By on February 18, 2010

The Pacer is the poster child of how questionable ideas and good intentions go awry. In 1971, scrappy little AMC was faced with a dilemma: how to capture buyers looking to downsize, when they were incapable of actually building a truly downsized car. Yup; there was no way AMC could tool up to build a genuine compact car, like the Vega and Pinto. So the solution was to stop pretending, like the execrable Gremlin that preceded the Pacer. The answer was to build the world’s first wide-body compact, a segment nobody had ever identified before, much less pined for. To add to its zestiness, break all the styling molds with acres of glass and asymmetrical doors. And then just for good measure, stick a rotary engine in it. As we’ve seen repeatedly, desperation is the mother of (bizarre) inventions.

AMC explained the Pacer this way: it was “the first car designed from the inside out”. How about the first compact designed for the obese? The rationale was that a segment of Americans just weren’t going to be happy giving up their accustomed hip, elbow and love handle room for a cramped import or a Pinto. So it really started that way: cut everything away from AMC’s extravagantly-long Matador mid-size coupe except the seats and then design the shortest body possible around them. I’ve long had the desire to cut away about six feet on both ends of a ’71 Cadillac coupe. Dick Teague, my hero, had the same impulse and actually did it (not with the Caddy). Too bad Cadillac didn’t do the same thing for the Cimarron; now that would have been something memorable.

Then AMC signed a licensing contract with Curtiss-Wright for the rights to design and build a rotary engine to stick under the resulting stubby hood. When the idea of actually developing and tooling up for a Wankel started looking onerous (you think?), a deal with GM to buy their rotaries was cut. God, I love AMC. Too bad GM chickened out on that brilliant plan at the last minute. If they had actually built it, it would have undoubtedly made the Vega engine look like a paragon of durability. Good move on that one, GM.

But GM’s rude cancellation of their rotary program created a nasty little-big problem for AMC; the Pacer was designed just for that compact little five-gallon bucket sized engine, and there was nothing to take its place except the big AMC family of venerable cast-iron inline sixes. Nothing else to do but roll up the sleeves and get out the acetylene torches and start cutting away; that six had to fit somehow. Probably just as well in the end, even if the “compact” Pacer ended up weighing “an astounding 3425 lbs” (C/D) when it actually hit the road with a few options. An obese compact for obese compact-haters. Back then, that kind of weight was deep in mid-sized territory.

Teamed up with a choice of two de-smogged sixes (3.8 or 4.2 liter) that both made 100hp (ah, the good old days), performance was predictably leisurely. Later, a two barrel six and even the 304 V8 gave a boost, but by then the Pacer was already dead meat anyway. The Pacer was a wild gamble in hoping that a market niche existed for a highly truncated mid-sized coupe without a proper trunk: turns out it didn’t. Its Jetson-styling novelty gave it decent first-year sales of 145k units, then sales quickly withered away. Lousy gas mileage hastened the Pacer’s demise. American’s love for the latest toy is usually cut short either by ADD or the toy’s all-too obvious shortcomings. Or both.

Predictably, the American car magazines gushed over the Pacer, especially Motor Trend: “Suddenly its 1980: American Motors’ new Pacer is the freshest, most creative, most people oriented auto born in the U.S. in 15 years” Well, by 1980, folks had long moved on to genuinely modern small FWD cars (think Honda Accord) that could actually be comfortable, have real trunk space, be zippy, and didn’t get 15 mpg. The fact that the Accord arrived the same year that Pacer sales shriveled is perhaps no mere coincidence.

Small Cars had this to say on the Pacer’s styling: “admiration was an obvious reaction…the knowledgeable product writers knew without being told that they were privileged to be there to see something new in automobile design.” Privileged “knowledgeable product writers” indeed.

Car and Driver’s Don Sherman was distinctly more prescient in his assessment: “our first real urban transporter…There is, of course, the chance of monumental failure; it might be another Tucker ahead of its time or a pariah like the Marlin. But…with its high priority on comfortable and efficient travel and absence of Mach 2 styling, [it] at least seems right for the current state of duress. Consider this bold offering from AMC a test: Are we buying cars for transportation yet, or are they still social props?” Did you really have to ask, Don?

Road and Track offered this more objective take: “bold, clean and unique…even when it’s going 60 mph is looks as if it’s standing still..[Did they get that backwards, or were they saying something of significance with that?].” but noted that, even with the test car’s optional front disc brakes, “in the usual panic-stop tests…our driver had one of his most anxious moments ever as the Pacer screeched, skidded and demanded expert attention at the steering wheel to keep from going altogether out of control. The histrionics are reflected in long stopping distances from highway speeds… [The car’s] engineering—old-fashioned and unimaginative in the extreme—does not match the perky design”, which the magazine declared “most attractive to look at and pleasant to sit in.” Especially when its not moving.

The British The Motor just said: “We test the Pacer – and wish we hadn’t.”

Am I being harsh with the poor misunderstood Pacer? Oh well, it all seemed like a good idea in 1971, when AMC stylist Dick Teague started on his latest project after the almost equally adventurous and unsuccesful Matador coupe, which followed the not-so bold and daring Gremlin. Don’t get me wrong; I love Teague, and his playful and risk-taking approach. He did things no one else was doing, and he handled the dreadful 5 mph bumpers masterfully. Its just that he set himself to such difficult and improbable tasks, with solved them with such curious solutions. But he’s certainly enriched our automotive stylistic history.

The Pacer arrived with a number of shortcomings. The pathetically tiny luggage compartment was a particular sore spot, and AMC made the remarkably heroic effort to address that with an extended Pacer, a so-called wagon. Realistically, it was more like what should have been built in the first place, but in any case, it was too late to save the Pacer’s rapid crash. As was the slip of the surgeon’s scalpel that created the first automotive upper-lip lift.

Fitting its futuristic garb, and outfit called Electric Vehicle Associates converted Pacers to EVs, using eighteen six-volt golf-cart batteries for a claimed  53 mile range. Now that would be quite a find. Well, finding this pretty solid Pacer X wasn’t a bad find either; it’s been a while since there’s been one on the streets here. And this one was looking for a new home too; only $1500. What a bargain for a genuine mid-seventies period piece, an authentic Dick Teague original. Party on, Wayne!

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85 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1975 AMC Pacer X...”

  • avatar

    Serious comment here, $1500 for (what appears to be) a non-rusted-out Pacer X is a great deal. The interest in these cars continues to rise while their availability dwindles. Pacer X models were hard to find from day 1 (not as rare as the Levi’s interior, however).

