Sleek ghosts of the auto world purred through middle-aged, and older, minds this week with Chrysler's announced takeover of American Motors Corp. Their hood insignia carried names like Nash, Hudson, Terraplane and Willys. The lineage of the new Chrysler-AMC goes back to the earliest days of the automobile in the United States, and the interconnecting lives of the auto makers involved reads like an E. L. Doctorow novel.
The merger closes the ring on a long series of consolidations that began in 1908, when William Durant brought together Buick Motors and Olds Motor Car to form General Motors.
AMC's history dates to 1902, when Thomas B. Jeffrey of Kenosha, Wis., began marketing the Rambler. In 1909 Joseph L. Hudson founded the auto company that over time produced the Hudson, Terraplane, Essex and Hornet. And Charles W. Nash, who had been president of GM, bought out Rambler in 1916. The lines came together with the merger of Nash and Hudson in 1954 to form American Motors. In 1970 AMC bought Kaiser-Jeep from Kaiser Industries, which had taken over Willys-Overland after World War II.
Chrysler's Lee Iacocca, who rescued the firm from almost certain bankruptcy in the 1970s, is among those who must be aware of the historic irony in the merger. Walter P. Chrysler was persuaded to enter the auto business in 1912 by Charles Nash, giving him a job with Buick. Chrysler went on to save Willys-Overland from bankruptcy eight years later.
There once were as many as 60 auto makers in America, but they were dominated over the decades by the Big Three: GM, Ford and Chrysler. The Big Three are now The Three.