There is a cause the public sale itemizing for the 1977 AMC idea car known as the AM Van did not embrace pictures of the inside when the compact crimson wagon got here up on the market final summer time: It did not have one. The 4×4 drivetrain that its decals marketed? No such factor. No actual chassis both, simply 4 rolling wheels. However German collector and customizer Andreas Wietzke intends to rectify that along with his plans to make the AM Van right into a operating and driving car.
“I like to carry out right restorations, however typically additionally create and construct new constructions within the interval type,” he mentioned. “That’s what I’m doing now with the AM Van.”
What had been the Idea 80 automobiles?
Constructed at a time when the general public’s confidence and curiosity within the unbiased automaker was flagging, the AM Van was one in all a number of idea vehicles that AMC whipped up for its Idea 80 program in 1977. Conceived as a type of GM Motorama-like touring highway present, the Idea 80 program was supposed “to show in a tangible manner that (AMC) nonetheless had loads of new concepts for the small automotive market, and to bolster its fame as an revolutionary small-car producer,” Pat Foster wrote in his account of the present’s cease in New York Metropolis within the September 2009 issue of Hemmings Traditional Automotive. “For a number of months, newspapers had been stuffed with doom and gloom tales about American Motors… Administration hoped the Idea 80 present automobiles would affect the press to be extra upbeat about AMC’s future.”
In some methods, AMC confirmed prescience with its ideas – or, on the very least, confirmed that firm execs and stylists paid consideration to what was occurring within the auto market. As an illustration, Foster described the Idea I – a compact two-door hatchback – as one thing like AMC’s reply to the Volkswagen Rabbit, although it additionally seems very very like Honda’s second-generation Civic. The lowered measurement of the Jeep II foreshadowed the Samurai and different compact SUVs. The Electron predicted a far-flung way forward for battery-electric energy that wasn’t almost prepared within the late Seventies (and which was no extra prepared than when the Electron initially appeared because the Amitron in 1967). After which there was the AM Van.
What was the AM Van?
In some methods, the AM Van was prescient as effectively. Apart from the Volkswagen Type 2 and maybe Dick Nesbitt’s designs for the Ford Carousel, the minivan – that’s, a taller station wagon capable of squeeze in a whole household, their canine, and all their stuff and nonetheless match into a median suburban storage – was still several years in the future.
Then again, nothing in regards to the AM Van was geared towards grown-up Child Boomers and their suburban garages, particularly with simply two doorways up entrance and barn doorways within the rear. As a substitute, the AM Van was little greater than a mirrored image of the instances, when custom vanning took off as younger males – not but capable of afford velour-laden private luxurious vehicles, nor prepared to endure the insurance coverage premiums of what little American muscle remained – found that the huge flanks of cargo vans doubled as glorious canvases for Frazetta-like paintings and as cozy hideaways that readily accepted shag carpet and wooden paneling. Magazines, motion pictures, even music sang the praises of those rumpus rooms on wheels, and an aftermarket sprung as much as outfit each the interiors and exteriors with chandeliers, sidepipes, and the like.
American Motors, nonetheless, had no such vans it may provide these youth, even though renderings on styling room walls way back to the early Seventies reveal AMC designers’ curiosity within the bodystyle. In actual fact, it had nothing nearer than the FJ-3 Fleetvan and different postal automobiles, which was why Dick Teague and his employees of designers began from scratch with the AM Van.
True to the American Motors manner, the AM Van was envisioned as a compact van, shorter even than the Volkswagen Beetle. However just like the customized vans, it had flares, sidepipes, customized wheels, and sunset stripes. One model of the AM Van even had porthole home windows. Just like the forward-looking supercars of the day, it had a really wedge-shaped prow. Teague and his employees took benefit of the clean-slate design (and the truth that the AM Van did not want to really run for the Idea 80 present) to counsel that the van may have had four-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine at a time when the latter, no less than, remained an unique know-how. It had youth-market bait actually written throughout it. Little marvel that, in response to Foster, exit surveys of Idea 80 present attendees ranked the AM Van the most popular among the many present’s idea vehicles.
What occurred to the AM Van?
Photographs, renderings, and even video of the AM Van in interval present it with the aforementioned porthole home windows, vertical stripes, and non-turbo graphics. Whereas some have speculated American Motors constructed two AM Vans – one with the portholes, the opposite with the complete facet glass like we see at the moment – it is extra probably that American Motors merely up to date the previous model into the latter both throughout or after the AM Van’s Idea 80 tour.
Regardless of the optimistic reception for the AM Van, it by no means proceeded past the pushmobile stage, with its physique rendered in fiberglass, however its chassis little greater than a picket body supporting rolling – however not steerable – wheels and tires. In keeping with idea automotive collector Joe Bortz, AMC held on to the AM Van after the tour and thru Renault’s possession of the corporate (a interval that nearly saw a production AMC minivan based mostly on the Renault Espace) earlier than finally promoting it to Bortz across the time that Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987.
Whereas Bortz has motorized different non-motorized idea vehicles prior to now, he mentioned he finally got here to the belief he’d by no means get round to doing the identical with the AM Van, as he supposed, so he put it up on the market, initially on eBay with a $72,000 buy-it-now worth in 2017, then in 2022 as part of RM Sotheby’s Sand Lots online auction. It did not promote through the public sale, however a month later Wietzke and Bortz made a deal, and in September it arrived in Wietzke’s storage in Frankfurt.
What are the plans for the AM Van?
Wietzke has restored a Pacer, a Kellison, a Volkswagen Fridolin, even an Albar Jet, however he is maybe made extra of a reputation for himself driving a Coca-Cola-themed 1965 Mustang converted into a station wagon to Concours d’Lemons and constructing a roadworthy P-51 Mustang atop a 1968 Ford Mustang’s chassis. “I sleep in a loft solely 20 stairs above my ‘playroom,’ so when some engineering answer seems in my desires at 3 within the morning, I stroll down and get to work on it instantly,” he mentioned.
Relatively than place a forklift motor and a few primary steering beneath the AM Van and drive it no additional than on and off a concours inexperienced, Wietzke determined the AM Van wanted a full roadworthy drivetrain and chassis. Others have prompt AMC was contemplating some model of its Eagle all-wheel-drive system for the AM Van and that it could take advantage of sense for anyone in Wietzke’s place, however he as a substitute purchased a 1977 Jeep CJ-7 (“Identical producer and identical 12 months because the van,” he mentioned) for the mission.
Whereas the CJ-7 did not include a turbocharged engine, it did have a 304-cu.in. V-8 and four-wheel drive, so shut sufficient. Wietzke additionally found that the CJ-7’s wheelbase was too brief by an inch and a half and its observe width too slender to suit completely beneath the AM Van’s fiberglass shell, so he fabricated an extended rear body part, put in wheel spacers, and minimize off the entrance body horns to get every little thing to line up. He mentioned he’ll additionally need to relocate your entire drivetrain rearward by 10 inches and decrease by three inches simply to make it match beneath the AM Van’s hoodless shell. And that is all earlier than he installs flooring, an inside, lighting, and every little thing else essential to make it drive.
The entire mission ought to take him about three years, he mentioned, after which he intends to ship the AM Van again over to the States so he can hand the keys to Bortz for a journey.
As for the remainder of the Idea 80 vehicles, solely the Amitron/Electron is confirmed to nonetheless exist.