The year 1970 was an important turning point in the History of the American Motors Corporation. Since the 1954 merger between the Hudson and Nash companies that gave birth to the company, American Motors had been manufacturing and marketing their products under the Rambler brand name.
Although the Rambler line of cars did very well early on, the cars and the name began to take a beating in the marketplace during the mid to late sixties. During this time, the Rambler name was irreversibly harmed. In an effort to create a new company image the Rambler name was dropped forever. The Kenosha, Wisconsin Independent would now become known as AMC.
As 1970 rolled around American Motors introduced their new AMC cars into the market. They replaced the Rambler American vehicle line with a completely new car, the Hornet. The AMC Hornet was an attempt to meld the frugal image of the Rambler with an image of luxury into a new type of compact car.
The new Hornet was designed by designer Dick Teague and was to be the basis of a whole new group of car lines. As was seen later that year on April Fool’s Day. The company introduced the first American subcompact car, the AMC Gremlin, its chassis was a shortened Hornet chassis, cut down by one foot.
Built on a 108-inch wheelbase, the new Hornet sedans had a long hood/short rear deck styling theme that was in line with the public tastes at the time. These basic elements had been used in 1969 for the new Ford Maverick compact car, which had proven to be immensely popular. The AMC Hornet would compete directly with the Maverick offering a longer wheelbase, which gave the car more interior room that it’s rival.
The Hornet showed AMC’s turn back to niche politics. Not only was it available as a stripped and cheap base model, but also a long list of options was offered, and that’s what made a difference from the competitors. Everything from its base 232 cubic inch six cylinder, vinyl seats and rubber floor mats to a luxurious top model with a 360 cubic inch V8, cloth interior and carpeting. Even automatic transmission, disc brakes, air conditioning, reclining bucket seats and vinyl roof could be ordered.
The Hornet also brought back the strategy of parts sharing. The two and four seater versions were identical up to the roof, and even front and rear bumpers interchanged. Hornets were produced from 1970 through 1977 when the line was moved upscale a bit and dressed up as the AMC Concord, which later wore a new body with four-wheel-drive and was called the AMC Eagle.
The Hornet did especially well in drag racing modified by the privateer Wally Booth who took the crown from the deep pocketed “big guys” one year. Maskin and Kanners also drag raced the Hornet with good success (see Booth’s Killer Kelvinators Tribute Page).
While the high option cars are most valued by current AMC collectors, the low option Hornets make good hot rods by merit of their relatively simple lightweight all steel unibody and very good interchangeability of factory performance parts, making an AMC 401 V8 engine basically a bolt in modification.
The AMC Hornet as a collector car is supported with active, loyal AMC enthusiast clubs for part sourcing and information. Aftermarket high performance parts are not commonly found in mainstream medias but quality hot rod parts are indeed currently available.