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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1972 & 1973 AMC Hornet Sportabout by Gucci

Dr. Aldo Gucci customized a Hornet Sportabout for his own personal use. A new grille and wheel covers were among the touches he added to the stylish little AMC offering.
North America's fourth largest carmaker was on a roll in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Javelin, AMX, Hornet and Gremlin shot out of the corporate holding pen, every one bronco-busting winner. When the 1972 model season came along there were no new models to show off. American Motors was not about to roll over and play dead, however. They might not have any all-new cars on the dealers' showroom floors but American Motors had a savvy staff, each one knowing a dozen ways to make new bread out of old flour.



First, the company rolled out the Buyer Protection Plan which covered every mechanical defect that might possibly occur during the first twelve months of ownership. No one in the automotive industry had ever done anything like that before. The ground-breaking warranty was bold and daring. The comprehensive guarantee was written in less than 100 words--using common sense English and French--that promised to fix anything that went wrong with the car for a year. Literaly. The only item not covered was tires and they came with their own guarantee from the manufacturer.  Each car was road tested at the factory to make sure it was up to snuff and the service man who inspected it signed his name to a special report clipped onto the sun visor. That made the commitment personal.

Just to be sure, the dealer made a second inspection. Each AMC vehicle came with a toll-free phone number and a real person's name to contact if something went wrong. Quality was high and complaints were few. When there were problems, they were taken care of promptly. If the car had to be kept overnight, a loaner was given. The plan was wildly popular with the public who were tired of the poor quality of domestic automobiles.


Sales at AMC dealerships shot through the roof as consumers passed by The Big Three and the imports in favour of Gremlins, Hornets, Matadors, Javelins and Ambassadors. Canadians were impressed enough to buy 21,641 products, more than ever before.  The American periodical Motor Trend was impressed enough to create a special award for AMC's pioneering effort.

Secondly, those trend-conscious AMC designers had taken careful note of consumers' new-found obsession with cloth and fabric. Whether it was for wearing or home decorating, colour and fabric were being exploited to the max. Leisure suits and pant suits--both made of crimpoline--were all the rage. The great design houses of of Paris, London and Rome were making an impact on people's wardrobes. It was high time that cars got designer treatment, too.


Neil Brown headed AMC's interior design department and he chose Pierre Cardin to work his magic on the Javelin.



Gremlins would head to California for very hip Levi jean interiors. The Hornet Sportabout, billed early on as "the little rich car" sas sent to Dr. Aldo Gucci in Europe for an Italian style makeover.

Now, the Hornet Sportabout was a car that was not quite a wagon--according to some industry insiders--and the AMC's management was very careful not to bill it as such. Behind the scenes, the Sportabout almost never made it to market. Those who opposed it were in favour of building a Hornet-based pickup truck, known as the Cowboy. It was clear that only one of the two models would be built and even then, with factories running at capacity, the winner would have to be built outside of the US--in Brampton, Ontario. Jim Alexander worked at AMC and recalled that passions ran high between two very entrenched camps and there was some bitterness when the Cowboy was passed by.

The AMC Cowboy would have been marketed under the Jeep name.

Once the Sportabout hit the market it sold more than 3,4,00 units in 1972. Advertising referred to it as "a unique passenger/cargo car that united sedan styling with station wagon versitality." The vehicle foreshadowed the crossover. Ad copy posed the smart new hybrid in all the familiar wagon-like settings and the public got the idea very quickly.


A Sportabout was shipped to Rome for Gucci treatment. It came back wearing the sassy, broad stripes of Gucci's trademark red, ivory and green colours on Ventilaire viny reclining seats, on plush door panels and sunvisors--all colour-keyed to a special headliner finished in the fashion-famous "GG" pattern. The Gucci crest was set into the front door panels between the arm rest and the door handle. Outside, the special models were treated to the GG crest on the front fender.


Ad copy wasn't shy to pitch the Gucci Hornet to women, a rapidly growing segment of the buying market. "For any woman who's looking for a car, we suggest she take a look at herself in our compact." Available in Snow White, Hunter Green, Grasshopper Green and Yucca Tan, a total of 2,583 limited-edition Gucci Hornets was sold in during the model year.


Dr. Algo Gucci was smitten with the Sportabout. He liked its look so much that he requested one for his own personal use. AMC was more than happy to ship one with a  5-litre (304 cubic inch) V-8 engine and three-speed automatic transmission. This would be Gucci's personal car and he supervised modifications at a custom coach builder's establishment for a modest USD$10,000.


Gucci chose to have the car painted in an understated silver colour. A new grille carried the Gucci crest. The headlamps were enclosed in transparent covers. The rear was given a new trim panel with the company's traditional red and green horizontal stripes set off against a grey cloth insert into which was woven the "GG" design. The same cloth was repeated in the headliner.

Inside, a luxuriously supple black leather was mated to a high quality, tight-knit, grey Italian upholstery in a larger "GG" pattern. Leather was applied to the door panels, the cargo area as well as front and rear centre arm rests. Doors and custom-designed bucket seats received red and green striped inserts. The instrument panel, glove box and even the seat belts were given the Gucci tri-colour treatment. The tasteful cloth was used for milady's handbag and even covered the owner's manual. Carpeting was a testeful nubby grey with contrasting black leather piping.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Gucci created a new centre console, located beneath the instrument panel. This area became home to the ash receiver, radio, the heater and the air conditioning controls. Extending upwards, the instrument panel was given a centrally located, pull-out writing desk, graced with a scribbler and a sterling silver bamboo pen. A map light at the end of a flexible arm extended from the right side of the desk, the left carried a vanity mirror, also on a flex stem.

The centre armrests doubled as nifty storage units. The front one contained a vanity kit. The one in the rear carried games in a removable box. Just like in a commercial aircrart, the back of the front seats popped open. The one on the passenger's side served as a snack table or  provided a flat surface for playing games. The compartment behind the driver concealed a miniature liquor cabinet, complete with four sterling silver tumbles and two decanters--all decorated with red and green enamel stripes.

Creator and his creation in front of the Gucci store in New York City.

The hand-crafted Gucci Hornet was loaned to AMC's designers so they might study it. When finished it was returned to Rome where Dr. Gucci drove his haute-couture Hornet all over Europe.

Keep your eyes open and your chequ books at the ready, this gorgeous one-off, designer Hornet may very well turn up on the market one day!



Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2002
All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Graham Clayton said...

Being the 70's, I'm surprised that Gucci's personal Sportabout did not have an 8-track cassette player fitted!

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