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The AMC Concord is a compact car produced by the American Motors Corporation for the 1978 through 1983 model years. The Concord replaced the AMC Hornet and to some extent the mid-size AMC Matador, discontinued after 1978 in a market moving to downsized automobiles. Offered in four-door sedan, two-door coupé (through 1982), three-door hatchback (through 1979) and four-door station wagon forms, AMC sought to give its, by this time venerable, compact car an image of luxury, class, and value. The Concord was AMC's volume seller from the time it appeared.

Origin and development

American Motors was unable to develop a completely new car to replace its successful, but aging, Hornet. Competition was expected from the new Ford Fox platform (also introduced for 1978) and the rear-wheel drive GM X platform (introduced in the late 1960s) was still popular. Therefore, the financially strapped, smallest domestic American automaker needed something fresh to continue competing in a class that had long been their core market segment. The 1978 Concord was not much different structurally or mechanically from its predecessor, but with a new appearance and a higher level of appointments and features, it looked more "important" and, like the other AMC models, benefited from an urgent stress on workmanship and quality that was prompted by the growing success of cars imported from Japan. The transformation of the old Hornet into the new 1978 Concord included promoting the new model as an upscale luxury compact with competitive starting price in the mid-US$4,000 range (adjusted only for inflation equivalent to US$14,253 in 2012 dollars).

The U.S. automobile industry has had a place "for a small company deft enough to exploit special market segments left untended by the giants" and under the leadership of "Gerald C. Meyers, AMC transformed the austere old Hornet into the handsomer Concord." Richard A. Teague, AMC's top car designer, took AMC's compact platform and gave it noticeable changes starting with a new front end with a slope that gave it a sporty, yet formal appearance. American Motor's design studio under Teague mastered of the art of getting attractive new cars from a minimal investment. The "new" car utilized the facelifted 1977 Gremlin's front fenders with a new hood over a chrome six-section egg-crate grille incorporating white rectangular parking lights, as well as new rectangular headlights, bumpers, fiberglass rear fender end caps, rectangular tri-color taillights, and a stand-up hood ornament with a new Concord emblem. The roof featured an outlined quarter-vinyl cover that was available in matching or contrasting color.

The new model featured increased sound insulation and suspension upgrades to isolate the interior from vibration and noise. It was also loaded with numerous standard comfort and upscale features. American Motors equipped the "easy-to-handle size" car with a "roomy sumptuous interior that was stuffed, folded and carpeted to within an inch of its life". The Concord also gained an extra inch (25.4 mm) of rear seat headroom, as well as two additional inches (50.8 mm) of legroom for rear seat passengers. An advantage of using the aging and heavy Hornet design was its body stiffness and safety performance. Crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed the probability of injury in a struck vehicle to range from a low of 9 percent for the 4-door AMC Concord to a high of 97 percent for the 2-door Nissan Sentra.

American Motors was increasingly turning to the rapidly growing four-wheel-drive market, but most of the press coverage for the 1978 model year "was focused on AMC's new Concord luxury compact car, which was a sign that even then reporters still considered automobiles more important than Jeeps."

Annual changes

1978

In its inaugural model year, three Concord models were available: Base, Sport, and the top-line D/L in three body styles. The AMX version was available only on the liftback. The D/L featured many of the luxury cues that were popular on cars in the 1970s; a "landau" vinyl roof with opera windows (coupé only), color-keyed wheel covers, reclining seats covered in velveteen cloth, and woodgrain instrument panel overlays. The D/L wagon featured exterior woodgrain trim and reclining seats in a leather-like perforated vinyl. The Sport package included slot-style road wheels and bodyside tape stripes on the lower half of the vehicle, running up around the wheel flares. Options included cruise control and air conditioning; however, power windows and power door locks were unavailable.

A 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 engine was standard, with a 258 cu in (4.2 L) six-cylinder and a 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 being optional on the D/L models. Transmission options included a 3-speed manual, a 3-speed automatic, or a floor-shifted manual 4-speed. A Concord with the V8 engine accelerated from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 10.4 seconds, and had a top speed of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h).

