AMC Hornet SC360

"Enthusiasts."

My god, what a bunch of whiners.  

Who started the "All cars must have manual" sentiment, along with crap like "Brown wagons are amazing," and, "Rear-drive is for real drivers."

You know the drill.  

I consider myself an enthusiast, as I'm sure you do. The more I'm around cars, though, the more meaningless "enthusiast" tropes seem. There is literally, not figuratively, something for everyone when it comes to cars—#bcotd should be proof of that by now. 

That a small vocal minority repeats the same shit over and over again makes things worse for enthusiasts—we become a niche demographic, a minority, a segment that manufacturers pander to every so often, with a period of intense praise quickly replaced by disdain after a pimple-faced forum troll reports that its Bridge-to-Gantry time (or some other meaningless metric) is slower than a potted plant. 

I'll come back to that in a minute.  

Here in Japan I've been able to locate a number of classic car books, written in Japanese, that feature tons of hard-to-find photographs and specs. One, from 1965, lists every vehicle available in the world. At first, I couldn't figure out how they'd ordered the vehicles, with OSIs appearing next to Daihatsus and Zils.

Turns out that the cars are sorted by displacement. And pretty much all of the American cars are sitting in the front of the book. 

Had a reader picked up the 1971 edition, they'd have no doubt been shocked to see a little AMC notchback coupe sitting near the front, complete with a 5.9-litre V8 engine. Who to blame? Enthusiasts, I have no doubt. 

Even though it was a classic example of a parts bin special, the AMC Hornet SC360 would have taken considerable resources to produce, resources increasingly hard to come by as AMC's fortunes began to decline. 

From the factory, the SC360 rocked new wheels, a hood scoop, stripes—and the choice of a hop-up kit to push power to 285, along with a handling package, optional Hurst four-speed manual, and limited-slip differential. 

On track, the little muscle car could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in about 6.7 seconds, with a 1/4 mile time of 14.9 seconds. At an introductory price of just $2,663 US, it was by all measures an enthusiast bargain. 

How many did they sell? 784. To put that number into (not much) perspective, Honda has sold four times more Insights this year in the U.S. alone—a car blasted in the press as no more than a pokey, plasticky zygote. 

Anyway, some claim that high insurance premiums killed the market for the car, but what about all the other muscle cars sold that year? Why were buyers of those other cars willing to pay pricey premiums?

The car's ironic ad line? "Introducing a sensible alternative to the money-squeezing, insurance-strangling muscle cars of America. The Hornet SC360."

Here's why it failed: it was built for "enthusiasts." An impossible-to-please group of whiners, even back in 1971. 

The roughly 125 still remaining are interesting artifacts from a bygone era, absolutely, but a perfect illustration that some things never change.  

 

Sources

AMC Hornet SC360: Wikipedia, caranddriver.com, hooniverse.com, hemmings.com, autotraderclassics.com

American Motors Corporation: Wikipedia