The new Hornet became an important vehicle and platform for AMC. It served the company in one form or another for eighteen years, until the 1988 model year. It would outlast all other compact platforms from the competition that included the Chevrolet Nova, Ford Maverick, and Plymouth Valiant. The Hornet was also the basis for AMC's Gremlin, Concord, Spirit and the innovative all-wheel drive AMC Eagle.
Origins of the "Hornet" name
The Hornet name plate goes back to the mid-1950s. The name originated from the merger of Hudson Motor Company and Nash-Kelvinator Corporation in 1954. Hudson introduced the first Hudson Hornet in 1951. The automaker formed a stock car racing team centered on the car, and the "Fabulous Hudson Hornet" soon became famous for its wins and stock-car title sweeps between 1951 and 1954. American Motors, the resulting corporation formed by the merger of Nash Motors and Hudson, continued to produce Nash-based Hornets, which were sold under the Hudson marque from 1955 to 1957. The automaker retained rights to the name while it was dormant from 1958 to 1969. The rights to the "Hornet" nameplate then passed to Chrysler with that company's acquisition of AMC in 1987.
The Hornet's styling was based on the AMC Cavalier and Vixen show cars. The Hornet, as well as the Ford Maverick, were considered a response by the domestic automakers to battle with the imports.
Development of the new model took AMC three years, a million man-hours, and US$40 million. The Hornet was an all-new design sharing no major body components, but utilizing some of the Rambler American's chassis and drivetrain. An all-new front suspension with anti-brake dive was developed for AMC's large-sized "senior" 1970 models, and instead of developing lighter components for the new compact-size platform, the same parts were incorporated into the Hornet.
Introduced in 1969 for the 1970 model year, the Hornet was the first car in a line of new models that AMC would introduce over the following three years, and it set the tone for what designer Richard A. Teague and chief executive officer Roy D. Chapin, Jr., had in mind for the company for the 1970s. The Hornet marked the return of AMC to its original role as a "niche" marketer specializing in small cars. It also became one of AMCs best sellers.
With its manufacturers suggested retail price (MSRP) of US$1,994 for the base model, the Hornet was an economical small family car. However, it took design cues from the popular Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, and the company's own Javelin with a long hood, short rear deck and sporty looks. The Hornet's 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase platform (two inches or 5.08 centimeters longer than its predecessor the Rambler American) evolved into a number of other models (including the four-wheel-drive Eagle) and was produced through 1988. The Hornet was initially available in a choice of two thrifty straight-six engines or a 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8.
The Hornet was offered as a two-door and four-door notchback sedan in its introductory year. A four-door station wagon variant named the "Sportabout" was added to the 1971 lineup. Also for 1971, the SC/360 was added. This was a 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 powered performance vehicle available only as a two-door sedan. (The tire pressure sticker on the first 1970 models hinted at the SC/360). In 1973, a hatchback coupe was added to the lineup.
AMC used the Hornet as the basis for its AMC Gremlin, which consisted of the front half of the two-door Hornet's body and a truncated rear section with a window hatchback.
In 1973 a Levi's Jeans trim package - based on the world-famous jeans manufacturer - was offered. The Levi's trim package was popular and was offered throughout the mid-1970s. The station wagon version was offered with a luxury trim package designed by Italian fashion designer Dr. Aldo Gucci.
The AMC Hornet was the first U.S. made automobile to feature guardrail beam doors to protect occupants in the event of a side impact. The 1973 Hornet hatchback was the first U.S. made compact hatchback, one year ahead of the 1974 Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Nova hatchback models.
The Hornet was transformed into a "luxury compact" line of cars, the AMC Concord, as well as an innovative "crossover" all-wheel drive vehicle, the AMC Eagle.
Introduced in September 1969, the first year Hornets came in "base" and higher trim SST models, and in 2 and 4-door sedans. The 199 cu in (3.3 L) straight-6 engine was standard on the base models with the 232 cu in (3.8 L) standard on the SST. The 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 engine was optional.
