Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Memory Bank: My First Car (AMC Hornet 1973)

With all my recent writing here about Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994) and the Timothy Dalton James Bond (1987 – 1989), I’ve really been recalling that particular period in my life, and especially my (much-mourned) very first car.
As I went into my senior year of high school in New Jersey, and earned my driver’s license, I purchased my first automobile: a used AMC Hornet from 1973.  That’s a photograph of it, above.  I still love that car, and remember it fondly.  Isn't she beautiful?
The American Motors Corporation began producing the Hornet, a compact car, in 1970 and continued manufacturing it and selling it through 1977.  According to Wikipedia, the Hornet would eventually “outlast all other compact platforms from the competition that included Chevrolet Nova, Ford Maverick and Plymouth Valiant.”
If I recall correctly, I purchased the car for a mere one hundred dollars because it was in really bad shape, and then my Dad and I took several search expeditions to a nearby junkyard in Irvington to replace missing or damaged parts.  The process only took a few weeks, but we ended up finding all the Hornet icons and logos and other missing elements. 
Still, there was a problem:  On some cold winter mornings, the car wouldn’t start.  In fact, I could only get it to start by jamming a small block of wood into a specific butterfly valve and thus holding it in the open position.
I remember listening to The Living Daylights soundtrack in my car, and tooling around my neighborhood by night in that black Hornet.  It was amazing, at that relatively young age, just to be able to leave the house when I wanted, for how long I wanted, to go anywhere I desired.  Today, of course, that’s easy to take for granted.
Today, I  remember my AMC Hornet with so much love, in part because I do, irrevocably, associate the car with James Bond.  Not just in terms of The Living Daylights (1987), but in terms of The Man from the Golden Gun (1974).  As you may recall, the AMC Hornet made an unusual guest appearance in that Roger Moore Bond film.
Late in the film, James Bond (Moore) and American sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) -- who happens to be visiting Thailand (!) on vacation -- go after the villainous Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in a Hornet they steal from the showroom.  To catch up to the fleeing villain, Bond must jump a broken bridge…and flip the car.

The particular stunt is pretty amazing, even today.  A stuntman named “Bumps” Willard performed the jump and spun the Hornet 360 degrees in mid-air on the longitudinal axis ,in  is called an “aerial twist.”    

The stunt is depicted in the film in slow motion (and with the unfortunate sound effect of a penny whistle),, but I still boast a certain sense of pride every time I see it, since I was a Hornet owner.  Apparently, the Hornet was the only car the filmmaker’s could find that could accomplish the difficult stunt.

As much as I  may have wanted to, I never tried the Bond jump in my Hornet.  But she was a good car, and I miss her.  Below, you can see the AMC Hornet and her brief romance with 007 in The Man with the Golden Gun.


  1. I'm trying to think if I knew anyone growing up who owned an American Motors Car. Nope, not a one. Chevys and Fords. I think I was the first one in my family to purchase (brand new) a Japanese auto ('72 Toyota Corolla). That wasn't my first, though. That honor went to a hand-me-down Ford Falcon station wagon.

    The Hornet wasn't a bad looking car, that's for sure. That distinction, at least for AMC, IMHO, had to be the Pacer. When people said they saw you in a Pacer, with those windows, they saw you in that car ;-).

    Cool that your vehicle model made it into a Bond film, John. Fun memory post, my friend.

    1. Hi Michael,

      I think I owned a Hornet because, by the time it got around to was cheap. I could afford it. And I could afford to fix it.

      That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, I agree, but I always felt it was a reasonably good looking car (and for a first car, EXCEPTIONALLY good looking!)

      I just love that it showed up in a Bond film because it is, clearly, no Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit.

      Got any pictures of your Ford Falcon station wagon? I'd love to see your first car, my friend. I'm not a big car guy. I could actually care less what I drive today, assuming it gets decent mileage. But there is indeed something special about that first car...


    2. No actual photos of my old car survive, but here are photos of one that pretty near match it in year, model and color. My interior was blue, though.

      You're right. The memories associated with that first car become quite special. Literally, seared into memory. In that Falcon, I had my first ever auto accident, too. Broke my jar on that steering wheel you see in the photos. We, my brother and I, were hit by a 1935 Pontiac coming out of my high school's parking lot (his fault).

      He scrunched my front left fender (no real appreciable damage was done to that Pontiac tank of his, though). My brother cracked my windshield with his hard head, while I did approximately 25¢ worth of damage to the steering wheel. My sibling got a scratch, and a Bandaid, out of it. My lower jaw got wired.

      Still, it was my first vehicle and I loved the thing. Still ran well afterward (we replaced the broken parts from an old scrap yard). Had a toggle switch on the dash that raised/lowered the power window on the rear hatch. Ah, memories. Believe it or not, about two weeks ago, I and my daughter saw a working '63 Falcon station wagon in white on the streets of L.A.

    3. Nice car, John. I was and still am a Ford/Lincoln Man myself. My first Car was a 1990 Ford Thunderbird. Great car, but with the 3.8L V6,so woefully underpowered. Now, 7 cars later, I am back in a Tbird, this time a triple black 1993 W/ a 302:-)

      I thought I would share you a bit of trivia: Since you owned an AMC and you mentiond Pacers, and this is a site devoted to Sci Fi...

      Back in 1997 I got to meet Jerome Bixby.I met him thru a friend I had @ the time. Turns out he was living not to far from me here in Southern California.

      Well, when I met Mr. Bixby, he was driving none other than a AMC Pacer X. In fact, that's how my friend met him: Mr. Bixby was looking for parts for his Pacer and my friend was working for an auto parts store that Mr. Bixby went to and happend to be waited upon by my friend, who recognized him by Mr Bixby's name and what he had written. Jerome sure loved that car...and it was in decent shape too.

      Never gets old talking about your first car. Its also a good conversation starter.

      Well, thanks for letting me share.:-)

  2. Anonymous11:36 PM

    John thanks for sharing the photo and high school memories of your first car. She looks good to me.