Larry Mitchell
Larry Mitchell

The following was written by Larry and was originally published in the AM-Xtra in 1981.

A few of you out there have asked me how it all started, and just for the records, I'll give you a short history about the club.

First, one must reflect on how I became a car person, then why AMC. Well, I was drawing 1955 Ford Thunderbirds when they were new in 1955. I was in 4th grade at the time. I was never any good at it mind you, just doodling. My family was never much interested in cars although my dad had been a mechanic for a while in the '20's. So just where I got interested in cars, I don't know. As a teenager in the late '50's and early '60's, I was very much aware of cars, but was never what some of my friends were, car crazy. I drove a 175cc Puch-Allstate motorcycle at the time.

In 1961 as a Junior in high school, I bought a nice used 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop in 1955 colors, pink and charcoal. I bought that car from paperroute money and paid $400 for it.

I was a "where were, you in '62?" kid. In '62 I was a senior in high school and was cruisin‘ the streets of Rockford, and Loves Park. I wasn't a cool kid-type, but my wheels were neat. My Chev was a 6-pop, 3-on-the-tree, but it looked tough with those new Phillip 66 whitewalls, black rims and baby moons. I had the usual water pipe cutout welded to the exhaust header. I wrecked it against a '57 Cad a year later in broad daylight, stone sober. Cost me $15.00 to fix the Cad, a rubber tip on the front bumper.

We would all pile into the car on a Saturday night and hit the cruisin‘ circuit around town. Back in those days, Rockford had a very big cruisin‘ faction. I know, I was part of it. Gas was only 29.9¢ But then I only made 75¢ an hour sacking groceries too. Still, it was some of the best times of my life. The only worries we had were how to do it, if it ever even got that far, ‘having‘ to get married, getting drafted, whether the Russians might drop the big one.... and who had the fastest car. We parked at the local drive in, ordered a big-dixie cup of 7-Up and poured in some terrible booze below dash level so no one would see. Then we spent a lot of the evening sitting there staring at the guy who just roped his old man into signing for a new baby blue '62 Gran Prix with tri-power and 4 gear. We hated him, yet respected him, know what I mean?

The service came along in '63 and for a year or two, Uncle Sugar provided my wheels, what few I had. Then, stationed in fun city, Madison, Wisconsin, I came back to Rockford on leave and for $1,400 I bought a clean Raven black 1955 2-seater Thunderbird with a bum tranny. It was a California car, salt free with a 292 and automagic on the floor. I bought it because a close friend of mine liked it, recommended the Bird and I fell in love with it. Short wheelbase, sporty 2-seater, blurbble of those mellow duals out back with the top off and I began to see the inborn love for cars come out of my depths. It saw baby moons and wide whites. I never customized it or altered the little machine except for an antenna in the center of the trunk. In 1965, the Bird was just beginning to become recognized as a modern classic. I joined the Classic Thunderbird Club, Int that year too. Had a lot of good times with the Bird. Went overseas in 1965 and came home in 1967. Took the Bird out of storage and went to Kansas, McConnell AFB to spend my last 90 days.

The Bird and I came back to Rockford, Illinois in the fall of '67 and for the next few years bummed around together. In '68, I could not see driving it in the salt anymore and decided to store it until I could afford to rebuild the motor and freshen up the paint. Went lookin' for a 1966-7 Chev Nova with a 327 and 4 gear. I had to have some speed in that age of hi-po Detroit iron. I really liked the size of car, especially since I had avoided marriage and kids so it was only me. I must admit, I also dug the square, boxy style.

In steps my friend who lined me up with the Bird a few years earlier. Art was into Ramblers, was that way all through his college days. He found he could buy 'style' and comfort and luxury rather cheaply in a 3-4 year old Ambassador. He had a neat chestnut '64 with all the toys and hoggy 327 boatanchor motor. But Art said that AMC made a good car for the bucks and I could get a very similar car to a 327 Nova if I searched out the car dealers for a 1966 Rambler American Rogue hardtop with 290 and 4 speed. He said they made a few thousand in 1966 in Sun Gold with a black top and trunk. Plus, they all had buckets and were about $800 less, if I could find one, than a 1966 Nova. So, I believed him, found one and bought it. Loved it so much, I kept it for 8 years. Put a 343 4bbl in it and twin grip. Almost bought a new SC/Rambler the next year but could not stand the taxi cab interior and the loud paint scheme was a ticket to cop city.

Larry and Reg Sheldrick
Larry Mitchell and Reg Sheldrick

In 1970, I started a local chapter of a young California club called Jav-AMX and run by Reg Sheldrick. American Motors-Sport of Rockford, Illinois. I was president until 1973 when I lost the re-election by a slim margin. But, in 1970, I had the Bird and had watched it become a collector's car. I was driving my American and hangin' around the local AMC dealer. AMXs didn't catch my eye too much, I thought the rear quarters were too blind to drive safely. But in 1970 when they announced the death of the 2-seater, bells went off in my head. It was then that I felt the 2-seat AMX could potentially become a collector's item like the 2-seat Bird, and that feeling is what still drives me today, 10 years later. So I began to look for a keeper AMX to put away with the Bird. I could not afford a new one so I looked for a used one.