Popular Science conducted a road test of four of lowest priced U.S. cars (AMC Hornet, Ford Maverick, Plymouth Duster, and Chevrolet Nova) describing the 1970 Hornet offering more interior and trunk room, excellent visibility in all directions, achieved the highest fuel economy, needed the optional disk brakes, and the authors concluded that it was the "practical family car ... better value than any of the others".
- 1970 production:
- 2-door base: 43,610
- 4-door base: 17,948
- 2-door SST: 19,748
- 4-door SST: 19,786
The 1971 model year was the introduction of the Sportabout, a 4-door wagon using a single hatch design in place of the traditional tailgate. The 2- and 4-door sedans were carryovers. The 232 I6 engine was now standard across the range.
A marketing promotion in the Spring made available a new fabric folding sunroof on specially equipped Hornets, as well as on the Gremlin. The opening roof feature was included with the purchase of whitewall tires, custom wheel covers, pinstripes or rally stripes, a light group, and a special visibility group.
A notable addition was the SC360 version, a compact 2-door muscle car that was intended as a follow-up to the 1969 SC Rambler. Powered by the AMC's 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8, the SC was distinguished by styled wheels, hood scoop, body striping, and other performance and appearance upgrades. In standard form, with two-barrel carburetor, the 360 produced 245 hp (183 kW; 248 PS) (gross) and was priced at just US$2,663 (about $40 below the 1971 Plymouth Duster 340). With the addition of the $199 "Go" package's four-barrel carburetor and ram-air induction, the SC's power increased to 285 hp (213 kW; 289 PS). Optional in place of the standard three-speed was a Hurst-shifted four-speed or an automatic transmission. Goodyear Polyglas D70x14 tires were standard, with upgrades running to the handling package and the "Twin-Grip" limited slip differential with 3.54:1 or 3.90:1 gears.
Although the SC/360 could not compete with the holdover big-engined muscle cars, the SC combined respectable quickness (0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and the 1/4 mile dragstrip in 14.9 at 95 mph (153 km/h) with a taut suspension, big tires, and modest size; thus Motor Trend magazine described it as "just a plain gas to drive...it handles like a dream."
American Motors originally planned to build as many as 10,000 of the cars, but high insurance premiums killed the SC/360 after a single year's production of just 784 examples.
The Sportabout on the other hand was the most popular model by far, outselling all other Hornet models combined in its debut year. For most of its life it was the only American-made station wagon in its size class.
- 1971 production:
- 2-door base: 19,395
- 4-door base: 10,403
- 2-door SST: 8,600
- 4-door SST: 10,651
- Wagon SST: 73,471
- SC360: 784
American Motors established a new focus on quality with the 1972 model year. The "Buyer Protection Plan", was the industry's first 12 month or 12,000 miles (19,000 km) comprehensive, bumper-to-bumper warranty. This innovative AMC Buyer Protection Plan included numerous mechanical upgrades to increase durability, as well as a focus on quality in sourcing and production.
The 1972 Hornet was promoted by AMC as "a Tough Little Car". American Motors promised to repair anything wrong with the car (except for the tires), owners were provided with a toll-free telephone number to the company and a free loaner car if a warranty repair took overnight.
To consolidate AMC's product offering, reduce production costs, and offer more value to consumers, the base models were dropped in 1972 and all models were designated as "SST". The SST offered more items standard than the previous year's base model at about the same price. Hornets now came with comfort and convenience items that most consumers expected, and these items were typically standard on imported cars.
Other changes included dropping the SC/360 compact muscle car, but the two-barrel version of the 360 cu in (5.9 L) remained optional in addition to the 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 engine. For those desiring more performance, a four-barrel carburetor was a dealer-installed option on the 360 V8. Automatic transmissions were now the TorqueFlites sourced from Chrysler, and AMC called it the "Torque-Command".
