American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker by Patrick R. Foster
published 2013 by MBI Publishing Company Motorbooks
208 pages, hardcover
Purchased new from a retail bookstore.
It’s now more than 30 years since America’s 4th largest automaker was purchased and absorbed into the Chrysler Corporation. Today, if you were to say AMC, most people would think of a cable TV channel or movie theatre chain. Except for a few brand names, such as Jeep, AM General and Kelvinator, it seems not much remains of what was once American Motors Corporation, better known as AMC.
Patrick Foster’s American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker presents a detailed and well-illustrated history of the successes and failures of a company determined to carve out a place alongside the Big 3 – GM, Ford and Chrysler. Foster is perhaps the foremost authority on AMC, and an expert on many independent automotive brands, and this book certainly confirms that.
Admittedly, my book collection is heavy on Big 3 books. When I saw this book on the shelf, I was happy to find a modern history of the AMC marque. Growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, I was familiar with the Pacer, Gremlin and Matador in real time. And the hot rod and muscle car magazines I’d read had exposed me to such beasts as the AMX, Rebel Machine and SC/Rambler. But I didn’t really know the story of how the company came to be, or why it had been in such dire straits.
Those answers are found here. The first short chapter, ‘1986: The Crucial Year‘ lays out a quick backdrop to the early roots of Rambler and Hudson, then fast-forwarding to the predicament of 1986, the partnership with Renault and AMC’s precarious financial position.
The history of AMC from formation in 1954 to buyout in 1987 is broken into chapters which cover 2 to 6 year periods, generally coinciding with significant events in the company. From the death of George Mason, the leadership of George Romney and success of the Rambler lines, to Romney’s departure and the foray into competing with the big companies in the late 1960s. The acquisition of Jeep and refocus on core business, to struggles with unions and diminished market share, to the reliance on Renault and eventual sale to Chrysler, Foster opens the door into the year-to-year ups and downs of AMC.
It’s clear Foster is a fan of AMC. He counts many who held executive positions at the company as friends, and some praise of AMC’s models may seem a little too glowing. But he pulls no punches when it comes to relating the various issues that kept American Motors from achieving sustained success and ultimately led to its disappearance from the automotive landscape. He calls out the poor decisions, bad moves and yes, even rotten luck, that seemed to erase any gains AMC made towards stability. The text is filled with other pertinent information, such as production numbers and engineering notes, and behind-the-scenes corporate information that illustrates how and why things turned as they did for AMC.
Like most of the more recent publications on cars, this edition is filled with many very good pictures. It’s becoming more rare to find AMCs at car shows and in magazines, and I was delighted to be able to scan through so many great examples of the marque. Additionally, there are some concept cars and styling mockups included in these pages, which I’ve rarely seen anywhere else.
Well-written and filled with real insight into the decisions at the highest levels, American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker is an important book if one wishes to understand how the number 4 automaker lost its way.
Pros: A detailed history of a historic marque; lots of great photographs.
Cons: None really.
Where to find it: Amazon, and retail bookstores may likely still stock it on shelves.