The compact or “Junior” (AMC term) sized rear wheel drive Hornet was manufactured from 1970 until the end of 1977 in one generation and was a new marque for AMC, but the Hornet name has a previous history. The Hudson Motor Company manufactured the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet” which sent a major buzz through stock car circuits in the early 1950’s. The Hornet moniker became AMC property with the merger of Nash and Hudson under the umbrella of The American Motors Corporation. The name is now owned by Chrysler after its acquisition of AMC in 1987.
Before the all new Hornet is introduced to the public in 1970 AMC invested forty million dollars and spent a million man hours refining its design over a three year period. The compact platform was an important one for the company, as is the Hornet, which carries a sticker price of $1,994.00 for the base in 1970. Not only did the car performed well on the books with 92,000 plus units produced the first year, its production time outlasted all the rest of the compacts of the era, including Valiant, Nova and the Maverick, although not in volume. On all counts the Hornet scores better than any of its competitors for style, comfort, driver visibility in all directions, safety, power, economy, storage space and handling according to the major magazines of the day.
The Hornet is introduced as a family car initially and offers two practical straight six engines as the basic choice, but there is also a 304 cu in (5 L) V8 engine on the table to power the sporty looking vehicle in 1970. The model is available as a notchback with either two or four doors and two trim levels; the base or the SST in the beginning. The Hornet is the first vehicle made here to have the doors reinforced with guardrail beams for added side impact protection.
The Sportabout four door wagon is made available in ’71 and outsold all other Hornet models combined in its first year. For 1971 a unique folding sunroof made of fabric could have been on certain models. This year a SC/360 package could be ordered for the two door sedan. The engine is a 360 cu in (5.9 L) V8 producing 245 hp (182 kW) and developing 365 ft-lb (495 Nm) of torque with a two barrel carburetor. As a further option for the Hornet SC/360 the “go pack” would add a ram-air induction four barrel bumping the horse power rating up to 285 (212.52 kW). The SC360 package includes uptown wheels, Goodyear Polyglas D70x14 tires, hood scoop, pin striping, and handling upgrades.
The basic transmission offer for every Hornet is a three speed on the column, but an automatic and a four speed standard with a Hurst designed shift kit are both options for the SC360. There is another performance option offered in ’73; the “Twin-Grip” limited slip differential which could have either 3.54:1 or 3.90:1 gearing. The Hornet SC360 could do 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.7 seconds and a standing quarter mile in 14.9 seconds achieving 95 mph (153 km/h) in the process. Motor Trend Magazine said at the time “The Hornet is a gas to drive…it handles like a dream”. The original plan was to produce 10,000 units of the SC360, but rising insurance rates and EPA mandates were equally to blame, there are only 784 vehicles factory assembled.
For the 1973 model year a new Hornet could be optioned with a Levi denim interior that had many takers and AMC was the first manufacturer in the USA to offer a luxury, but fashionable, designer trim package-the one they offer in ’73 was created by Aldo Gucci for the luxurious version of the Hornet Station Wagon. In ’73 the now popular hatchback is offered on the Hornet one year before the other American manufacturers and another first in a long line of them for AMC.