Monday, July 28, 2008

VAM: Mexican AMC

In the 1960's, import substitution industrialization was all the rage. Developing countries were trying to develop their own products for their domestic market. Watch these two videos by Ha-Joon Chang for why this is a good idea.

It seems Mexico had a nationalized auto company called VAM, or Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos. This is very clever because “vam” is close to the Spanish word for “to go.” (Contrast with the Chevy Nova, which translates into Spanish as “doesn't go.” While this isn't true, why let “facts” get in the way of a good story?)

VAM started in 1963 as a venture between the Mexican government and AMC. (This involved nationalizing Willys Mexicana, which had been producing Jeeps and other AMC designs since 1946.)* Mexican law required them to source at least 50% of their parts locally. This is because they were communists who hated the free market. Most of their cars were AMC designs that were modified to work with lower octane fuels, and other Mexican conditions.

By 1982, a recession in Mexico and a devalued peso led to the company being sold to nationalized French company Renault (who had a relationship with AMC) for negative 200 million dollars. That's right: the Mexican government paid Renault 200 million to take VAM off their hands. Renault, of course, shut down VAM. (AMC itself was bought by Chrysler in 1987, who discontinued the brand, although certain models, such as the Jeep, continued being produced by Chrysler.)

So if you ever seen an AMC Gremlin with Mexican plates running on low octane fuel, give a salute to VAM.

Also, check this link for some VAM magazine ads from the '70s.

All factual information on VAM courtesy of Wikipedia.

*This added after rousing the anger of the BaadAssGremlins forum.


strlcuckoo said...

Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos
VAM, which purchased licenses and rights to produce AMC and AMC-based automobiles and engines, started production in 1946. Jeeps as well as cars were produced there, some with model names and even body styles that differed from U.S. output. When the company ceased production in 1986 it was producing Renault models. A full-color publication printed about 1982 features a two-page profile on the company, but gives few solid details. The book does, however, include several pictures of the cars and the manufacturing process.
Most VAM cars mimicked domestic (U.S.) models. In the sixties, VAM produced the Rambler American (in 2- and 4-door and wagon versions), a version of the Rebel called the "Rambler Classic SST" (in 2- and 4-door versions) and the Javelin.

The 1974 "Classic AMX" was VAM's version of the Matador Coupe.
(Thanks to Larry Robert Daum for contributing the scan.)
In the seventies VAM produced a full line of Hornets, called first "Rambler American" and later just "American," plus a sport version called "Rambler Rally". The Hornet hatchback was badged a "Rally AMX." Gremlins, Javelins, and Pacers were sold under their familiar names. Matador sedan models were badged as "Rambler Classics," and the Matador Coupe was produced in a sport version called "Classic AMX" and a luxury "Classic Brougham."
In later years, VAM badged variants of the Spirit as the sporty "Rally AMX" and luxury "Rally SST." The Mexican version of the Concord kept the "American" name, in base and GFS models. Some VAM models mixed and matched body components from U.S. cars. The '82 book has pictures of notable buildings and such in Mexico with traffic streaming around. The cars include a new 2-dr "Hornet" with a '77 Gremlin front clip. More recent models carry no outward manufacturer identification, just a model name. A particularly odd VAM product was the "Lerma," essentially a Spirit on a Concord chassis. At least two body styles were available, a two-door sedan and a four-door sedan. You can imagine them as a four-door Concord with the Spirit taillights and liftback instead of a trunk. You could also imagine a four-door Spirit. The two-door is unique, totally different from the domestic Concord hatchback due to the use of the Spirit rear. Rear quarters are unique.

All VAM engines were inline sixes, including 232, 252, and 282 CID units. The 252 and 282 motors were based on the domestic 232 and 258, respectively. No V-8 engines were produced.

It is interesting to note that now, in Mexico, you can hardly see a Renault Alliance or Encore; they are all but gone. However, you can see thousands of Hornets, Concords, Spirits and Gremlins, and the Javelins, Matadors, and Pacers are still rather common. You can still find numerous pre-1970 Rambler Americans rolling on the streets!

Based on material posted on the AMC-List by Alfred Koos (who lives in South Texas and has a family member who was in the company), and Miguel Ortiz (of Mexico).

Jason said...

To add to the previous commenter, Willys Mexicana was started in 1946, and they licensed AMC designs, such as the Rambler and the Jeep. In 1963 Willys Mexicana became VAM when their parent company, SOMEX, was nationalized. This was done in joint venture with AMC. Read about it here: