My Car Quest

December 1, 2022

Memories of a Motoring Scribe

The day our reporter learned about the demise of American Motors.

by Wallace Wyss –

It’s all so fragmentary–little glimpses of being a motoring scribe come back to me. Cherished moments, some of them, others a nightmare (like the time reporters who had never been on a track were invited to a German racetrack to drive some new cars and in minutes cars were upside down and burning).

But here’s a happy one.

I was invited to an America Motors preview in the Napa valley at a resort, I would have my own cabin, I decided to bring my wife and her cousin, a college student. The other reporters smoldered with resentment when my party of three walked into the dining room but I figured why should I let the other beds in the Suite go empty?

AMC Rebel Machine Ad

The cars I can’t remember–maybe the Pacer?–AMC was trying mightily but they were by that time the Forgotten Fourth compared to the Big Three. Steve Harris, the head PR man, was a college chum of mine but I wasn’t sure if he remembered me from our days at The Daily Collegian.

I thought the resort was laid back but then got a kick out of a reporter being refused entry to the dining room for wearing jeans. I mean this was California! At those 2 and 3 day previews, there was plenty of recreational activities paid for by the automaker. They asked me if I wanted to go for a glider flight. I refused but my tiny wife went with her niece and both enjoyed the loop-de-loops or whatever it is you do in a glider.

It was at the big dinner that it happened. Steve Harris strides into the room and takes the stage and, glancing at his watch, grabs the microphone and says “As of this moment there is no longer an American Motors, so you guys can do whatever you you want.”

I sat stunned. Looking back, I realize I didn’t fathom what a rapacious crew I was with. The smarter ones-the ones who had been on other torpedoed ships–headed for the bar where they grabbed $50 bottles of whiskey, I would say the bar and eating area was cleaned out in minutes. Rather like sacking a city if you were on the invader’s side.

And why not–among the bills the former automaker would receive would be a $4500 bar tab from Napa, California, but so what–we’re talking about an American automaker going down all hands on deck, so that was of little importance.

I think the automaker’s PR staff was a little surprised how a group of genteel reporters–maybe one or two actually wearing ties–turned into animals on the hunt for food. After that dinner the PR staff went their own way and the rest of the schedule–including new models that were about to be introduced, (I would say the Eagle Premier designed by Giugiaro was one of them but the time sequence doesn’t line up), went to hell. Do what you want ’til Sunday, guys, they said, the bills are paid.

When I got back to Motor Trend I was still driving a leftover AMC test car–their weak attempt at a muscle car, called The Machine It was mid-sized and a decent performer but being only available in white turned off some folks. And who was going to buy it now if there were no dealers to sell it?

Nobody else on staff wanted to drive it, having more exciting cars, but dutifully, I took the reins. For months every so often I called Detroit trying to find an AMC official to take it. They were all gone of course. Finally I found a law office in Orange County, CA that reluctantly took it. I wonder now how many years I could have kept it? (not to mention how would I re-register it?) After all, it wasn’t stolen per se–just loot from a sinking ship, right?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR Wallace Wyss is a veteran auto writer going back to the days of typewriters and film cameras. He opines on new cars and collectibles on Autotalk, a show broadcast weekly from KUCR FM Riverside.

 
 
 
 

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Summary
Memories of a Motoring Scribe
Article Name
Memories of a Motoring Scribe
Description
The American Motors PR guy strides into the room, takes the stage grabs the microphone and says "As of this moment there is no longer an American Motors, so you guys can do whatever you you want."
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Comments

  1. i recall reading in Autocar India they ended up having a test car for 3 years in the end, i think it was either a Renault Logan, or a Maruti but they just kept using it.

  2. Very funny story, Mr. Wyss, creatively written in the style that reminds me of “Gonzo journalism”, refreshing to read.

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