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While the “Detroit Big Three”, Chrysler, Ford, and GM, were the largest automakers for a decade. But there were other car manufacturers that formed the fourth Detroit car company, American Motors Corporation, or AMC. It was always the fourth, in sales, product offerings, new models, and technology. But it was always fighting to move up the ladder. It had loyal buyers in the days when brand loyalty was a thing. Now, there is a documentary series about the feisty number four automaker. If you love American cars of the 20th century, you need to watch “The Last Independent Automaker”.

The six-part AMC documentary covers more than just the company

Jeep ZJ prototype
1987 Jeep ZJ prototype | Stellantis

While the title is not especially compelling, the documentary has a crack team behind it. Emmy Award-winning documentarian Joe Ligo and filmmaker Jimm Needle are behind it. It follows the ups and downs of AMC throughout the decades in six episodes. The documentary looks at its beginnings in its rise from the ashes of Hudson and Nash in the 1950s to its muscle cars and quirky economy cars of the 1960s and 1970s, and its demise in the 1980s. 

AMC Pacer
AMC Pacer | via YouTube

Yes, it looks at the cornucopia of models, history, and inside stories of interest to auto enthusiasts. But it also looks at the bigger picture, too. It is more of a mainstream presentation, taking in the eras, outside pressures, and cultural changes that affected AMC. It shows how it adapted how it built and marketed its bread-and-butter cars.

The AMC story is about cars and the culture of making automobiles

AMC President George Romney
AMC President George Romney with 1959 AMC vehicles | Stellantis

It’s amazing to think that during those times the car industry was integral to American life. It was once said that “what was good for General Motors is good for the country.” So it becomes a mirror of who we were and how that changed as cars and the country itself morphed. Plus, firsthand insights give a behind-the-scenes look never told before. 

1967 AMC Ambassador
1967 AMC Ambassador convertible | Getty

“The cars that people drove reflected what the country was going through at the time,” Ligo told the Drive. “Whether it was the prosperity of the 1950s, the rebellion of the 1960s, the uncertainty of the 1970s, or the ambitions of the 1980s, the cars from those eras reflected that.” And throughout those eras, AMC was able to miraculously scrape together a formidable counter of historic cars to the Detroit Big Three. 

When will the AMC documentary be released?

“The Last Independent Automaker” is scheduled to be released in 2024. That’s the 70th anniversary of AMC. Distributed by Maryland Public Television, it has been a costly labor of love for Ligo and historian Pat Foster. To that end, they have set up a GoFundMe page to offset some of the costs. As a special incentive for contributors, they can see the documentary before the general public. 

1970 AMC Rebel
1970 AMC Rebel Machine | Stellantis

“Seeing as how the general public isn’t super-familiar with the story of American Motors, I think that casual viewers will definitely be surprised at some of the plot twists,” says Ligo. “Running a car company is anything but boring, and the story of American Motors includes plenty of ambition, innovation, betrayal, and even one assassination.” 

AMC Ricker Motors
AMC Ricker Motors Whittier, CA | WHS

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