    My brother has owned a Pacer since high school in the late 1980s. We stuffed a 400 small-block Chevy engine into it, along with a Turbo 400 trans and a Pacer Wagon V8 rear end housing with a posi pumpkin out of a Javelin SST. Man did that surprise a lot of people and was a hoot to drive (unless it was wet, or icy, or snowy, then it was plain scary unless it had some weight in the back).

    He still has it, but it is no longer a daily driver in Western WA as all the body seams leak water like crazy (in places which seem impossible to precisely locate).

    It had a lot of revolutionary ideas that were only widely accepted by the auto industry years later: Doors that were sculpted into the body (no drip rails, resulting in water dripping down onto the seat when the door was opened), cab-forward design that didn’t come into vogue until the 1990s, 360 degree visibility that is unparalleled by any American car made before or since, and a passenger-side door that was 6″ longer than the driver’s side to allower easier access to the rear seat. And with the wheels out near the corners and rack & pinion steering, it was amazingly nimble and could be parallel parked in a really tight spot.

    Sure it was a crappy car, with lots of items borrowed from the Big 3’s parts bins (steering columns from GM, alternators and voltage regulators from Mopar, etc), but it still has an important place in American automobile history. If you ever get a chance to drive one, just do it!

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      That Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster AMX sounds like one of the most hilariously, ridiculously absurd automobiles ever concocted. I raise a toast to you and your brother.

    • 0 avatar

      Spoken like a guy who would have driven a rusty 60’s Caddy ambulance or two through college in the 80’s that drunken greek row types would shout “Ghostbusters!” at when called out on the PA and nailed by the megawatt spotlight on weekend night cruises.

  • avatar

    To understand how “fresh” the Pacer was, one only has to remember GM’s small car answer at the same time was the horrific Chevette. AMC did what they could with their meager budget. Still, the only thing that held AMC together for as long as it did, was it’s clever acquisition of Jeep in ’70. Jeep invented the SUV in ’83 with it’s Cherokee, but AMC never capitalized as well as they should have on the Jeep name, and it’s failed marriage to Renault was a hint at what was in store for it’s new owner, Chrysler, when years later it would take a similar path with Daimler.

  • avatar

    You can debate the exterior design. It’s at one extreme, and with the disappearing greenhouses of the current decade we are at the other. But inside, the Pacer was all dumb. Very little of the extra width translated into useful space. The worst feature of all being the positioning of the rear seat between the wheel wells.

  • avatar

    This must be the most awesome CC ever!

  • avatar

    Great stuff. The “upper lip lift” was to accomodate AMC’s 304 V8 [5.0 liter].

    Perhaps Hyundai should check out how the brown seats in this interior complement the outside exterior color and interior trim. Still an awful color [like those 70s Leather Warehouse type men’s jackets from the 70s], but at least it’s coordinated.

    I always found it funny that the Dodge/Misubishi Colt 2 door of a couple years later seemed to take all the Pacer design elements and turn them into a decent looking subcompact. Looked a lot like a couple of AMC’s show cars of the period as well.

    Love this car. The rear seat had a full 35 inches worth of leg room [same as the Hornet of the period] which was about the same as the X and A from GM in the 80s.

    What a concept: midsize interior, short body.

    What a compromise: mid size gas mileage, mid size width. Check the right hand doors of any you see, they usually have damage down the side from the driver mis calculating the width of the car.

    I had read that after the first year, everyone who wanted one, had gotten one and the market had gotten it’s fill.

    Make mine turquoise.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      It’s funny that this came out because I was looking at a Volvo S80 drive by and thought to myself that they should use that chassis for the C30 hatchback. Throw in Volvo’s phenomenally efficient but unavailable in USofA diesel engine and there’s a car that could steal the Prius’ damaged thunder.

      Wide and short with some grunt sounds like a lot of fun.

    • 0 avatar

      Just by chance, this showed up on CNN Business today:

      Looks like $1500 is a steal!

  • avatar

    I had the ‘pleasure’ of driving my cousin’s Pacer – a canary-yellow, loosely-sprung fishbowl that did nothing well (except attract curious gawks). The straight-six was mounted waaay back (the back two cylinders under the cowl), and the tranny hump was the size of a prize sow’s backside. I’ve always wondered why they designed it that way, so your explanation of the possible Wankel makes perfect sense. (Maybe with the rotary, the car would have had a bench seat and been a true ‘5-passenger’ [3 front + 2 rear] car.)

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      Yeah but how in the hell would a 70’s tech rotary motivate such a bloated platform?

      The new RX-8 rensis motor is slow but fun in a very capable and brilliant car. An abandoned 70’s era GM rotary would probably be the worst motor ever built.

  • avatar

    Wow – that’s in shockingly good condition…I don’t even see any tears in the seats, a remarkable feat for 1970’s vinyl. This little sucker would make a nice home for a fuel injected 4.0L out of a wrecked Jeep – you could have your ’70s funk and decent driveability too.

    • 0 avatar

      If the mechanics were in any sort of working, original condition, this would be a great car to take to car shows, the complete antithesis to the myriad, pristine, sixties’ Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, and their ilk that litter those events.

      It even looks like it has a factory 8-track player.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Nguyen Van Falk

      The thought of an AMX Pacer with that Jeep 4.0 inline 6 roaring just makes me giddy.

      That would be one grunty pig of a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Come to think of it, you don’t even need the whole 4.0L engine – a 4.0L head swap with the fuel injection system intact is doable and you get the benefit of the longer stroke found in the 4.2L. I know someone who did this very thing to their CJ7.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Compared to the quality we’ve come to expect in the last quarter-century, the build quality was abysmal, sure. But compared to the dreck that the big 3 was offering at the time. (Ford Fairmont,anyone? No? How about a Dodge Diplomat? Not your taste? An Old’s Omega then….) it wasn’t so bad as you make it sound.

    My dad was an AMC man, in my youth, he drove a 2 Rambler Americans, an Ambassador, a Hornet, and a Concorde in succession. I remember them not being in the shop for repairs, the cars always lasted a few years longer than the payments, and were reasonably comfortable and efficient for the times….

    Haters (this site is full of them) will dismiss this vehicle as a failure. But many of the ideas incorporated in this vehicle were decades ahead of their time, especially the view of a vehicle as a transportation appliance, with utility first and social aspirations second.

    The industry could use a little of AMC’s old independent, quirky thinking these days, instead of the “me-too” styling and the ubiquitous, obsequious CUV’s and small sedans of today.

    Besides: Javelins rule.

