By on July 25, 2013

1971_amc_gremlin_emblem

The used baby-shit green AMC Gremlin arrived in the Stork’s driveway about the time their long lived 1967 Chrysler Newport made its last tip out of the driveway and into its final resting place in the forested acreage behind the house. The oil shock had meant a lot of changes, but Wayne had been willing to deal with the high prices so long as it hadn’t meant purchasing a new car, but by the time the old Chrysler finally gave up the ghost it was a given that the next vehicle he purchased would be smaller and more fuel efficient. Compared to the Chrysler, the Gremlin was smaller and more fuel efficient, but compared to my family’s Opel Kadett it was an anachronistic piece of junk. It’s a wonder it lasted an entire year before it broke down.

The little car languished at the side of the carport and gradually became a sort of semi permanent shop bench where the various odds and ends of daily life ended up when their usefulness had passed. The unused part of a 2×4 found a home atop the car as it waited to be used in some other project, a broken toaster found its way into the back seat and a well used weed-eater was placed atop the cowl at the bottom of the windshield as it awaited a trip to the hardware store. Along with these and various other things that gradually accumulated over time, virtually all of the Stork’s dozen or so outdoor cats established their own perches atop the car and soon after that, a place atop the car’s hood was cleared for their food and water dishes. Like so many other things around the Stork’s house, the car soon became a part of nature itself and we kids found ourselves ignoring it.

Photo courtesy of aaca.org

Photo courtesy of aaca.org

When the forest behind the Stork’s house grew tall enough, Wayne saw the opportunity to make some money contracted with a local logging company to come and harvest some of the trees that grew there. The entire crew appeared on our street one morning, a small group of men driving big trucks with impressive looking log skidders atop lowboy trailers. In a matter of minutes the crew had their machines off the trucks and into the woods. The sound of chainsaws and cracking trees filled the air for days and soon the big skidders had clawed out rudimentary roads through the undergrowth as they worked to bring the long logs to a central landing where the trucks could load them and carry them to the mill. Truck after truck came and went and the forest behind the house was gradually denuded of its many alders, though the tall cedar trees, which required a special permit to cut, remained. When the job was done, what had once been an are of perpetual twilight beneath the tall trees was a barren ruin of broken stumps and trimmed branches. Amidst this carnage, dozens upon dozens of primitive roads wended their way through the destruction.

The roads soon became bicycle trails and we wore them flat with the passage of our tires. Nature reasserted itself over the scene and soon a mass of undergrowth sprang up and wherever the sun’s rays shined salmon berry bushes, vine maples and large patches of giant sticker bushes we called “devil’s clubs” grew thick. As time passed many of the lesser traveled paths were lost to us, but the ones we used remained. But pedaling a bicycle through the various hills and gullies of the Pacific Northwest wilderness can be tiring and so, one day, we determined that we should find something with an engine.

amc_gremlin_gray_1971

The whole project began with the surreptitious questioning of Wayne Stork. Why exactly had the Gremlin been parked, and why had it not been consigned to the graveyard behind the house? It turns out that it needed a simple repair, a new alternator, and that Wayne had been waiting for the right time to fix the little car. I knew enough about basic mechanics to know that an alternator is a nice thing to have, but that it isn’t really essential to make a car run so long as you have a fully charged battery. It was a small step to dig out the Stork’s battery charger, which had been conveniently left on the front seat of the car anyhow, and hook it to the battery. A day later, we filled the car’s four flat tires from a nearby air tank and, with the battery now fully charged, commenced to cranking. Lo and the little car fired and struggled into a smokey idle.

We added a couple of gallons of fresh lawn mower gas to the car’s tank and, after we had cleared off the bits of junk and shooed away all the cats, all the neighborhood kids climbed aboard while Kenny claimed the driver’s seat as his own. Throwing the car into reverse, he backed it down the driveway, pointed it into the woods and mashed the gas. The car responded with an unhappy groan as its six cylinder engine worked to move it forward but failed to even spin the tires in the gravel driveway as it began to work up momentum.

cc-27-173-1000

Trees flashed by at the grand speed of around ten miles an hour and at the main intersection of the property, the area that had been used as a landing by the loggers, Kenny threw the car down into low gear and headed down one of the old skidder trails. The undergrowth closed in around us and branches slapped at us through the open windows as we passed. The Gremlin ground its way on through the brush, up and over a hill and down into a gully where a small woodland stream ran nearly empty in the summer heat. Water splashed as we dove headlong in and the car’s wheels began to sink but our momentum carried us across and up the hill on the other side. At the back of the property Kenny spun the car around and we headed back through the forest to the driveway.

