American Motors Corporation was formed through the amalgamation of the Nash Motor Company and Hudson Motor Car Company in 1954. It had a few good years in the 1960s, but it never had as much money as the competition for extensive product development. As a result it became a company that excelled at creating new cars out of old ones. Styling chief Richard Teague’s bargain basement makeovers made him a legend in the industry.
Thus there was the Rambler that metamorphosed into the Hornet in 1970. Then in 1970 Teague created the Gremlin, the American industry’s first subcompact which beat the Big Three to the punch by chopping the rear end off the Hornet. The Gremlin would get a renaming too, becoming the Spirit in 1979.
In between came AMC’s “fishbowl” Pacer, a unique style to be sure. It was originally intended to have a Wankel rotary engine, but when this didn’t come to pass it was compromised by its forced use of old AMC technology. It was heavy and thirsty and far from the svelte, space-efficient, lightweight, economical machines that the market was beginning to favour and that were being offered by such imports as Volkswagen and Honda. It suffered disappointing sales.
For 1978 the Hornet nee Rambler was transformed once again, this time into the Concord, a compact luxury car that AMC hoped would stop the downward spiral in its cars brought on by the relentless competition from both American and foreign companies. The Concord, Spirit and Concord-based four-wheel drive Eagle would be the last AMC designed cars produced. In fact its best product wasn’t a car at all, but the venerable Jeep brand which, in AMC’s shrewdest corporate move ever it had acquired in 1970.
Renault of France took control of AMC in 1979 and the AMC cars would be gradually phased out as the Renault designed Reliant took over. The Concord and Spirit were gone in 1983, although the Eagle’s versatile four-wheel drive carried it on until 1987.
When AMC introduced the save-the-farm Concord for 1978 it was loaded with comfort and luxury features right down to a half-vinyl roof, and marketed as an upscale luxury compact. AMC hoped it would appeal to those looking for a car that combined easy-to-handle size with a roomy sumptuous interior that was stuffed, folded and carpeted to within an inch of its life, all at a competitive price starting in the mid-$4,000 range. The small but luxurious approach was, after all, working wonders for the Honda Accord.
Mechanically the Concord was all traditional AMC. Under its unit construction body was a choice of three engines: the base 3.8-litre, overhead valve inline six; a slightly larger 4.2-litre version; and a 5.0-litre overhead valve V8. Transmissions were a three- or four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.
Dimensions were right in line with compact car norms with a wheelbase of 2,743 mm (108 in.) and an overall length of 4,663 mm (183.6 in.). It stood a svelte 1,303 mm (51.3) in high, and weighed a rather portly 1,610 kg (3,550 lb.).
Brakes were discs front and drums rear, and suspension was the usual AMC control arms in front with high-mounted coil springs. The solid rear axle was suspended on longitudinal leaf springs.
The exterior feature that most distinguished the Concord from its Hornet forebearer was its prominent, egg-crate grille flanked by rectangular headlamps. The overall styling was pleasant, although not outstanding in any way, and it certainly would not offend anyone. The model lineup was comprised of a two- and four-door sedan, a four-door wagon and a two-door hatchback coupe.
Driving characteristics were equally uninspiring, with lots of roll in corners. As Car and Driver (2/’78) magazine’s road testers said: “You have the eerie feeling in steering the Concord down the road that somehow, something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite integrated.” But the ride was comfortable enough.
The performance of the V8-equipped car that C and D tested recorded a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) time of 10.4 seconds, and a top speed of 161 km/h (100 mph). This was adequate but no ball of fire. The six-cylinder would have been considerably slower.
One can only speculate on how tranquil the performance would have been with the little Audi-designed, single-overhead cam 2.0-litre inline four that was offered in the Concord in 1979, followed by the 2.5-litre Pontiac overhead valve four from 1980 to ’82, products of those fuel economy obsessed years.
The Concord and spin-off four-wheel drive Eagle, were, as noted, AMC’s last best shot at trying to stay in the market with an American designed car. The Concord was sold until 1983 before production ceased and it quietly disappearing from the scene. AMC-Renault offered Renault designed cars, most notably the Alliance, and Jeep products. Renault finally gave up trying to market cars in North America and sold AMC to Chrysler in 1987, which turned it into the Jeep Eagle division.