    • 0 avatar

      “But many of the ideas incorporated in this vehicle were decades ahead of their time, especially the view of a vehicle as a transportation appliance, with utility first and social aspirations second.”

      That’s the car-talk way of saying sure it’s fugly, but hey, it has a good personality.

    • 0 avatar

      Hear, hear Mark. When I was 16 I joined the AMC dealer in Oconomowoc, WI as a lot boy. We had dozens of these Pacers and in full trim they were quite luxurious and obviously roomy. It’s so easy to criticise technology 35 years after the fact. The build quality of them was pretty iffy, but they were great cars nontheless.

      And BTW, 69AMXs actually rule!

    • 0 avatar

      @ Mark: “The industry could use a little of AMC’s old independent, quirky thinking these days, instead of the “me-too” styling and the ubiquitous, obsequious CUV’s and small sedans of today.”


      @Mark: “Besides: Javelins rule.”

      +1 again.

      @Contrarian: “And BTW, 69AMXs actually rule!”

      I will vehemently disagree: 1972 AMX. 401/4bbl/auto or 4spd. Disc front brakes. Ball joint/spindle front suspension. Pierre Cardin interior. Donohue style spoiler standard. T-stripes. Dual vinyl roofs. Need I go on? :)

  • avatar

    The Matador still gets my vote as the ugliest post-war production car from a major automaker.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    A friend of mine in high school had a black one with Busch Gardens graphics (he bought it from them after some Wayne’s World tie-in had run its course). The color and all that glass made it really hot in the summer. Perhaps that’s why he ran it into a telephone pole about six months into his ownership?

  • avatar

    Wow, a two tone Pacer X in that shape for 1500? Deal. Barring the obvious failings of this car, it would make the ultimate show car distraction/attraction as mentioned above.

  • avatar

    An amazing find…and the “X” version, no less. I believe that the two-tone paint scheme is factory original. Thank you for making me smile during a dreary February morning in Pennsylvania.

    Dick Teague is an interesting character. He started out at GM, and then went to Packard, where he designed the 1955-56 Packards. His facelift of the old 1951 Packard body was so deft that many writers still mistakenly believe that Packard had an all-new body for 1955.

    He was there for Packard’s ugly final days, and then went to Chrysler, just in time to witness the sales plunge for 1958, as a severe recession and the awful build quality of the sleek 1957 models destroyed Chrysler’s sales.

    From there he went to American Motors. The first car he saw in the styling studios was the final version of the 1961 American, and, in his words, “I almost kept walking.”

    At AMC, he worked on the very handsome 1963 Classic/Ambassador and supervised the all-new, and very attractive, 1964 American. That American was probably the cleanest American compact of the mid-1960s.

    His Javelin and AMX were very handsome, and more than a “me too” riff on the Mustang. His 1967 and later Ambassadors were also very good looking cars – easily equal to anything from the Big Three in the looks department.

    But AMC’s precarious financial state – it almost went bankrupt in early 1967 – forced him to keep reskinning the same old car. Plus, by the early 1970s, the imports were pressing AMC at the bottom of the market, while the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Dart had largely captured the buyers who had purchased Ramblers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

    Under those circumstances, he had to make AMC stand out from the crowd somehow, and the Gremlin, Matador coupe and Pacer were the result. I recall reading in Motor Trend that AMC had finished “revamping” its lineup in 1971 (which meant restyling the same old cars), and wanted to do something that really stood out from the crowd. The Pacer was the result. It was supposedly designed for urban driving conditions, although one has to wonder how convenient the car would be to drive in a city with all of that width.

    As for the wide design – the original versions of the Pacer weren’t that wide. But impending federal rules for side-impact standards supposedly forced AMC to make the car wider for greater strength. Hence, the egg shape. Dick Teague wasn’t too happy about that.

    If there ever was a car that cried out for a modern, front-wheel-drive platform with a transverse-mounted engine, computer-aided body engineering (for lighter weight and better rigidity) and independent rear suspension, it was the Pacer. It was an interesting design that was built by a company that simply didn’t have the resources or the expertise to engineer and build it properly.

    Trivia – the rear windows and hatch treatment of the Porsche 928 were inspired by the Pacer.

  • avatar

    Thank you for the wonderful history!

    I never knew the Pacer was designed for a much more efficient in weight engine. The heavy weight and pitiful OPEC loving 16 mpg were big turn offs.

    Wonder why AMC didn’t buy 4 cylinder engines from Renault, Fiat, English Ford, MG, Toyota, Saab, etc?

    • 0 avatar

      If I recall correctly, the rotary engine was not especially fuel efficient, especially the late 1960s, early 1970s version. The rotary promised packaging advantages and a “high tech” (for the times) image.

      The lack of a four-cylinder engine was not a big deal when the Pacer was designed. It hadn’t hurt sales of the Gremlin.

      The complaints over the Pacer’s fuel mileage reflect the somewhat schizophrenic nature of the car. I’ve read that AMC originally designed it as an alternative to the Cutlass Supreme coupes and Chevrolet Monte Carlos of the day. The car is competitive in fuel mileage and room with those cars.

      But AMC kept advertising it as the first “wide small car,” so buyers were comparing it to smaller cars that offered better fuel mileage and a lower price.

    • 0 avatar

      My memory gibes with Geeber. These were advertised as small cars, not Monte Carlo competition. Had they gone that route, I doubt they would have been anymore successful.

      I’ve been waiting to see a Pacer in CC, nice write up. It’s one of my dream cars, so anti-cool it’s cool, but no surprise that it’s more fun to look at than to drive.

  • avatar

    “The Matador still gets my vote as the ugliest post-war production car from a major automaker.”

    I second that. These came out when I was less than 10 years old and even then I noticed how bloody awful they looked. How it made it to production, I don’t know. Strange times in the auto industry.

    Anyway, back to the Pacer. Your finding one in this condition astonishes me. The only one I can remember seeing in years is a silver example rotting in a tangle of vines and even that was quite some time ago.

    I drove a Pacer on one occasion, from Toronto to Niagara falls. There was a fierce crosswind coming off the lake and with every gust I had to cling to the wheel and apply opposite lock to avoid changing lanes. The Burlington Skyway was good for about a litre of perspiration. A truly horrific automobile, in every respect.

  • avatar

    You lost me at “execrable Gremlin”

  • avatar

    An instance of absolute genius visual styling.

    The interior shot is amazing reminder of the general absence of genius in ergonomics. It took what, about another 20 years for automobile manufacturers to develop and implement the cup-holder?

