and Mr. Chevrolet at one time and they somehow joined ranks to make GM. Everyone knew there was a Mr. Ford.
When it came to making appealing and successful products I formed an opinion early on that someone private could always do a better job than the government. Later when I learned about Skodas and Ladas that belief was reinforced and permanently cemented into my brain.
Dang Lyndon Johnson! I wouldn’t have been stuck with a Hornet had he not interfered!
These things were everywhere for a few seasons in the ’70s. Nice enough cars, let down by a general feeling of flimsiness to the hardware and interior fittings, and a perceived reputation (perhaps inherited from predecessor Ramblers) of being cars for spinster teachers. I agree with the pack on the well-executed styling, however with the hatchback (introduced in ’73?) and the Sportabout being the standouts.
I drove a red ’74 hatchback as a rental in Florida for a week or so, and under the rather undemanding driving conditions, it seemed decent enough, but I’m pretty sure no one was looking and saying, “hey, check out the stylish dude in the Hornet!”
My younger brother’s first car, back in the late ’70s, was another Hornet hatchback, in the ubiquitous green with one of the sixes under the hood. To this day he still refers to it as “the Green Latrine”. To be fair, that probably had as much to do with the car’s age and having spent numerous winters in salty western PA by the time he got his hands on it, as with anything else.
I grew up in Kenosha so AMC products will always have a place in my history/heart. The first new car my mother bought that I was around for was a 1974 Hornet Sportabout.
It’s kind of funny that there would be an AMC article now considering the last-standing remnants of the manufacturing plants came down only a few days ago in Kenosha. It’s sad when you relaize that those buildings “built” the town. Many lives and businesses were conceived because of those buildings.
(AMC)/Chrysler Engine plant, back in the day:
…the end, April 2013…taken at 60th Street and 30th Avenue, looking north:
the empty grounds, today…
Do you have any more photos like this? If you do, put more on the CC Cohort Flickr page for the enjoyment of others & to get the pics more noticed. Just my $0.02 about the pics.
Excellent post about a car that’s been needing to have its story told here. I’ve not been able to find an early Hornet all these years.
I was rather encouraged by the Hornet’s new exterior design when it arrived, but its interior was a et down. And the first time I drove one was another disappointment: it felt like a classic Rambler: very slow steering, and dull handling. Oh well…so much for being truly competitive with the imports.
By the mid 70’s in the New York City area almost every AMC sedan I saw, both Hornet and Matador had GSA markings on the door because AMC was the low bidder on the government motor pool contracts and nobody bough them for personal use. My grandfather was a rare exception, he bought a 73 or so Hornet to replace his Ambassador when he moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey but he was a life long Nash man.
Slow Joe, you just jogged my memory!
From 1975 to 1980, I worked for the US Civil Service, and you are so correct about these being the darlings of the motor pool!
I recall two colors: green and beige.
In the late ’70’s, I worked at the US Gov’t records center in suburban STL, and had to run around town every so often to buy art supplies for this-and-that project, and these were what I got.
Once, when out, I noticed the hood wasn’t latched correctly, so I opened the hood, and got very concerned as the springs were VERY stiff. Of course, when trying to close the hood, it wouldn’t move. So, what’s a 28-year-old kid to do? Grab the hood and SLAM it – that didn’t work so well, as the entire hood buckled! Eventually I got it closed and reported the “incident” when I got back.
These cars were Hornets, and just before I left Civil Service, became Concords, which, even in strippo-form, were much better cars, which directly led me to suggest one for mom, which also turned out to be a very nice machine – her 1979 Concord – loaded.
One final point to let you all know I’m being true-to-form:
It appears that AMC was the first domestic OEM to “feature” fixed-windows on their two-door sedans, beginning with the Rambler American in the late ’60’s and carried that over to the Hornets.
Thanks a lot, AMC…
$15,000! Well, I’d call that a fishing expedition. There were lots of these cars around when I was a kid and they all seemed to be green. They made great kid cars because they were usually owned by school teacher types who looked after them. A friend of mine had one for which he paid all of like $400. It was a in really good shape, too, and guess what? Well it was green, too! We also had a very unpopular math teacher in junior high who had one, in green, of course. We called him “the green hornet.”
