A new documentary is currently in production and promises to be of interest to many of our readership. It’s about everyone’s favorite underdog automaker, American Motors Corporation (1954-1988)! Pride of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The team behind the production of The Last Independent Automaker is assembling a deep dive into the brand’s history, which started in 1954 when car and refrigerator manufacturer Nash-Kelvinator Corporation acquired Hudson Motor Car Company, and formed AMC.
The newly-formed American Motors Corporation initially found its niche in small and fuel-efficient vehicles, chasing a corner of the market that was almost completely ignored by The Big Three and their large, thirsty vehicles. Think of the Metropolitan, one of the first American subcompact economy cars.
AMC continued to innovate throughout its history, while it simultaneously struggled to compete via a much smaller budget than its domestic competition. The cars AMC produced in the Eighties were largely reworks of their products from the Sixties, with new styling and new names. The fancy Eighties Concord was a Hornet underneath, a compact that entered production in 1969 for the ’70 model year.
Eventually, AMC would fall under Renault’s control and invest in the development of vehicles like the very successful ZJ Jeep Cherokee, and the very unsuccessful Eagle Premier. The latter of which cost a lot of money, and was sourced primarily from then-owner Renault.
All very interesting stuff. The Last Independent Automaker promises to cover AMC not only from a general historical perspective, but also through the lens of the people who worked in Kenosha, Detroit, and Toledo for AMC. From the women who braved the rampant sexism of an American auto plant in the Fifties to those who had white-collar positions at the company’s offices, and the various discrimination issues that were so prevalent for so long.
The series will also focus on the economics of AMC – relevant for a company that continually struggled with its finances, and had to design and build its vehicles on a tight budget. Despite its money problems, AMC was known as an innovative automaker and made impressive advancements in unibody manufacturing, four-wheel-drive in passenger cars (gasp!), and air conditioning technology for automobiles.
Fuel economy remained a consistent focus at AMC, and the company’s engineers made strides toward better fuel economy and cleaner emissions at a time when it wasn’t de rigueur to do so. Such a focus on economy and emissions was helpful to AMC when events like the oil shortage of ’73 sent gasoline prices through the roof and meant consumers were desperate for more efficient cars. AMC was ready with the most unconventional Pacer for compact economy car duty. And that went well.
The series will also take a look a the role the government played in major new safety standard mandates, which affected all automakers to a great extent during the Seventies. Engineering around the requirements on a limited budget (and often with dated platforms) meant AMC’s employees had a slightly more difficult task than other Detroit automakers.
Though still in production, the people behind The Last Independent Automaker have scoured the AMC archives from every possible direction and secured about 100 hours of footage via the archives at the Kenosha History Center, as well as 20,000 historical pictures. Interviews with more than 25 AMC employees are presently being conducted, and the production has already recorded over 30 hours of material. Notable interviewees include two CEOs from AMC, MotorWeek legend John Davis, longtime AMC designer Vince Geraci, and Mitt Romney. Romney’s father George was the CEO of AMC from 1954 to 1962 and was responsible for the implementation of a new idea: A profit-sharing agreement with employees.
Broken up into six half-hour segments, the series is set to air in the spring of 2024 and cover the entire history of AMC. Episodes will be segmented by time period. The production team has already secured a distribution agreement with Maryland Public Television (which also produces MotorWeek) which will conduct the marketing and send all six parts out to PBS stations. The series will also be available for streaming online upon release.
The trailer for The Last Independent Automaker trailer is above, and more information is also available on their website.
[Images: The Last Independent Automaker]