A Trained Designer Imagines What American Motors Corporation Would Have Been Like If It Had Survived

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In the universe we currently inhabit — the one in which Facebook is re-launching Second Life under a dumb name, Russia invaded Ukraine just to be dicks, and Taco Bell is bringing back the Mexican Pizza — AMC, the American Motors Corporation, is long gone, and we can trace its death all the way back to 1987. That’s when Chrysler bought out Renault’s 46.1% share of the smallest American automaker as well as the remaining shares owned by the public, turning AMC into the Jeep-Eagle division of Chrysler. But what if that’s not how history had unfolded? Imagine with me, if you will, a glorious alternate universe in which AMC did not die, and in which Renault’s support kept the company going well enough to survive independently into the 1980s without the hungry eyes of Lee Iacocca staring it down. Can you imagine what the company’s post-1987 lineup have been like? Well, good news, you don’t have to, because yet again The Autopian has you covered.

This time, though, it isn’t me coming up with inane “what-if” ideas for you to consider; this time my longtime car-researcher friend, who we only know as the Bishop of Automotive Arcana, has provided for us some fascinating speculative drawings and ideas about what 1980s-era Chrysler-free AMC may have been like. It’s worth noting here that the Bishop has an actual, important-person job, so would prefer to remain anonymous, and that back in the late 1980s he attended the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, training to be an auto designer.

In fact, our AMC-speculator informed me that his dorm parking spot was “next to Ralph Gilles’s rusty Scirocco,” and yes, that’s the Ralph Gilles who headed the team that designed the SRT Viper and saved some lies three years ago, among other notable accolades. So, while all of this may be absurd speculation, it’s absurd speculation from someone with some real training, and in the era that’s being speculated about.

It’s also why these illustrations look so damn good.

So, let’s get started by looking at this alternate universe’s AMC lineup, which is pretty heavily influenced by Renault, much in the same way the legendary Jeep XJ Cherokee was.

[Editor’s note: AMC had a 1987 lineup, and we have a good idea what the company’s late-1980s offerings would have been had it continued independently, so despite it saying “1987” on the fake brochure below, I see these cars really what one might have expected from 1990s-era AMC — an era that this world was unfortunately never able to witness. -DT]

[Another Editor’s note: The Bishop reached out to clarify a few things about this alternate universe:

-When I say 1987 AMC, I was referring to an AMC that would have existed had Chrysler NOT gotten the loan guarantees in 1980.  So there would only be a big 2, and a much bigger market share and more business for AMC to hopefully be able to increase market share and have such a lineup by 1987 instead of the stragglers they had to work with.

-The trucks shown are NOT related to the alternate universe Eagle…they would be based on a new modular platform for full sized trucks to replace the 25 year old (at that time) SJ and that would have competed with Ford and GM examples (again, Dodge/Ram would have ceased to exist in 1980). ]

AMC’s Lineup And A Typical Dealership Layout

Holy crap, right? This guy’s not messing around when it comes to his AMC speculations. Look at that dealership design! It’s fantastic? Want more details, like a floorplan? Of course you do – in case you get sucked into a wormhole, you’ll want to have this handy so you can get rich selling AMCs:

 

Yeah, that’s amazing. I love the “rustic Jeep” area and the angled roof paved with stones to display a climbing car.

Okay, let’s dig a bit more into this AMC lineup. Happily, the Bishop has provided us with a handy spreadsheet of AMC models, along with their closest competitors:

This is a bold lineup! It’s leveraging AMC’s extensive AWD drivetrain experience, providing more refined off-road or bad weather-capable vehicles for people who don’t want a hardcore Jeep (which exists as a separate, AMC-owned brand in this timeline, too). In a lot of ways, this feels like what AMC could have grown into from its early 1980s AMC Eagle/Spirit era, where the old Hornet platform was already transforming into AWD wagons and sedans.

Renault’s influence is very notable here, with some Renault engines and even whole vehicle brand engineering, as in the case of the SpaceVan, based on the Renault Espace, the revolutionary minivan/people-mover Renault introduced in 1984. Let’s take a quick look at each of these cars, one by one.

Let’s Look At These Cars

Calabrone

These seem to be this AMC’s real volume car, said to compete with the Corsica and Tempo, though I could see it taking on imports like the Accord and small wagons like the Civic 4WD wagon and the Toyota Tercel 4WD wagon. They’re very sleek, pop-up light ’80s designs, and that coupé version feels a bit like a Mitsubishi Eclipse, which was sort of an AMC in our world when it was sold as an Eagle Talon. That 16V engine was likely the Renault 1.8-liter engine used on the Renault 19, if I had to guess, which I probably don’t.