I concur with Paul; these things never drove very well. They really resisted cornering and just didn’t seem very well planted to the road.
It is interesting to think of what might have happened to AMC had it stuck to the premium compact concept and used the money it had wasted on a “full line” to make a really premium car, for example one with IRS and decent chassis tuning. This could have placed AMC in a very favourable place during Energy Crisis I. Alas it was not to be and AMC died a slow and unlamented death.
I sure hope that was $1500 with the mismatched door and Cutlass Supreme bucket seats.
Hornet now thats a badge with a story did AMC get permission to use it or did they just steal the name I wonder, Ramblers were assembled here and these hornets did hit our automotive landscape briefly but they rusted away so fast I havent seen one since the 70s.
AMC owned the Hudson model names, since they were merger of it and Nash.
Then Chrysler, Fiat, now PSA, as Stellantis.
I’m not sure that a more modern AMC compact would’ve made a difference. The enduring popularity of Detroit’s overweight, tacky broughams proved that average American buyers would not necessarily have been impressed by an AMC tour-de-force here. I think the critical difference with Japanese imports & the Beetle was quality, not other attributes. While I concede that MPG was an initial attraction after the ’73 Oil Crisis, which put Japan on the map, in the long run it was Deming’s Statistical Process Control which I believe cost AMC (the low-hanging fruit) & everyone else dearly. No one in the US biz was ready to listen to Deming; it took until the ’80s for Ford to catch on, & that only imperfectly. Truly a prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.
“To Ford’s surprise, Deming talked not about quality but about management. He told Ford that management actions were responsible for 85% of all problems in developing better cars.” – Wikipedia
And just try changing your employer’s management culture.
Bryce – as mentioned in the article, AMC was formed by the merger of Hudson and Nash. AMC retained the rights to the Hornet name.
Hornet was a name used by Wolseley in the 1930s to badge their 1300cc ohc 6 cylinder model Hudson didnt own that name
Hudson/AMC had U.S. & possibly some foreign rights to the name, not U.K. rights. Now Wolseley also had a Mini clone named the Hornet, but that apparently caused no legal controversy with AMC, I suppose because the two were never sold in the same market at the same time. I only heard of BMC exporting Minis.
I think it’s fun to profile an owner before meeting him/her by looking at the car. Here we have someone who obviously enjoyed taking meticulous care of an old Hornet, has some nerve (the asking price) and is OK driving around without windshield wipers. An eccentric OCD risk taker with balls. Wouldn’t want to get caught trying to steal that thing.
Not so familiar with AMC products and did not know the chassis and handling were subpar. That could explain loads about their downfall as I think handling is the least well-acknowledged selling point of a car. I believe nearly all folks test drive before buying and while they may not be able to put their finger on exactly why could tell you 95 times out of 100 which was the better handling car.
I would say the Hornet was a draw against the Maverick on the five most widely accepted selling points – styling, fit/finish, fuel economy, reliability and comfort/refinement – and if you’re telling me it didn’t handle as well then that could explain a lot about the poor sales of the Hornet. Especially if it had a lower price, which I’m sure it did.
This theory would also explain why the Colonnades and B-bodies blew away the Fords so badly.
My grandmother had a 1973 Ford Maverick sedan, and my dad had a 1973 AMC Gremlin, which was basically a chopped Hornet. The Maverick blew away the Gremlin (and, by extension, the Hornet) in the areas of fit-and-finish and comfort.
The dashboards on the Gremlin and Hornet were particularly bad – lots of sloppily assembled cheap plastic parts that warped with age. Even the best-assembled dashboards featured big gaps between the panels.
The Maverick’s main problem was its poor rust resistance, but the Gremlin was no champ in that department, either. My father’s Gremlin started rusting at the TOP of the driver’s side front fender, which was quite common on AMC Hornets and Gremlins of that vintage.
If you define comfort as something that includes ride quality I doubt there would have been much difference between a Hornet and Maverick. Both used relatively primitive designs with a solid rear axle and leaf springs and the longer wheelbase versus your Gremlin would have made the Hornet ride better.