  • avatar

    we had a Pacer X, blue with black interior, nice turbine wheels

    had the six cylinder with an unusual option
    3 speed manual with electric overdrive

    with the 22 gallon tank the range was amazing ( 22 X 20 mpg )

    it was a good car for the time it was made

    And Geeber you are right I always thought the 928 looked like a pacer

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Everybody has a million yuks dissing the Pacer.

    Mrs. W. had a 1977 Pacer Wagon identical to the link. She loved it! The purchase price was reasonable, about the same as a Honda Civic, and it was roomy, safe and extremely reliable. Her only quibble; it was a little thirsty. She ran it for 10-years and would buy another in a heartbeat if they were still available.

  • avatar

    As a former Pinto owner (71, 76, 80), I feel a certain kinship with Pacer owners. The body shape had a lot of utility, actually. And just like Nixon voters, few people admit they ever owned one of these cars.

    Your example in the pics is in exceptional condition; I think $1500 is a bargain.

    I remember being impressed with the hoagie ads for the Pacer:

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Good article on an interesting car. Small point: I think the Pacer was based on an updated Hornet/Gremlin platform (e.g., a new front subframe). Photos of earlier prototypes displayed side sheetmetal that didn’t bulge out nearly as far. Geeber suggests that the added width was needed for side protection. I suspect that this was an excuse rather than the real reason.

    Teague was an interesting designer but he effectively killed AMC (at least as an independent automaker) with the 1974 Matadors and the 1976 Pacer. I wonder how much of the impetus for these cars came from him as opposed to higher ups?

    The irony of AMC is that it probably would have done much better if, in the 1970s, it had hadn’t tried to chase the styling goddess. For one thing, “image” cars tend to lose their luster quickly, but AMC was too small to do frequent restylings like the Big Three. Meanwhile, look at how well Chrysler did with the ancient Valiant/Dart. That was Rambler’s old market.

    • 0 avatar

      The 1974 Matador coupe is an interesting case. It went against all of the styling conventions of the day – formal rooflines, opera windows, upright grilles – with a vengeance. The Cutlass Supreme coupe and Monte Carlo pretty much defined the mid-size market, and their styling was the polar opposite of the Matador’s styling themes.

      One wonders if the Matador coupe was about seven years too late…it might have been a hit in 1967.

      The Matador sedan and wagon, meanwhile, were looking dated, but all that AMC could afford to do was graft an awful front grille with a protruding center to the existing body.

      The Matador coupe increased its sales in 1974 – a severe recession year – but sales began falling in 1975, and the entire lineup sold in the four-digit range by 1978, when AMC pulled the plug!

      Your comment regarding the futility of AMC’s pursuit of the “image” market is well taken…the most consistent seller for the company during that decade was the compact Hornet, which was a trim, handsome car, but well within the styling mainstream.

      The Sportabout and hatchback models showed what AMC should have done – build useful variations of standard models that didn’t require a great deal of unique tooling or promotion.

    • 0 avatar

      @geeber: IIRC, the 1974 Matador was supposed to be a production version of the AMX 1 exotic car from the late 60’s early 70’s. There are some similarities in overall shape, in mean in the larger sense. The production car is what it is, I’m sure due to the effects of making it work in actual production.

      I remember them rather well, a neighbor had a 1974 Matador X back in the day in the blazing red color with the segmented black and white body stripe. It was so funky, but so cool especially compared to my dad’s 1974 Mercury Montego MX Brougham. I’ve wanted one ever since, but only after a Javelin AMX.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The Pacer is, in my mind, inextricably linked to one of the greatest scenes in the movies:

    One thing I very much like about the design is the visibility. Lord, I hate the Ed Roth parody windows we are suffering through now.

  • avatar

    The Pacer was the answer to the question nobody asked–the gas consumption of a compact with the usable room of a Rabbit.

    Only in America could such a wasteful car sell in any volume. However, the flying fishbowl hurt all American carmakers by reinforcing the perception (often, but not always, true) that small American cars were thirsty.

    I think it was a decent looking car, just too heavy and thirsty for what you got. I’ve heard the connection to the Porsche 928–I thought it was coincidence. I have a hard time believing someone at Porsche said, “Hans, dast ist gutt, let’s do it!”. Any other opinions?

    As for the Matador coupe, it ranks right down there with the Datsun 200-SX and F-10, and B-210 hatchback and assorted 70s Subarus as one of the most execrable designs of the 70s, indeed one greatest automotive atrocities of all time!

  • avatar

    The AMC seventies’ line-up reminds me a lot of how Detroit operates today. AMC had gotten to the point where they knew their only hope for survival was to find some unexplored niche that Detroit had yet to exploit and hope they’d have a Hail Mary pass / home run, enough to keep the company afloat until the next crisis.

    Unfortunately, none of their attempts were even remotely successful. Lee Iacocca’s reborn Chrysler finally absorbed AMC, soley to acquire the one thing about AMC that was still profitable: the Jeep franchise.

    Ironically, that seems to be exactly the same reason Fiat absorbed Chrysler…

  • avatar

    Since AMC was before my time I’d really like to see a series on here about the fall of AMC. That’d be an interesting read, especially to see how similar it is to Chrysler today.

  • avatar

    Paul, thank you so much for your amazing continued stream of “Curbside Classics”, which never fail to bring a smile to my face and to make my day. I don’t know how you find all of these gems, but it’s enough to make me want to move to Eugene Oregon – the place seems like a surreal time capsule and gold mine of cars!

    You take the gold medal with this one. It so moved me that I felt compelled to sneak time during work to post some thoughts. I had the questionable pleasure(sanity?) to have owned not one but TWO Pacers back in the day, a 1974 with an automatic, followed by a 1975 “X” with the “rare” 3 speed stick. I may be one of the only people on Earth (who is not in some sort of mental institution) to have willingly bought two Pacers in his life.

    I owned both of them as used cars in the early 1980’s while I was a grad student. I have always had a thing for “unusual” cars and underdogs (Saabs, Renaults, and the like), so the Pacer was a natural fit with my eclectic automotive tastes. It’s easy to criticize it now (which I will also do), but as Disaster said so well, think about it in the context of the truly horrific garbage Detroit was putting out on the streets in the mid-late 1970’s. Honestly, it was a dark time for the American auto industry, arguably the most abyssmal low point.