American Motors also introduced an optional Volkswagen/Audi-designed 2.0 L (122 cu in) I4 engine, which was also available in the Gremlin and later the Spirit. The engine was the same as used in the Porsche 924, although the Porsche was fitted with Bosch fuel injection instead of carburetors on the AMC models. This engine provided improved economy, but was not as powerful as the standard six-cylinder engine. Because of the expense of acquiring the rights to the new 2.0 L engine, AMC could not afford to make it standard equipment.

American Motors marketed the Concord as a more economical alternative to larger luxury cars. The tag line in the ads at the time of Concord's introduction touted it as the car with "The luxury America wants, the size America needs." The most popular body style was the two-door coupe accounting for almost half of total Concord production in 1978. The Concord outsold AMC's other passenger models (Pacer, Matador, and Gremlin) combined in its first year in the marketplace.

Owners in a nationwide survey conducted by Popular Mechanics magazine responded that they like their AMC Concords based on their combined 1,127,000 miles (1,813,731 km) of driving. Drivers reported "few and rather minor gripes". When asked to name their complaints, an "amazing" 30% of AMC Concord owners wrote none, thus beating the record of all the 17 automobiles that were surveyed by the magazine in 1977 by a wide margin - including the Honda Accord (with only a 18.9% "no complaints" rate).

1979

The next model year saw moderate upgrades to keep the luxurious Concord fresh. Front-end styling changed appreciably with a "waterfall" grille with a fine chrome vertical bar treatment, quad rectangular headlights atop slim, wide clear parking/signal lights, and lighter aluminum bumpers were new for 1979. The 3-speed manual transmission was a "downgrade" option for Concord in 1979. The D/L sedan was given a new vinyl roof design which extended only over the rear passenger compartment was complemented by chrome trim that overlaid the B-pillar and wrapped over the vinyl roof at its leading edge. 1979 also saw the introduction of the Limited model, available on coupe, sedan, and wagon models, and appointed with leather upholstery, thick carpeting, full courtesy lighting, body-colored wheel covers, and a standard AM radio. The Concord Limited was very well equipped for a compact car at the time. The D/L package, now the middle trim level, was extended to the hatchback, which was given a brushed aluminum Targa-like roof band and a half-vinyl roof to differentiate it from the standard hatchback. The Sport package was dropped, as was the AMX which moved to the new AMC Spirit liftback body.

On May 1, 1979, AMC celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Nash-Hudson merger and released a limited number of specially appointed "Silver Anniversary" AMC Concords to commemorate the event. The special models received a two-tone silver metallic finish, silver vinyl roof, commemorative badges, and individual reclining front seats upholstered in special black or russet "Caberfae" corduroy.

A Popular Science road test of three traditional compact cars (AMC Concord, Ford Fairmont, and Plymouth Volaré) facing the challenge of GM's new front-wheel drive "X cars" (Chevrolet Citation and Oldsmobile Omega) summarized that AMC is committed to serve market segments not served by the other domestic automakers, and concluded that "Concord is the best-looking inside, and offers the plush feel of a big, expensive sedan."

1980

The hatchback was dropped for 1980, as was the old 3-speed manual. Remaining Concord models were given a smoother appearance. The sedan versions of the D/L and Limited were given full vinyl roofs with nearly triangular opera windows embedded in the C-pillars; the coupe versions received squared off opera windows, and revised chrome opera window trim with vertical strakes occupying the space between the window itself and the outer piece of trim. Limited wagons received blackout paint and chrome trim surrounding their rear quarter windows. Base sedans and coupes retained the same rooflines and treatment seen on Hornets since 1970. Taillights were modified and given a wraparound treatment reminiscent of the old Hornet. All Concords received a new horizontal bar grille, with the Concord name in script to the driver's side, and a new, squared-off hood ornament bearing the AMC tri-color logo. That same year, options such as power windows and power seats were also made available. General Motors' Iron Duke I4 engine was also made available for 1980 to replace the rarely ordered VW/Audi four. The 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 and 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 were dropped outright for 1980, leaving only the outsourced 151 cu in (2.5 L) I4 and AMC's durable 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 engines as the available choices. All AMCs were offered with Ziebart Factory Rust Protection for 1980 that included a new 5-year "No Rust Thru" transferable warranty, in addition to the Buyer Protection Plan 12 month/12,000-mile (19,312 km) warranty that AMC introduced in 1972.

