by Larry Mitchell
I finally finished the new AMC book Motorbooks, International commissioned me to do. It is now being edited and laid out as you read this, but the publishing date has been pushed back to late spring, early summer of '94. So, the "AMC Buyer's Guide” will hit the stands a ways down the road instead of this fall. And in that lies a story.
When I got the nod to do the book for Motorbooks in October of '92, I underestimated how long it was going to take me to do it. I felt I could punch out the manuscript by April of ‘93 and spend the summer at meets shooting the cars needed. I wanted to use as many fresh photographs as possible even though I have a large, personal collection of original AMC "Press Releases” and factory photographs. I knew I had nearly 100% of all needed research information on Nash and AMC cars from 1950 to 1988 in my file cabinet in my office. To research each year model by model, all I had to do is to bring original literature from the other office into this office where the computer equipment is. I could advertise in the Rambler Club and AMO publications, as well as this one to get interested AMC car owners who had the right cars and a good camera to get needed fresh photographs.
All seemed so simple.
It took me a few months to get a “feel” for what was needed. The AMC Buyer's Guide is to be different than the other twelve current Buyer's Guides in that it covers an entire company’s run of cars from 1950 to 1988. A book just on Corvettes or one on selected Mopars is a lot easier to do than to cover everything even little AMC made. I felt that since American Motors is gone and the AMC hobby is so much smaller than the Ford, GM and Mopar hobbies, I needed to cover all Hornets, for example, not just the SC/360 and maybe the hatchbacks. My commissioning editor felt the same, and this highly complicated the task from a writer's point of view. Research time tripled right there, model by model, year by year. It took me to many months to realize that and establish a “feel” for what the book was going to be about exactly. AM-Xtra deadlines came and were met, personal life tasks had to be done, my job as an appraiser here in Denver took countless hours - and the next thing, it was April and all I had accomplished was to get a "feel" with one chapter and an appeal out for pictures. Time was slipping away. Summer was upon me before I knew it, Milwaukee '94 to do, cars to get out of storage, yard to mow, well, more other work than I figured. It was under estimate-city for me.
When I finally got rolling, the workload overall became overwhelming. And, you know the phrase, "the hurrier I go, the behinder I get". It was the end of July already and I was not even half way done with a September 1, 1993 book deadline. The pressure mounted. I had to call a halt to book progress as I was due in San Diego for the Western Regional put on by the San Diego Chapter. While in San Diego, I contracted a bronchial infection and when I got back, I was laid up nearly a week recovering from that. Tough to concentrate and write when you are seriously stuffed up in 90 degree summer weather and coughing your lungs up, so to speak.
Then Clarence Parker, Linda’s dad passed away in our hometown of Rockford, Illinois. He was my father-in-law and a man I dearly loved and I now made grief for me to carry. He was 82, hardly sick a day in 80 years and the loss was not unexpected. But it made for a heavy heart that complicated my sitting down and trying to write. My own mother is 80 and failing fast, adding to the stress. Then, after just recovering from what was probably considered pneumonia contracted from moldy air conditioning in the hotel room in San Diego, I came down with the same thing all over again from air conditioning in 90 degree, 95% humidity at the funeral in Illinois. Getting serious pneumonia twice in a 30 day period, knocked me to my knees. Back home in Colorado, I hammered on the book hour after hour half out of it with a major bronchial infection, congested head, coughing and prescription medicine that made me fall asleep on the computer keyboard. Due to sitting behind the keyboard for 10 to 12 hours a day for two months in a chair that caused cramped posture, stress from a number of sources, the double whammy illness, missing the deadline for the book - I developed a breathing problem that has lasted 12 weeks. It took three doctors, a physical therapist, a psycho therapist and the concern of clubmembers Dennis O'Shaunessey, Rick Trepeta, Max Frye and Al Barrie to finally pull through. I was given a complete physical and passed with no major problems. Just need to lose a few pounds, exercise more, mellow out and stay away from moldy air conditioning units. And that is just what I plan to do.
The book will have the cover as shown above in the picture. A 1957 Rambler Rebel owned by Gary Born sitting next to my red '69 AMX, cover photography by me. I am very pleased with the book though it was six weeks over deadline. It also went 4,000 words over the publisher's target of 30,000. But would you expect me to write less? I cover everything from 1946 with the Nash Ambassador and 1950 with the Nash Rambler up through the end of the Eagle run in December of 1988. I cut 25 of the target 200 pictures to fit the extra text and the publisher agreed to fly with that. 34,000 words of text, 175 pictures most of current cars in the hobby today including Australian AMXs and Javelins with the owner's names under the pictures of their cars. Over 20 “spec boxes" or performance data from original road tests and production figures too. It should be a small encyclopedia on AMC appealing to (late) Nash, Rambler and all AMC people. But, the book is intended to hit book stores and be bought by those NOT already in our hobby, and there is where the AMC hobby has a chance at getting new blood involved. For the comparably small AMC hobby to grow now and in the future, we must have an influx of new people to our ranks. And this is exactly what the second purpose of this book is going to do. It is a guidebook for those both in and OUT of our hobby.