New for 1972 were the "X" package that tried to repeat the success AMC had with this trim option on the 1971 Gremlin. The Hornet X trim was optional on the two-door and the Sportabout, adding among others slot-styled steel wheels, rally stripes, and sports steering wheel. A performance oriented "Rallye" package was also introduced. It included among other items: special lower body stripes, bucket seats, handling package, front disc brakes, quick-ratio manual steering, and a sports steering wheel.
- 1972 production:
- 2-door SST: 27,122
- 4-door SST: 24,254
- Wagon SST: 34,065 (Gucci version: 2,583)
The 1972 Hornet was notable for being one of the first American cars to offer a special luxury trim package created by a fashion designer. Named for Italian fashion designer Dr. Aldo Gucci, the Gucci package was offered only on the Sportabout, the four-door wagon with a single sloping hatch replacing the then traditional window/tailgate door. The option included special beige-colored upholstery fabrics on thickly padded seats and inside door panels (with red and green striping) along with Gucci logo emblems and a choice of four exterior colors: Snow White; Hunter Green; Grasshopper Green, and Yuca Tan. The Gucci model proved to be a success, with 2,583 produced in 1972 (and 2,252 more for 1973) Sportabouts so equipped.
American Motors followed this designer influence in successive years with the Cardin Javelin in 1973 and the Cassini Matador in 1974, but there were no new signature designer versions after those. This trim package concept inspired other automakers – including Ford's luxury marque, Lincoln in 1976 – to offer packages styled by other famous fashion designers.
The biggest visible changes among all AMC automobiles for the 1973 model year were to the Hornet line and its new model, a two-door hatchback. Car and Driver magazine called it "the styling coup of 1973". Other changes included a new front-end design and bodywork with a V-shaped grille, a slightly recessed and longer hood, and longer peaked front fenders. The facelift incorporated a new stronger and larger energy-absorbing recoverable front bumper system with a horizontal rubber strip that met the new no-damage at 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h) NHTSA safety legislation. The rear also received a new 2.5 miles per hour (4.0 km/h) bumper with twin vertical rubber guards, but the 5 mph unit (matching the front) was optional. The overall length of the Hornet increased 6 inches (152 mm).
For the 1973 model year, the SST designation was dropped from the Hornet line, and all were simply called Hornet. The newly introduced two-door hatchback incorporated a fold-down rear seat for increased cargo volume from 9.5 to 30.5 cubic feet (269 to 864 l). An optional hinged floor made a hidden storage space that housed a temporary use "space-saver" spare tire, and created a flat load area totaling 23 cu ft (650 l). An optional dealer accessory was available to convert the open hatchback area into a tent camper with mosquito net windows. The new hatchback was available with a Levis bucket seat interior trim option that was actually made of spun nylon fabric, rather than real cotton denim, to comply with flammability standards as well as offer greater wear and stain resistance.
The two- and four-door sedan models were carried over while the Sportabout wagon received a new optional upscale "D/L" package. This trim package included exterior woodgrain body side decal panels, a roof rack with rear air deflector, and individual reclining seats upholstered in plush cloth. The Gucci edition wagon was continued for one more year with five exterior color choices. The "X" package was now available only for the Sportabout and hatchback.
Spurred by AMC's success in its strategy of improving product quality, and an advertising campaign focusing on "we back them better because we build them better", the automaker achieved record profits. American Motors' comprehensive "Buyer Protection Plan" warranty was expanded for the 1973 models to cover lodging expenses should a car require overnight repairs when the owner is away from home.
Engines incorporated new emissions controls and the choices on all Hornet models included two I6s, the standard 232 cu in (3.8 L) or a 258 cu in (4.2 L) version, as well as two V8s, the base 304 cu in (5.0 L) or the 175 hp (130 kW; 177 PS) 360 cu in (5.9 L).
Research sponsored by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve front and side crashworthiness was first applied into production compact vehicles starting with the 1973 Hornet, which included stronger doors designed to withstand 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) penetration in the first 6 inches (152 mm) of crush.
Suggested prices began at $2,298 for the base model two-door sedan with the more popular new hatchback going for $2,449.