All day long Kenny drove the car through the forest like a madman. At one point he missed a curve and slammed the Gremlin into a giant boulder, a remnant of Western Washington’s ice glacial past, and made a huge dent in the car’s fended. Undeterred he plowed on, back through the small saplings and assorted undergrowth and back onto the road. By the time we finally ran out of gas the car was covered in long streaks of mud, bore the scratches of a million branches and had leaves and branches hanging from the grill. The situation was so bad that there was no hiding it and so we put it back on the car port and awaited Wayne’s return, or rather Kenny did as the rest of us beat feet before he got there.

As Kenny tells it Wayne came home, walked past the little car and came into the house where he found his son watching television. A man a few words, Wayne sat down in his chair and began to watch TV before broaching the subject. “I see you’ve been driving the Gremlin.” He said simply.

“Yeah,” answered Kenny, “We had to work on it. Can you believe that it still runs?”

“Of course it does.” answered Wayne, “It ran when I parked it.” And with that, the subject became a non issue and so far as I know was never raised again.

Looking back now, I am sure that Wayne had mixed emotions about our adventure. On one hand he was probably upset that his son had virtually destroyed the little car, but on the other he was probably proud that his son had the wherewithal to actually get out under the hood of the car, figure out the problem and implement a solution. From that day on, the car was Kenny’s plaything until it had been so broken and so abused that it could not run again. Then it too joined the others in the great junkyard that it had so often passed by on the way down one trail or another. By the time it arrived there, it had truly earned its place and I am sure that it remains there today, quietly decomposing amid the others, but alive still in my memory and now yours.

Not the real car, but close - photo courtesy of amcrc.org

Not the real car, but close – photo courtesy of amcrc.org

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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40 Comments on “Gremlin Of The Forest: Another Kenny Stork Adventure...”


  • avatar

    Well that was a very amusing romp somewhere in western Washington! In a Gremlin, no less. (A Pacer would have been even more fun, but I’m quibbling like a madman.) (But Thomas, you need to proof your stories! The car “ran,” not the car “an”) (There’s more.)

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry. I write these the night before and I think my brain tricks on me when I try to review them prior to publishing. Once they get published most of the mistakes pop out at me and I usually go back after the fact and correct them as best I can.

      After a couple of passes though, I give up and leave well enough alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m lucky to even string a few words together to make a coherent sentence. The obvious mistakes have been corrected now.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re very lucky then (as per second to last sentence). All of your sentences are more than coherent.

      • 0 avatar
        3Deuce27

        Self Edits; I find that reading my stuff out loud helps to see problems. Backing that up with posting it to myself in an e-mail to be reread in the AM, helps.

        If it is really important, I post it to one of my editor friends who get perverse enjoyment out of redlining it and including little instructive ‘You dumbass’ notes judgmentally reaming me, allowing them a much needed, little momentary feeling of superiority… F- – king English majors. Hi! Guys

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      More importantly, an editor should be reading all stories before they get posted. Expecting writers to catch their own mistakes is a path to failure.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Thomas,
    Nice story. What did Mrs. Wayne have to say about the Gremlin as lawn furniture?

    • 0 avatar

      Anyone who kenw them could tell you that Claudine Stork was the power in that household. If she had an issue with anything everyone knew it. Wayne and Claudine were really great people and I can’t write about them without recall them with real fondness.

      Kenny, by the way, grew to be about 6’4″ tall and I think he was affected by the logging he saw because today he is about the biggest toughest logger you could ever met.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I know woods like that…with the increasing environmental consciousness of most people here in the Pacific northwest most of them are now restricted to hiking trails, but there was a day when the width of a vehicle was an important consideration for 4wd rigs – a Scout or old Bronco could get between trees that a full-size pickup couldn’t.

    When I had my 1975 Monza 2+2 and the daughter was still a baby, more than once I took it and her on the local woods trails – I think it may have devalued the machismo of the jeep guys to meet me in my low fastback Monza with the baby sleeping in the car seat beside me. Those woods trails are gone now – in their place are roads, driveways, houses, barns and such.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I remember the first generation fwd Opel Kadette. I assume you refer to that model? Boxy hatchback that burned oil faster than a diesel, rusted instantly and the hatch struts lasted a week.. Good car for it’s time and agreed better than a Gremlin in every sense.
    BTW the cars of that time rusted for two reasons. The oil crisis forced cars to be far to light and paint technology just wasn’t there yet.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Another good story Thomas !