    The Golden Age of the muscle car had just ended, thanks to increasing prices of gas and insurance. I remember the Arab oil embargo, the lines at gas stations, and the “odd-even” license plate ‘rationing’. As far as car culture goes, America was in shock. Most Americans still liked (and many still do…) huge, bloated, corpulent barges that we enthusiasts may disdain, but hey, it’s what most people wanted. Living rooms and sofas on wheels (like your Lincoln Curbside Classics series). Other than progressive oddballs (like a lot of us), most people didn’t want “small” cars, and the (former) Big Three didn’t take them seriously either. They had no history building “small” cars (other than Ramblers in the 50’s and 60’s), no experience doing it, and probably thought it would be a “fad” that would’t last. So, like Disaster said, the dreck they offered as tokens of smallness were flawed abominations like the Pinto, Vega, etc. (I owned those too).

    In that context, AMC should be given credit where credit was due for sensing the winds of change (but also cognizant of the realities of American consumers) and starting with a clean sheet of paper. Rather than just trying to ‘shrink’ a big car to make a small one, they started fresh. They were probably the only one of the Detroit gang that could do it.

    AMC was always the contrarian. They offered “small”(ish) cars in the 50’s and 60’s when the Big Three wouldn’t dream of it, with the Rambler series (and even the Metropolitan, though that just went too far even for AMC). And they did OK, serving a niche group of buyers who for their own reasons bought the smaller AMC products (usually because they couldn’t afford something from GM/Ford/Chrysler…).

    So, the idea of making a “big” small car was different. It was a (relatively) bold, innovative move for a Detroit automaker. Make a small car, but make it wide (yes, to fit the wide bottoms most Americans have), and make it “feel” like a bigger car than it is. The fact that they even considered a rotary engine should earn them a second gold medal for effort, the realities and limitations of wankels (especially at that time) notwithstanding.

    Along with the fresh approach, they took a fresh stab at styling. One can poke fun at it today, but, at least they tried to make it look futuristic and different from the boring boxes of the time, and in keeping with the whole theme of the car of looking forward to the realities of the brave new world of smaller cars, rather than pathetically clinging to the past of behemoth dinosaurs which would, by necessity, become extinct.

    You have to give them credit for trying.

    But, like everything else in life, it all boils down to execution. I was attracted to the Pacer for all the above reasons (plus on a grad student’s budget, I could affort a “decent” used one and still have an interesting car). Unfortunately, the reality was a little different than the dream.

    The compromises forced by cost constraints resulted in some non-trivial inherent design flaws. Like, shoehorning the afore-mentioned straight six (an otherwise great engine) into an engine compartment designed for a beer-keg sized rotary. Thanks to the strangulation of the primitive emissions controls of the time, power was non-existant, and the performance reflected it. The first one I owned had an automatic, and it accelerated with the verve of an asthmatic Italian grandmother on a tricycle, though given a long enough stretch of road, it did manage to ultimately rocket to a top speed of about 70 mph (once saw 80 on a downhill). My girlfriend at the time drove an early 70’s Caprice she inherited from her parents, and I could never even keep her in sight when we took both cars. In exchange for a complete lack of power though, one was rewarded with gas mileage that averaged about 15 mpg in daily driving, and as much as 18 on the highway (the inevitable outcome of a choked engine trying to move a lot of weight – the laws of physics are very strict). In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing AMC didn’t get their hands on a rotary engine. The torque-free nature of a rotary would not have fit well with a 3500 lb car, especially with a power-sapping automatic (though I absolutely love my RX-8).

    It was indeed “roomy”, though I always wondered about the wisdom of bucket seats in a car whose purpose was to offer width – the net result was a wasted canyon of space between the seats which felt much bigger than it looks in the photos. It didn’t feel as quirky from the inside as it looked from the outside, which was also the intention of the designers – if the dealer could convince Mr. and Mrs. Straight-Laced-Good-All-American-Middle-Class into a test drive, they didn’t want to scare them off with something that felt like it escaped from NASA (though I would have preferred it that way). With all that glass, the visibility was great (especially compared to other cars of the time), but otherwise, the driving experience was pretty much the same as any other mid-70’s Detroit iron. Which is, not very exciting.

    I quickly gew tired of the non-existant power and lousy gas mileage, but still liked the idea of the Pacer. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that the problem was the automatic transmission (which I still think is the source of all that is evil in the automotive world). So, I sold Pacer #1, and intentionally went out to buy Pacer #2, but one with a stick (yes, I know, I should have used some of the money for therapy and medication, but I was a naive and idealistic 23 years old).

    I found my dream Pacer: a 1975 X, with a 3 speed stick on the floor, in red(!). It was so hard finding a manual, that I skimped on checking it out too closely (I didn’t want to know…), and couldn’t get the money out of my wallet fast enough. And, it did – somewhat – improve on the experience and my problems with the automatic one. It was both faster and got better gas mileage (as much as 24 mpg on the highway!), though still not anything that you would want to get into a street race and tangle with faster machinery, like, Hondas, Toyotas, or Datsuns. Paradoxically, it was also somehow clumsier than the automatic version. The stick suggested pretensions of “sportiness”, but despite the futuristic 1950’s sci-fi styling, it really wasn’t a ‘sporty’ car, even with a 3 speed stick, “mag” wheels, and red paint.

    The real problem with it was reliability. Or, actually, the lack of it. In truth, build quality was probably not significantly different than other American cars of the time. But, they did have their issues. Some were interesting (in retrospect) quirks of the design. With both of the ones I had, the doors sagged badly, not because of accidents, but because the standard AMC hinge (perhaps not the the pinnacle of engineering to start with) just couldn’t cope with the extra-long and unbelievably extra-heavy doors. You had to lift the door a good inch to close it. Once it was closed, there were challenges in getting out. It seems that the early Pacers had their inside door handles cast from some kind of cheap pot metal, which was extremely brittle (think Dorito chip). I can’t count how many of them literally broke off in my hand. I used to scour the junkyards around Bloomington Indiana looking for those handles, and at one time had quite a little collection – that over the course of a year was depleted. When I was forced to go to the AMC dealer to buy one new, I quickly adopted the ever-popular student’s method of rolling down the window and opening the door form the outside.

    There were other issues, maybe just symptomatic of the relatively lower quality of AMC components at the time. An alternator which didn’t, for which I used the time-honored fix of revving the engine to about 10 times the redline once a week, which seemed to freshen up the brushes and make it charge for a bit longer.