- 1973 production:
- 2-door: 23,187
- 4-door: 25,452
- Wagon: 44,719 (Gucci version: 2,251)
- Hatchback: 40,110
All four versions of the Hornet were mostly carryovers in 1974, with minimal trim changes. The car's front bumper lost its full-width vinyl rub strip, but gained two rubber-faced bumper guards. A larger rear bumper was added to meet new 5 mph legislation, and the license plate was moved up to a position between the taillights.
- 1974 production:
- 2-door: 29,950
- 4-door: 29,754
- Wagon: 71,413
- Hatchback: 55,158
Focusing on the new Pacer, AMC kept the Hornet mostly the same. A new grille with vertical grating was the primary change. In a return to its philosophy of economical compact cars, AMC emphasized its comprehensive "Buyer Protection Plan" warranty in marketing the Hornets.
The U.S. economy was experiencing inflation, and new car sales fell for all the automakers. The industry sold 8.2 million units, a drop of more than 2.5 million from the record pace in 1973. Sales of the Hornet also suffered.
- 1975 production:
- 2-door: 12,392
- 4-door: 20,565
- Wagon: 39,593
- Hatchback: 13,441
In its sixth year as a carryover, AMC priced the sedan and hatchback at the same identically, with the Sportabout slightly higher. That year, the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare were introduced; the line included a station wagon, ending AMC's monopoly on 6-cylinder domestic compact wagons.
- 1976 production:
- Total: 71,577
The Hornet line was mostly unchanged for 1977 with improvements made to engines and transmissions for increased fuel efficiency and the effects of new nitrogen oxides (NOx) emission standards. All 3-speed manual transmissions were now on the floor.
A new sports oriented model, the AMX, was available only as a hatchback with the I6 or V8 engine featuring a floor shifted 4-speed manual or automatic transmission. Standard was an upgraded black or tan interior with a floor console, "rally" instrumentation with tachometer, and "soft-feel" sports steering wheel. The special "Hornet AMX" was only available in four exterior colors that included matching painted bumpers with a wraparound rubber guard strip, body side rubber guard strip and contrasting AMX model identification bodyside decals ahead of the rear wheels. The exterior included a front spoiler integrated into the front lower fender extensions, rear lower fender flares, sport-styled road wheels, brushed aluminum "Targa top" band over the B-pillars and roof, black left and right outside mirrors, and louvers for the rear hatch window. Options included bright aluminum road wheels and large Hornet-graphic decals on the hood and on the decklid. This model marked the return of a famous name that evoked AMC's original AMX two-seat sports car.
- 1977 production:
- 2-door: 6,076
- 4-door: 31,331
- Wagon: 28,891
- Hatchback: 11,545
In fall 1977, the Hornet was reengineered and restyled to become the 1978 Concord and helped establish the "luxury compact" market segment. With its upgraded design, components, and more standard features, the new Concord was moved upscale from the economy-focused Hornet. Changes to the AMC's "junior" platform made the new Concord more comfortable and desirable to buyers seeking an image of luxury, as well as greater value.
A total of 1,825 Hornets were built at the Australian Motor Industries (AMI) factory at Port Melbourne in Victoria, Australia between 1970 and 1975. The Hornet was sold in Australia as the Rambler Hornet, in four-door sedan form only. It was fitted with either a 232 or 258 CID six-cylinder engine and with automatic transmission.
American Motors has partial ownership of Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) and produced Hornets in Mexico. The VAM built cars were called VAM Rambler, as well as VAM American, American ECD, and American Rally. They came with different trims and interiors than the equivalent AMC-made models. The models also combined different front clips, such as the 1977 VAM American came with the shorter U.S. and Canadian market 1977 Gremlin front end, while its interior trim featured premium seats and upholstery.