I was over deadline, so a large number of other car and aviation books got done before me and now my publishing date is pushed back six months. It is targeted for early summer 1994 and you will see Motorbooks catalogs and flyers announcing the new AMC book after the first of the year.
The cover shot will be Bill Larson's Matador red 1970 AMX with white "C" stripe as I did not have the Rebel and the AMX shot done at the time Motorbooks needed a press release cover picture. The book will be available through many sources when published to include AMC hobby sources, Motorbooks International and even at large book stores in major cities. I will stock the book myself and offer all who desire, a personally autographed copy. I figure that after being in the fore front of the AMC hobby since 1969, maybe a few people would like to have a signed copy. The book is dedicated to my father who passed away in 1977 and to my friend, Dick Teague who passed away in 1991.
AMC MUSCLE CARS
The new AMC book, "Color Musclecar History, AMC" will be on its way to the printer about the time you all get this club magazine. The book will be published and distributed by Motorbooks, International and will be available for sale around the first of March, 2000.
For those interested in knowing about this new book, it will be the AMC version of a series of Color Musclecar Histories that have been published by Motorbooks since 1991. It was be of large format, 9 X 10.5 and 128 pages. 40,000 words of text will fill the pages and 80 full color photo graphs embellished with 40 black and white. This will be the largest color AMC historical book published to date. Many of the pictures will be full page.
As the author, it has been a gruelling job all year. Let me tell you how all this came about:
Motorbooks had guidelines before they picked an author for this book. The overall quality of this book is far superior to the "Illustrated AMC Buyers Guide", mostly in the picture department. So, the person they picked to do the book had to be a major AMC historian, have the ability to write an interesting and informative book that will sell, be able to organize everything into words and pictures they can make a book out of -- and be an extremely good automotive photographer with the camera and skills necessary to turn out poster or calendar quality sides (most books are done with slides, not prints) Plus, they wanted someone with an extensive AMC literature collection to include an array of factory photos to fill in the gap as needed. This is one heck of a jab description!
After shopping around, Paul Johnson, commissioning editor for Motorbooks called me in December, 1998, as I filled the bill more than anyone they could find. Plus, they liked my work on the Buyer's Guide and my connection and years with the AMC hobby itself. The only thing Paul was seriously concerned about was my photographic ability. And so was I. He asked for a portfolio of my previous work for magazines and sent him some past issues of Popular Hot Rod, Musclecar Review and others that I wrote AMC articles for and shot the pictures. He was not 100% sold on my abilities, but offered me the book contract. I told Paul I knew I had an eye for shooting cars, but knew my Pentex PZ 10 was not a good enough camera. I promised to buy a new, more serious camera and lens with my book advance, study how to use it and then learn how to use it as winter turned into spring. He said he trusted me to do just that because the composition and lighting of the photographs for this book have to be of absolute professional quality. It was a challenge I felt I could do, but I was somewhat scared I could pull it off.
I studied camera equipment and selected a new 35mm Nikon N9OS with the matching Nikon 24 to 120mm wide angle, telephoto lens. Even discounted, it set me back two grand. With all the buttons and readouts it was intimidating to say the least. I talked to my personal friend and one of the top three professional automotive photographers in the U.S. and he backed up others by saying the most important part of a camera is the lens. "Buy the best chunk of glass you can” was the word I listened to. I got the camera and spent quite a few hours trying to get a feel of what it was all about I planned to shoot about half the color photographs I would need at the AMCWC National in Denver. I knew I would need help and asked long time friend, clubmember and general photographer Bruce Jacobsen from Rockford, linois to bring his medium format Pentax, especially as I knew we needed the wider framing of this size of camera to shoot the cover shot I wanted. Local friend and clubmember Adam Ortiz of Denver said he had some experience and offered to help shoot cars with his new Minolta. So we spent time at the nationals shooting cars for the new book.
I wanted a Colorado setting for the cover and we staged Denver member Werner Fruhwirth’s pretty 1969 Big Bad Blue Javelin SST in back of Mark and Mike Knapp's national concours winning 1969 Big Bad Green AMX on the scenic overlook off of U.S. 36 with the City of Boulder, Colorado in the background with the Rocky Mountains in the distance. The shot had to be done between sunrise and 10am and we did it..only to have a local photo lab get Bruce's precious 120 mm film caught in the machine which ate it like an 8-track player. Due to time constraints, we could not restage the shot before the Knapp's had to go back to Wisconsin We had no cover. I submitted back-up 35mm shots, but they were not big enough with two cars and we all realized a two car cover shot had to be done with a medium format camera, not a 35mm. Since Motorbooks and I wanted an AMX and a Javelin on the cover to represent the largest segment of the future buyers of the book, I was at a loss which lasted for three months while I did other things.
