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. The hardtop (no "B" pillar) coupe body style was not continued from the 1969 Rambler American. 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 compact muscle car that was available only as a two-door sedan. (The tire pressure sticker on the first 1970 models hinted at the SC/360). For 1973, a semi-fastback hatchback coupe with fold down rear seats 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 added. The Levi's trim package was popular and was available for several years. The Hornet station wagon version was offered for two model years with a luxury trim package designed by Italian fashion designer Dr. Aldo Gucci. It is notable for being one of the first American cars to offer an upscale fashion "designer" trim level.
The AMC Hornet was also 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 design, introduced one year ahead of the 1974 Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Nova hatchback versions.
The Hornet was phased out after 1977 and transformed into a new "luxury compact" line of automobiles, the AMC Concord. It also served as the basis of an innovative "crossover" all-wheel drive vehicle, the AMC Eagle that was introduced in 1979.
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.
The annual new car issue of Popular Science introduced the 1970 model by entitling its article: "Rambler is dead - long live the Hornet!" The authors not only compared the new Hornet with the outgoing Rambler American, but also with its primary competition, the Ford Maverick and finding the Hornet better to Ford's new model in several factors that are significant to consumers, as well as "certainly superior among economy cars" in ride-and-handling and "way ahead" in performance.
Popular Mechanics road test of a SST model with V8 engine and automatic transmission summarized the findings in the article's sub-title: "it has a lot of good things in a not-too-small package."
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".
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 GM Borg-Warner Super T10 four-speed, or an automatic transmission. Goodyear Polyglas D70x14 tires were standard, with upgrades running to the handling package and the Spicer "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.
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.
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.
AMC also produced a one-off Sportabout for Gucci's personal use. The car was powered by a 5-litre V8 engine and had a three-speed automatic transmission. The interior featured leather was door panels, cargo area as well as the front and rear centre arm rests. The doors and custom-designed bucket seats received red and green striped inserts. The instrument panel was given a centrally located, pull-out writing desk, graced with a scribbler and a sterling silver bamboo pen. A map light at the end of a flexible arm extended from the right side of the desk, the left carried a vanity mirror, also on a flex stem. The back of the front seats popped open. The one on the passenger's side served as a snack table or provided a flat surface for playing games. The compartment behind the driver concealed a miniature liquor cabinet, complete with four sterling silver tumbles and two decanters—all decorated with red and green enamel stripes.
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 interior included copper Levis rivets, traditional contrasting stitching, and the Levi's tab on both the front seat backs, as well as unique door panels with Levis trim with removable map pockets and "Levi's" decals on the front fenders.
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. It included color coordinated "rally" side stripes, 14 x 6-inch slot-style steel wheels with C78 x 14 Goodyear Polyglas tires, an "X" emblem, and a sports steering wheel.
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). Any Hornet model could be ordered with the two-barrel 360 engine and automatic transmission. Demand for classic muscle car cars had disappeared by 1973, but the Hornet was a relatively light car and was a "mildly spirited performer" in stock form with the new emissions gear. A Hornet hatchback with the 360 V8 was tested by Car and Driver. The 0-60 time was 8.4 seconds with a 3.15 rear axle ratio and the magazine noted that the Hornet hatchback was "...so good that AMC is sure to finally lose its underdog status."
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 (1,134 kg) penetration in the first 6 inches (152 mm) of crush.
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.
Suggested prices began at $2,298 for the base model two-door sedan with the more popular new hatchback going for $2,449.
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.
New inertial-reel seat/shoulder belts were standard, along with a new electronic system requiring front seat passengers to buckle up before the engine would start.
Focusing on the new Pacer, AMC kept the Hornet mostly the same. A new grille with vertical grating was the primary change. A new "Touring Package" included special upholstery and luxury features. In a return to its philosophy of economical compact cars, AMC emphasized its comprehensive "Buyer Protection Plan" warranty in marketing the Hornets.
Six-cylinder Hornets could be ordered with a new British supplied Laycock de Normanville "J-type" overdrive. Optional on cars with a manual three-speed transmission, the unit was controlled by a pushbutton at the end of the turn signal stalk. The overdrive unit engages automatically at speeds above 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) and drops out at 32 mph (51 km/h). It also included an accelerator pedal kickdown switch for faster passing.
All U.S. market Hornets featured catalytic converters and now required gasoline without tetraethyl lead. "Unleaded Fuel Only" warnings were displayed on both the fuel gauge and on a decal by the fuel filler. Consumers complained loudly about the 1974 "mandatory seat belt" system, and it was replaced in 1975 with a simple reminder buzzer and light.