    Please ignore the children who simply cannot resist nit picking .

    We had a fleet of these , prolly a couple hundred when new , by 1984 when I came aboard only City Hall still had them and they racked up serious miles without complaint .

    Oddly , we had the replace the front cross member fairly often as they’d crack .

    Other than that they were typical American Motors Products : Conservatively designed and good solid basic transport .

    I made a point of stocking the correct fuel filler caps .

    in 1985 , the younger bother of one of my old High School buddies got out of the Army and bought one of these and began to drink himself to death .

    After loosing his job to drinking , he did a quickie valve job , drove to Lake Havasu to visit his mother then shot himself in the head .

    Maybe these were worse cars than I realized ?.

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      As always Nate – thanks for the kind words and the *eek* story…

      I’ll say this, that little Gremlin was tractro simple and probably just about as reliable as one at the time. It may have gone on a lot longer but I think Wayne didn’t like it. It got replaced by a Plymouth “Gold Duster.”

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        I rather like the Plymouth Dusters in retrospect…. so did Al Bundy =8-) .

        I kinda miss Freddy but he was bound & determined to screw up his life .

        I gave you the vastly shortened and sanitized version .

        -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Lets… not… blame the Gremlin… It is so hideous it’s soul destroying, but, not that bad.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I have a similar story involving a 4WD Civic wagovan flipped over in the middle of the base soccer field, and one hyperventilating teen left to deal with the mess.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      LOL ! what a worthless bunch of buddies he had ~

      Back in 197? we ‘ borrowed ‘ a heroin addicts big old Dodge 4Dr. sedan and took it out for a few ” beats ” .

      Down at the World Famous Rose Bowl back then the parking lots were unfenced and dirt , a few hours after we’d (for some odd reason that sort of made sense at the time) stopped in a busy Arco Station and broken all the windows out with pipes and crowbars , Mike , BillyBob and Pete were turning donuts in the R.B. parking lot and scaring the living crap out of the Citizens who were trying to teach their kids to drive , when in a full power slide (gotta love big block Mo-Par power !) the right front’s crispy & bald bias ply tire popped off the rim and flipped the car up on it’s side where it rapidly slid to a halt ~ no cell ‘phones back then so we knew we had a good window to bug out before the PPD showed up , all three of them poured out the absent windshield and asked me how to get it on all fours again , we rocked it once or twice and flopped it on the ground , popped the trunk , changed the flat tire (HANDY TIP : even in stolen cars , always make sure the spare is properly inflated and you have jack & lug wrench) and drove off in a huge cloud of dust leaving behind bewildered Citizens and their progeny .

      Yep , hoonage was pretty wild in those dayze , I’da never left my buddies in the lurch like that .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Thanks, TK, for another good story.

    I drove Pintos, so I can empathize with the Gremlin’s lovable qualities.

  • avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    Here in my stomping ground an old Gremlin would quickly be snapped up by a skinny jeans wearing bearded hipster and driven for its irony value. I don’t see the irony in it, I’m just paraphrasing. I’m also pretty sure a flat battery would exceed the wrenching acumen of most hipsters who can barely master their fixie bicycles – devoid of gears and sometimes brakes presumably because it’s easier than learning how to fix them. I wouldn’t expect more from someone who’d wear a sweater vest in July anyway.

    You pal’s son, not being a hipster, did something even worse – he destroyed a perfectly good beater. My high school days would have seen me JUMPING FOR JOY to get a crapcan like this. I’d have polished the paint off it just like I did to the Spitfire I bought with money made bagging groceries, except had I been bequeathed this car I wouldn’t have been broke afterwards. Or had my AAA card revoked from frequent towings. Let Kenny know he needs to pay it forward, politely. He IS a big guy.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Hipsters are people to, ya know, it takes all sorts.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        Don’t worry Beerboy12, I bag on them for fun, not having forgotten my own fashion-challenged college days looking like a reject from The Minutemen. If I have a tangible gripe it’s that all hipsters love IPA beers, which usually taste like rotting grapefruit. Blecch.

        • 0 avatar
          3Deuce27

          The young hipsters I know in Portland and Seattle, are pretty kool kids. And they have grease under their nails from building Bobbers, Cafe Racers, and tuning their 2002′s and Lotus Cortina’s, with the occasional Valiant wagon, Falcon, or Tee speedster, thrown into the mix.

