They were rarely ever spotted on the street, because AMC only made 2,326 of them. And only 1,000 of those were finished in the iconic red/white/blue paint scheme.
And, except for a vintage salesman training filmstrip, no one ever saw AMC point a camera at this beast. Until now.
In this short segment that I’ve uploaded to YouTube, you’ll see 49 seconds of Rebel Machine footage shot by AMC.
It’s a small part of the 1970 AMC product introduction film. AMC produced a new one every year to promote the company’s lineup of cars to its dealers. (I have these films in whole or in part from 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1977. They’re so rare that I only have fragments of some of them, and I’m grateful for those celluloid shards.)
The 1970 film is a 35mm print that I bought off of eBay several years ago. Unfortunately, I only have the video portion of the film.
Back in the day, these films were often created as separate elements. There would be a video film print and another film print that would contain just the soundtrack. The duplicators would join them together to create 16mm copies for wider distribution. Perhaps somewhere out there (probably in a land fill) is the soundtrack that accompanies this film. Given a choice, I’m glad to have the video.
So what does this film tell us about AMC? I think it says that AMC was caught off guard by the tremendous success of the 1969 S/C Rambler. The company had planned for 1969 to be the Rambler’s swan song, and they wanted to go out with a ka-bang. They went out with 315 of them when they stuffed the AMX’s 390 V-8 into a Rambler Rogue and netted 315 hp.
They only planned to build 1,000 or so Scramblers, but demand was so great that they added another 500 to the production run (with a more restrained paint scheme). AMC had just produced one of the most in-your-face muscle cars of all time.
So if it works once, why not do it again? AMC probably didn’t want to make a special Hornet just yet. After all, they were introducing it as a bread-and-butter family car. Plus, they were going to introduce the Gremlin subcompact, so it’s likely they didn’t want to bog down the media with too many headlines. So they looked to the Rebel, their intermediate offering. (Nothing special going on with that car.)
Once again, they went off their meds and created another unmistakable red/white/blue exterior design. But this time, they were more intentional about promoting it. There was a print ad (like the Scrambler), a training filmstrip, and this segment from the product introduction film. That’s at least 66% more marketing than whatever they did for the Scrambler.
And let’s not even talk about what’s happening in this footage. I’m sure Homeland Security would have reserved a “suite” for this driver at the Guantanamo Hilton if they had been around back in 1970. You’ll see.
After all, what’s more American than doing donuts on a live airstrip with American Airlines planes taking off all around you while power shifting your red, white, and blue gas guzzler? Now THAT’S American Motors Country.
You can find lots of her vintage TV appearances on YouTube, but Gone Autos has some great work that she did for one of our favorite orphan car companies: AMC.
But first, let’s rewind.
American Motors rarely used celebrities to pitch its products. (One notable exception is Mickey Mouse. AMC was one of the first sponsors of Walt Disney’s anthology TV series, which debuted on ABC on October 27, 1954. Disney created several animated TV spots for Nash and Hudson cars during American Motors’ sponsorship, which lasted a few years. Look ‘em up. Those, too, are on YouTube.)
After Disney, AMC dabbled with minor celebrities. From 1958 to 1961, AMC radio spots featured Al Pearce’s character Elmer Blurt, the Low-Pressure Salesman. AMC also had a minor relationship with NBC News during this time. A few spots featured Today Show anchor Frank Blair.
But who needs outside help when your company’s president is its biggest celebrity? George Romney guided AMC through some dark years and earned the company piles and piles and piles of cash when the Rambler finally hit big with the public starting in 1958. He achieved rock star status when he appeared on the April 6, 1959, cover of Time Magazine. Romney railed against “the dinosaur in the driveway” and helped to create the economy car craze that lasted from 1958 to about 1964.
Mitt’s dad left AMC in February 1962 to run for Governor of Michigan (at a time when that was a great job). The guy who took over was Roy Abernethy, the Vice-President of Sales.
Abernethy looked like your typical American executive at the time. Big. Boisterous. Growled, mumbled, and barked orders through a cigar in the corner of his mouth. He couldn’t wait to shed the frugal image that Romney had carefully created. He was now running a little car company, but he wanted to compete with the Big Three.
He started to spend advertising money like he was already one of the Big Three. Phyllis Diller was white hot when AMC bought her comedic talents in 1964, and I’ll bet AMC paid her a LOT more than they paid their jingle writers.
Here’s the first of two 1964 AMC radio spots. It’s vintage Mad Men ad copy that’s been run through the Diller filter:
And here’s another Killer Diller. It’s so fast and entertaining that you hardly realize she has successfully crammed in messages about all three lines of AMC’s cars: the Rambler, the Classic, and the Ambassador. (I love the way she says, “See-dans”!)
Were any of these spots successful? Did they move the needle on AMC sales? I doubt it. AMC made almost 394,000 cars in 1964, but that was a 19% drop from 1963. At best, these spots make the case that AMC was trying to be a part of the pop culture zeitgeist.
As for Phyllis Diller, I think she shines in these little one-minute routines. AMC was lucky to have her. (I can just hear Roy Abernethy shouting, “That dame’s a hoot!” from the boardroom down the hall.)
I am one of those geeks who acquires this kind of stuff. I’ve been collecting orphan car radio commercials for 14 years. AMC
My guess is that, like every other whip-smart celebrity, she cashed in on her fame and did as much advertising as she could. I’ll be watching eBay more closely for celebrities like her.
Final note: AMC also employed other celebrities after Phyllis Diller. Baseball great Casey Stengel did a series of wooden radio ads in 1967. Invasion of the Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy did some TV ads in 1970. And Keenan Wynn did a radio spot in 1971. It’s fun finding this stuff. I’ll bring you more whenever I’m able to dream up some narrative glue to hold it all together.
When Romney was running in the Michigan primary in February, he created a TV commercial promoting his connection to Michigan. More specifically, Detroit. Here’s the spot:
As we all know, Mitt’s father was AMC’s legendary president George Romney. Mitt idolizes his dad, and he still loves many of the cars that American Motors made. (Did you know that he chose “Javelin” as his Secret Service code name?)
It was totally appropriate to show an AMC car in his spot. And where do you go when you need vintage American Motors footage? To Gone Autos, of course. We have the largest collection of vintage American Motors footage in the world. We rent it out as stock footage to anybody who needs to use it in their video productions. When Mitt’s consulting firm American Rambler Productions came calling, we had what they needed.
By the way, the second shot in the commercial is our spot. It’s from a vintage 1966 AMC Rambler Classic station wagon commercial. Here’s the original spot from our archive:
It’s interesting to me that this car was made after George Romney left AMC in February 1962 to run for Governor of Michigan. Technically, it’s not a product that Romney had any influence upon. I would have thought that MItt would have chosen some footage from the 1955-1962 era.
Nevertheless, this clip really conveys the suburban era that Mitt grew up in.
So are there any clips that we can provide for your video production?
So when I heard that Gucci had designed a special version of the Fiat 500 (itself a new version of an old classic), the two-tone horns went off in my head.
I just had to tell Jennifer Vuong, the anchor for First Shift, a daily news show at Automotive News. She had to be warned that Gucci had driven down this path before.
I dove into the Gone Autos Media Archive and plucked a short clip from the 1973 AMC dealer introduction film. Then I emailed it to her. She loved the story and ran in today’s daily First Shift episode.
Now she knows. Now here audience knows. And now, orphan car fan, you know too. Watch below.