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.
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.
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 "AMX" model also appeared.
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 new sports oriented model, the AMX, was introduced to appeal to young, performance-oriented car buyers. The AMX was available only as a hatchback with the six or the V8 engine (automatic only) featuring a floor shifted four-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.
The AMC Hornet was exported to international markets, as well as assembled under license from Complete knock down (CKD) kits that were shipped from AMC's factories the U.S. or Canada. The foreign built cars incorporated numerous components and parts that were produced by local manufacturers to gain tax or tariff preferences.
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, only in four-door sedan body style. It was fitted with either a 232 cu in (3.8 L) or 258 cu in (4.2 L) six-cylinder engine and with an automatic transmission.
While the Hornet was the least expensive compact model in the United States, the Hornet in Australia was a luxury model, with high levels of trim, carpet, tires, and accessories. These included high-back seats, fully lined boot and covered spare wheel. The Hornet used a PBR fully assisted dual braking system, and front disc brakes from the Javelin Trans Am. The Hornet sold for $3,999 in 1970, with 407 cars being sold in Australia in that year.
American Motors has partial ownership of Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) and produced Hornets in Mexico from 1970 through 1977. The VAM built cars continued to be called VAM Rambler following the tradition of the VAM-built Rambler American models up to 1974. The Mexican models included:VAM Rambler American (up to 1974) U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet
VAM Rambler American Rally - U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet X sedan instead of hatchback
VAM American (after 1975) U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet base model
VAM American Rally - U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet X sedan instead of hatchback
VAM American ECD (1975–1977) U.S. equivalent - AMC Hornet DL two- and four-door sedans
VAM American GFS (1977) U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet DL two-door sedan, replaces two-door ECD
VAM Camioneta American automática (1977) U.S. equivalent: AMC Hornet DL wagon with automatic transmission
The VAM cars 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.
The initial VAM Rambler Americans were available in a single nameless trim level (equivalent to the U.S. SST models), with only an optional performance-minded "Rally" package for the two-door sedans that was carried over from 1969.
The Hornet-based 1970 VAM Rambler American featured a standard a 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 producing 145 hp (108 kW; 147 PS) with a 244 degree camshaft, 8.5:1 compression ratio, and a single-barrel Carter RBS or YF carburetor. A fully synchronized three-speed manual transmission with column-mounted shifter, heavy duty clutch, and a 3.54:1 rear differential gear ratio were standard. The cars came with four-wheel drum brakes, manual steering, four-rigid-bladed engine fan, and regular-duty cooling system. Convenience equipment included a two-tone padded dashboard with a three-pod instrument cluster, "RAMBLER" emblem on the glove box door, electric windshield wipers and washers, a 200 km/h speedometer, side marker lights, four-way hazard lights, antitheft steering column locking mechanism, base steering wheel, brake system warning light, AM radio, front ashtray, cigarette lighter, locking glove box, padded sunvisors, day/night rearview mirror, cardboard-type sound-absorbing headliner, round dome light, dual coat hooks, flip-open rear side vents, full carpeting, driver's side rubber floor mat sewed to the carpet, front bench seat with split folding backs on two door sedan or with a fixed back on the four door, bench rear seat, two-point front seatbelts, dual rear ashtrays, front and rear side armrests, vinyl-cloth upholstery on seats and side door panels, aluminum grille, backup lights, steel wheels with center hubcaps, dual "232 SIX" rear quarter panel emblems, dual "bulleye" emblems on the lower corner of the rear side vents, script "American" emblems on both front fenders, capital lettered "RAMBLER" rectangular emblem between the right taillight and the gas filler, non-locking gas cap, manual driver's side remote mirror, and radio antenna. Factory options consisted of a heating system with windshield defroster, power drum brakes, power steering, bright molding package, protective side moldings, parcel shelf, courtesy lights (separate or in-shelf), 6000 RPM VDO tachometer with dual hands, luxury wheel covers, sports steering wheel, custom steering wheel, passenger's side remote mirror, remote-controlled driver's side remote mirror, bright panel between taillights, metal bumper guards with rubber edges, full vinyl roof with additional bright moldings, and a heavy-duty suspension (front sway bar and stiffer adjustable shock absorbers).