Although it was the oldest design and biggest engine in the group of station wagons that were road tested by Popular Science, the Concord recorded the best acceleration and fuel economy figures (compared to Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler LeBaron, and Ford Fairmont). This car test and driving report stated that for many customers, the versatile six-cylinder automobiles like the AMC Concord wagon, were excellent substitutes for full-size cars.

1981

The 1981 Concord was "the most luxurious of all the U.S. compacts". A new grille treatment was featured at the front. It consisted of chrome horizontal bars spaced further apart than in 1980, and added three vertical bars, one in the center and two outboard, dividing the two halves into quarters. Noryl wheel covers embodying a pseudo-starfish pattern were new to the options list. All AMCs were marketed as the "Tough Americans" in print and television advertisements, indicating the presence of fully galvanized steel bodies, aluminized exhausts, and the aforementioned of comprehensive Ziebart rust protection processes from the factory.

The biggest change for the 1981 Concord was the availability of a 4-cylinder engine, the 151 cu in (2.5 L) GM Iron Duke engine. The 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 was redesigned for 1981 with an aim to shed weight. Fuel economy figures for the 49 states in 1981 were 23 mpg-US (10 L/100 km; 28 mpg-imp) city and 34 mpg-US (6.9 L/100 km; 41 mpg-imp) highway for the 4-cylinder with 4-speed manual, 20 mpg-US (12 L/100 km; 24 mpg-imp) city and 26 mpg-US (9.0 L/100 km; 31 mpg-imp) for the 4-cylinder with automatic, 19 mpg-US (12 L/100 km; 23 mpg-imp) city and 28 mpg-US (8.4 L/100 km; 34 mpg-imp) for the 6-cylinder with 4-speed, and 19 mpg-US (12 L/100 km; 23 mpg-imp) city and 26 mpg-US (9.0 L/100 km; 31 mpg-imp) for the most popular 6-cylinder with automatic combination. Popular Science magazine highly recommended "this well-proven power plant" compared to the standard four-cylinder engine. The Concord was road tested with the 258 engine and recorded better acceleration compared to Dodge Aries, Chevrolet Citation, and Mercury Zephyr.

There were four wheel options this year. The first was the "Custom Wheel Cover" standard on the Base model, full styled wheel cover (stainless steel) standard on Concord DL, the wire wheel cover standard on Limited models, and the 14 x 7 inch "Turbocast II" aluminum wheels that were optional on all 1981 models. There were 15 exterior paint colors this year, they were Olympic White, Classic Black, Quick Silver Metallic, Steel Gray Met, Med. Blue Met, Moonlight Blue, Autumn Gold, Sherwood Green Met, Cameo Tan, Copper Brown Met, Med. Brown Met, Dark Brown Met, Oriental Red, Vintage Red Met, and Deep Maroon Met.

The AMC Concord offered interiors that not only looked expensive, but were also comfortable and finished to a level equal in appearance to expensive American luxury cars. Even without the top-line "Limited" upgrade, the Concord "was trimmed in first-class fashion". Interiors were available in "Deluxe Grain" vinyl in black, blue, beige, and nutmeg. Sculptured "Rochelle Velour" fabric came in black, blue, wine, beige, and nutmeg. Leather was available only in nutmeg.

1982

Changes for 1982 were minor, as well. A new 5-speed manual transmission made the options list, allowing a 151 cu in (2.5 L) Concord to achieve up to 37 mpg-US (6.4 L/100 km; 44 mpg-imp) on the highway, according to period United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates. The Chrysler-designed 3-speed automatic transmission received wider ratios, and low-drag disc brakes were also added, both as fuel economy measures. The DL and Limited coupes saw the removal of the vertical strakes on their Landau vinyl roofs.

