Norbert V

Dad and AMC: A Family Tradition

If you own an American Motors convertible from the 60's the engineering underneath is that of my father, Stuart Vance. His job as AMC Manager of Body Engineering meant he oversaw the staff of talented men and women who brought the designers' ideas to life as prototypes. Trained at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, hometown to he and my mother, Evelyn, dad worked for years as a mechanical engineer designing components for the Emerson WWII aircraft gun turret, Superior Coach bus chassis, even mass production of transistors at Texas Instruments. He also worked in engineering job shops in suburban Detroit before landing his last major position, at AMC, in 1964. What got him the job was to design a lean, space saving convertible top mechanism that gave passengers more rear seat room, was less complicated, and made for a sleek roof line. AMC had a number of innovative ideas that few give credit to, or claim that AMC used only parts made by the Big Three. Not true. My good fortune as one of his sons was to be there near the heart of it.

Life in an automotive family meant dinner table talk of names familiar to many, at least in the auto industry, and in particular at AMC. My siblings worked for the Big Three and oldest brother, Tom, for a time in AMC Styling and as a manager at various prototype companies. My mom just loved saying, "Bunky Knudsen". One of dad's perks as a manager was a new company lease car each year, and a different engineering fleet car to drive every week. We would collectively decide what car we wanted each year... a cozy Ambassador, a zesty V8 powered Hornet, a Matador coupe. Each year was different. A favorite was a lovely, long 1967 metallic brown Ambassador with his convertible roof. Novel for the time was the fact it had air conditioning, too! Stuart always got all the bells and whistles and the cars were highly sought after when it came time to turn them in. But for me the most fun came Thursday evening when he would pull up with the latest fleet car. I took color photos of many of them. Sometimes they were Gremlins, Hornets, or Pacers, but every now and then there would be a rumble of a 360-4bbl Javelin or 401 AMX. People often (unfairly) malign those compacts but they were good rugged cars for the day and AMC sold a boatload of them. They were fun to drive, especially the V8 powered Gremlin X's. But it was the occasional Javelin that got me out the door before he could get in! By 1971 I was old enough to drive them. His typical comment was, " Leave me some fumes to get back to work in the morning". So many memories with several that really stand out; a '74 police interceptor Ambassador, a '71 green 401 Javelin AMX, the '71 Michigan International Speedway 401 Javelin AMX pace car with unique periscope rear view mirror. I put 450 miles on that pace car in two nights just driving around town. It idled at 30mph, whew! I drove it so much dad had me fill out the survey form about that mirror. And to think, my mom took it to A&P to buy groceries. So cute.

My father would retire from AMC in 1980 just as the French from Renault got involved, and he passed away in 1991. Many years after the demise of AMC I happened upon the All Family Show hosted by Great Lakes Classic AMC at Greenmeade Park in Livonia, MI. I was overwhelmed with emotion, in tears as I walked among the classics, thinking of dad and all the wonderful cars he worked on and brought home. Finally in 2004 I happened upon a yellow 1973 Javelin SST (year of my HS graduation) for sale. It needed work but I nurtured it with the help of my engine skilled brother Barret. I added a 1975 Matador coupe a few years ago. His clean 1964 Rambler Classic makes for three AMC's in the family once more. But it was dad, er Santa Claus that would mold my life with the gift of a telescope under the Christmas tree in 1966. His excellent engineer salary allowed several us to attend college. Summer jobs for me were at suppliers thanks to dad's contacts, or my brother at the prototype shops. The end result is a son that now works as a physics technician and teaches astronomy at a local university but with a heart still embedded in cars. Thanks, dad, so very much!

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