The VAM Rambler American sedans for 1971 were carried over from 1970. Among the changes was the incorporation of VAM's 266 degree camshaft to the 232 engine replacing AMC's 244 degree unit. Despite power increase, the official announced output of the engine was still 145 hp (108 kW; 147 PS) at 4,400 rpm. New interior colors, side armrest and side panel designs were available. The AM radio was updated to a newer model. The new year introduced the Hornet Sportabout-based Camioneta Rambler American. The station wagon version included the same equipment as the two sedan models with a several additional features. The Camioneta Rambler American included the parcel shelf with courtesy lights as standard equipment and was the only Mexican Hornet version to be available with a three-speed automatic transmission as optional equipment. Cars with the automatic transmission included the one-barrel 145 hp 232 six, while those with manual transmission had the 155 hp (116 kW; 157 PS) 232 six with Carter WCD carburetor.
The 1972 model year VAM models incorporated the same engineering revisions and upgrades of the U.S. market AMC-built counterparts. All VAM Rambler Americans were limited to the 145 hp 232 engine and featured a front sway bar as standard equipment. The 1972 models also included a new plastic grille with a revised hood latch, along with a new tail light design with larger backup lights, a new optional wheel cover design, a third AM radio model (shared with the VAM Javelin), and new interior door panels. This was also the first year of the seatbelt warning buzzer located above the light and wiper knobs. The Camioneta Rambler American featured the Chrysler-built TorqueFlite A904 automatic transmission, replacing the previous Borg-Warner "Shift-Command" units.
The 1973 model year VAM Hornets were redesigned and incorporated a new front end design with larger horizontal rectangular side marker lights, semi-square headlight bezels, and a "V"-shaped grille and hood edge. The front bumper included AMC's five-mile-per-hour design, but without the recovering shocks; in their place were regular rigid bumper mounts as in previous years. The automobile product standards in Mexico were less restrictive than in the U.S.; thus, VAM's mounted the bumpers placed closer to the body than their AMC counterparts. The 232 engine was replaced by the AMC 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 rated at 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS) gross with Carter RBS/YF one-barrel carburetor, 266 degree camshaft, and an 8.5:1 compression ratio. The three-speed automatic transmission for the first time became available in the sedan models as an option and the rear differential gear ratio changed to 3.31:1 in all units. Other features included new door panels, longer narrower inside door latches, controls for the cigarette lighter, wiper/washer, and lights knobs had rubber knobs, modified tail light lenses, the deletion of the rectangular "RAMBLER" emblem in favor of "American" script on the rear panel, "258" emblems replacing the "232 SIX" rectangular ones, and the removal of the bullseye emblems on the C-pillar base.
The 1974 Rambler American was a carryover. The only difference was the presence of the rear five-mile-per-hour bumper and the rear license plate was relocated to the center of the rear panel over the gas filler. The standard wheels for the year were VAM's new 14x6-inch five-spoke design with volcano hubcaps. The 258 six included an evaporative canister to reduce emissions, and a slightly lower 8.3:1 compression ratio. However, during the mid-year, the compression ratio was lowered even more to 7.6:1. In both cases, the engines were still advertised as having an output of 170 hp. The Seat and door panel designs were revised.
The introduction of the Gremlin line by VAM in 1974, which became the company's most affordable model, created a gap between the lower end Rambler American line and the larger, top Classic line (the situation was also applicable to the Javelin line despite being discontinued in 1973). The VAM Rambler American was restricted to the economy segment since its introduction to the Mexican market, the only exceptions to this being the luxury limited edition Rambler American Hartop (Rambler American 440H in US) for 1963 and 1965, as well as the sporty Rambler American Rally (Rambler American Rogue and Hornet Rallye X/Hornet X in US) from 1969 through 1974. By this time, the Hornet-based Rambler American had been on the market for five years and saw continued sales and positive image. The model was shifted from the economy to the mid-segment, as an all new generation was introduced for 1975. The name was simplified from Rambler American to just American, marking the discontinuation of the Rambler brand in Mexico. The greatest change was the creation of the new luxury American ECD trim level followed by revised and improved American Rally and American base models, which helped to distance the line further from the Gremlin. The cars in all versions obtained substantial updates and upgrades.
The American base model in its first year was characterized by incorporating all-new designs for the parking lights, grille and headlight bezels. Manual front disk brakes were standard and the 258 six cylinder engine featured electronic ignition. This engine was carried over with a 7.6:1 compression ratio, 266 degree camshaft, 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS), and a single-barrel Carter carburetor. Interiors included new door panels, seats, and upholstery patterns. The two-tone dashboard was replaced by a color-keyed unit with a new "American" emblem on the glove box door and a standard fuel economy gauge. Cars equipped with automatic transmission included a heater and power steering. The 1976 models were almost the same; their differences were limited to a compression ratio increase for the 258 six from 7.6:1 to 8.0:1. New gauges appeared in the form of a 160 km/h speedometer and revised warning lights, sunvisors were redesigned to larger units with bending portions, a new dome light lens, new seat and side panel designs, while a rear defroster was added to the options. The 1977 models had numerous changes. Most noticeable was a new front end that AMC intended to make exclusive for the Gremlin line. The two-point seatbelts were replaced by fixed three-point units. The Carter RBS carburetor was discontinued leaving only the YF model on the 258 six. Two-door sedans with the manual transmissions now featured a floor-mounted gearshift with low-back fold-down individual seats, while models with automatic transmissions retained the bench seat with split folding backs and a column-mounted shifter. The seats and door panels were modified. A new "American" emblem with new typography was applied to glove box door.
The sporty Rally package in 1970 consisted of a sports steering wheel, wide reclining individual front seats, floor-mounted Hurst Performance shifter three-speed manual transmission with locking mechanism connected to the steering wheel ignition switch, full bright molding package including rear panel overlay between the tail lights, two courtesy lights, and a 160 hp (119 kW; 162 PS), 9.8:1 compression ratio 232 six cylinder with Carter WCD carburetor designed by VAM. It was a continuation of the 1969 version with a longer list of equipment and several engineering improvements. The "Rally" model as a sporty Hornet was available a full year ahead of AMC's Hornet SC/360 and two years ahead of the Hornet X and Hornet Rallye-X models. The Rambler American Rally for 1971 saw only minor changes; the script "American" fender emblems were replaced by script "Rally" units, seat controls were revised and new side panels and steering wheel designs became present along a with a different AM radio. The Rally package became a trim level for 1972, losing the shifter locking mechanism and having front sway bar, while the previously optional 8000 RPM tachometer became standard equipment along with AMC's new three-spoke sports steering wheel. Smaller more bucket-like front seats were new, and the floor shift base was changed from round to a squared design. The bright rear panel and taillight lenses featured new designs and the grille was changed from aluminum to plastic. The 1972 Rally engine was the VAM 252 six producing 170 hp (127 kW; 172 PS) at 4,600 rpm, 9.5:1 compression ratio, with a high-flow Carter RBS-PV1 single-barrel carburetor and the 266 degree camshaft. A 170 gross HP, 8.5:1 compression ratio AMC 258 with 266 degree camshaft and single-barrel Carter RBS or YF carburetor was used for 1973. This year also saw, aside from the new front end design, the first set of high-back bucket seats and standard parcel shelf, even though the reclining mechanism of the seats was removed. The front end was completely updated as in the standard Rambler American models except for the unique characteristic of the blackout grille. The 1974 Rallys incorporated the first set of VAM side decals and five-spoke wheels plus a T-shaped Hurst shifter, aside from new five-mile-per-hour rear bumper and relocated rear license plate.
The marketing concept for VAM's compact model was also included for its sporty version. The 1975 American Rally gained electronic ignition, manual front disk brakes, and a TREMEC 170-F four-speed manual transmission with Hurst linkage (on most units) and a lower 7.6:1 compression ratio on the 258 six. The interiors were revised to a higher level of luxury and sportiness, plus the presence of the heater as standard equipment (most units). All previously exposed metal parts like the inner faceof the B pillars, top edge of the doors and sides were covered; the dashboard changed from being two-tone to color-keyed, and the door panels obtained an etched "Rally" emblem on their top front corners. The 1976 Rally models switched to the 200 hp (149 kW; 203 PS) 7.7:1 compression ratio VAM 282 with Holley 2300 two-barrel carburetor and 266 degree camshaft, power front disk brakes, power steering and tinted windshield were now standard equipment. The four-speed transmission and heater were fully standardized this year. New seat patterns and side panel designs (without the etched Rally emblem) were used, while gauges were changed to a 160 km/h speedometer and 6,000 RPM tachometer. The 1977 American Rallys obtained a more powerful 8.0:1 compression ratio 282 with an upgraded head design, a new aluminum intake manifold, high-back bucket seats with new patterns and reclining mechanism (for the first time since 1972), three-point retractable front seatbelts, a VAM-designed digital tachometer, as well as AMC's Gremlin front clip for the year. Like the three luxury versions of the year, the 1977 American Rally was the first sports model to offer the air conditioning system as a factory option. At the mid-1976 discontinuation of the Classic AMX (Matador X) model, the American Rally became VAM's top-of-the-line performance model.
