Tag Archives: american motors

Car Spot: Studebaker Lark and Pickup

One of the last of the independents that just ran out of cash

Being a big fan of the cars from American Motors, I can appreciate what Studebaker brought to market and how they tried to challenge the Big Three. Like AMC, at times they were brilliant, but other times, not so much. In 1939, the company entered the low-priced field with the popular Studebaker Champion, propelling it past the other independents and becoming a major automobile producer, passing Rambler at the time, and making Studebaker the No. 4 auto manufacturer.

In the ’50s Studebakers were considered to be among the most beautiful automobiles ever built. The 1953 Studebaker models were the automaker’s first new designs since 1947, and automotive historians have long agreed that they were great-looking designs. But a series of events led to the company’s downfall.

While the ’53s looked cool, they suffered from quality issues, then there was a sales blitz by Ford in 1954 that hit both Studebaker and Rambler hard, and then in 1960, the Big 3 found the compact car market. Finally, a change in leadership and a difficult union spelled the end for Studebaker, which had started as a carriage and wagon maker.

I’ve heard this story before because it’s almost the same sad ending that American Motors faced. Like AMC, Studebaker had some really cool-looking cars like the early Commander and later the Avanti. For all the issues the cars had, bland styling wasn’t one of them.

Car Trivia: Studebaker sponsored what comedy show? Click here and see if you got the answer correct. Bonus points if you can sing the opening theme song:)

This week’s car spot, a 1965 Commander I found at a Cars and Guitars sponsored by The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay this summer, is an example of how Studebaker didn’t go down swinging. This was Studebaker’s mainstream model and was most likely built in Canada since they stopped building cars in South Bend, Ind., in 1963.

This car has a great story too. It had 15,000 original miles on it when it was purchased by the current owner in 2019. And get this, it was purchased from some nuns in Green Bay who hadn’t driven it in a long time. I’m not making that up.

This is its original paint, It packs a Chevy-sourced 230-cubic-inch six-cylinder, and twin-traction. Like Corvairs and many AMC cars, a Studebaker is a great entry into the collector game. According to Hagerty, one in fair condition should run about $6,400. A cheap way of getting into the game and having a car that will almost always get noticed.

RELATED Spot: The other independent’s wagon, the Rambler Classic Cross Country wagon.

Did you know that Studebaker also made trucks?

From 1929 until 1963 from half-ton all the way up to two-ton. This one I found on a trip up to Appleton, Wis., where I was picking up a project motorcycle. This looks like a late ’40s, or early ’50s model that is up for restoration. The guy also had a Lark that he had plans for. Trucks are more valuable than passenger cars these days. One in good condition according to Hagerty is worth about $18,000. Again, a cheap entry into the collector market.

Thanks for stopping by and checking out our blog. Check back next Friday for another car spot along with some of the history with it. Have a great weekend.

Car Spot: AMC Pacer

Another swing for the fence car from America’s smallest automaker.

When you’re up against big car companies with big budgets and big lineups you have to do things differently as was the case for American Motors in the 70s. They were all about different in that time period first with the Gremlin in 1970 and then with the Pacer in 1975. This week’s car spot focuses on a 78 Pacer Wagon Mark spotted at the Mecum auction in Chicago this past weekend.

Introduced as America’s First Wide Small Car, it was also ahead of its time with its cab-forward design while all the other cars were the traditional three-box designs. Developed to offer the interior room and feel of a big car but in a much smaller, aerodynamic, and distinctive exterior package. That it was. The automotive press loved it and so did I owning a 75, Autumn Red Metalic with a white interior. It had a massive amount of glass which led to one of its nicknames, the fishbowl. And I added even more glass with an aftermarket sunroof, which leaked, and my friends called mine the Astrodome.

RELATED Post: Read about the Racer Pacer.

One of the complaints consumers had was the lack of space in the back seat when adults rode along so a wagon version was added in 1977. It also gave the Pacer a more traditional design and more cargo space. Popular Mechanics described the newly added 1977 Station Wagon body style as a “styling coup”, and said: “Who needs the coupe!”

The car was introduced with a choice of two inline sixes that were fuel efficient but because of the Pacer’s weight, 3,425 pounds for the coupe, 74 more for the wagon, its 304 V8 was added to the lineup boosting horsepower but decreased mpg. It was during this time period that the Pacer became positioned as a luxury car. This 78 is a great example. A D/L level Pacer that was loaded with leather seats, power steering, brakes, locks, and windows, a Sony CD player, tinted windows, the 304 V8, custom wheels, and woodgrain. Not really wood:). It sold for $8,250, about average for a Pacer like this in good condition. However in 2020 at Mecum’s auction in Indianapolis a 77 sold for a crazy amount of money, $25,300! There is/was a Pacer wagon I found on Hemmings where the guy was asking for 30k that had been converted to electric. Yikes, can you imagine the weight of that one?

RELATED Post: My promo model Pacer.