    The best was a starter motor which didn’t. At that point my wallet was pretty well drained (as I was; back then I made a little extra money by selling my blood plasma at the plasmapheresis center in town, $8 a pop, but if you came twice a week they upped it to $10), and my blood plasma literally couldn’t keep up with beer money, occasional movies with my girlfriend, and the endless stream of nickel-and-dime repairs to my dream Pacer. So, I never replaced the starter. Why bother when one can jump-start a manual transmission by just rolling the car downhill and popping the clutch? The only problem was, this was Bloomington. Indiana. Where hills were about as commmon as honest politicians are today. There was only one hill around the IU campus with a long enough straight run to get up to enough speed for a pop-the-clutch start. One time. So, I prayed each time, because if I got to the bottom of the hill and it didn’t catch, it would be a long, heavy push back to the top. When it happened, I was a modern day Sisyphus, dependant on the kindness of strangers (and bribes of a beer to my fellow students) to help me get that elephant going for a push start.

    In the end it all worked out. I advertised the car, but the other IU students were too smart to buy a Pacer, and the local townies never caught on to the cars charms. So, I drove it to the “big city”, Indianapolis, and sold it to a used car dealer. For more than I paid for it. I paid $800, he – unbelievably – gave me $975 for it. I left it running on his lot, because I knew the starter wouldn’t work if I shut it off. He test drove the car, checked it out. Then, to my abject horror, he shut it off, and tried to restart it. My years of paying modest tribute to the pagan AMC gods paid off, and the starter worked that one time. A cheap bus ticket back to Bloomington, and my obsession with Pacers was over.

    Even more incredibly, I still miss them, and troll e-bay and craigslist searching the ads. I still think AMC should be admired for having the insight to sense the winds of change, and the courage to try and do something different. It failed, and AMC failed, for the same reason many businesses do – undercapitalization. Their choices were constrained by money, as in not enough of it. They couldn’t afford to do it right. But they tried anyway, because they knew they could never succeed if they went up against the Big Three head-to-head.

    So, let’s all raise a glass and toast their sheer guts, which are seldom seem these days, in any business.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Amen! Our automotive lives were certainly enriched by them.
      Thanks for your terrific/horrific Pacer escapades. I had a starter go out on my ’63 Corvair, in mid winter in Iowa City. Too cold to change it; did like you. Then one night it stalled right on the main railroad tracks, at one in the morning. I almost gave up trying to push it off; adrenalin finally kicked in when I heard the distant whistle of a train.

    • 0 avatar

      I enjoyed your post too, having never owned an AMC vehicle. That was something that only Rambler drivers did.

      Once, twenty years ago or so, I saw a Pacer that had a bumper sticker “My other car is a piece of sh_t too.” The owner was clearly a less reflective sort than you….

  • avatar

    The irony of AMC is that it probably would have done much better if, in the 1970s, it had hadn’t tried to chase the styling goddess. For one thing, “image” cars tend to lose their luster quickly, but AMC was too small to do frequent restylings like the Big Three…

    You are, of course, absolutely right except that the new styling was that only thing that let them survive into the 70’s. Mechanically, they were antique. A girl I knew bought a new Gremlin in the early 70’s. I was shocked to learn (going up a hill one rainy night) that it had vacuum operated windshield wipers. Even in 1970, I thought that those had been obsolete for 25 years.

    In appearance AMC/Rambler had become too stodgy against the late 60’s stylings of GM and Ford. However, restyling the cars was a lot cheaper than updating the mechanicals. So they did…. and it worked – along with a brillant advertising campaign. (I don’t know if it is available anywhere on the net, but they had a “Hey Javelin” campaign which included a very good ad comparing the Javelin to … an orange.

    Suddenly AMC cars became borderline acceptable for younger people to own again. Prior to that, I didn’t know anyone under 60 owned oned one (pocket-protector types ignored). Instead of being the reliable invisible car, they became very distinctive and instantly recognizable. The first AMX and the first Javelin’s were really beautiful cars. And they sold.

    So, having gone down that path once- and having had it work- there’s no surprise that they tried to do a Hollywood style even-more-over-the-top sequel. You want recognizable? I’ll give you RECOGNIZABLE!!!. And so the freak show started.

    But they had no other choice. Their only hope was in being distinctive. What else did they have to offer?

    Carnick – while I was writing this bit of dreck, you wrote a great piece.

  • avatar


    You beat me to the sandwich making ad reference, when I was a kid – that made perfect sense. I loved it. I mean, sure, you could split a diamond in the back of a moving Ford, but wouldn’t most people rather build a 5 foot sub instead?

    $1500…that’s a deal for that kind of conversation piece.

  • avatar

    I like the look of the car, and I think it well deserved to be the car star of the Wayne’s World movie. This history was absolutely fascinating.

    Yes, Pacers are now few and far between. The only one I have seen probably in the last few years, sits in an auto repair shop lot next to a police crown vic in Arlington MA. In the summer of ’96, I badly wanted to photograph one, and it took me weeks to find one. I finally found one on the outer Cape that was going in the opposite direction on a narrow, windy road. I made a quick multipoint turn-around (my old Saturn had a terrible turning circle) and floored it, giving my mother (who was a crippled (with MS) genuine thrill-seeker a big thrill while fearing I was scaring the crap out of her. when I finally caught up with the Pacer, after it had turned down another narrow road, and had finally pulled over to the side and stopped, my mother was grinning ear to ear.

  • avatar

    “But many of the ideas incorporated in this vehicle were decades ahead of their time, especially the view of a vehicle as a transportation appliance”

    I wish they would have kept that idea to themselves.

  • avatar

    I love pacers and those ‘execrable’ gremlins too. I like ugly cars sometimes and don’t really car how they handle as I would just like to cruise around slow and laugh at people’s funny looks as I drove by.

  • avatar

    “To add to its zestiness, break all the styling molds with acres of glass and asymmetrical doors.”

    i might be remembering wrong. as a kid i first saw the pacer at the new york auto show and i believe the prototype there had three doors: one driver and two passenger. i guess they killed that idea and went with the asymmetrical setup.

  • avatar

    More history of the Pacer, including why it ended up so heavy:

    The Pacer was certainly portly, particularly compared to the VW Rabbit/Golf, but I wouldn’t say it was “well into midsize territory” for that era. Its weight put it in the same realm as a Chevy Nova/Buick Apollo/Pontiac Ventura II, which was still considered a compact. American intermediates of that era were gargantuan — a GM Colonnade with air conditioning and a big engine was over two tons.

  • avatar

    I bought a hospital green 1976 Pacer several years ago for my teenage daughter to drive. She’s kind of a beatnik, so this car fit her personality well. It has not been a pleasant experience owning this Pacer. Although it has less than 50,000 miles, reliability has been a nightmare. The main problem is that parts are almost impossible to find. The door panels, seats, and interior bits all disintegrate in the sunlight. The inside door handles break easily; I spent $87 on one inside door handle.
    Is the car in the picture located in Eugene? If its only $1500, it’s a bargain. I spent $3200 on ours, plus an additonal $3000 in repairs. I love AMC, I really do, but now I know why they went out of business!

