The AMX Palm Beach was the first experimental shown by a fledgling American Motors, but it was really an artifact of a bygone era. Here's the story of the belated Italo-American hybrid that's been all but forgotten.
Although the initials AMX weren't used until 1965, they would have been appropriate for a much earlier car that technically qualifies as the first "American Motors Experimental." Called Palm Beach, it was a striking two-seat coupe with running gear and a slightly stretched chassis borrowed from the lowly little Rambler, graced by handsome bodywork from master designer Pinin Farina. It was first displayed around the middle of 1956 on the PF stand at major European auto shows, then made its American debut the following spring -- at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, of all places.
American Motors officials understandably said as little as they could about the Palm Beach when it arrived in Detroit. The reason: it was not an AMC project but a holdover from the Nash days, likely the last advanced design effort at the old-line independent before its 1954 merger with Hudson that produced AMC. It was also the last tangible evidence of the relationship Nash president George Mason had forged with the Italian coachbuilder back in the late Forties.
By the time it was shown, AMC's new president, the messianic George Romney, had staked the future not on sporty cars like this, nor even on big family models, but on sensible economy compacts. As far as he and the company were concerned, the Palm Beach was simply a curiosity from the pre-merger attic, glamorous and attention-getting though it was.
Like the second, Vignale-built AMX, the Palm Beach was fully driveable and could be considered a production prototype. It was powered by a modest 172.6-cubic-inch, 82-horsepower Rambler L-head six bearing a 1951 serial number (F-13206). This suggests it may have been the intended successor to the Nash-Healey, the handsome but slow-selling Anglo-American sports car introduced in 1951. We do know the Palm Beach project was well along at the time of the merger, and it's quite possible that some former Hudson engineers contributed to the chassis design.
Indeed, the Palm Beach did have a step-down floor, but its body and construction were totally Pinin Farina and a marked departure from the Rambler's usual unitized structure. The 101.5-inch-wheelbase chassis was a separate ladder-type affair with box-section side members set at the outer limits of the 67.88-inch body width. The undercarriage and suspension came straight from Kenosha, and the 54.5/53.5-inch front/rear tracks were almost identical to those of the stock 100-inch-wheelbase Ramblers. The three-speed manual gearbox was also standard Nash fare. Wheel diameter was 15 inches, but the 5.90-section tires fitted were a bit slim.
On the next page, learn about the AMX Palm Beach's features and specifications.
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AMX Palm Beach Features and Specifications
The AMX Palm Beach stretched out to 176 inches overall. Curb weight was a hair under 2,600 pounds, with 54.4 percent of that on the front wheels. High performance was obviously not the object of this exercise, though wheel-base and length were quite close to that of Ford's two-seat Thunderbird (102/175.3) and Chevy's increasingly popular Corvette (102/168). Styling was typical of Farina in the Fifties, with certain elements that now seem quite passé, especially the subdued tailfins, wrapped windshield, and the curiously notched lower bodyside moldings.
The overall proportions were well considered, though, as was the Ferrari-like oval grille with flanking air scoops. The low hoodline dictated the sole engine modification, a sidedraft Weber carburetor. A concession to the glistening flamboyancy of the decade was the chromed back panel, set above a wide, U-shaped bumper containing neatly integrated dual exhaust outlets. The only hint at a Rambler connection was the Circle-R badges on the nose and distinctive "twin cowl" rear deck.
Befitting its name, the Palm Beach was quite cushy inside. Deep-pile carpeting covered the floor and the entire trunk, and the twin semi-bucket seats were formed over foam rubber bases and covered in top-grain beige leather. The dash was quite predictive of Bertone designs for Alfa Romeo in the Sixties, with the instruments gathered in two large round nacelles ahead of the dual-spoke wood-rim steering wheel. The wheel was telescopically adjustable and delivered just three turns lock-to-lock.
A between-seats bolster could accommodate a small third passenger (preferably a child). Instrumentation included a tach, total and trip mileage recorders, plus water temperature, oil pressure, and manifold pressure gauges. The only glitch was the downward-angled, far-forward turn signal stalk, which this author kept nudging with his left knee when operating the clutch pedal.
Despite recent rumors to the contrary, only one example of this intriguing car was ever built. AMC was hard put to parry enthusiastic inquiries about production prospects for the Palm Beach. We remember overhearing one observer in Dearborn remark: "If AMC would only produce that job, there'd be hundreds of us buying American again." But AMC needed cars that would sell in the hundreds of thousands, and it simply had no money at the time for a low-volume gran turismo that would be a showroom traffic builder at best.
As we know, AMC did go on to be quite successful in later years. Not long after showing the Palm Beach, it killed off Nash and Hudson in favor of the Rambler, which rose to the top five in industry sales by 1960. The AMX show cars appeared a few years later to liven up the company's image, and inspired the production AMX and the Javelin ponycar introduced for 1968. All were quite different from the Palm Beach, of course, but they were at least the spiritual descendants of this first, nearly forgotten "AMX."