Larger hood to fit in AMC’s 304 V8

By 1980 the public had grown tired of the Pacer’s unique styling and poor gas millage and AMC ended production. 280,000 Pacers were built in Kenosha and more at VAM in Mexico. This swing for the fence might have been the beginning of the end for AMC. Developing the Pacer cost the company a ton of money as did the new Matador coupe and neither car saved the company. Renault bought a controlling interest in AMC in 79 and that was it for building its own passenger cars. Was the Pacer ugly? Maybe but one thing is for sure like the other Dick Teague-inspired designs is that they were unique and had character unlike many of the other cars coming out of Detroit at the time. Yup, I’m an AMC homeboy and proud of it!

AMC’s unique door handles used on all vehicles and the rear liftgate on Jeep CJ’s and Wranglers.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next Friday for another one of my car spots along with some of its history. Have a great weekend.

Car spot: AMC’s Javelin hit the mark

It took on the Big 3 and won

I’ll admit that I love American Motors cars. It seemed the company was always swinging for the fence with every new car. And they had to because they never had a big development budget.

Take for example the Javelin. Tardy to the pony car party in 1968. The Mustang started it all followed by the Camaro. Mopar had its Challenger and Barracuda. The first-gen Javelin did well and to prove it had performance chops, AMC took it racing in the Trans-Am series and it did well. Like its competition, you could buy one with a big V-8 and other performance goodies.

The second-gen debuted in 1971. Designed by Richard Teague, this was totally different than its predecessor. Longer, wider, and those hump bulges on each side of the hood. This was one of those designs that were hated or loved. I love it but blogging partner Mark Savage does not. To each his own. While it won the Trans-Am title, the pony cars’ days were numbered.

This second-gen 1974 I found on a trip up to Appleton, WI was the Javelin’s final year. Faced with tougher crash and emissions standards AMC decided to pull the plug. AMC estimated it would take $12 million in engineering and design work to revise the bumpers to meet the 1975 standards so that was it.

The first-gen Javelin sold just over 104,000 units, while the second-gen sold slightly less at just over 97,000 units. The most desirable in the first-gen would be the Mark Donohue and the same with the second-gen.

The plan I’m told for this car is to restore it and replace the 360 V8 in it with a 401. These cars are rapidly rising in collectibility. A 71 Pierre Cardin edition recently sold at a Mecum Auction for over $100,000. Not too long ago they were less than half that. Glad to see people appreciating these cars.

Be sure to check back next Friday for another car spot. And have a great weekend.

Car spotting: America’s other two-seat sports car

This one I know well

The AMX was produced by American Motors from 1968 to 1970 as a two-seat sports car. Its short wheelbase, one inch shorter than the Corvette, and big engines, 290 to 390, V8’s made it a hit for AMC who was a late arrival at the muscle car party. To show it had the chops, Craig Breedlove and his wife set all kinds of land speed records when it was introduced.

Red 1968 AMX I spotted while on my way to Mark’s house.

The American Society of Automotive Engineers named the AMX as the “best-engineered car of the year” in 1969 and 1970. In its three-year run, it sold a total of just under 20,000. It was discontinued by AMC because of tougher crash standards and they didn’t have the money. The AMX rode on as a performance package on various other AMC cars concluding with the Spirit in 1980. I was fortunate to own two AMX’s, a ’70 and ’79 Spirit AMX. The value of the two-seaters continues to rise on the collector market with excellent examples going for around $60,000.

I spotted this clean 1970 while out for a ride. Owner did a great job on the restoration. It had a 390 and 4 speed.
amc, amx
My two AMX’s. 1970 had a 390 V8 while the 1979 a 304.

It ripped up rally racing

It’s light weight and gobs of torque made it an ideal car for rally racing and still is to this day. This AMX was spotted by fellow AMC geek Joe Schliz at the Lake Superior Performance Rally held this past fall near Marquette, MI. This car still has it finishing eigth driven by Tim O’Neil and Constatine Mantopoulos and against competators like Ken Block who came in first. It was sponsored by Team O’Neil Rally School in NH.

My car spots appear on SavageOnWheels.com every Friday. Have a great weekend and keep that phone ready.

2020 Mustang leaves Mopar guys snake bit

The Shelby guys have thought of everything with the racy 2020 Mustang GT 500 …

Two new hot rod Tangs!

By Paul Daniel and Mark Savage

PAUL: I sort of backed into loving Mopar stuff after Chrysler bought American Motors Corp. in the late 1980s. I’ve always been the kind of person who has a soft spot for the underdog. I’ve driven all the Challengers, with the exception of the Red Eye, and enjoy the driving experience they provide. In fact, if I could go out and buy a high-performance pony car I’d go buy one. That was until I drove the 2020 Mustang GT 500. Continue reading 2020 Mustang leaves Mopar guys snake bit

Die-cast: Jeep CJ-7 Renegade

Model Car Group launches a 1/18 scale Jeep CJ-7 …

Few vehicles are as recognizable as a Jeep, and yet Jeeps have been restyled multiple times since World War II and are now the younger generation’s urban vehicle of choice.