Even if the newer Ford suspension was more advanced, AMC would have traded off handling feel to make the ride equal to or better than the Ford because that’s easy to do.
I don’t remember any egregious fit/finish laps in the Mavericks I’ve been in, so I agree with you on that, but the overly simple design and detailing of the dash gave an aura of cheapness that even the Gremlin didn’t have.
Friends and family members had Hornet sedans/Sportabouts, and the front seats were not too generously padded, while the back seats had short lower cushions and uncomfortably upright seatbacks.
The AMC cars had very thin, cheap vinyl on the door panels, hard painted metal on the upper doors and lots of hard plastic elsewhere. The Maverick was no Lexus (or Benz, or even Lincoln Continental), but it stil had better seats (even without the LDO option), better quality materials and more sound deadening. The Mavericks tended to be better trimmed and assembled than even the Chrysler compacts (although they were inferior in other aspects to the Chrysler twins).
The Maverick dashboard was very simple, but at least it was (usually) put together properly, and Ford apparently made some attempt to minimize the number of parts used in its construction.
The real problem here, of course, was that, overall, the Dart/Valiant twins and NOVA clones were better cars than either the Maverick or the Hornet.
I totally agree. When I had the Hornet, a friend had a Maverick and it was so much nicer. Handled a lot better, too.
For the record, the new AMC front suspension in 1970 was a mirror image of Ford Mustang’s double ball joint, spring on top, suspension. The Maverick may have been finished slightly better, but it had nothing on the Hornet performance-wise, suspension-wise, or standard or optional equipment-wise.
A Hornet had a real glove box, with a lock! Maverick had a small shelf. A Hornet could have a V8, PS, PB, PDB, individual reclining seats, and High Level ventilation for starters. You couldn’t get ANY of those on a Maverick for a couple more years. And then the way Ford had to shoehorn a 302 in the Maverick engine bay? Ever try to change spark plugs on one?
There’s no comparison in my book,
Can anyone name the non-AMC buckets in the car?
They look like seats from a 1978-84 rear-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme/Calais.
I can remember that in 1970 I thought the Hornet was inferior to the more steel like Rambler Americans that came before in 1969. I never liked these. They seemed like a Me Too Copy of The Maverick. Very Nova like also.
I’d Like A Concord Limited however. I rem looking at those in 1980 in Boston.
Never cared much for the Hornet. I did like the Concord. Liked it so much I bought one. Must have been the vinyl top. Tom is the Brougham virus contagious?
That Concord was my escape from a terrible 77 Olds Starfire. The AMC just reeked of quality compared to it.
I really would love to have owned the 4wd wagon they came out with later. The Eagle or the shrunken version I think they called the Spirit. I guess I have been a rambler fan since they had ramblers. I am a little embarrassed to have only owned one rambler, one studebaker, and no hudsons as much as I liked them.
Cannot recreate history but I expect that there are others that wish they had.
Easily the worst car I have ever owned. I went from a $250 1970 Impala to a 1971 Hornet – baby blue like the ad with 3 on the tree and the 232. It was like going from a 2013 car to a 1928 car. The Hornet felt like it was built in the 1940s. And then stored. Outdoors. This was a gift from another uncle.
It was bulky, ugly, boring. The materials were incredibly cheap inside and out. The paint had zero luster. How did they get the paint so flat? The seats were poorly cut vinyl – they looked homemade. Seriously, the handling and the finish of the $250 Impala was maybe 10X as good.
It had an exhaust leak that took years off my life. The ignition lock didn’t work – I drove it without a key the entire time I owned it. Who would steal it?
I had to completely rewire its lighting system. Seriously, when have you had to re-wire lights in a post 1970 American car? Did Lucas do their electronics?
The dash was metal, boring and ugly with about 3 layers to it.
It handled like you took a giant rock and put four wheels on it.
I was driving back to college and the brakes and clutch went out simultaneously. Luckily it was all highway. When I got to the edge of my college town, I abandoned the car. I had zero money and it really wouldn’t have been worth the price of the clutch.
Of course, had I known now that they are worth $15K with a replacement door, I would have stored it!
