Rare and wonderful: one of 6 AMX/3s built
Before we get to today’s featured car, the AMX/3, we will review the history of American Motors Corporation beginning in the immediate post-World War II years.
Prior to becoming known as American Motors Corporation in 1954, AMC consisted of Nash automobiles and Kelvinator appliances. Then-chairman George Mason recognized that the post World War II sellers market that was buoying the independent auto makers (including his own) would soon enough end. Mason predicted a shake-out among the independents and he intended to be one of the survivors. Mason concocted a plan to become the fourth full-line auto builder after giant GM, Ford and Chrysler. His vision was to follow the GM “building block” strategy and offer cars in the four major price segments. His ambition was to merge Nash with Studebaker, Hudson and Packard. Studebaker would be the low-price line, competing with Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth. Nash and Hudson would occupy the lower-mid and upper-mid price points, and Packard would be the luxury line.
Mason approached Studebaker, but was rebuffed by Studebaker honchos Harold Vance and Paul Hoffman. Packard, at the time led by Hugh Ferry after George Christopher’s ouster, also demurred. Hudson’s A.E. Barit was more receptive.
Hugh Ferry never wanted to run Packard. He had been the Controller and had no ambition to become President. He agreed to assume the position temporarily while the search for a President was conducted by the Board. It is interesting that after Christopher’s ouster, Packard’s board decided to look outside the company for its new President. Packard had approached James Nance, the marketing wizard running General Electric’s Hotpoint division, after Christopher’s departure in 1949, but Nance declined. Finally, in 1952, Nance took the helm at Packard.
Nance and Mason had discussions about forming American Motors. It was agreed that Nance would soften up Hoffman and Vance at Studebaker and merge Packard with Studebaker while Mason and Barit agreed to merge Nash and Hudson. Studebaker resisted until the disaster of 1953 struck, and the Packard-Studebaker merger took place in 1954.
In the meantime, Nash and Hudson merged, also in 1954. The merged Nash and Hudson became known as American Motors. Before the Nash-Hudson and Studebaker-Packard halves could be merged to complete Mason’s vision, the chain-cigar smoking Mason caught pneumonia and died. Mason’s second-in-command, George Romney took the helm of American Motors.
George Romney staked AMC’s future on the Rambler. Despite the repercussions for Hudson, Studebaker and Packard, it was the right move for AMC.
Romney’s vision of AMC’s future was very different from Mason’s. He opted not to pursue Mason’s plan of competing in the four major segments, but carve a niche for the company by concentrating on compact cars. He felt that American cars were becoming too big and uneconomical. He felt that the success of AMC would be in creating a market that at the time barely existed. Further, there was a major personality clash between Romney and Nance, much of it centered on an argument about who would run the company after the merger of the Nash-Hudson and Studebaker-Packard halves. Further clashes occurred between the two big egos over the component sharing plan worked out between Nance and Mason, with both Nance and Romney accusing the other of violating or sabotaging the agreement.
The upshot of all of this was that Packard was now stuck with the badly-bleeding Studebaker and would meet its sad end in 1956, although Studebaker would continue in spurts and stumbles for another ten years. Romney, with a determined single-mindedness, marched to his own drummer and made the compact Rambler the car that kept American Motors alive.
Romney killed off the full-size Nash. Hudson suffered the same fate. The Hudson Italia sports coupe and the Nash-Healey sports car were both cancelled. While we can criticize Romney for being a major factor in bringing about the end of Packard, we cannot argue that his vision for American Motors was not correct. As long as AMC stuck with Romney’s single-minded vision, the company did well. But after Romney left AMC to run for Governor of Michigan, his successors tried to become a mini-GM and the company got into trouble repeatedly.
It was in this context in the mid-to-late 1960s that a series of sporty cars came from American Motors. AMC launched the Javelin as a Mustang competitor. A shortened, two seat version of the Javelin, known as the AMX emerged.
AMC’s Pony Cars: Above, the ’68 Javelin; Below, the 2 seat AMX
In mid-1968 then-Chairman Gerry Meyers commissioned Italian design house Giugiaro to prepare a mid-engine sports car styling prototype and told AMC styling chief Dick Teague to do an alternative design in-house. Teague’s far better AMX/2 concept prevailed and was displayed at the 1969 Chicago Auto Show. Both press and public reactions were strongly positive.
The design was further developed into the even better-looking AMX/3, and a serious effort was launched to move it to production at a reasonable cost. When soon-to-come federal bumper regulations and other issues inflated the cost to well beyond volume viability, the program was scaled down to an initial run of just 30 cars to be built by Italian coachbuilder Giotto Bizzarrini, then dropped entirely after only five cars were completed. A sixth unauthorized AMX/3 was put together in Italy from a spare body and parts acquired from a subcontractor.
All six cars have survived, in no small measure because Dick Teague bought three of them.
Based on the Javelin, but patterned after European exotic cars like the Lamborghini Miura and the Lotus Europa, the AMX/3 was one of the most unusual cars to come out of Detroit in the late 1960s. In addition to actually building the cars, Bizzarrini handled the chassis development, and BMW assisted wîth testing. The mid-engined car’s equipment included an Italian transaxle, cast magnesium wheels by Campagnolo and four-wheel disc vented brakes by the German company ATE.
With AMC’s 390 cubic inch V-8, the AMX/3 could glide along at a whopping 160 miles per hour. One was clocked at 170 miles per hour. The AMX/3’s major competition would have been the Ford Pantera, a similar vehicle also targeted at the your market. But this was never to be. AMC’s pockets simply weren’t deep enough to make what would never be a volume car viable even as a limited-production image builder.