top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Jackson

Rise and transition of AMC

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

The American Motors Corporation (AMC) was created in 1954 through the merger of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company. The idea behind the merger was to create a company that could better compete with the “Big Three” automakers of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. However, it was not until the appointment of George Romney as CEO in late 1954 that AMC began to gain traction and make a name for itself in the industry.

George Romney was born in 1907 in Chihuahua, Mexico, to American parents who were living there as Mormon missionaries. He grew up a devout Mormon in Idaho and Utah and later attended Brigham Young University. In 1926, Romney dropped out of college to serve a two-year mission in Great Britain for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon his return, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a salesman for Alcoa, a manufacturer of aluminum products.

In 1939, Romney was hired by the automobile manufacturer Nash-Kelvinator Corporation as a manager of their Detroit plant. He quickly rose through the ranks and was appointed president/CEO of the company in 1954, just as the merger with Hudson was taking place. Romney was a dynamic and energetic leader who was committed to making AMC a success.

One of the first things that Romney did as CEO of AMC was to restructure the company’s management team. He brought in new talent and created a more streamlined and efficient organization. He also implemented a number of cost-cutting measures including eliminating a number of unprofitable models that had arrived with the merger of the two companies.

Romney was also a strong advocate for innovation and new technology. Under his leadership, AMC developed a number of groundbreaking vehicles, including the Rambler, which was the first compact car produced by an American automaker. The Rambler was a huge success and helped to establish AMC as a serious player in the industry.

In addition to his focus on innovation and efficiency, Romney was also known for his commitment to corporate social responsibility. He believed that businesses had a responsibility to their employees, customers, and communities and he strived to ensure that AMC was a good corporate citizen. He implemented a number of programs to improve working conditions and provide benefits to employees, such as health insurance and retirement plans. He also established a scholarship program for employees’ children and supported a large number of charitable organizations.

Romney’s leadership style was characterized by his charisma, energy, and optimism. He was a master at effective public relations and was known for his ability to connect with people. Romney was also a skilled negotiator and was able to secure favorable deals with suppliers and labor unions.

Despite his many successes, Romney’s tenure at AMC was not without its challenges. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the company faced intense competition from the “Big Three” automakers, who were producing larger and more powerful cars. In response, AMC tried to compete by producing larger cars of their own, but this strategy proved unsuccessful.

Another challenge that Romney faced was the rise of foreign competition, particularly from newly arriving Japanese automakers. In the 1960s, AMC began to import cars from Japan and Europe in an effort to compete with these new players in the market.

Despite these challenges, Romney remained committed to his vision for AMC. He continued to innovate and introduce new models, such as the Javelin and the AMX, which were designed to appeal to younger, performance-oriented drivers. He also continued to invest in new technology, such as the development of an early version of the hybrid engine.

In 1962, Romney left AMC to pursue a career in politics. Later that year Romney was elected governor of Michigan and later ran for president of the United States in 1968. Although he was unsuccessful in his presidential bid, his legacy at AMC continued. The company continued to produce innovative and popular vehicles, such as the Jeep Cherokee and the Eagle and was eventually acquired by Chrysler in 1987.

George Romney’s tenure as CEO of AMC was a period of great innovation and success for the company. Through his leadership and vision, AMC was able to establish itself as a serious player in the thriving automobile industry and produce a number of groundbreaking vehicles. Romney’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and his ability to connect with people also helped make AMC a respected and admired company. Despite facing a number of challenges, Romney remained committed to his vision for AMC and his legacy continues to influence the automotive industry still today.

There is a legendary story about the design of the AMC Gremlin, an American subcompact car produced by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) from 1970 to 1978.

The story goes that in the mid-1960s, AMC's CEO at the time, Roy D. Chapin Jr., wanted to develop a small car that would compete with the growing popularity of imported compact cars, particularly those from Europe and Japan. He challenged AMC's design team to come up with a new car that could be built quickly and cost-effectively.

The idea for the Gremlin began in 1966 when design chief at American Motors, Dick Teague, and stylist Bob Nixon discussed the possibility of a shortened version of AMC's compact car. On an airline flight, Teague's solution, which he said he sketched on an air sickness bag, was to truncate the tail of a Javelin. Bob Nixon joined AMC as a 23-year-old and did the first formal design sketches in 1967 for the car that was to be the Gremlin.

Dick Teague, the vice president of design at AMC, gathered his team to create a compact car that would be economical, practical, and have a unique appearance. The team was given only a few months to develop the new car, which put them under significant pressure.

During the design process, Teague and his team faced some limitations, including a short development timeframe and the need to utilize existing components and platforms from other AMC models. Instead of the Javelin they decided to use the platform of the AMC Hornet, a larger car, and modify it to create a smaller, more compact vehicle.

The most distinctive aspect of the Gremlin's design came about because of the engineers shortening the Hornet's wheelbase by 12 inches (305 mm). This modification left a significant amount of space behind the rear wheels, which the designers decided to retain rather than attempt to fill in or extend the car's length.

The decision to keep the car's unique rear design, with a truncated back end and a large glass hatch, resulted in the car's distinctive appearance. Some have described it as having a "chopped-off" or "squashed" look, while others found it quirky and endearing.

Despite its unconventional appearance, the Gremlin became a commercial success for AMC, especially during the fuel crisis of the 1970s when smaller, more fuel-efficient cars were in high demand. The Gremlin's compact size, affordable price, and distinctive design made it popular among consumers.

So, the story of the AMC Gremlin's design is one of ingenuity and resourcefulness, with the design team making the most of their available resources and time constraints to create unique and successful vehicles.


bottom of page