Make no mistake. I think that the American Motors’ (AMC) Rambler Hornet is one of the best automobile designs of the 1970s.
Released in 1970 in the USA, and in Australia, it’s smooth, clean and uncluttered flanks, swaggering wheel arches, aggressively long bonnet and short boot gave it a fast and hungry look.
Sitting on a 2743mm wheel base, the Hornet was designed to compete in the USA with the Ford Maverick, Chevrolet Nova, Plymouth Duster and Dodge Dart (Valiant).
Americans were able to buy a two- and four-door Hornet in poverty pack formats and then add all manner of engines and luxury options.
The base engine was a 3.3-litre six cylinder unit, but if you hankered after some speed then the AMC would happily sell you a 3.8-litre six or 5.0-litre V8.
AMC sold 100,000 Hornets in 1970. By comparison Ford shifted 600,000 Mavericks, between its debut in April 1969 and December 1970.
However, for the always financially struggling AMC, 100,000 Hornets was a judged a BIG success and accounted for 40 per cent of its total output.
Plus, the clever boss of AMC design, Jim Teague had found a cheap way to convert the Hornet into a sub-compact car to fight Chevy’s Vega, Ford’s Pinto, VW’s Beetle and all the Japanese imports.
He simply sliced 30mm from behind the front doors, gave it a perky Kamm-back tail and called it the Gremlin.
How easy was that? Money was saved and the Gremlin hit the showrooms six months ahead of its rivals.
When the Hornet arrived in Australia in 1970 it was not positioned as cheap transport.
Quite the opposite.
Here it was marketed as a compact luxury sedan, and came only as a four door with all the options.
It was built by Australian Motor Industries (AMI) in Melbourne alongside the larger Rambler Matador.
You could order one with either the 3.8-litre or 4.2-litre six.
Priced at a just under A$4000, the price was comparable with a V8 Holden Premier or Falcon Fairmont.
A mere 407 Hornets were sold in 1970 and only 1825 were sold during the five years it was on the Australian market.
In the USA the Hornet became a steady money maker for AMC where it got all-wheel drive before that configuration was popular and badged it as the AMC Eagle.
When Chrysler bought AMC they retained the car and sold it all the way through to 1985.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au
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