28 April 2011

Our Cars: Tanya Nelson's 1969 AMC AMX

Tanya Nelson grew up in a family of car enthusiasts. Her father participated in motorsports and her grandfather owned a garage where he repaired and repainted automobiles. It’s no wonder Tanya learned to work on cars herself. Coincidentally, Hagerty provided insurance for her grandfather’s shop, and now Tanya and her brother, Erik, both work for Hagerty.

Title: Senior manager, Office and Facility Management

Years at Hagerty: 16+

Car: 1969 AMC AMX

Background: Aside from the body repair and painting, my family always had cars around – a lot of cars. I remember helping with decals on my dad’s stock cars, riding to and from Grand Rapids and other towns in our ’55 Chevy to attend car shows. In the summer my grandpa would let me peel off the masking paper and tape on the newly repainted cars and ride in the back of his Bel Air in the local parades.

My mom had a ’69 Camaro convertible. My dad had countless cars. My uncles on both sides and even my grandma had her favorites, including a Vega wagon that she still owns! From a ’70 Buick GS Stage One, El Caminos, Oldsmobile 442s, Camaros, Novas … the list goes on and on.

My brother is 8½ years younger than me and didn’t even see half the cars, but he can recite the list forward and backward and inform you of the options available on every one. Yes, he’s a car guy, too! He owns a Triumph now, his second classic, and he’s always willing to help me out with the AMX when needed –in exchange for a drive, of course. It’s really a family affair.

Why a ’69 AMC AMX? My first (and favorite classic) was a 1967 Mustang Fastback GT, but I didn’t have a driver’s license when we owned it, and it came and went before the work was done. But the AMX was my Dad’s car before I was born. Other parents may use a rocking chair to put a baby to sleep, but not my family. My dad would drive me around the “country block” in the AMX.

I learned how to drive in this car – at age 8. I had to scoot down to use both feet on the very stiff racing clutch, get it into gear and scoot back up to see where I was going. When I was about 18 and the car was just collecting dust in my grandpa’s garage, I had the idea to get it back on the road. So, that’s what I did. It’s always been in the family. I’ve had the car for more than 20 years now and don’t plan to ever see it go anywhere else.

Repairs and modifications (planned or completed): Like an inexperienced but enthusiastic kid, I did things backwards – focusing on the appearance before the mechanical needs of the car. I stripped the car down to bare metal myself and solicited the assistance of a local shop owner for new paint. The AMX got a coat of Cadillac Polo Green paint, along with leather, automatic seats from a ’98 Monte Carlo. Shortly thereafter I was under the hood and dash pulling out the heater core, adding a new starter solenoid and learning the art of replacing plugs and wires.

The shiny new paint didn’t really help the car start, stop or shift, though, so as the shiny, new paint faded I started over with basic mechanical improvements including suspension, brakes and some transmission work. I finally hung up my do-it-yourself notion and I’ve been sending it to shops for repair work – nothing fancy, just the basics. Every year I try to tackle another project.

The car still needs a lot. Aside from a complete restoration, one thing I would really like to see is a new motor – maybe something with even more horsepower than the original 390.

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