1983

Concord coupes were dropped from the line for 1983, and with them went the availability of the 151 cu in (2.5 L) I4 engine and the Limited sedan model, leaving only the base and DL sedans and base, DL, and Limited wagons in the Concord line. Therefore, all 1983 Concords came with the 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 engine as standard equipment. Sales slowed to a trickle in the wake of the introduction of the Renault Alliance, and all Concord and Spirit models were quietly dropped by the end of the 1983 model year. The future for AMC's Concord and Spirit series was sealed for the 1980s as rear-drive cars were being replaced by front-drive models.

Concord AMX

Reviving a name that was associated with the performance two-seat sports car that was introduced 10 years earlier, AMC fielded a new model in the youth and performance market segment. Based on the Concord hatchback model, the new AMX was available for 1978. The car did not have Concord badges or identification, but the coupe represented 'the performance expression of the Concord line."

In contrast to the Concord hatchback, the AMX version included a different front fascia with single round headlights, a flush grille, round amber parking lights, and a "power bulge" hood that was also used on the Gremlin. Engines included the standard 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 with 4-speed manual or optional 3-speed automatic floor shift transmission, or the optional 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 with a 3-speed automatic.

The AMX included performance DR78 x 14 BSW steel-belted radial tires, front sway bar, vinyl bucket seats, a center floor console, "rally gauges" with tachometer, brushed aluminum instrument panel overlays, black "soft-feel" sports steering wheel, and special trim on the door panels with map pockets. The standard interior color selection was limited to black, blue, or beige, with optional upholstery in the "Levi's" Trim Package.

The exterior featured a blacked out grille, headlight bezels, rear window molding, door and quarter window frames, rear license plate depression, and wiper arms, a black front air dam, black front and rear fender flares, dual flat black rear-view mirrors, black rear window louvers, black body side scuff moldings, silver "targa" roof band, contrasting "AMX" decals ahead of the rear wheels, silver slot-styled steel wheels, and body painted bumpers with black rubber guards and scuff moldings.

Exterior colors were limited to Alpine White, Firecracker Red, Sunshine Yellow, Quick Silver Metallic, or a special version in Classic Black that included gold body side stripes that continued up and over the roof band, as well as gold paint accents for the slot-styled wheels. A carryover 1977 Hornet AMX decal was available for the rear deck and hood, in either gold with orange or black with gold. Polished aluminum 5-spoke road wheels were optional.

According to automotive journalist, Michael Lamm, the new AMX had "noticeably tighter shocks and gives a firm and comfortable ride"; "corner[s] with the very best" with little lean, as well as the standard six-cylinder engine that combines good performance with fuel economy, and the four-speed "gearbox that's fun to use and has long, long gears."

Convertibles

A Sundancer convertible conversion by Griffith Company was available for the 1981 and 1982 model years. The Sundancer was available one year before the introduction of the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron ragtop.

The modifications to the Concord started with a two-door sedan monocoque (unitized) body. To add strength to the platform after the removal of its roof, fourteen steel reinforcements were welded to the undercarriage and a steel targa roll bar was welded to the door pillars for rigidity, as well as additional passenger compartment protection. The front section of the roof (ahead of the targa bar) was a removable lightweight fiberglass hatch, while the rear section of polyvinyl material folded and included a tonneau cover for use in the down position.

The cars were available through any AMC dealer, but less than 200 conversions were manufactured (Concord and four-wheel-drive Eagle versions).

VAM models

The Mexican government-owned automaker Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) manufactured a number of models in Mexico under license from AMC. The made in Mexico vehicles had to have at least 50% locally sourced parts. The cars came with different trim, interiors than the equivalent AMC-made models. It was sold as the VAM American.

In addition to rebadged Concords, VAM developed model was the VAM Lerma that was based on the 2- and 4-door Concord sedan platform with the addition of the AMC Spirit's hatchback and rear design with unique Lerma quarter glass.

All engines built by VAM were of AMC design incorporating appropriate changes to deal with lower octane gasoline and the higher altitudes in Mexico. This included a unique 282 cu in (4.6 L) version of AMC's straight-6 engine.