The Rally included D70x14 radial tires in all years and rear gear ratios of 3.54:1 (1970–1972), 3.31:1 (1973–1976) and 3.07:1 (1977). The American Rally was discontinued in 1977 along with all other Hornet-based VAM Americans. It would find a successor in the 1978 American Rally AMX model (VAM's version of the 1978 AMC Concord AMX) meaning a change from being a sedan into a hacthback coupe.
In 1975, the VAM American obtained its third trim level to accompany the nameless base and Rally. This was the American ECD or Edición Cantos Dorados (Golden Touches Edition), the first regular-production luxury compact made by VAM. They were the equivalent of the U.S. Hornet DL models. The American ECD was available on both sedan models, while the wagon remained without a model designation. The ECD included a 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes (since 1977), heater, luxury steering wheel, vacuum gauge (1975 only), electric clock (since 1976), high-trim upholstery, parcel shelf, courtesy lights, tinted windshield (since 1976), full bright molding package, wheel covers, vinil roof, and golden "ECD" emblems on the base of each C-pillar. The two-door American ECD featured individual high back seats with floor-mounted transmission, while the four-door versions had a bench seat with column-mounted shifter. For 1977 the two-door model gained an exclusive designation: the American GFS (Grand Formula Sport), thus reserving the ECD nameplate to the four-door sedan. The 1977 American GFS incorporated a half Landau-type vinyl top carrying the roof Targa band AMC used for the 1977 Hornet AMX models and shortened rear side windows. AMC liked this styling touch and used it for its 1978–1979 Concord DL/Limited two-door models (except for the Targa band). Unlike the 1977 American ECD, the 1977 American GFS featured the 282 cu in (4.6 L) engine with a 3.07:1 rear differential gear ratio, instead of the 258 I6 with a 3.31:1 rear ratio. The station wagon (Camioneta American) offered an optional package for 1977. If the automatic transmission was ordered, it included all the accessories and features of the GFS/ECD models, as well as the 282. These station wagons the "Camioneta Automática" (automatic wagon) model name.
The engines in VAM models were based on AMC designs, but modified and built by VAM. Unique to Mexico included the 252 cu in (4.1 L) and 282 cu in (4.6 L) I6 engines. These were designed to cope with low octane fuel and the high altitudes encountered in Mexico.
Both Nash and Hudson models were assembled under license in South Africa for many years. In the 1960s, AMC's compact Rambler model had entered the market and was assembled at the Jacobs plant in Durban by Motor Assemblies Limited. In South Africa, the Hornet's predecessor (the Rambler American) was marketed through the 1970 model year. The Ramblers were assembled by Toyota South Africa Ltd, a company that was wholly owned by South Africans, and the cars were marketed and serviced by 220 Toyota dealers.
Starting in 1971, the new Hornet was built and continued to be marketed under the Rambler brand. American Motors South America (Proprietary) Limited was the official license holder for production of the Rambler Hornet at the Motor Assemblies Ltd plant. However, sales after 1971 were hampered by problems arising from regulations. The nation's tariff structure considered only the weight of parts or materials made in South Africa would be calculated toward local content requirements. The objective was to increase indigenous production. As a result, the last of the South African-built Rambler Hornets had 4.1 L (250 cu in) Chevrolet straight-6 engines. The objective was to standardize the manufacture of vehicle components within South Africa. In this case, a large component, the Hornet's original AMC engine was eliminated from the marketplace, while the switch also provided greater local production volume to the General Motors engine.
AMC Hornets were campaigned in various motorsports events. Some technical and financial support was provided by the automaker in the early years.
Bobby Allison was AMC's factory-backed NASCAR driver, racing #12 Matadors fielded by Roger Penske. Bobby also did a lot of short-track racing, often using a modified stock car he rebodied using Hornet sheet metal, painted red/white/blue in the AMC scheme and numbered 12.
Hornets were campaigned on dragstrips from 1972 and became well known by their bold red, white, and blue graphics. Dave Street was an early Hornet racer in Northeast Pro Stock events. 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. Booth drove a Hornet to the top qualifying spot at the 1975 NHRA U.S. Nationals.
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, as well as the 1976 NHRA U.S. Nationals and the 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).
The last AMC Pro Stocker was campaigned through the 1982 season in American Hot Rod Association events. It was a Hornet AMX with nitrous injection.
