AMC Amitron

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Automotive safety has kind of been a bummer, right? Think of how many incredible looking vehicles we'd have now if it was acceptable to leave safety off the table. Doors could be thinner, seats could be lower, and bumpers would be a thing of the past.

Actually, we probably could do those things now—provided our cars were made from carbon fibre and we all wore HANS devices and five-point harnesses. Hell, why not? If you could drive an electric car that looked this good, seatbelts straight from the Indy 500 might be an acceptable trade-off.

It's not often that designer Richard "Dick" Teague gets proper credit for his work. Most know the last names Shelby, Foose, Earl, Exner…but Teague? He pioneered interchangeable body panels—so that brands could have different styling over top of the same mechanicals. 

Spending time drafting airplanes at Northrop Corporation and building hot rods to run on California's dry lake beds gave Teague the unique perspective of both a technical artist and a mechanic. Often, I find that when looking at AMC models I feel like the materials underneath the skin are helping to shape its exterior form.

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His career began at General Motors—notably working on the 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket—before moving to Packard in its final days before briefly landing at Chrysler, then American Motors Corporation.

AMC was always the plucky underdog, and often styling was part of the process of saving money. Teague's interchangeable body panels led to big money savings, and his ability to innovate—cab forward interiors, subcompact cars, premium-look small cars, appearance decal packages—are all things we see today. Oh, and the first Jeep Cherokee. Can't forget that.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: the AMC Amitron is a car guy's electric car.

The AMC Electron, an updated Amitron that was shown 10 years later in 1977.

The AMC Electron, an updated Amitron that was shown 10 years later in 1977.

Small, wide, light, and with the wheels pushed to the corners, the Amitron has the proportions of a classic Mini Cooper…if it was made of brie and squished into a wedge. It weighed just 500 kg (1102 lbs.)—100 kg lighter than an Ariel Atom track car.

It was shorter than a modern smart fortwo and wide enough for three-wide seating, a trick that makes it quite practical. Its inflatable passenger seats were presumably inspired by the Quasar Unipower, and so-designed to save space when not in use.

The AMC Electron, an updated Amitron that was shown 10 years later in 1977.

The AMC Electron, an updated Amitron that was shown 10 years later in 1977.

The Amitron, shown in 1967 and the Electron, repainted red and shown again in 1977, showed other innovative concepts: two stage battery storage and regenerative braking, both firsts. Its combination of two nickel-cadmium batteries (city motoring) and two lithium batteries (used as a boost for highway driving) gave the car great range quoted as 241 km (150 miles) for an average speed of 80 km/h (50 mph.)

Of course, the twin AMC concepts never made production, but apparently the company was confident they'd hit on the right formula. Of course, other nascent, stillborn, and bankrupt car companies have said the same thing. 

But that's a story for another day.

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