By the late 1970’s American, and many foreign automakers, were completely out of the convertible business. The Griffith Company, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida began producing a “Sunchaser” convertible based on the Toyota Celica.
In 1980 AMC entered into an agreement with the Griffith Company to convert their Concord and Eagle 2-door models into a targa convertible named “Sundancer“. The cars were to be ordered by dealers through AMC. AMC would then build the cars in hardtop fashion and ship them to Florida for the conversion. The Griffith Co. would then return the finished product to Kenosha, Wisconsin for final delivery to dealers. The one pictured above is a 1980 model prototype used for marketing. You’ll notice some differences from the prototypes and the actual production version. The targa design was changed, along with the nameplate, to a full fiberglass band as apposed to the soft cover above. The cover over the rear convertible top also did not extend so far over the band(compare with the production model below).
You’ll also notice the the A-pillar window frame extended to the top of the window with a brace down to the door. The 1981 models had just a small fiberglass support at the bottom of the window but for 1982 the design was changed back to the prototype style.
Jack Griffith, owner of the Griffith Co. got his start building Shelby Cobra type race cars based on the English TVR sports car in a 200 Series and 400 Series.
They were light and very fast!
In the late 1970’s he moved on to converting Toyota Celicas into the Sunchaser convertible.
Jack Griffith was looking for ways to expand his business and AMC was looking for marketing tools to get more people into the showroom. Although it did attract more buyers it wasn’t anywhere near what The Griffith Co. or AMC had hoped for. My research discovered that probably just under 200 models were built (about one or two conversions a week) between 1981-82 on both the Concord and Eagle models. Not enough to make a business.
Griffith had planned to open a conversion shop in Kenosha close to the AMC factory, but sales were so dismal that the plan was abandoned. So much expense had been put into the Sundancer project that the new model Celica conversion never came about.
My research on the Sundancer begins
I first discovered the Sundancer when looking through a auto statistics book at the book store in 1990. There was a picture of an Eagle model with just a note below that read “Griffith AM/TC”
No other information, just a very small picture, but I was in love. In 1993 I happened across a rather worn 1982 Concord Sundancer in the ads in, where else but, Concord, California.
It was sold in New York state and had made its way west. It wasn’t too bad, it just needed a little fixing up. The serial number, which sits on a Griffith plaque on the inside of the glove box door, was missing but the build date was still on the drivers door on a small 1″ metal tag.
It was a DL model in “Topaz Gold”. Cloth interior and fairly loaded. I sold it a few years later and it now resides in the Lemay Auto Collection in Seattle, Washington. It was a fun car to own. A few years later I was talking to an AMC friend in Reno and he mentioned there was a lady that would drive by his house occasionally in an Eagle Sundancer. I was interested and not long after, he flagged her down, got her address and sent it to me. She was a nice older woman who lived in San Francisco and bought the car new at Falore’s AMC in San Francisco. She bought it to have a four wheel drive when she went to her cabin in Lake Tahoe. She just happened to have a friend that lived close to my friend and would visit her occasionally. The eagle had about 85k miles on it and, although it needed some attention was in very nice condition. After a few years of keeping in touch she decided to sell and in the summer of 1999 I took a drive from Boise Idaho to pick it up.
That’s my son Brad at 11 filling it up on the day we bought it. He’s also a car nut to this day and loved the Sundancer. He aptly named it “Sunny”. It was a black “Limited” model and was absolutely beautiful in Classic Black. It was the first car converted in July of 1981 at the Griffith plant and the serial number was 1051 (or conversion # 51).
It was the nicest and most comfortable AMC I had ever owned or driven, was a lot of fun to drive and got tons of attention.
The interior was as beautiful as the exterior. Most AMC enthusiasts had never seen one in person and most everyone else had no idea they even existed. After a few years I sold it to a collector in Sacramento. I really wasn’t expecting to sell it because I had the price way up there. I guess I really didn’t want to see it go but this collector offered me more than I was asking and I couldn’t refuse. It was a decision that I would later regret. You know the feeling. It is now owned by a nice gentleman in Florida.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet other Sundancer owners, share information and collect pictures of many of them.
I have been able to collect lots of original advertising, sales and publishing paperwork and began to get a feel for the organization behind these cars.
On March 13th of this year (2014) I came across another Sundancer in Oregon and Purchased it sight unseen. It has been sitting outside for many years and that has taken its toll but I am so looking forward to having a Sundancer back in my stall.
It is a “Copper Brown Metallic” Limited model and although it has the glove box tag I do not know the number or build date yet. The previous owner has owned it for 25 years and sometime after purchasing it developed cancer and since then has just not been able to take care of it. The body and paint appear to be in good shape but it is not running and the interior will need lots of attention. I can’t wait to pick it up and get started.
Ordering a new Sundancer
You could order a new Sundancer at your local dealer but I have the feeling, because of the stiff price tag, most were ordered by dealers who wanted something different to entice new buyers into the showroom. It could be ordered in any exterior color but the interior had only one color option, “Nutmeg”. The conversion part ( targa band, vinyl roof and convertible top) was also only available in a muddy brown color. That saved on production costs. All other AMC options were available. Because the conversion was done by an outside vendor, the factory AMC warranty was voided and the only warranty available was through the Griffith Co..
Advertising and other papers
Here is some original advertising and paperwork I have collected over the years:
Please excuse some of the poor quality of these copies. They are the best I have.
Here is some of the media attention on the introduction of the Sundancer.
I did get a letter to Jack Griffith through a business associate of his in 1994 and he did reply to me. Below is a copy of his letter. It was gracious of him to respond.
I hope you enjoy the formation. I will post updates on the newly acquired Sundancer as the restoration begins.