Adaro

What I like about this one is that you can clearly see ’80s versions of AMC designer Dick Teague’s styling, and while the copy references the Gremlin, I see a bit more Pacer in there, especially in the front end treatment. An Escort competitor domestically, but I bet it would be cross-shopped against VW Golfs and Civics and Tercels, too.

Eagle

Possibly the closest here to earlier AMCs, this Eagle does feel like an updated version of the AMC Eagle we know: a ruggedized 4WD wagon, with more creature comforts and car-like design than a jeep, but quite capable. I like the agressive integrated bull-bar grille and the updated AMC flap-like Class 10 door handles. I think these could have competed with 4WD Subaru wagons pretty well.

This platform mentioned here, the EX Platform, gets a bit more speculative development from the Bishop, including this pickup truck variant known as the Honcho, which would have been sold as a Jeep:

This particular one is drawn from the perspective of being owned by an alternate universe David Tracy, in an alternate 2022, hence the flat tires and rust.

American Motors Corporation Jeep JLX sketches

The platform would have been developed into a lot of body styles, including a Cherokee-replacing Chief model and an upmarket Wagoneer version, which got an extra set of headlights, just like the XJ Wagoneers did in our reality.

Just to show you how deep down this hole the Bishop went, he included drawings of the JLX platform’s modular dash designs:

American Motors Corporation Offroadster and Wagoneer Dashes

…and even came up with a stylish option known as the Jeepack, modeled here by a young and beautiful David Tracy circa 2015:

Okay, let’s get back to non-reality and our alternate AMC lineup, not the alternate Jeep lineup.

Jeepster

American Motors Corporation Jeepster

This one blurs the line between AMC and jeep, and while it seems on some level to be the most outlandish thing imagined here – a 2+2 sleek, tiny AWD sportscar – it’s actually the one that may have the most direct real-world equivalent: the Kaiser-Jeep Bolide XJ-002 concept from 1969. Actually, wait, there’s two real-world inspirations for this, because there’s also the 1970 Jeep XJ-001 concept, too!

 

Jeep had done experiments involving putting sports car bodies onto Jeep chassis, in the case of the Bolide XJ-002 the CJ-based Jeepster chassis, and in the case of the XJ-001 a standard Jeep CJ chassis. This alternate universe Jeepster is essentially this same idea: stick a fun, possibly fiberglass or plastic sports car body on a rugged Jeep chassis and then just have fun!

I suppose in our reality Suzuki came close to doing this with the X-90, but the company never really pulled it off. I think this fictional Jeepster actually would have.

SpaceVan

American Motors Corporation SpaceVan

Essentially a re-badged Renault Espace but with AWD and some extra cladding, this would have been a pioneering off-roadable minivan. The Espace never came to America, but I suspect it could have done well, being extremely space-efficient and practical. Butch it up with AWD and some ruggedized looks and boom, you’d have a hit.

AMX

American Motors Corporation AMX

AMC’s legendary AMX muscle car could have taken an interesting turn here, and the Pacer influence isn’t as weird as it sounds. Remember that the designer of the Porsche 928, Tony Lapine, freely admitted to borrowing the design of the Pacer’s rear end when designing the 928.

The new AMX has some of that 928/Pacer look at the rear–actually, there’s Pacer influences all over it, which I think translates surprisingly well to a sports car. Where we had the disappointing Renault Fuego, this alternate universe has this AMX. We got shafted.

Verona

American Motors Corporation Verona

Here’s something AMC hasn’t really had since they stopped building Ambassadors in 1974: a full-sized premium car. Alternate universe AMC leverages that EX-platform Eagle to make a big sedan, and like so many other companies in the ’70s and ’80s, got some big-name designer to slap a logo on it, in this case Giorgio Armani. The design of this is quite European, likely from Renault influences.

Honestly, I’m pretty blown away by what AMC could have been in this alternate reality. Our secretive Bishop really delivered the goods with this one, looking deeply into his somehow-contained wormhole, seeking out the only truth from the infinite other universes that really matters: What is AMC up to?

 

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56 Responses

  1. there is a HUGE difference between saving LIVES and saving LIES…. I really couldnt figure out what the guy was LYING about, but then i figured out he was actually a hero. no LYING… he saved LIVES not LIES. one letter makes a HUGE difference.

  2. Buying out AMC didn’t just give Chrysler the Jeep badge. A lot of AMC design talent became Chrysler design talent. I can see an alternate universe AMC producing vehicles that would be similar to what Chrysler was putting out in the mid-’90s. A lot of that stuff was based on AMC DNA!

    The Eagle Premier was jointly developed by AMC and Renault before the buyout. They blew the crap K-Cars Chrysler was building out of the water and Chrysler knew it. That platform was developed into the Chrysler LH platform, which was used in everything from the Concorde to the 300M. The LH was then further massaged into the LX platform in the ’00s to build Chrysler’s current lineup of 300s, Challengers, and Chargers.