Racing

An AMC Concord was entered in the 1978 World Challenge for Endurance Drivers. The car started the 6 Hours of Talladega Camel GT Challenge with 40 other cars, but ran for only one lap on February 4, 1978. The same car then ran the Pepsi 6 Hour Champion Spark Plug Challenge at the Daytona International Speedway three days later and finished in 17th (out of 71 cars) with 130 laps. On March 9, 1978 the Concord placed 27th (out of 70 entered) with 162 laps racing the 6 Hour Champion Spark Plug Challenge at Road Atlanta.

A 1979 AMC Concord was campaigned on the west coast from 1978 to 1981 by Buzz Dyer. Power was provided by a Traco Engineering built AMC 366 cu in (6.0 L) V8 engine that was originally in the Penske AMC Matador that won the 1973 season-opening event at Riverside driven by Mark Donohue. The Concord raced in six Trans Am events, as well as International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) events with a GTO entry and several IMSA AC races. The car was in the following Kelly American Challenge races: the 1979 Road Atlanta and Mid-Ohio, the 1980 Golden State and Portland, as well as the 1981 Sears Point and Portland events.

Experimental engines

The VAM Lerma version of the Concord served as a promotional and test vehicle for the Stirling engine. A 1980 four-door sedan was fitted with a P-40 engine and used to inform the public about the Stirling engine. Additionally, a 1979 AMC Spirit engineering test vehicle was also tested extensively to develop and demonstrate practical alternatives to the traditional engines. The tests demonstrated that the type of engine "could be developed into an automotive power train for passenger vehicles and that it could produce favorable results."

A 1980 AMC Concord served as the test vehicle in s conceptual design study of the automotive Improved Gas Turbine (IGT) powertrain. Working under a NASA contract for U.S. DOE's Division of Automotive Technology Development, Williams Research performed the design and analysis on the gas turbine engine, while AMC's AM General subsidiary did the vehicle installation studies, supplied the vehicle, transmission, drivetrain, and the typical car accessories. The two-door sedan used a dual-rotor gas turbine with variable power turbine nozzle, and a 3-speed automatic transmission for conventional rear-wheel-drive. Williams Research conducted all the performance and fuel economy analysis, with the turbine powered Concord meeting expectations. The final report estimated that the IGT vehicle would have a 10% higher cost over the conventional piston engine, of which less than half of the cost penalty would be in the turbine engine, but the remainder would be the cost of adapting existing production of vehicles and systems. However, fuel economy improvements, as well as reduced maintenance and repairs, would result in an overall life-cycle cost saving of 9% for the IGT vehicle.

Concords in film

The 1978 film, The Betsy is a story about a family-owned automobile manufacturer and their hopes for a return to profitability on a new model. Actual 1978 Concords can be seen being completed and painted on AMC's assembly line in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The film The Pursuit of Happyness used AMC Concords to help set the period as the 1980s.

American Motors was a sponsor of the TV show Wonder Woman in later seasons, and as a result AMC cars such as Wonder Woman's 1978 Concord AMX were given extensive "face time" on the series.

Owners

  • Peter Lynch - 1978
  • Chely Wright - 1980 "the banana"

Epilogue

The Concord was "AMC’s last best shot at trying to stay in the market with an American designed car" until it was discontinued after 1983. When AMC dropped the Concord and made its successor the Renault Alliance, many AMC loyalists were alienated.

The Concord was built on AMC's "junior" platform, which also served as the basis for the four-wheel-drive AMC Eagle that "pioneered the crossover SUV" and "predated a whole generation of crossover vehicles". The AMC Eagle remained in production until it was discontinued after Chrysler purchased AMC in the middle of the 1988 model year.

For 1987, AMC introduced the imported Medallion to replace the discontinued Concord, as well as the similarly-sized, but poor-selling Renault 18-based 18i/Sportwagon, which had been sold at AMC dealerships from 1981-86. The Medallion, like its 18i/Sportwagon predecessors, also failed to sell in large numbers, and Chrysler canceled the captive imports at the end of 1989.

In 1993, Chrysler introduced the LH platform series of full-size sedans that was based on the AMC-developed and Renault-derived Eagle Premier. Significantly larger than the AMC Concord, flagship of the LH line was similarly named, the Chrysler Concorde.

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