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 various popular 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) races. Hornets 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 driving an AMC Hornet went out while in third place with only 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 ..."
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).
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.
The film's "most outrageous sequence" begins with Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who on holiday in Thailand with his wife, admiring a new red AMC Hornet in a Bangkok showroom. He is about to test drive the car. The action begins as James Bond commandeers the Hornet from the dealership with Pepper in it 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 redesigned chassis to place the steering wheel in the center and a lower stance, as well as 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 eight, 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 adapted from Jay Milligan's Astro Spiral Javelin show cars. These were jumps performed in AMC sponsored thrill shows at fairs around the US, including the Houston Astrodome, where Gremlins and Hornets were also used to drive around in circles on their side two wheels in the arena. Using exactly the same ramp design, movie artists made the ramps convincingly look like a rickety old bridge that was falling apart. The movie's director ruined the continuous spiral effect of the stunt. By cutting camera shots as the car was in mid-air, it looks like trick photography to get the car upside-down instead of one continuous actual jump.
Months of difficult work went into the scene that lasts only fifteen seconds in the movie. The Guinness World Records 2010 book describes this "revolutionary jump" as the "first astro spiral used in a movie" and lists it as third among the top ten James Bond film stunts.
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 is one of Hagerty's favorites Bond cars for vintage automobile collectors on a budget. Several scale models of the AMC Hornet are available that include the James Bond hatchback versions made by Corgi Toys and Johnny Lightning.
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.
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."
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted extensive tests of 1974 and 1975 AMC Hornets to evaluate the fuel economy claims made for the LaForce Ventue-E modifications. The LaForce prepared Hornet included a special carburetor that was designed to vary the fuel to air mixture under all operating conditions. Other modifications were made to the camshaft, a smaller combustion area, special "dual" exhaust manifolds, and the installation of solid valve lifters (in place of the standard hydraulic tappets. The manifold was designed to intercept gasoline between the carburetor and engine and "to use even the harder to burn heavy gasoline molecules" - thus, claiming mileage increases of 40 to 57%. However, the EPA tests did not fully support the performance and economy claims that were to be achieved by these modifications in comparison to standard factory tuned vehicles.
The AMC Hornet platform served as the basis for evaluating design and styling ideas by AMC. In the late-2000s, the Hornet name was revived for a Dodge concept car.
In the early 1970s, AMC was planning a compact coupé utility (pickup) based on the Hornet to compete with the increasing sales of Japanese compact pickup models. A prototype called the Cowboy was developed under the leadership of Jim Alexander. The prototype vehicle featured a modified AMC Gremlin front design and a cargo box with a Jeep logo on the tailgate. The standard I6 engine would be more powerful than the 4-cylinders found in the imported pickups. The only surviving prototype was built using a 1971 Hornet SC360 with the 360 V8 and 4-speed manual transmission. It was used by AMC on their proving grounds for several years before being sold to an employee, who later installed a 1973 Hornet updated front end. However, with the increasing sales of the Hornet models, and the 1970 acquisition of Jeep and no 4WD option ready for the Cowboy (at the time ALL Jeeps were 4WD), AMC's product planners shelved the Cowboy truck program. A 4WD system was developed and later used on the 1980 AMC Eagle, and the "uniframe" construction ("frame" rails under the truck bed made of folded sheet metal and incorporated into the cab structure as one piece) resurfaced for the 1985 Jeep Comanche pickup, based on the unit body XJ Cherokee.
In 1973, the Hornet GT toured auto shows as an asymmetrical styling exercise. The left (or driver's) side featured more glass area and a narrower "C" pillar for better visibility in comparison to the concept car's different design on its right side. Using different designs on each side is common practice within automobile styling studios, especially when money was tight; however, showing such an example to the public was unusual and AMC was not afraid to measure consumer reaction to new ideas. Other design elements and ideas presented on the Hornet GT show car included sealed glass to allowing hollow doors that could house easily accessible components while freeing up space in the dashboard area, as well as a stronger roof and support pillars for additional crash and rollover protection.
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; but it was also rumored that the Hornet nameplate would 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.
In October 2011, Chrysler trademarked four names: Hornet, Dart, Duster, and Camber. One month later, the head of the Dodge brand, Reid Biglund, stated that Hornet will not be used for the new car. The automaker "surprised industry pundits and insiders" with an announcement that the small sedan for 2013 will be called the Dodge Dart (PF). For a long time, both company insiders and industry experts "had insisted that the compact Dodge would be called the Dodge Hornet, in 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."