Larry's 1969 AMX The Great Pumpkin
Larry's 1969 1/2 AMX "The Great Pumpkin"

I looked for a year and at over 50 cars before I settled on a local one owner 1969 1/2. It was fully optioned with steering, brakes, air, tilt, tint, leather, rack, redlines and the extra cost automatic tranny. I had watched the T-Bird people go crazy over options and hence I became an option freak when looking for my keeper AMX. I decided on the 1969 AMX partially by happenstance and partially by the looks of the car. Somehow the cuteness of the 1968-9 of the car Teague designed appealed to me over the ‘mean’ looks of the 1970 version. And the 1969-late AMX was to me the refined vision of the car Teague designed. You had the more deluxe interior with woodgrain, leather, cut pile carpets, smooth headliner, big tach and more. Outside loved the color and knew it was an extra cost option.

Larry's 1969 AMX The Great Pumpkin
Larry's 1969 1/2 AMX "The Great Pumpkin"

It was my baby and in 1971, early in the Spring, I gave $2,350 for it. It stickered for $4,500. I put it away and continued to drive the American, drag racing whenever I got a safe and clean chance.

When I was no longer president of my local club in '73, I turned to my wife Linda, whom I had just married a year or so ago, and said it was a good omen after all. Now I had the time to concentrate on starting a National 2-seat AMX club patterned after my experience with the Classic Thunderbird Club, Int. and my local car club chapter of Jav-AMX, soon to die as a National club for lack of support, especially by it's chapters.

So, Geary Shugars, a local fella/friend who owned a '70 and I made a pak. I did the work and he would give me some support. But, above all, we had come to realize that a car did not become a recognized collector's item without a club behind it and an organized publicity/promotions effort.

Ted Smith of the American Motors Car Club of Chicago threw in his support and we were off with 3 members! We recruited locally and at major events such as the Trans Am races at Elkhart, Wisconsin and local drag strips. Then in 1973 I started to get strong dreams after I attended my first National convention, this one held in Kenosha, Wisconsin by the Nash Car Club of America. I stood on the grounds that summer day and said the AMX needs to be here. We need an event to get things really rolling. Next year, after over $700 in investment in the club idea out of my pocket for letterheads, brochures, applications, etc., about 30 AMXs met with the Nash Club for our first National Meet! It was a dream come true. The AMX was on it's way, but the workload was getting much heavier. If I had only realized the amount of personal effort in time and money, I may have stopped cold then. But love of the car, a desire for fame and fortune, (which still eludes me by the way) and the right lifestyle to put the time in overshadowed the practical thoughts.

Gary Carlson came along as my appointed National Vice President in 1974 after Geary Shugars left. He and I, with the help of a few others and my wife Linda, struggled on to make things a go.

In 1976 I sold my Bird because I couldn't afford and wasn't interested in restoration. I was more interested in power and handling, something the Bird couldn't offer without major mods. With the money, I bought my red 1969 AMX. The previous year I had sold my American hardtop and bought what I felt was a better investment and was a replacement for the convertible feature I'd lose if I sold the Bird, a '67 Rogue convert. And that folks, is the meat of the matter of how I came to AMC's camp.

And if you don't mind, or even if you do, I plan to stay. I've learned too much in these 10 years to quit. I got my working knowledge of AMC/AMX through the collecting of literature/memorabilia and by being a car dealer at Unique Motorcars; Ltd until we quit the business in the Spring of 1980. I can only hope that someday my headstone or ash bottle has the AMX circle on it. Afterall, have you ever met a bigger AMX nut than I? I'm on my second decade and looking for more! Thanks!

The following story was originally published in the "AM-Xtra" in 2001.

Larry meeting another newsletter deadline
Larry meeting another newsletter deadline

After 27-plus years of writing, publishing and distributing the club magazine the AMX-tra, I'm going for 30 and a little beyond. Past issues of the AMX/tra that are sent to the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Detroit Public Library as well will be around in the hands of collectors long after we both are gone, AMC history is printed - and preserved for Generations to come. 27 straight years of a deadline every 60 days.

I still have the desire to write more, have still got a ton of information and pictures here in this office to turn into the kind of technical information a lot of you folks want to read, but too much has gone on this last four months for me to get time to write. I will always feel family and personal considerations must come first, but have no intention of letting my faithful readership down, My doctor wants me to slow down now that I am only two years away from being 60 and so I am stopping my restoration services on AMC cars for the hobby because it stresses me out, gives me no time to cook a dinner for me and Linda on a warm Sunday afternoon (I'm working on someone's car!) and to slow down and relax. I will finish two engine conversions I am doing on an AMX and a Javelin and then stop working on cars and spend more time relaxing with the wife, looking after my family and writing the interesting stuff you folks crave mixed with history I like to write about so we do not lose our AMC heritage. I'm doing well, learning to live with a body that is falling apart because of age that is going to happen to us all, my sis and mom are ok for now, so bear with me.

Larry and Terry Gale
Larry and Terry Gale

My Great Pumpkin is gone, yes I really did cry like a baby as I watched it go down the street on a trailer May 8th. Terry Gale bought it, it will reside at his museum in Elizabeth, Colorado and be on display. I could not find a better home for my baby I owned for 30 years and know Terry will cherish the car beyond my lifetime.

Great Pumpkin on display at Terry Gale's
Great Pumpkin on display at Terry Gale's "Rambler Ranch"