But back in the 1970s (remember those?), the CJ-7 was the cool retro-styled Jeep that outdoorsy folks ached for. Still mostly an open truck, the CJ was mostly utilitarian, but it offered a rugged exterior that everyone could identify as a Jeep. And as they weren’t the trendy wheels of the day, they were somewhat rare on the roads. Continue reading Die-cast: Jeep CJ-7 Renegade

Missing my car guy on Father’s Day

My dad made me the car freak I am today

This coming Father’s Day will be my first without my dad as he passed away February 14th. At his funeral, I did the eulogy, and after rewriting it a couple of times, decided to go with a car theme comparing his qualities to the window sticker on a car, one produced by American Motors where he worked for 27 years.

While going through pictures to display at his funeral, I found a bunch with the cars that were part of growing up. It also jogged my memory of things we did, or places we went over the years that I will fondly remember like the following.

Traveling to Kenosha for the American Motors Owners Association homecoming event where there were hundreds of Nash, Rambler, and AMC cars that were built there over the years. We never did buy a car but did purchase rare promotional model cars we were missing from our collections.

Photo: Kenosha News

When I was in high school nearby the AMC National Parts Distribution Center, I would come and meet dad for my ride home. Many times he was tied up in some meeting so I would head down to the Tech Center and see what cars they had in torn apart, many times seeing AMC cars that were a year or so from production. It was the tech service guys that gave me a manual to help me figure out how to install an engine in my 1970 AMX after blowing up the 390 that came with it. Those tech guys were great!

Dad was also there when i decided to hop up my 1972 Gremlin by replacing the exhaust manifold with high performance headers. How’d that work out? Not so good.

Photo: FCA archives

When AMC sponsored Mark Donahue’s Trans-Am Javelin and raced at Road America in the early 70’s, the Chicago Zone Office chartered busses for employees and set up a tent by turn 14. We always made the trip. It was so much fun. We’d get a ride on the track in a Javelin and Roger Penske and Donahue would swing by the tent to sign autographs. I grabbed this flag from the event one year and today display it on my slot car track which is a replica of Road America.

Related: Read about my blogging partner, Mark Savage, and our recent trip to Road America.

Until dad had problems getting around, we would spend a day up in Oshkosh at the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture event. He loved seeing the WWII vintage aircraft he was familiar with having served in the army during that time.

Fond memories. Happy Father’s Day dad. I be thinking about you.

Holy crap, I think that car might have been mine!

My one shot at a collector car

promotional model cars, AMX, AMC, American MotorsCame in 1987 while living in Green Bay. I always kept an eye out in the papers, this was before that interweb thing got big, looking for, well, I wasn’t sure. Then, bingo, a 1970 AMX was for sale in Milwaukee similar to the image of this model I built to remind myself about the experience. I had to have it. Never mind I hadn’t even seen it yet. They seller didn’t want too much for it, $2,500, which should have been a red flag, but I was laser focused. I needed fast cash since I didn’t have that much saved up and this was an impulse purchase so I went to my local bank Continue reading Holy crap, I think that car might have been mine!

Jeepless for the 1st time in 30 years and the quest for 71 inches

Jeepless in Pewaukee

Photo: Jeep Blog

For those of you who have not read my posts before, I love Jeeps! My love affair began in 1970 when American Motors purchased The Jeep Corporation from Kaiser Industries. My dad worked for AMC at the time at its National Parts Distribution Center in Milwaukee, WI. so now I would receive employee pricing on Jeeps. Dad was the first family member to hop on when he purchased a Cherokee Wagoneer in 1988 exactly like the one in the picture. This wasn’t the larger SJ version but the XJ built on the new Cherokee platform introed by AMC in 1984 and over its 17-year run, just under three million were sold. This was ground-breaking stuff at the time essentially kicking off the SUV segment. Later on, mom wanted something easier to get in and out of and he sold this Jeep to me. That started a relationship that would last a very long time. Continue reading Jeepless for the 1st time in 30 years and the quest for 71 inches

Die-cast: Auto World’s 1969 Dodge Charger 500

1/24-scale 1969 Dodge Charger a nice value …AW24005_1969DodgeCharger_1stPrepro-1

Originally I was not a big Dodge Charger or American Motors Marlin fan. Both were too radical in their fastback designs for me. I preferred the Plymouth Baracuda and Ford’s Mustang 2+2.

But by 1968 the second generation Charger looked racier to me and in 1969 Dodge launched the Charger 500 to help it better compete in NASCAR with the likes of Ford’s Torino Talladega and Mercury Cyclone models. The 500 was a limited edition, of (you guessed it) 500, which allowed it to meet NASCAR production standards, back in the day when the racers really were stock cars, or based on them. Continue reading Die-cast: Auto World’s 1969 Dodge Charger 500