This, I think was the whole problem of AMC. If I was a buyer of cars in 1971, I would much prefer a used Chevy or Ford to this car new.
My childhood memories of the “Dealer Drive” office that sat between marshaling yards are my earliest Kenosha recollections. As I get older, the inevitability of change seems to grind on my senses even more than usual. My only defense is to consciously decide to include only happy memories of good times. So, Kenosha will always be the company town I remember from the 50’s and 60’s, with Ramblers crammed into every spare parking lot in the area, and new cars being driven to the KAT and ARCO shipping yards. My first inkling that the rich are different wasn’t F.Scott Fitzgerald telling me, but the president of ARCO’s secretary showing us his office’s secret walls that hid a shower, clothes closet, bar and tanning booth along with an elevator that went to the parking garage. Where he had a Nash-Healey, a Sunbeam and a Rolls waiting for his use. It seemed really decadent to me in 1960. Pretty pedestrian by today’s CEO standards. He actually drove himself. No self-respecting big shot would be caught dead driving today. Think of the scorn! We’ve really made some progress in 50 years.
Say what ye will about AMC ye varlets you gotta’ give the gents credit for their extreme politeness.
This fine behavior is exemplified by writing “AIR” and an arrow pointing to the air scoop’s entrance.
I know of no other manufacturer who displayed that credit-worthy behavior.
While it may have been mediocre at best, you have to admit that it was a good, clean design. Still looks good.
I have to disagree. To me it was very boxy – like Fred Flintstone designed it.
I thought the Hornet’s 73 restyle was light years more attractive than the 70-72. The original design looks like a lovechild who inherited the worst qualities of a Valiant and a Nova.
Speaking of the Hornet restyle, here one who was driven by James Bond in “The Man with the golden gun”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7saMOELZtU
Popular Science might have liked the Hornet, but the other period reviews I’ve read were pretty morose – and that was at launch. R&T, Car Life, and Consumer Reports cited (like other commenters here) slow steering, ponderous handling, thin seats, a graunchy gearbox and clutch, and various clunks, whistles and leaks that all took the sheen off the car’s ‘newness.’
Worse, the car’s styling, which really was fresh and new, forced compromises in visibility, headroom, etc that weren’t borne out by the car’s actual feel over the road.
Beyond that, it’s a shame AMC chose to make the Hornet’s bigger size, weight and engines its selling point in the compact market – and not only that, but hacked its tail off for their subcompact, and pushed the same USP in that segment. It backfired badly when the gas crisis hit (though with their limited resources, it’s not like they had a lot of choice).
We could imagine what if AMC didn’t do the Hornet and go instead with a proposed reskin of the Rambler American once suggested by Brook Stevens. http://amccars.net/cgi/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1200153142/24#24
One of my brothers had a Hornet wagon. I liked the car.
Even though it was a fresh design it was essentially the 1970 Rambler. Yes the lines are clean, but the car is every bit as dowdy as anything that ever wore a Rambler nameplate. I’ve never taken measurements, but the Hornet looks as if it gives up a little room compared the the ’69 American.
When there is little $ you have to make new designs really count. This design simply gave us what no one was asking for – a brand spanking new “Rambler” that was little different from it’s predecessor, except in styling. They may as well have face-lifted the prior platform.
Especially when you compare the Hornet Sportabout wagon with the Rambler American Wagon. The Hornet doesn’t look like it carries nearly as much cargo, because of it’s sloping hatchback that doesn’t go down to the bumper. Try lifting something big and heavy into a Hornet wagon.
Only around here can anyone find 70+ things to say about such a boring car! 🙂
Funny, but totally true!
“Only around here can anyone find 70+ things to say about such a boring car!”
Ha ha ha! Made YOU read!
“Zackman!” [said the way Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “Newman!”]
Hate to get picky with the nits…but here goes.
The taillights on our subject car…are not, repeat NOT 1970. They are 1974-76; maybe including 1973.
The original Hornet taillights had a chrome accent through the center horizontally; and inside the rectangular housing was a round active portion. Lit from the rear, it looked like two perfect circles (one each side).
About 1974, for some reason, they spent scarce development dollars to re-do the taillight housings.
