Parts-Bin Puzzle, What-If Edition: Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines AMC Export Cars For France

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Once again, it’s time to look at the wacky creations of the last independent American auto manufacturer. With this AMC What If? series, I’m looking at some strange alternate reality scenarios from this defunct brand. Actually, this is really sort of two posts in one, since I’ve inadvertently created a bonus Parts Bin Puzzle with my creations. Torch is getting Yugo-level value for his money from me today, in every sense of that description.

You might be aware that American Motors would likely have died even earlier than they ultimately did had they not been bailed out by the French. Renault bought a chunk of the company back in the seventies, which gave AMC a needed infusion of cash and also gave the French firm an outlet to sell their cars, such as the Renault 5 with ‘Le Car’ branding often emblazoned on the rocker panels.

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sources: Autoweek and Consumer Guide

The alternate universe story is that while visiting American Center in Southfield, the French executives got a close look at the existing American Motors products like the Gremlin and Matador. Instead of running away in horror saying “Mon Dieu! What did we just buy?“, these Renault kingpins thought that buyers in France would lose their shit over these unique designs.

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sources: Driveshare, Curbside Classic, and Curbside Classic

Plus, the execs figured that the boats carrying over the little subcompacts from Europe could just be loaded up with Kenosha’s finest products to shill on the people that let their kids drink wine. I mean, you’ve seen French cars of the mid-century era right? If anyone would like these rather bizarre AMC cars, it might be them.

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source: Renault, Classic and Global Village

There’s one catch of course. The execs needed to have changes to the cars made before they could be shipped. There are plenty of park benches in Paris so they don’t need the bumpers of their cars to serve that purpose. Also, the blunt front ends with sealed beam lights need to be replaced with items that illuminate the road about three times brighter, and in a yellow urine-on-the-moon kind of tint which was inexplicably required in France at the time.

No problem! This can be done, and the end results might not even be that bad. Time to bust out Photoshop and give this a shot.

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It’s amazing how removing those thick bumper transforms the cars. I mean, we saw countless European cars saddled with giant steel beams and ill-fitting round headlights to allow them to legally roam the streets of Wichita, but how many times has there been an opportunity for a malaise American production car to have all of the safety and emissions equipment ripped off and see what it really looks like underneath?

Of course, you know that I’m not a person with the time or ability to photo realistic illustrations of automotive light fixtures, so I must have gotten these items that I stuck on the French spec Ramblers from somewhere, right? Indeed I did, but can you tell me what cars they’re from? This is an unofficial Parts Bin Puzzle, though legally I can’t call it that unless I want an Autopian writer and her attorney to appear at my door in an RTS bus with a cease and desist order.

Whatever you want to call it, Where my sixties/seventies Euro car design detail ninjas at? When you’re ready you can click here for the answers.


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35 Responses

  1. Hello mister Bishop – not sure this is the right way to reach out to you, with a small innocent request.

    Can you please design/create a asymmetric Small Size SUV?
    I love the wonderful bonkers designs of Gene Winfield Strip Car or Nardi-Giannini Bisiluro Damolnar as the next autopian, but what if I need to transport my family (3 people)?

    Thank you!
    PS In case this is seen and created by The Bishop, I have “NO RAGRETS” regarding the possible abomination my request will bring upon the world.

    1. Lew Schiller- I think Jason says that the ‘second grille’ has to be surrounded by another frame to fit the description, and this one isn’t, but the fact that it’s poking out that far means I would give this one a pass. Two Face Certified.

  2. I’m not religious and they look better with export lighting, but I still felt the need to cross myself looking at those Matadors. I don’t understand how AMC lasted as long as they did. Must have been almost entirely Jeep that kept them alive.

    1. Cerberus- according to Wikipedia, what you said is true:

      American Motors lost an estimated $65 million on its conventional (non-Jeep) cars for the fiscal year ended September 30, 1978, but strong Jeep sales helped the company to an overall $36.7 million profit on sales of $2.6 billion.

      1. Exactly then like any good business they sold off Jeep to keep the dogs alive a little longer. Was this a bonehead management thing or a union thing? AMC made few good looking cars but they were the best built cars in the 70s. Give me a Javelin or an Eagle over anything else in the price range. Also they made the best small cars in house.