          And they drink whiskey and PBR’s, not IPA’s. I drink IPA’s that pure beer nectar from the beer gods, especially the beer gods at Stone Brewing(‘Your Not Worthy’.) and Lagunitas Brewing.

          Now chill! Bros

          • 0 avatar
            Piston Slap Yo Mama

            Are your friends hipsters … or are they bearded motorhead hoons with a taste for vintage iron? I’ll bet a PBR if you asked they’d choose the 2nd option. Either way if they’re keeping quirky transportation alive then I tip my hat to them.

            Unless they’re wearing a sweater vest on a hot summer day.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    I was one of the first in America to discover that the way-back of a Gremlin makes an excellent solar oven. I simultaneously discovered that the UV component in sunlight penetrates clouds, though I claim no primacy for that.

    Sat sideways back there for an 80-mile trip to a very popular quarry for some teenage summer hijinks. Just crawled in through the hatch, plopped my skinny ass and said “Let’s go!”.

    I’m no longer skinny but I am once again of uniform coloration.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Good story. Ummmm….. Must have Gremlin or Pacer – soon. Once owned Pacer. It made Jimbob smile.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    The Gremlin was ugly, but it was hardly the ugliest AMC product made about that time. The Pacer and Matador (Later version)were hideous. The Gremlin was anything but unreliable. It couldn’t have been more reliable unless it was made of stainless and rustproof. I knew several kids who had them, along with a couple of Hornets, and they beat the crap out of them, and they went on and on, until they got wrecked, or they rusted to the point it was scrapyard time. Like the one in the article, one of those was a “dead car” that just needed a battery and soon after it was revived, an alternator to be back on the road. It had sat over 2 years and drove another 8 after the revival before rust just got to be too much.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Great story, especially Wayne’s reaction. As someone who learned to shift in a 74 Pinto wagon, with genuine vinyl-wood siding, I have a soft spot for 70′s POS-vehicles, and the Gremlin was a horrificly wonderful specimen.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Love Gremlins, but not as much as I love Pacers. While I once owned a Levi edition Gremlin in immaculate condition, I have never been able to snag a Pacer that nice.

    For years, the family had the stylish AMC Hornet ‘Sportabout’ with the ‘X’ sport package for a back up car/loaner.

    We lost that car to a rather strange case of spontaneous combustion. It happened twice, the second time finished it for all intents and purposes. The car didn’t burn down, just smoked up the interior to the point that it was to much to selvage.

    That was a big disappointment as I had just landed V-8 cross member, so I could put the 401″ V-8 in her, ending her days of faithful service with the economical 232″ L-6, but not our days of having too much fun with her…Oh! Well! There are all kinds of ways to lose a car.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    When the Gremlin came out in 1970, and when I saw the first one on my air force base, I was hooked on one. I loved it! Of course, I like quirky cars, and I vowed to own one, someday…

    In 1977, I got my wish.

    Shortly after I married, to cut back expenses as my 1976 purchased new Chevy C-20 was eating me alive, I sold it for almost what I paid for it and bought a 1976 Gremlin. 6 cylinder, stick. Beige-on-beige.

    We had lots of fun in that not-so-little car for the next three years until I got tired of pressure plates collapsing.

    What’s funny about my last pressure plate replacement was my mom helping me install the transmission, as Wifey was 8 months pregnant with our first baby!

    Mom operated the old scissors jack while I was under the car telling her “crank it up a tad more…” “crank it down just a bit…” until things lined up to put the bolts in!

    What’s funnier, Wifey and I were laughing over this same story just two days ago!

    Yes, my dream of owning my very own Gremlin was realized and I enjoyed every minute of it! A fun little car.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    @ 3Deuce27 :

    You were very lucky there as the big block AMC V-8′s all had terrible oiling problems and for decades after they were sold , you could buy *pristine* Jeep , Matador Pursuit etc. for $1,000 or less , all it needs was a crank kit installed .

    Fun Matador Police car factoid : in 1974 one AMC Assembly Line Worker was disgruntled and so left the left ball joint nuts loose , several came loose during high speed pursuits , AMC sent out a bulletin and every time one came in for it’s routine LOF , we’d check and found many loose ones .

    Those old Matadors were stodgy beyond belief but were arguably the very best radio cars the L.A.P.D. ever had , we had some in service until 1990 .

    Better than the Dodge Polaras even .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Yup! They did have their issues.