Excellent catch. I had seen the rear in a 1970 brochure shot, but never noticed. This car has had a little work done, with the replaced door and seats. Its not hard to imagine that the guy went to replace a broken taillight and found a pair of newer ones before he found one for a 70. For $15,000, you would think it would have the proper taillights. 🙂
Hey everyone! jpcavanaugh…GREAT article…really enjoyed it! As a current Hornet owner (see this youtube video of my current Hornet:
My fascination with AMC started at an early age. My Mom and Dad purchased a brand new 1974 Hornet sedan when I was four years old. Later on, they divorced and my Mom and I tooled around South Florida (Homestead, AFB) in our trustly little dark metallic green Hornet. My uncle Tom was a diehard Ford man and would tease my five year old self mercilessly about our Hornet, calling it AlMost a C..his acronym for A.M.C) and so I would defend it. I was too young to ever be able to buy my own AMC anything. For me, it’s the many memories of traveling from Homestead AFB to visit family in Boca Raton, FL with just my Mom and I and many bonding moments. I remember the dash layout, because as a youngster who could barely see out of the windows, the dash was my world. The indentations on the back of the glove box door held held my small Orange drink and my cheeseburger from McDonalds on those RARE and special occaisions when we could have them. (If you did it with todays SUPERSIZED variants, the glove box door probably would have shorn from it’s hinge from the weight! LOL). Sadly, the Hornet was a product of it’s environment, it’s time in history and a serious lack of funds from a beleagured, but FEISTY little company who fought as hard as they could for as long as they could. For all the faults leveled at AMC, they truly innovated and thought outside of the box and pioneered new market segments (think Eagle) before it was realized as a segment that could or would be profitable. They were ahead of the curve in so many unrealized ways because they HAD to be. For instance, they sourced many of their components from other car manufacturers (like Ford starters, GM (Saginaw) Steering and Chrysler transmissions. They did this because they were savy and smart enough to know that they couldn’t develop their OWN variants with their limited resources and allowed them to squeeze out a little bit more profit per unit while using proven components. This practice was used as a basis to make fun of AMC for years and contributed greatly to their image as a cheap car maker, and also a lot of misconceptions that they didn’t make their own engines, etc. A lot of people think the AMC in-line six is the same as the “slant” six used in the Dodge Dart as an example. (Probably not most of you here, but there was a guy at Autozone years ago who ARGUED with me about that!) AMC never sourced any more than 15% of parts for any of their vehicles from any other maker. Now, you see GM, Chrysler and Ford routinely sourcing components from other manufacturers to keep costs down. AMC pioneered unit body construction (a benefit we all still enjoy today in cars) and the Hornet was one of the first cars to have side impact beams in the doors and the dash was one of the first variants of the “padded” safety dashes. So while the handling may have been subpar and the interiors self destructed rather quickly…they still imparted a LOT of value for the money. The engines, transmissions and such were generally overbuilt and WOULD last if you took care of them. Most of the time, you had younger people buying them who would not necessarily treat them so nice. Let’s face it, they were throw away types of vehicles, so not a lot of thought was put into “saving” them for posterity. I can only tell you that driving my Hornet around TODAY…that people almost literally fall OVER themselves trying to get a better look, or giving me thumbs up and great big smiles. That is what I LOVE about my Hornet! People pay upwards of $70,000 today for “status” cars that no one even pays attention too. However, drive around in a 70’s Hornet and people LOVE that you are keeping it alive and kicking and they genuinely seem to enjoy seeing one that is maintained in great shape. Maybe I’m a little unique or you may say I’m crazy, but I unapologetically LOVE my Hornet! It reminds me of a time when music was still fun to hear, people were nicer and where many happy memories reside! Today’s cars have better options, are tighter, more aerodynamic and last longer and handle better and are in fact SO good, that they aren’t really “memorable”. Who the hell is going to remember cars that don’t even have NAMES anymore, in 20 years? (No offense to anyones current rides…none meant…just illustrating how cars are losing their personalities in their quest to become everything to everyone and how a global market is driving automakers to a more ambiguous design trying to appeal to everyone, while offending no one.) I have NO illusions about what my Hornet is nor do I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread…but I do love it and it’s fun to share and see how it makes people smile and reminesce…even if they want to laugh and say, yeah, I had one and it was a POS! They are still smiling! 🙂 No one laughs when they pay $30-$50 for a car and the software fails and the dealer won’t back you and the warranty has a zillion loopholes built in as to why the global manufacturer isn’t liable to fix the defect because they aren’t subject to US laws or some similar drible. I can still find parts pretty easily too..even 40 years on! Peace everyone! 🙂
AMEN Tim, I have ,driven Nash and AMC for over 60 yrs. I would still but I have a problem with the collector’s keeping the price up to where I can’t afford to. Kudos to all AMC people. VIVA NASH AMC and even Renault for trying to help. I am 81 going on 100.