Hornets were campaigned on dragstrips from 1972 and became well known by their bold red, white & blue graphics. Drivers on the Pro Stock circuit included Wally Booth (backed by AMC until 1974), as well as Rich Maskin and Dave Kanners captured top awards. Some drivers converted from AMC Gremlins when tests with identical engines in 1973 showed that the hatchback Hornet had an advantage with higher speeds and lower times. The 1974 Gatornationals and the 1976 U.S. Nationals and World Finals were won by Wally Booth driving an AMC Hornet. The Hornets would do the quarter-mile in 8 seconds reaching 150 mph (240 km/h).
In 1970, Lou Haratz drove an AMC Hornet over 14,000 miles (22,531 km) to set a new Trans-Americas record by going from Ushuaia, Argentina to Fairbanks, Alaska in 30 days and 45 minutes. He also went on to be the first to drive completely around the widest practical perimeter of the North, Central, and South American continents for a distance of 38,472 miles (61,915 km) in 143 days. The Hornet received a tune-up service in Caracas as well as in Lima, and the endurance record was promoted in magazine advertisements for Champion spark plugs that were standard equipment in AMC engines.
From 1971 the AMC Hornet was campaigned in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Stock Class races. Most of the cars ran in GTO class (Grand Touring type with engines of 2.5 L or more) and American Challenge (AC) class. American Motors provided only limited support in the form of technical help. The cars were gutted and powered by highly modified AMC 232 straight-six engines.
In 1973, AMC cars very nearly placed 1-2-3, in a BF Goodrich Radial Challenge Series race, but Bob Hennig in a Hornet went out while in third place with six laps to go. BMW driver Nick Craw and AMC Hornet driver Amos Johnson ended the IMSA series as co-champions in Class B.
On 6 February 1977, out of 57 cars that started the 24 Hours of Daytona, Championship of Makes, at Daytona International Speedway, an AMC Hornet driven by Tom Waugh, John Rulon-Miller, and Bob Punch drove car #15 to 22nd place overall and 12th in the GTO class by completing 394 laps in 1,582 miles (2,546 km).
Amos Johnson drove car #7, an AC Class Hornet, in the 100 mile Road Atlanta race on 17 April 1977, as well as with co-driver Dennis Shaw to finish 11th in the Hallett Motor Racing Circuit on 24 July 1977.
A 1977 Hornet AMX was prepared by "Team Highball" from North Carolina and driven by Amos Johnson and Dennis Shaw. Car #77 finished in 34th place in the GTO class out of the 68 that started the race by completing 475 laps, 1,824 miles (2,935 km) in the 17th Annual 24 Hours of Daytona Camel GT Challenge.
The AMC cars "were killers at places like Daytona. Despite being about as aerodynamic as a brick they had those nice, big, reliable straight sixes..."
SCCA Trans Am
Buzz Dyer drove a 1977 AMC Hornet AMX (car #77) with a V8 engine in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans Am events at the Laguna Seca Raceway on 8 October 1978 and finished 46 laps.
Two Hot Rod staffers, John Fuchs and Clyde Baker, entered a 1972 AMC Hornet in the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash. This was an unofficial automobile race from New York City and Darien, CT, on the U.S. Atlantic coast, to Redondo Beach, a Los Angeles suburb on the Pacific coast during the time of the newly imposed 55 mph (89 km/h) speed limit set by the National Maximum Speed Law. The Hornet X hatchback was modified with a 401 cu in (6.6 L) AMC V8 and auxiliary racing fuel cells to increase gasoline capacity. They finished in 13th place after driving for 41 hours and 15 minutes at an average speed of 70.4 mph (113 km/h).
James Bond movie
As part of a significant product placement movie appearance by AMC, a 1974 Hornet X Hatchback is featured in the James Bond film: The Man with the Golden Gun, where Roger Moore made his second appearance as the British secret agent.
