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|Part 1: An AMC Weekend in North Carolina|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Saturday, 04 April 2009 08:35|
In American Motors (AMC) folklore there's a legend about the last AMC dealership. I visited Pikeville, North Carolina to find out if it's true.
Driving through Pikeville, North Carolina is like driving through the Twilight Zone. It's a small, rural North Carolina community about three hours east of Charlotte. Many times in surfing the web on related AMC topics I encountered accounts of a semi-functional AMC dealership of sorts, Collier Motors, in Pikeville, North Carolina. I had just flown into Charlotte five hours earlier to attend the following day's auction of more than 50 low-mileage AMC Cars to be sold as part of the twice-annual Food Lion Auto Fair held at Lowes' Motor Speedway. I couldn't resist the opportunity to see if the mythical Collier Motors actually exists. A phone call to a number located on the web confirmed that there was indeed a Collier Motors. I headed east, not quite sure of what I might encounter.
It was raining off-and-on all afternoon and was heavily overcast as I drove south through Pikeville, relying on my GPS PND to guide me to the location. At first I drove past the dealership even though I could see a lot of old AMC cars; the soothing female voice said, "Your destination is one mile ahead on the right." When I reached the destination, it was an open field. It really didn't surprise me; after all, I was looking for a dealership that logic told me shouldn't even exist (for the non-AMC fans reading this, AMC built its last car in 1987 in the aftermath of its purchase by Chrysler, which, ironically, is about to be purchased by Fiat...hopefully.) The showroom building, first occupied in the mid-seventies, was once a school, and still sports seventies-era AMC signage.
Arriving at the dealership, I was met by the first of three Robert Colliers, 80-year-old "Robbie" Collier, who graciously waited all day to meet me. Before hiking around the multi-acre site, in a trailer about 300-feet from the old dealership showroom and service area, he showed me memorabilia dating back to 1915 when the Collier family opened a Willys-Overland dealership in Pikeville. If you're an AMC fan, you would be in seventh heaven, surrounded by the remains that by my count exceeded more than 100 AMC cars. I could see that these cars, predominantly from the sixties and seventies--though often obscured by tall weeds--were for the most part intact. Others were in various states of disrepair, and some were in the later stages of decomposition.
Among the cars on the sprawling site were some real gems, including a mostly intact 1957 AMC Rebel, arguably the world's first muscle car, three Nash-Healey sports cars, a 1967 AMC Rebel 343 convertible, and an AMX two-seater once owned by former Arizona Senator and 1964 GOP Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater that still sported badges from the trans-European trip he took mentioned in three pages of his autobiography.
My AMC affliction, the bad AMC car gene as I've often referred to it, is for 1964 to 1969 Rambler Americans and Rogues, especially the two-door hardtops and station wagons, and I wasn't disappointed as by my count I found at least five, including a largely intact dark blue 1964 hardtop facing US 117 as if it were calling out for a buyer. In speaking later with Robbie's son Robert (Robbie's grandson, who toured the facility with us and is shown pulling the tarp back off of the red Nash-Healey roadster in the image gallery is known as Rob) the following day at the Tom Mack Auction of rare low mileage AMC cars back in Charlotte, I was told that the light blue 1968 Rogue I spotted on one of the dealership's far reaches was equipped with a very rare 290 V8 and 4-speed transmission, certainly a car worth fully restoring in my opinion.
There is a conundrum in all of this from the standpoint of a fan of the AMC marque. The Colliers have saved so many of these cars from the crusher, yet they lack the needed resources--mainly time, money, and indoor storage space--to fully maintain the collection, something that Robert freely acknowledged to me the following day. Cars like the 1957 Rebel and the Goldwater AMX are highly significant cars both to the AMC community and to the collector car world at large. Currently, the business of Collier Motors is to sell the cars as complete units, so if you're like me, and have the AMC car gene, you are invited to contact Collier Motors. They're not all that difficult to find; if you Google "AMC+dealership+Pikeville+NC" you will be rewarded with their phone number, but in fairness to the three generations of Robert Colliers, I'm going to make you do a bit of detective work on your own before calling them.
I have posted a small cross section of the more than 100 images I took before the lack of daylight conspired to end my photo session in the Automotive Traveler image gallery. If you are an AMC or old-car enthusiast and want me to post more images in the gallery drop me a note and as time allows I will add additional images as well as update this blog.