Thanks Stanley! AMC has it’s place in history and they did what they could to survive! It’s so easy in “hindsight” to say, “Yeah, they should’ve done this or that”, but in reality there are a whole lot of other nuanced factors that made things turn out the way they did. I’m sad that AMC wasn’t able to survive because I think they were a VERY unique and “outside of the box” type of company and it would have been really cool to see what else they may have come up with! Perhaps they would have had a completely winning design later on that would’ve allowed them to re-capture market share and return to profitability. Sadly, we will never know. Sorry you can’t get hold of any more affordable Ramblers to own. Keep looking around….you just might be shocked at what turns up somewhere, someday. Kudos to you and keep on keeping on and staying young at 81!!! 🙂
Its too bad the plant has been knocked down. Was looking forward to looking at it!
I remember reading at the time, about some strike right at the Hornet’s introduction that hampered sales as well.
Maverick was first with the fixed rear windows on an American car. Dumb idea copied from VW and the imports that still plagues us today. Flippers were optional for extra ventilation.
AMC finally got the “Little Rich Car” concept right with the Concord in 1978. Then spent the last years screwing it up with styling “upgrades”.
It took AMC years after Ford offered the LDO option on the Maverick, the Broughaming of the Valiant/Dart and the introduction of the Granada/Monarch to figure out it might be profitable to luxe up the Hornet. [Not referring to the designer editions which were scarcely more than special editions.]
In 1977 I bought a used Light Blue 2 dr. 1970 Hornet base model with 23,000 miles.
I paid $600. plus $30.00 tax. from a local Chev. dealer in Villa Park,IL., it had a auto trans. Radio and Heater. I needed a basic cheep car then. The 6 cyl. engine and Auto trans worked well. The rest of the car was very cheaply made, the seats and interior where Inferior.
Betcha, he added one zero by mistake.
Even $1500. Is to much, I’d say !
Holy DejaVu, Batman. That is the exact car my 1st ex had when I met her. Same year, same green inside and out without the off color driver’s side door. I remember the plastic fantastic interior, hard vinyl seats and not having a very good ride. It had a powerful feeling six and auto, the only option was an AM radio. It got traded in on her ’83 Subaru wagon.
(January 2017) A nice low-miles ’70 on eBay as I write—I wonder what he’ll get for it?
The thing I remember from the ’70s (and I don’t claim to remember it verbatim):
“If you love something very much, set it free. If if doesn’t return, it wasn’t yours. If it does, love it forever.”
> The ’53 Stude is remembered as that company’s last clean-sheet design, and the one that served as the basis for every car the company built afterwards right up to the end. On further reflection, this analogy is not really so close. AMC in 1970 was in a much stronger position than Studebaker in 1953, coming out with at least three new clean-sheet cars (’71 Javelin, ’74 Matador Coupe and ’75 Pacer) after the Hornet.
Wouldn’t the Avanti count as a clean-sheet design? At least as much as the Javelin, Matador coupe, and Pacer. Though like those three, it was outlasted by an older, more conventional design. Also, that Cavalier concept with the mirror-image doors looks a whole lot like a proposed Lark replacement that Brooks Stevens designed in 1962 with similar interchangable doors – and interchangable bumpers too. Both companies were thinking along the same lines.