      Family has been rodding Nash/AMC’s since early fifties, and that 401″ had the best in it, though, I did build a 258″ with a Clifford 4-barrel, and cam, pistons, and headers as an option if I couldn’t find a V-8 cross member. And there was the 91′ Cherokee 4L_’HO’ as another possibility for replacement of the old 232″.

      Later Jeep products(Cherokee’s and?) for cheap were anything with the Ford anti-skid system.

  • avatar
    vcficus

    @Zackman;

    Solid FRONT axle on the ’73 my buddy and I tooled around in during high school; slid on a slick street into/over/through a stop sign with almost no sign of impact on the bumper or undercarrige…

    Front axle tore the sign off the post, no damage.

    Gotta love old tech…

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    @ “Are your friends hipsters … or are they bearded motorhead hoons” … COL! Hipsters to a degree… most are artists who wrench.

    The only hooning they do that I’m aware of, is the Portland Adult Soapbox Derby mayhem.

    Hipster Label? Seems like a confining label and not totally accurate as applied to individuals. The definition of a Hipster by the social pundits/historians, are all over the place.

    http://soapboxracer.com/

  • avatar
    MossBoss

    As Thomas’s older sister, they aren’t just stories that should have been edited more closely. They are memories from a childhood long ago on Mero Road in Western Washington. I not only remember the Gremlin- I remember the day the machinery arrived and punched the road through the alders, just past the old chicken coop and on to the swamp beyond. Although I was not there the day they got the car running, my minds eye imagines the determined look on Kenny’s handsome, young face and I know for sure that was exactly Wayne’s reaction. Thanks for the tearful trip down memory lane. Good job, Thom!

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Hi! Thomas,

    I had a new yellow, 70′ Opel Kadette coupe for several years until I traded it for my ‘Blue Max’ special, 73′ Opel Manta coupe. The little Opel Kadette with its 1,100cc dual carb motor was a goer.

    Just before I traded it for the Manta, I raced my brother in his new 73′ Vega GT across Washington state from Puyallup to Spokane. It was our annual Summer trip to see the grandparents, and it was always a race, and usually between three cars. And it was the first time I was at a disadvantage, equipment wise, as I usually ran my 68′ Charger RT/440″. And it was the first of the annual races that didn’t have everybody in V-8 muscle. That little Opel with its mouse cage motor held its own against the Vega with an engine displacement more then twice as large(2,300cc).

    I pulled into the grandparents drive first, meaning that my brother would have to park on the street. Not once had I ever lost one of those epic, mad dash, cross country races, but this one was close.

    On the way back, my brother was committed to besting me, just how committed, I would find out about half way back in the 300 mile trip.

    Crossing the Columbia River and pulling up the Vantage grade headed for Snoqualmie, I was once again a head and he knew his chances of passing me were going to be few from here on out, as we would have to be a lot more careful in the Western part of the state, due to more police presence and traffic.

    As I approached a slow moving semi, I adjusted my speed so I would have some speed left to pass the moving road block as the oncoming traffic cleared momentarily, and leave my brother sitting behind it for miles. I executed the pass with perfection, I now had a good chance of beating him home… I thought.

    Checking my rear view mirrors for clearing the semi, I saw a cloud of dust erupt on the shoulder side of the semi, it was my brother in his brand new yellow Vega in a desperate attempt to not lose any more ground to me and possibly claim a victory.
    As he amazingly maintained control and pulled back onto the pavement the semi gave him all the horn he could muster.

    My brother had to be doing at least 50, maybe more when he passed that semi on the steeply off camber shoulder. Catching his eye and expression in my review mirror I saw a determination bordering on madness, that was enough, down the road I let him pass me, and sedately enjoyed the view home.

    Till this day he claims he beat his big brother and denies he ever passed a semi on the shoulder…

    That was, the brothers, last adventure in the annual cross country run with too much throttle, too little sense, and always crazy, stupid fun. We were carrying precious cargo after that, our young sons, and we mostly traveled together after that.

    Thinking back on the stories of our youth, we are lucky to be able to tell them today… real lucky.

    Today, I sate my high speed road lust with several of the open road events, like the Silver State Classic and Chihuahua Express. I would love to run my LS376 powered Sevenesque style roadster, but the rules require a closed wheel vehicle. So another door slammer will have to do. Maybe next year or the year after, a Gen111 Camaro with a dual turbo charged LS376.

    http://www.sscc.us/


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