In the movie, 007 commandeers the car from a makeshift AMC dealership in Bangkok for a car chase. The Hornet performs an "airborne pirouette as it makes a hold-your-breath jump across a broken bridge". The stunt car is significantly modified with a visible lower stance and larger wheel wells compared to the stock Hornet used in all the other movie shots. The 360-degree mid-air twisting corkscrew was captured in just one filming sequence. Seven tests were performed in advance before the one jump performed by an uncredited British stuntman "Bumps" Williard for the film with six (or 8, depending on the source) cameras simultaneously rolling. Two frogmen were positioned in the water, as well as an emergency vehicle and a crane were ready, but not needed. The Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL) was used for computer modeling to calculate the stunt. The modeling called for a 1,460.06 kg (3,219 lb) weight of car and driver, the exact angles and the 15.86-metre (52 ft) distance between the ramps, as well as the 64.36-kilometre-per-hour (40 mph) launch speed.
This stunt was similar to the Astro Spiral Javelin show cars. These were jumps performed in AMC sponsored thrill shows in the Houston Astrodome, where Gremlins and Hornets were also used to drive around in circles on their side two wheels in the arena.
The actual Bond Hornet is preserved in the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, UK together with other famous items owned by the Ian Fleming Foundation and used in the 007 films.
The AMC Hornet served as a vehicle for several experimental alternative power sources.
In the aftermath of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, research grants were funded by the government in further developing automotive gas turbine technology. This included conceptual design studies and vehicles for improved passenger-car gas-turbine systems that were conducted by Chrysler, General Motors (through its Detroit Diesel Allison Division), Ford in collaboration with AiResearch, and Williams Research teamed with American Motors. In 1971, a long-term test was conducted to evaluate actual road experience with a turbine powered passenger car. An AMC Hornet was converted to a WR-26 regenerative gas turbine power made by Williams International.
A Williams gas turbine powered 1973 Hornet was used by New York City to evaluate comparable cost efficiency with piston engines and funded by a grant from the National Air Pollution Control Administration, a predecessor of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Hornet's experimental power source was developed by inventor Sam B. Williams. Weighing in at 250 lb (113 kg) and measuring 26 in (660 mm) by 24 in (610 mm) by 16 in (406 mm), it produced 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) at 4450 rpm with a clean exhaust.
Gasoline direct injection
Research to develop a Straticharge Continuous Fuel-Injection (SCFI) system (an early gasoline direct injection (GDI) design) was conducted with the backing of AMC. The Hornet's conventional spark ignited internal combustion straight-6-cylinder engine was a modified with a redesigned cylinder head, and road testing performed using a 1973 AMC Hornet. This SCFI system was a mechanical device that automatically responded to the engine’s airflow and loading conditions with two separate fuel-control pressures supplied to two sets of continuous-flow injectors. It was "a dual-chamber, three-valve, fuel-injected, stratified-charge" engine. Flexibility was designed into the SCFI system for trimming it to a particular engine.
In 1976, the California Air Resources Board bought and converted AMC Hornets for its design research into hybrids.
The Consumers Gas Company (now Consumers Energy) operated a fleet of 1970 AMC Hornets converted dual-fuel system with compressed natural gas (CNG). This was an early demonstration project for clean and efficient vehicles.
In 1971, the Electric Fuel Propulsion Company began marketing the Electrosport, a plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) based on the Hornet Sportabout wagon. It was designed to be a supplementary battery electric vehicle for commuting or daily chores, and to be recharged at home using household current or at "Charge Stations away from home to replenish power in 45 minutes, while you shop or have lunch."
Hornet by Dodge
A mini-sized front-wheel-drive, concept car called Hornet was designed and developed by Dodge in 2006 for possible production in 2008 as the brand was entering European markets and attract younger customers. As the price of fuel increased, Chrysler continued work to launch the Hornet in 2010 in Europe, the United States and other markets. This Hornet project may have been cancelled as part of Fiat's partnership with Chrysler; it is rumored that the Hornet nameplate will instead be applied to a small Dodge sedan slated for introduction in 2012 based on the same "C-Evo" platform as the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. However, late in 2011, the automaker "surprised industry pundits and insiders" with an announcement that the new small sedan will be called the Dodge Dart. The new car "will not pay homage not only to the well-received 2006 concept car that carried the name but also to an ancestry of vehicles stretching back 60 years to the original Hudson Hornet."