The Hornet wasn’t really a clean-sheet design. I don’t know how much of the underlying unibody structure was changed from the Rambler American, but the Hornet shares the Rambler’s lower front suspension and of course leaf springs with live axle in the rear. The front crossmember is the same on both cars and can be swapped. Both use the same steering system, with the same steering box, pitman arm, tie rod ends, and other parts shared between the two.
The only real chassis difference the Hornet has over the Rambler is ball joints finally replaced the old trunnion system in the upper front suspension. AMC made this change across the board for the 1970 model year.
Wow! Lots of love, and hate, and indifference to a car that was a really good value in the marketplace!
The ’73 Hornet Hatchback received major thumbs-up for good design! (And you could even get a Hatchback “X” with the Levi’s interior! How cool was that?)
As for the Maverick/Comet…let’s see…no power brake option in ’70-72 because of the way Ford designed the firewall? No V-8 option for 1st year because Ford hadn’t designed the engine compartment to accommodate a 302? Ever try to change plugs on a ’73 302 Maverick?
I’ll stick with my Hornet Hatchback X which has served me well for 178,000 miles and no repair bigger than an alternator, a water pump, and a few mufflers!
For the time, the Hornet was okay, a solid follow-up to the Rambler. It was a no-brainer up against the first year Maverick which was priced at almost exactly the same price before the Gremlin and Pinto took over the bottom-rungs of the sub-compact wars. Of course, for a few sheckles more, the A-body Mopar was a much better choice than either the Ford or AMC small cars. Unless someone wanted a compact wagon, then the nifty Sportabout was the only choice.
It’s a shame AMC couldn’t reign-in their wackier (and costly) seventies projects and concentrate on a more conservative approach of steady improvement on existing models. They still would have eventually went under, but at least they would have lasted a few more years (and maybe without Renault’s involvement).
The Hornet – one of those rather rare cars where the 4-door sedan and wagon are much more attractive than the 2-door sedan. The liftback was a nice design as well. I had a buddy in high school who replaced his very, very well worn Pinto with a ’73 Hornet 4-door – green, of course. Froze my butt off one day helping him pull a replacement windshield out of a junker at the local pull-a-part. Only fitting that I helped, since it was my head that cracked the original glass though it was his driving that caused the incident. Considering the level of abuse he heaped on that car it held up well, until he rolled it racing home from his girlfriend’s house to beat curfew – never the same after that. Soon replaced with, of all things, a Plymouth Arrow! Now that was a fun, quick little car…
I’ve seen the production numbers, some years the Sportabout wagon was more than half of all Hornets sold. The Big 3’s plan was to replace compact wagons with strippo midsize ones. That mostly worked until the midsize cars ballooned to pre-1970 full size between 1971-73 followed quickly by the first oil crisis.
Back to the Hornet, it’s a shame AMC succumbed to the long hood/short deck disease. A lot of period reviews mention worse space utilization than the outgoing Rambler.
So true. The compacts designed for the 70s had about 10 cubic feet of trunk space.
Could be why the Nova and Dart/Valiant had so many buyers.
The long hood only got one prestige and was a major selling point of the New Monte Carlo: “The longest hood in Chevrolet history” was the claim. Could anything be more counter-functional ?
IIRC the 77 Sunbird Coupe had 6.7 cubic feet of luggage space, no rear leg room and a nice long hood in about 176″ of length.
The 50s may be accused of styling excesses, but at least there was function within their madness
Someone earlier posted a photo of the one-year-only 1969 SC/Rambler. I didn’t see any mention of the follow-up 1971 Hornet SC/360 and was wondering what killed it as opposed to the Duster 340/360 which, somehow, managed to survive the massive seventies’ musclecar kill-off all the way to the end of A-body production in 1976, and I think I found the answer.
Here are the MSRPs of the respective cars:
1970 Duster 340: $2547
1971 Hornet SC/360: $2663
1971 Duster 340: $2703
The Duster increased in price a whopping $156 which, while seeming trivial today, was nothing to sneeze at in 1971. So, for $40 less, why didn’t more people buy an SC/360? I think the answer might lie in equipment. Although generally similar, there was one big difference between the Plymouth and AMC, and that’s that the 360 in the Hornet actually had a 2V-carburetor. Yeah, you had to pay extra to get a 4V. Add in the rather stodgy sedan looks of the Hornet (even with the stripes AMC added to try and make it more sporty), well, the Hornet didn’t really have much of a chance against the sharp, fast, and cheap Mopar A-body coupe. Too bad, because from the reviews I’ve read, the SC/360 ran okay, even with a smaller carb.