In October with the leaves turning and me in a panic for a cover, I called Jerry Heasley who lives in Pampa, Texas. Jerry was on a photo shoot for Ertl and Johnny Lightning where he does much of the box art for their toys you see in stores. Jerry has the camera equipment and the skills to use it professionally and I offered to pay his expenses, but could not afford a $500-$1,000 session fee. In the spirit of true friends, Jerry was on a plane a couple days later and on that Friday, we went out to my favorite Boulder overlook only a few miles away from my house to review the cover shot. Jerry didn’t like it, mainly because with his wider format camera, we framed too much of the curbs in the lot and a dirt edge off the asphalt that would not look good in the picture. We had the Big Bad Green 500 Special of Doug Eiriksen from Colorado Springs and the Plum 1973 Javelin of John Thompson from Denver to use for the cover because Motorbooks didn’t want two 1969 cars together on the cover, though I still feel OK about that. Bright green and purple, what a combo!
We looked most of the afternoon on Friday and found no suitable area to Jerry. Just as the sun was headed down over the mountain, Jerry saw a spot he liked. We quickly set up the cars and camera and Jerry burned film. It was to be a low light shot something I would have never thought of. As the sun was setting over the mountains, reflected light lit up the sides of the cars giving them a warm glow. He shot until it was twilight, four full rolls of film. He felt we should be there the next morning as the morning sun cleared the eastern horizon, so we planned for that.
We rolled out of bed at 5:00 am, the middle of the night for old Uncle Larry and went back to the area we shot in the night before. For history, it is the grounds of the Colorado Highway Patrol Academy on Old Golden Road and I-70 in Golden, Colorado. The picture in this article is the real cover shot, but may not reproduce well in back and white with our printers 1658 original Gutenberg press. We shot another seven rolls of Fuji Provia Professional Color Slide film to include many individual shots to be used in the coming book. Cars photographed for the cover were Doug's Big Bad Green in the foreground and John’s Plum Javelin in the background. Also under invitation, clubmember Wayne Davis from Castle Rock, Colorado brought up his 18,000 mile 1969 Big Bad Green and we shot it individually and detail shots. I got a passenger's side shot of Wayne's AMX down low with the turning yellow leaves above and a dark, royal blue sky above that will appear in the book and is one of the most colorful automotive pictures you have ever see. Jerry got a down, front-end shot that is the best angle I have ever seen an AMX photographed from. Also in the book.
Motorbooks chose one of the Friday evening, low light shots for the cover, the one you see above-but it is a back-up shot with a 35mm camera, Doug and John are in seventh heaven.
I want to say, I had to take the shots of these cars myself, due to equipment and composition/lighting and most slides sent to me for review from clubmembers are not of the quality needed for this book. I thank those who put forth the time, effort and expense, but they just can’t be used. I am sure there are a lot of fellow clubmember's cars I could have used in the book, but I could just not afford to fly around the country this past summer on what little advance Motorbooks gives out for an AMC book. (A Mustang book gets the author 3-5 times the advance to work with I got for the same efforts. What I did do, is use cars from members of AMC World Clubs first and foremost. Doug's ‘69 AMX on the front cover proudly wears the grille badge of The Classic AMX Club, International and Doug would not have it any other way. I also want to say Motorbooks wanted my Big Bad Orange '69 AMX on the cover and I refused. It has been on the cover of one book and I wanted to honor my fellow hobbyists by using their cars, not mine. I badly wanted the Knapp brothers car on the cover for the AMX, but it wasn't to be. My next choice was Doug's. Motorbooks wanted a Rebel Machine in the background, but the only nice Machine in Colorado is owned by a person who has refused to support AMC World Cubs for over four years. I didn't feel a one-way street of support is right or fair, so I am happy to use John Thompson's '73 Javelin. And John is pretty happy too.
This is not a book just about AMXs and Javelin, though they are the main focus. Included in the book will be the other AMC musclecars to include the SC/Rambler (A and B), the SC/360, the early V-8 Rogue, the Machine and some conversion cars to include a 401 Pacer, a 390 Gremlin, etc. The book will also contain pictures of all the original AMC racecars, from drag racing, road racing, SCCA racing and NASCAR.
My wonders about my photographic abilities were put to rest when professorial automotive photographer Jerry Heasly sat at my kitchen table a few weeks ago and looked at individual cars I have shot for the book. After looking closely at a dozen, he pushed back in the chair and said, "Larry the car pictures you have shown me are every bit as good as the shots I do.” Coming from the third best automotive photographer in the land, I am deeply honored. I guess I need not worry anymore. I might have arrived on at least the lower end of the scale of professional car photographers. Now if could only get the $300 per photograph Jerry sells his to Ertl, Road Champs and Petersen Publishing for.
The new Color Musclecar History, AMC written and mostly photographed by Larry Mitchell with contributing photographers Jerry Heasley, Bruce Jacobsen, Adam Ortiz, Jeff Sorenson and Dan Beheymer. It will be available about the first of March, 2000 from book vendors and stores worldwide. For personally autographed copies, they will be available from AMX Enterprises, Ltd through this newsletter and on the net. Price will be $21.95 plus shipping. Stay tuned.