    So in my alternate AMC universe, there would not only be an AMC logo on Jeeps but there would be a Matador instead of an Avenger, an Ambassador instead of a Charger, and an AMX instead of a Challenger. The styling would be more like what we were seeing from AMC in the mid-’80s–leaning into kammbacks and hatches a little more, especially in the smaller cars.

    As mentioned in the article, Chrysler may not have survived had it not gotten the backing to buy AMC, so we could have also seen the Comanche occupy the Dakota’s niche and a very different Gladiator taking the space now occupied by Ram.

    1. Everyone says that the LX platform is LH-based, but I wonder how true that is. If nothing else, the LH platform had its engine pushed much further forward, to account for the longitude transaxle that needed to be in line with the front wheels. And we know the LX platform also uses portions of a Mercedes-Benz floorpan.

      I’ve heard some credible alt-universe lore wherein Chrysler experimented with and seriously considered adapting the LH platform for AWD (essentially the same layout as Subaru and Audi) and even RWD applications.

      1. I’m no expert, but everything I’ve read tells the same story–the LX was derived from the LH. Of course, that doesn’t mean there weren’t substantial changes made while Chrysler was under the Benz regime, just as there have been changes to the LX and its variants over the years.

        1. True, but the way they’d have easily been able to adapt LH for RWD is by simply routing the power out of the back of the transmission case, rather than up to the front and to an internal differential. They could have kept the engine-forward layout and everything. If they wanted AWD, then they just needed an internal transfer case and could route power both directions.

          In fact, there is a vehicle that does all three: the current Ford Transit. They only sell RWD and AWD versions in North America, but in other markets, there’s a FWD variant. And all of them have the same forward-longitude engine placement, one similar to the LH.

          I think LX is only based on LH in the loosest sense. Perhaps., when it became clear they’d only be doing RWD cars from that point out (and could take advantage of the Mercedes-Benz 5G-Tronic and MagnaSteyr AWD system) they made the decision to move the engine further back, as in a traditional longitude-RWD setup.

          1. I agree with you that the LX is loosely based on the LH–I doubt there’s a whole lot of interchangeability between the platforms. My take is that the LH was the starting point and Daimler-Chrysler then added what they had, some of which was in the Mercedes Benz parts bin.

            I think that approach actually harkens back to AMC, in that they were masters of using whatever parts they could get their hands on and integrating them into their designs.

  3. The family business had a couple of those Daytona wagons with the sliding roof. They leaked all the time as I recall. Later in 1976 Dad bought 3 new Hornet wagons in Red, White and Blue to celebrate the Bicentennial.

    Wife and I had an AMC Alliance, an Eagle Premier and an Eagle Medallion (all Renaults). I don’t think more Renaults would have saved AMC.

    1. I had a ’74 Hornet coupe and an ’84 Cherokee. The best description I can come up with for both of them is “dogged competitor.” The Hornet had the venerable AMC Six with a three-speed and was one of the most dependable cars I ever owned. The Jeep had the four-cylinder version and, while not very fast, was torquey aa hell! That vehicle could walk through anything.

  4. And here I thought I was alone in obsessively dreaming of alternate timelines where AMC survived and Chrysler bit it.
    Was it was because I had part of a state owned Matador’s windshield sewn in my forehead for 6 months when I was 10?
    Was it just my continual rooting for the unwinnable underdog?
    Did my brain create a Jason Torchinsky in an alternate reality where I wasn’t alone in seeing tailights and thinking of Illuminati taillight conspiracies?
    I waited the obligatory 48 hours to read this, to make sure it wasn’t just my dreaming of other timelines. Glad I waited. More glad I’m not alone in these flights of fantasies. Great story. Please keep it up so I don’t go back to thinking I’m the only one with these thoughts.

  5. My uncle worked for AMC for many years as a draftsman and ended up retiring under Chrysler. Our “new” family cars were frequently buying his old company cars when he would get a new one. This included the 1981 Concord wagon (with wood panels of course) that I ended up being mine. Some good nostalgia here for me but mostly I wish I could have shared this article with him and get his take but sadly he passed away some time ago. I also wish I had picked his brain more about the stuff he had worked on when he was still around.

  6. I have nothing useful to contribute to this discussion, but I do want to say how good this content is in the hope that enough people doing so will encourage more like it. Hook it into my veins already!

  7. I am here for 1990s alternate universe AMC. Please take this to the realm of pure fantasy and imagine what their current lineup would look like. The two commonalities were always 1) suitcase door handles and 2) “We don’t have the money.” I’m sure those are trend lines open to extrapolation.

    Thanks for giving us the weird no one else will.

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