By Paul Dwyer
American Motors cars have long been criticized, scoffed, sniffed and laughed at, ridiculed, derided and generally put down by people who dont know any better.
AMC owners know better.
Sure, there have been lemons, and some drivers have had bad experiences. But those who love to drive AMCs can laugh up their sleeves at the contempt others hold for cars that are simple, reliable, easy to fix, often luxurious and, above all, inexpensive to buy and drive.
Not everyone you see tooling along Main Street in a Hornet is necessarily an AMC aficionado; lots of people drive American Motors products merely because theyre cheap and available.
Thats how it starts.
For Barbara Hillick of Atlanta, the AMC habit started out with the purchase of one car and mushroomed into a business: Hillicks/The Source, a specialty aftermarket manufacturer of cosmetic parts for AMC street machines.
AMC is a disease, Hillick says. You cant just have one; youve got to have all you can find.
The Hillicks now own a dozen AMCs, including five 70 AMXs. They recently bought 6 1/2 acres in Atlanta to build a house and have space for the cars.
In addition to the possibility of compulsive collecting, there is another drawback to AMC ownership: finding parts.
As Hillick puts it, Youve got to realize that if you own an AMC, youve got to want to own an AMC. Its not like having a Mustang or a Corvette where you can pick up any catalogue and build a new car.
A lot of people will drive an AMC no matter what. They want to own those cars and if it means crawling around junkyards on the weekends to pull something off a car to keep theirs going, theyll do it.
Whether they do the crawling around themselves or pay someone else to do it, AMC owners may find there are fewer salvage yards carrying American Motors stock. One yard where you can find parts for your Rambleror, for that matter, Nash or Hudsonis Bob and Arts on Reno Road in Schodack Center.
Art Carkner and partner Bob Jeannin have been in the salvage business since 1958. Carkner also sold cars for an AMC dealer in East Greenbush from 1967 to 1975 and now sells parts on the road for a living. As he says, you dont get rich in the salvage business. Carkner drives four AMCs.
According to Carkner, the demand for parts is up, but sources are disappearing. At the same time, high operating costs, progressively restrictive zoning laws, rising property taxes and a depressed market for scrap metal all put pressure on salvage yard owners, many of whom are getting out of AMC parts because of their relatively low turnover. Meanwhile, rust takes its toll.
Even as salvage yard inventories dwindle, youre more likely to hear auto parts stores say, Sorry, that part is obsolete. And dont look to your local Jeep-Eagle dealer for succor. Mac McAuley, parts manager at Camelot Jeep-Eagle, formerly Camelot AMC, said there are few parts available for 60s and early 70s cars now, especially soft parts like upholstery and trim, and especially in urban areas.
Some private owners try to avoid the specter of unavailability or unaffordability of stock by keeping parts cars on their property. But local zoning laws and a spate of new, tougher junk-car ordinances are putting the squeeze on those who would be self-sufficient. Witness the sad tale of James Waldron:
Waldron of East Greenbush got into the AMC habit through his dad, who bought his first Rambler in 1961. Six years ago, the Waldrons had a collection of Ramblers in the woods on their property when their neighbors complained to the building inspector, alleging the Waldrons were running a junk car lot there.
After numerous negotiations with the town government, the town took them to court and the judge ruled the Waldrons had to get rid of three of their nine cars. Most of the cars were stripped for parts and recently they paid to have three more taken away and crushed.
Towns dont seem to recognize what some people call a classic or antique car, Waldron says. They see it as junk.
How, then, does the owner of a nifty old car keep him or herself in
taillights and bumper guards without scouring the countryside or running afoul of the local constabulary?
The answer may lie with clubs.
There are about half a dozen clubs devoted to AMC-related products. One of them, the AMC Rambler Club, has more than 1,000 members, according to its president, Frank Wrenick. The club recently had its annual meet in Alexandria Bay, Jefferson County.
Wrenick says the growth of clubs and the collecting movement is making it easier to get what new old stock is out there, and its likely that the AMCRC and other AMC-related clubs have saved many old parts from the crusher and the landfill.
Even so, accidents, wear and rust, especially in the Northeast, are slowly denuding the roadways of running specimens.
So next time you see an AMC car rambling down the highway, take a good look. Its part of a vanishing breed.