Gear Head Tuesday – The AMC Cavalier

Gear Head

The AMC Cavalier Show Car


Richard Teague’s AMC Cavalier show car

Richard Teague was a gifted stylist who was noted throughout his career for being able to make a “silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” At Packard, Teague did such a masterful job of restyling the John Rinehart-designed ’51 Packard body shell into the ’55 (and ’56) Packards, most people thought the ’55–56s were all new bodies. After Packard, with an interim (and unhappy) stop at Chrysler, Teague landed at American Motors where he ran the styling studio until his retirement.

5687 Cathedral

Richard Teague’s most famous styling cue is the “cathedral” taillights
on the ’55-’56 Packards.

When Teague first landed at AMC, the company was still run by George Romney whose vision and zeal for the Rambler in the ’50s was the salvation of AMC against the GM juggernaut of those years. (But as much as any of the other things that hit Packard at the time, it was Romney’s refusal to complete the merger with Packard and Studebaker when Romney replaced George Mason at American Motors after Mason’s untimely death that delivered the coup de grace to Packard. It was, as you likely recall, Mason who planned American Motors, correctly foreseeing a shakeout among the independent manufacturers. Mason’s ambition in the formation of American Motors was to become the fourth full-line manufacturer.)

George Romney

George Romney (above); Below: George Romney and son Mitt at the 1964 World’s Fair and 10 year old Mitt at the wheel of a ’57 Nash Ambassador.

Romney had other ideas. With religious zeal and military discipline, Romney focused AMC on the compact Rambler. It was the right strategy at the right time for the Kenosha, WI car builder. Under Romney, by 1961 AMC was the third largest automobile manufacturer in the U.S. Romney left AMC in 1962 to run for Governor of Michigan. (He was what we called in those days a “Rockefeller Republican,” and what we sneeringly refer to today as a RINO – Republican In Name Only.)

Toward the end of Romney’s successful run with the Rambler, he either saw the writing on the wall for AMC against the Detroit Big Three or was infected with the bug to run for political office at just the right time – or a combination of the two. Whatever the case, AMC began a series of stumbles after Romney left that ultimately led to the company being absorbed by Chrysler. The wisest thing AMC did in those years was in 1970 when they bought Jeep. It was to get Jeep that Chrysler bought AMC. Today, Jeep is the largest part of Fiat-Chrysler.

Richard Teague

Richard Teague

All the while, Teague soldiered on in AMC Styling, managing (for the most part) to do a lot with a little. Writing of Teague, the Wall Street Journal put it as, “Teague’s specialty is styling on a shoestring.” In the mid-’60s, AMC was casting about for a way forward. With Romney gone, AMC had tried – and failed – to match Detroit almost model for model. It was a strategy that required resources beyond what the company had.

To come up with contemporary and competitive cars on a shoestring budget, AMC launched “Project IV” which put four cars on the show circuit that pointed the way to AMC’s hoped-for future. The four cars were the Cavalier 4 door sedan, the Vixen coupe, the AMX (a 2 seater which became a production car) and the AMX II (a  notchback coupe version of the AMX which evolved into the Javelin “pony car”).


AMC’s Vixen four passenger coupe show car. It didn’t go into production but its major styling themes reappeared on the production first generation Javelin “pony car.”

Teague oversaw the development of all four show cars, but it was Teague himself who did the majority of the styling work on the Cavalier. Although the Cavalier didn’t go into production as developed by Teague, many of its ideas and themes re-appeared on the 1970 AMC Hornet.


(Above) Teague with the Cavalier

Teague’s genius was on full display with the Cavalier. He came up with a remarkably handsome design that still looks good more than 50 years later. What is especially clever about the design is its interchangeable body panels. A small company like AMC could put this handsome car into production with a very low tooling cost due to the interchangeability of the body panels.

Cord was the first to explore the idea of interchangeable body panels with its Type 935 Saloon prototype in the mid’30s. The Cord used interchangeable front and rear doors. Checker, too, used interchangeable doors: with holes for hinges and door handles requiring a secondary stamping process making them either left or right doors.

Teague’s handsome and symmetrical design worked like this:

• The right front fender was the same stamping as the left rear; the left front was interchangeable with the right rear.

• The right front door was the same stamping as the left rear. The left front door was the same stamping as the right rear.

• The hood and rear deck would be the same stamping.

• Front and rear bumpers would be interchangeable.

AMC didn’t trade mark the Cavalier name soon enough and GM snapped it up – but didn’t use the name until 15 years later on the infamously poor quality “X-body” Chevrolet Cavalier. Although  AMC didn’t put Teague’s fine design into production, its styling themes and a limited amount of the interchangeability showed up in the 1970 Hornet, which also recycled the famous Hudson model name. You probably recall that Nash had bought Hudson in 1954 as a step toward the planned Nash-Hudson-Packard-Studebaker merger.

Another stylist who was adept at doing much with little was Brooks Stevens. He, too, developed ideas for panel interchangeability about the same time as Teague was developing the Cavalier concept for AMC’s “Project IV”.

Teague was born in 1923 in Los Angeles and learned styling at the famous Art Center School of Design in Pasadena. After retiring from AMC, he returned to Southern California. He collected classic cars. Among the cars in his stable was a ’56 Packard Caribbean hardtop, a car he had designed. In his retirement, Teague penciled two later-day Packard designs. Both of Teague’s sons became stylists. Son Jeff died last year, apparently from a heart attack while swimming, at age 59. Richard Teague died in San Diego in 1991.


The 1970 Hornet uses styling themes first seen in Teague’s Cavalier.


BONUS: Why EVERYONE Hates Prius Drivers

(Click in the center to play.)

As if that weren’t bad enough, here’s a Prius I spotted in Sacramento:


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