The taillights on the featured model are from 72-up.
I think the 3 years, 1 million man hours and $40 million in development money spent at the time would constitute a new car.
“Even though the Hornet used some Rambler suspension pieces , it used a new suspension developed for the larger AMC cars. An all-new front suspension with anti-brake dive was developed for AMC’s large-sized “senior” 1970 models, and instead of developing lighter components for the new compact-size platform, the same parts were incorporated into the Hornet.” Wickipedia
Both the 2 and 4 door sedans had 35″ of rear legroom which is still pretty impressive today.
.3″ longer than the Maverick two door for both 2 and 4 door models @ 179.3.
To my mind, that is the perfect size automobile for my purposes, and what I have usually purchased.
Too bad the interior materials were so thin cheap and poorly assembled [as experienced in my parent’s 71 Gremlin and seen in photographs] .
Makes the interior of the ONION look like a Rolls Royce.
It’s resting peacefully in long term storage in a garage in Indiana now, awaiting the day when I can come back to it with some cash and revive it. I put the for sale sign on it as a joke because I didn’t actually want to sell it, but if someone had offered me $15k, well, duh… Due to the low value of the car, even fully restored, and the rarity of the car itself, I have decided that its fate will ultimately be to be rebuilt as a Frankensteinian project Art Car, replete with colorful lights, tastefully added steel decor, and a booming stereo (is a stock radio delete, with A/C no less!). Yes, yes, I know that’s sacrilege, but if you want to see it be something else, I’m still open to buyers…
I unexpected fell in love with the Hornet hatchback today. Really sharp looks, and unlike the brash competition it’s got almost European levels of reservedness.
Oh, man! A symphony in green!! I’m in love.
“Back to the Hornet, it’s a shame AMC succumbed to the long hood/short deck disease. A lot of period reviews mention worse space utilization than the outgoing Rambler.”
This was/is my biggest question relative to the these cars. It seems to me that the Hornet was an inferior car in many respects to the outgoing Rambler, with worse space utilization, and apparently also worse reliability, and the handling wasn’t apparently any better even with ball-joints.
The same thing happened to Chrysler where the outgoing Valiant/Dart’s were better, roomier cars with better visibility and higher quality than their Aspen/Volare replacements.
Was there some industry-wide driver which led to these results?
Am an AMC fan but I well remember riding in various brand new late 60’s Rebels , later early 70’s Hornets, they were like riding in a sheet metal box, with no sound suppression. On another note it was said by at least one car magazine that if the 1967 Ambassador and Rebel redesign were GM or Ford nameplates they would have been a hit. Then compare a 1965 Classic and Marlin to the Chevy Chevelle, the AMC adds a new and deeper dimension to the word “FRUMPY”. AS a disclosure I do own two 1978 Matador COUPES. According to Dick Teague the COUPES designer AMC ‘s best ever all around car. They ride decent and quietly. Stylewise,the car was AMC’s Avanti, also styling that upsets the forgeys that consider 1965 Marlins as sharp.
Am an AMC fan but I well remember riding in various brand new late 60’s Rebels , later early 70’s Hornets, they were like riding in a sheet metal box, with no sound suppression. On another note it was said by at least one car magazine that if the 1967 Ambassador and Rebel redesign were GM or Ford nameplates they would have been a hit. Then compare a 1965 Classic and Marlin to the Chevy Chevelle, the AMC adds a new and deeper dimension to the word “FRUMPY”. AS a disclosure I do own two 1978 Matador COUPES. According to the designer AMC ‘s best ever all around car. They ride decent and quietly. Stylewise,the car was AMC’s Avanti, also styling that upsets the forgeys that consider 1965 Marlins as sharp.
I wonder about the 4 speed manual option, had to be floor mounted, right?