1962 Budd XR-400 Sports Convertible

Budd built the XR-400 prototype to interest AMC in a cheap-to-tool-up sporty car. Had AMC said yes, it could have beat the Mustang to market by at least six months. See more classic car pictures.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

After Ford nixed the Budd Company's reworked version of the two-seat Thunderbird, the Budd Company tried to sell AMC the 1962 Budd XR-400 sports convertible, a car cleverly based on the two-door Ambassador.

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We all affect the future from our place in the present, but no one can change the past. Except, that is, in the imagination, where one can reweave the fabric of history just by altering a stitch or two in time, place, person, or thing.

You can have "What If?" fun with the automotive past as much as any skein of history. Suppose, for example, that the sporty compact "ponycar," that wildly successful 1960s phenomenon, had come not from Ford but tiny American Motors? It could have happened -- if AMC had seized the opportunity that came knocking when the Budd Company presented a prototype called XR-400.

Understanding the XR-400 requires a little background on the Budd Company and one of its earlier projects. First, the firm. It was founded in 1912 by Edward R. Budd, a visionary engineer/entrepreneur who built it into one of the biggest companies in American transportation.

Over time, Budd's business came to rely heavily on the contract design and construction of rail cars, both city "trolleys" and high-speed rolling stock. Budd also became a power in shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing.

But the firm was -- and still is -- a force in the auto industry, too. It was Edward Budd who in the early 1930s patented a form of unitary body/chassis construction for cars, a then-revolutionary idea first applied not in the United States but in France with the singular Citroen Traction Avant of 1934.

Budd soon expanded its automotive horizons to encompass engineering, design, and construction of production-car bodies for various clients. One of those was Ford, which in 1954 contracted with Budd to supply bodies for its new 1955 Thunderbird.

Budd continued to do so through 1957, after which Ford scrapped the original two-seat design for the four-seat 1958 "Square-bird," with unitized Ford-built construction.

In 1961, Budd took its relationship with Ford to another level by pitching a new car to the automaker. Learn more in the next section.

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