        1. They didn’t sell off Jeep, they had to sell off AM General as a US military supplier couldn’t be foreign owned. AMC/Renault kept Jeep until the Franc crashed in 1986-87ish and Chrysler stepped in to take over Renaults stake and bought 1% of AMC just to get Jeep. With 51% stake in AMC/Jeep, Chrysler did away with AMC (they were required keep some AMC/Renault vehicles on the US market for awhile as a condition of the deal). If the Franc wouldn’t have collapsed it was possible AMC/Renault may have ended up buying Chrysler as both were struggling in the 1970s and early 1980s.

  3. Renault did import one AMC product, namely Jeep Wranglers, to France in the 1980s. Most curiously, the AMC-Renault link started well before Renault bought up AMC: back in the 1960s, Renault imported Rambler CKD kits to Europe, assembling them in a plant in Belgium, and selling them in several European countries under the Renault brand. A similar arrangement was also in place in Argentina, where AMC’s local subsidiary IKA was eventually bought up by Renault and kept selling the IKA Torino (a Pininfarina-styled rebodied Rambler) under the Renault brand.

  4. The also bizarre but actually real French-Australian equivalent of this came about as a result of Chrysler buying Simca in the early 60s.
    The Chrysler 180 was built between 1970 and 1975 with a variety of 4 cylinder engines between 1.6 and 2 litres, (including diesels, but only in Spain). Chrysler Australia imported them to Australia as Chrysler Centuras, and wanted to offer them with the Hemi six. The engineers modified 2 cars, one with the firewall modified to accommodate the longer engine, and another with a stretched centre grille reminiscent of the Matador to move the radiator forward to make room. The second option won out due to lower cost, so all Centuras (4 and 6 cylinder) were restyled with a protruding nose. The engineers preferred the first option, as the weight of the engine would have been further back in the chassis. For that reason, Centuras with aftermarket V8 swaps actually have better weight distribution and handling than the 6 cylinder versions, as the centre of gravity of the engine is behind the front wheels.

  5. Just sticking a Vauxhall Cavalier nose on a Gremlin seems a little lazy. Where is the french in that?
    -But I do like The Voiture! 🙂

    Also do some better research next time:
    The license plates are, though black, with the new number system. They should have been with the old one, like the Lincoln Continental in French Connection..
    The headlights themselves should have yellow bulbs or glass and not just have extra yellow lights beside them. And the turn indicators were in the 70ies usually close to the headlights, for instance right under them like on the Peugeot 504 or the Citroën CX.
    And substitute the fat white stripe tyres with some slim black Michelins. A big car like the DS ran on 180R15s.

    1. ah, but Jakob, it’s not supposed to BE a French car! What the Renault execs fell in love with (in my twisted mind at least) was the American-ness of the things. White walls and all.

      Yes, I did try more of an R14 face on the Gremlin and it just didn’t cut it. I don’t think the Cavalier looks particularly British anyway, likely since it was designed by Wayne Cherry, who comes from Indiana.

      And I have always wondered if 18 LU 13 (French Connection Mark III) had yellow lights under those covers….

  6. The 2-door Matador is already one of my all-time favorite 70’s cars out there. If a French version existed with a non-slab bumper and whatever those cool-looking headlights are (they remind me of an early Brazilian VW Variant), I’d have an absolute holy-grail version to go track down.

  7. American Motors products were sold in France, albeit in limited numbers – their licensed French importer/distributor was Jean-Charles Automobiles, with a showroom on Rue Claude-Terrasse in Paris.

    Their ad for the Pacer is worth a Bing

    1. Ranwhenparked- they were sold in numerous parts of Europe, even converted to right hand drive for the UK. However, in all cases the bumpers and lights remained. In some cases they made hamfisted modifications to adapt to regulations such as stick-on auto parts store amber rear signals.

  8. I never liked the Matador coupe, but the Euro version fixes everything that bothered me about the styling. I’ll take it!

    The sedan is not realy helped, though. That jutting front grill never worked for me. The Gremlin is improved, but still looks stubby. And shouldn’t it be called “Le Diablotin?”

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