  • avatar

    I would note that the early 90s Mazda 323 bears a strong resemblance to the Pacer. But this was a smaller, less ungainly, much more nimble car. There’s some otehr car that looks like a Pacer, a small wagon of some sort, but it’s escaping me at the moment.

  • avatar

    Folkdancer: Eventually AMC did get around to buying the rights to an Audi 2.0 to build it as their own AMC 4 cyl.

    They spent millions of scarce $$$s in the late 70s to do that and then only used it a couple of years before buying the Iron Duke from GM and only in the 80s came up with their own 2.5 which I believe was based on the old 198/232 six which came out in 1964.

    I find it funny when I read about people being offended by cheap plastics when AMC was the worst in this regard. By the time my parent’s bought a 71 Gremlin and a 72 Ambassador, AMC’s rep for quality was long gone. The same thin Vacu-Form dash pieces on the Gremlin and Hornet could be found on the Ambassador.

    My Father’s comment was that if the Ambassador was AMC’s best car, he wouldn’t be buying another from them.

    The cars made sense. On paper. In reality the Ambassador was shot at 50,000 miles and even came with a Mopar trans that wouldn’t shift out of 2nd right from the show room, needed ball joints and two or 3 hood release latches, the upholstery shredded [in the back seat!!! ],and rust took hold quickly under the vinyl top [said vinyl dried out almost as soon as it’s first year on the road was over, regardless of the # of Nu Vinyl treatments used on it]. Radiator went, fit and finish was non existent and even the glove box door used a braided cord that was barely attached to the glove box inside to hold the door open. Just like on your $1998 Gremlin.

    The Gremlin arrived with paint drips,warped plastics, rust,the seats wore a hole through themselves with the mechanism under the upholstery that folded the seatback forward and the floor boards filled up with water during a rain storm on our annual trip to PA to visit my Grand Mother. The car was less than a few months old.

    Atrocious quality on both cars. Motor Trend once answered the question AMC asked in one of it’s ads: “If You Had To Compete With GM Ford And Chrysler, What Would You Do? “.

    MT’s answer: “Kick some butts on the assembly line and get the employees to finish their work.”

    I have even seen brand new AMC cars on the lot during the period with dash trim pieces fallen onto the floor they were so badly attached,door wind lacing that you could put put your fingers through at the corners,and arm rest trim that was only attached at each end and loose in the middle. Shameful.Another place you could stick a finger through.Kewpie Doll hair carpet that was shot at year two and ill fitting parts and pieces everywhere.

    And yet: I would love to have either or both of these cars in my driveway right now.The Ambassador was beautiful and the Gremlin was just my kind of car: rubber mats,non power steering, bench seat, no stupid console and simple and rugged in the engine and trans dept.

    The AMC dealerships I used to visit seemed to be the only ones, though, who would actually stock cars with absolutely nothing added to them in the way of options. The window sticker would have the base price, standard equipment and freight listed. No dealer mark ups, trim packs, paint packs,wire wheel hub caps, stripes or anything else.

    They did respond to complaints with their “Buyer Protection Plan” from 72 onward that gave pretty much bumper to bumper coverage for 12 months or 12,000 miles plus a free loaner car. Yet their Consumer Reports charts produced shameful #s of solid black dots.

    AMC ate off their 50s and 60s rep as having better quality than the Big Three for long after the reality was quite the opposite.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re bringing back memories of my father’s 1973 AMC Gremlin. It had the 258 six and floor-mounted Torqueflite (with a floor shifter). The car was falling apart within two years.

      As I recall, you used to live in Chambersburg, Pa. I used to regularly visit the local AMC/Jeep dealer – McNight Motors – to see what was new. Even by late 1970s standards, AMC had far worse fit-and-finish than GM or Ford. The franchise is long gone, but the dealership building is still there.

    • 0 avatar

      I have brochures from McKnight Motors with their ink stamp on them, 1969-70.And one for the Gremlin intro.Definitely the prizes of my collection.

      My Dad took us for a test drive in the 70 1/2 Gremlin sometime in April or May [probably to stop my nagging] in the rain and it was leaking at one of the fixed rear side windows through a gouge in the weatherstripping.

      That test drive was courtesy of McKnight.Such a tiny showroom in what seemed an odd area, or placed weird, sort of. One way streets or something, I can’t remember.Positioned weird and off the main drag.

      I loved those cars and AMC [and still do], but their QC was lacking. The Gremlin we finally got was a 71 from Schwind Boecker [sp] dualled with the Buick dealer in Davenport Iowa.

      Scrappy little company though and in spite of it all I loved their products…..until the Renaults.

    • 0 avatar

      McNight Motors was located in a residential area less than a block away from the Chambersburg Area Senior High School. It was surrounded by houses on tree-lined streets. It was an odd location for a dealer.

      The other dealers were all located either along Route 30 (Forrester’s Lincoln-Mercury, Hal Lowry Ford, Shively Motors Chrysler-Plymouth, V.T. Angle Cadillac-Buick-Pontiac) or right in Chambersburg (Frank Gayman Chevrolet-Olds).

      A relative lived up the street from McNight Motors, and when we visited for Sunday dinner, I would walk to the dealer to look at the new Pacers, Matadors and Hornets (and later Concords, Spirits and Eagles).

      My father’s Gremlin was a very troublesome car. Aside from the dashboard, the assembly quality wasn’t too bad. The problem was the cheap materials used. The carpeting wore through very quickly, and pulled away from the floor shifter. The seams in the vinyl seat split. The driver’s side window kept falling off its tracks. The alternator light was stuck in the “on” position. The transmission wouldn’t hold in the “park” position. It was just one thing after another with that car.

    • 0 avatar

      Geeber: that would have been my dream location to live. I am so jealous.I was such a fan of AMC back then.

      Is there another dealership there now?

      We lived in Edenville so I didn’t get to come into “town” very often unless it was on a grocery trip with the parents.

      And hadn’t realized my misspelling of their name [what a maroon].

      I loved the Pacer and the 78 Concord, especially. BTW: the lower body color of the Pacer above was the color of the Ambassador my parents owned, if it’s the brown metallic. And the interior matched with a beautiful brocade cloth.

      Any one of them I’d love to have. Even the 74 Matador 4 door. The only front end that’s uglier is the 61 Ambassador and the 03-05 Saturn L Series. Yechhhhh. And of course the Mazda 3

    • 0 avatar

      DweezilSFV: There is no longer a dealership at that location. The building and lot are still there, but another type of business is using them.

