Is this funky AM Van the greatest AMC that never was?

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RM Sotheby's

This lil’ red box may look like an overgrown Hot Wheels, but it’s actually a real-deal, crowd-pleasing concept car built by American Motors (AMC), with styling not by Mattel but by legendary designer Dick Teague. Back in the late 1970s, it showed off AMC’s design chops on tour and hinted at the future of the company. That future that sadly never came, but today, in 2022, the wacky and huge-windowed two-door van is for sale through the RM Sotheby’s “Sand Lots” sale. The online auction runs from May 25 – June 1.

AMC built the “AM Van” specifically for a traveling tour in 1977 dubbed “Concept 80”, a PR gimmick put on by America’s fourth-largest automaker. Concept 80 visited seven different cities and featured seven different concept cars. “Concept I” and “Concept II” offered obvious hints of the Gremlin and Pacer. A two-door hatchback called the “Grand Touring” was the sporty one of the bunch, and there was even an itty-bitty wedge-shaped electric hatch with pop-up headlights called the “Concept Electron.”

1977 AMC AM Van Concept rear three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

The big hit, however, was the AM Van. When AMC polled show-goers to find out which concept car was their favorite, the van got nearly a third of the overall vote.

Futuristic yet familiar, the AM Van has the face and curves of a Pacer, albeit stretched out a bit into the shape of a compact cargo-carrier. On top of that is more glass than the Shedd Aquarium.

Teague’s design team must have forgotten all notions of the word “subtlety” when shaping this little red hauler. The hilariously large sporty wheels wrapped in All-Terrain T/As, the fat fender flares, the shiny side pipes and the bright “Turbo” and “4×4” decals don’t hint at performance. More of a blood-curdling shout.

Designed with forced induction and four-wheel drive in mind, the AM Van would have been cutting-edge stuff in the late ’70s, and a four-wheel-drive AMC wouldn’t come until the Eagle 4×4 crossover of 1980. Seating is three abreast with cargo space in the rear but, alas, those orange decals write a check that this concept can’t cash. Underneath those fiberglass haunches sits merely a wooden frame with partial interior and no drivetrain. The concept does roll freely on those BFG tires, so it really is more like an overgrown toy car after all.

American Motors was never swimming in development dollars. It certainly wasn’t in 1977. Unfortunately, the “Concept 80” cars remained just that—concepts. Instead, a cash-strapped AMC went into the ’80s with revamped versions of the Gremlin and Hornet called the Spirit and Concord, respectively.

1977 AMC AM Van Concept front
RM Sotheby's

Would the AM Van have saved AMC (which merged into Chrysler in 1990) if the company had decided to add it to the lineup? Probably not, but it’s always fun to think about the what-ifs.

As for the one and only concept example, it has been in a well-known concept car collection for the past 35 years and remains in all-original condition, just as it left the AMC design studio in 1977. While there is no presale estimate for it at this auction, the AM Van was offered for sale on eBay back in 2017 with a $72,000 Buy It Now price, but it presumably attracted no takers.

Maybe that’s too much money for garage art, but then again, this oddball is more than just a giant Hot Wheels. It’s a piece of AMC history.

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