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AMC lives on in Kenosha
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AMC lives on in Kenosha

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It took a lot of fortitude, at the time, to drive a Gremlin or a Pacer.

Those in Mustangs and Corvettes looked down their noses at those who rolled an AMX.

An Ambassador or Matador was considered, somehow, less of a car than similar offerings from one of Detroit’s Big Three of Chevrolet, Chrysler and Ford.

The offerings of American Motors Corp. today are considered collector’s items. The last rolled off the assembly line decades ago.

But that doesn’t mean the spirit of innovation and quirkiness that marked AMC automobiles is dead and gone.

“I had AMCs from the start,” said Mike Spangler, who lives in Jefferson and is an avid AMC enthusiast. “A lot of times, you were kind of laughed at. Today’s kids don’t know that they weren’t cool.”

Spangler helps organize and run the AMC Homecoming that takes place every few years in Kenosha. He said his father was best friends with the AMC dealer in Jefferson when he was growing up, and the bug took hold.

He is proud to say he owns 14 AMC or AMC-related vehicles, including a Le Car, which debuted in America in 1976 as a rebadged Renault 5. It was eventually built in Kenosha and only has three lugnuts per wheel. He also owns an Ambassador stretch limousine and a 1971 AMX prototype.

He’s owned at least 24 AMC or AMC-related vehicles in his lifetime.

“I don’t sell very often,” Spangler said. “I buy too many, and don’t sell enough.”

Spangler said that at one point in time roughly 40 percent of the cars on the road in Kenosha were made by AMC.

The AMC Homecoming takes place in Kenosha sporadically, and is next scheduled for 2020. It previously took place in 1998, 2002, 2007, 2011, 2014 and 2017. The event is typically held in late July.

The event in Kenosha is occasionally held in conjunction with the American Motors Owners Association annual gathering, along with the annual rallies for other AMC and AMC-related marques.

The Kenosha homecoming is open to all AMC vehicles and those related to the AMC family, such as Hudson and Renault. Spangler said Kenosha-made Chrysler vehicles are also allowed.

Events for the Kenosha homecoming are usually staged at Kennedy Park, along with other sites throughout the city and county. Spangler said a large cruise-in usually takes place along Highway 50.

The Kenosha History Center is the benefactor of the event, and a partner in its staging. Chris Allen, executive director of the Kenosha County Historical Society, said he enjoys helping put on the event.

“It’s been a lot of fun to organize this,” Allen said. “A lot of the fun is the people we deal with. It’s just a neat feeling, for the whole week. It’s almost like a family reunion-type atmosphere.”

Allen said the homecoming is of international interest and has drawn AMC owners and enthusiasts from Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Kuwait and Canada.

“It’s a neat event,” Allen said. “You have the car owners, bringing it back to Kenosha, and you have a lot of people who worked at the factory or are related to people who worked at the factory.

“The owners get a real kick out of that, and they can touch base with the old factory owners and get some neat stories out of them.”

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