      Moparman426W: I remember the plywood backing used for the folding rear seat. It added to the overall cheapness of the entire car.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember Schwind-Boeker, but didn’t know they sold AMC. Later on they were Williams Buick-Subaru-VW; they closed in ’98 or so. The AMC dealer in Moline was Key, a friend of my dad’s bought a new Renault Alliance there in about ’85. Before it was Key, it was Perry Snower Buick-Pontiac. My folks always had Volvos when I was a kid, they were friends with Mike Lundahl, who had Lundahl Motors in downtown Moline. Later on he sold to McLaughlin, and I bought my wagon there. Thanks for refreshing my memory!

  • avatar

    The Pacer is one of my favorite cars. I really don’t understand the general hostility and vitriol hurled at AMC products, however I grew up in the mid 80s when they were on their way out.

    Anyhow, I’ve only seen a handful of these cars in person and would kill to own one! Preferably a green or bright yellow X model with this car’s interior.

  • avatar

    I remember this rolling crematorium vividly.
    My College age bay sitter had one ,and we were stuffed daily into a under air conditioned greenhouse in the middle of a Texas summer.
    And she had plastic seatcovers.
    I saw one for the first time in years and it was all I could do to keep from taking a tire iron to that POS.

  • avatar

    If you guys would like to see what is probably the nicest pacer in the country, type “purple pacer girl.” A beautiful young lady built a pacer with the help of her dad. It has a late model jeep MPI engine with 258 crank.
    I saw her with it on the power tour, she and her pacer have become famous over the past couple of years. It’s a really nicely done car, very reliable. She drives all over the country in it without incident. I do have to warn you, though, it’s hard to check out the car with the lovely owner in the pics.

  • avatar

    A friend of a friend had one these back in our college days (early 1980’s) equipped with a bong between the front seats. He renamed the car the AMC Spacer. No lie.

    FWIW, I would buy the car in the photos for $1500.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Paul Niedermeyer more of these far out and funky AMC CC’s would be great.

      The Lincoln series, while good, was not my cup of bratwurst. I realize you’re limited to what shows up on the streets of Eugene, but hey, you’ve been batting a thousand so far…

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I second that. These came out when I was less than 10 years old and even then I noticed how bloody awful they looked. How it made it to production, I don’t know. Strange times in the auto industry.

    What a great CC! The mid-70’s were strange times in car land – at college all the rage involved Monte Carlos and Olds Cutlass Supremes. I personally had a Hornet hatchback (great car), and later a Pinto wagon (ditto…for the times). But the world changed when the Accord came – slowly, they infested (along with the Scirocco) campus and before long it was hard to find American iron unless it was hand-me-downs.

    I still love the useless (size-wise) monstrosity of a ’77 Cutlass Supreme.

  • avatar

    It looks as if Honda stole the front end design of the pacer in the late 70s and early 80s. The truth is the the pacer and hornet were the best American compacts at the time, which is not saying a whole lot when your competition is the Vega, Pinto, and the horrific Chevette.

  • avatar

    Geeber and dweezil, I just read your posts about your fathers owning gremlins. My oldest sister bought a brand new 75 gremlin, with the 304 engine.
    That was a real fun car, despite the cheap interior. I was just wondering if you two know about the rear seatbacks in the gremlins being constructed of a piece of plywood, covered with foam and vinyl? Reading both of your posts brought that memory back to me. After my sister had hers for about 8 yrs the back part of the seatback, which was covered with the same rubber as the load floor for when it was folded down, had somehow gotten torn loose. I couldn’t believe it when I looked through the back window one day, seeing the plywood.

    • 0 avatar

      It wouldn’t surprise me. We only had the Gremlin for a year before my Dad traded for the Ambassador.

      I can only tell you, it felt like a board sitting back there.The seat back was only about 3 inches wide and perfectly flat. Plus it squeaked from new because there was just some hardware store style latch and a handle that held it up.

      And still: I loved that car.

      Wasn’t that 304 a nice engine, though ? Wonder how it did in the Pacer? In the Ambassador it was smooth and economical. Good road car.

  • avatar

    Yes, the 304 was a sweet runner. My sister always liked the gremlins, and after finishing high school and getting a job she just had to have one.
    I remember riding along with her and my dad to the dealership to look at them. The reason my dad came along was because he was co-signing. (remember when young people needed a co-signer?)
    Anyway, she looked around at a few, and ended up taking a green 6cyl 3 on the floor stripper model for a test run. She was going to buy it, so upon returning to the dealership (green american motors in akron, ohio) she spotted a white one in the back corner of the showroom on her way to the salesman’s office.
    It had whitewalls, wheel covers, pinstripes, luggage rack, ps, pb, light warning buzzer, am-fm radio, torque command (amc lingo for torqueflite) and the V8.
    What caught my sister’s eye was the color, she loved the white with black interior, and the fact that it wasn’t so plain looking, having wheel covers and whitewalls.
    She asked about it, and as we walked toward to take a look the salesman mentioned that it was a leftover 75 model, but brand new.
    This was in dec, with the 76’s being out. Anyway, as we walked closer my dad noticed the V8 under the hood, we didn’t even know before then that a gremlin was offered with the 8. The salesman said that since it was last year’s model she could get it for the same price as the new 6/3 spd combo, so she got it.
    One of my fondest memories of that car is the look on people’s faces when popping the hood to show them that it had an 8, because most did not know that you could get the V8 in one.
    My sis married a car guy a couple of years later, who owned both a 67 and 69 camaro at the time.
    He would pull holeshots in the gremlin just to see the look on people’s faces. The cars had practically zero weight over the back tires, so it was a snap to break them loose with that V8. The V8 models had the bigger model 20 rear end, and bigger tires, rims and brakes, as well as heavier duty springs.
    These cars were definitely overbuilt, mechanically. If the body and interior would have been half as good as the mechanical bits there’s no telling how long you could have driven one.
    And that 304 about used about the same amount of fuel as the 6, because it didn’t have to work as hard.
    My sister drove it for 8 years. The body held up better than most, because she got it oil sprayed every fall. It was starting to rust some, though. It ended up getting t-boned at an intersection and was totaled.
    Back in 90 I ran acoross a gremlin that was almost a carbon copy of my sister’s, same year, color, interior, engine, everything. The only difference was that it didn’t have power brakes.
    The body was far too gone to make it worth restoring, but the engine ran like a swiss watch, so i bought it to play around with for a while. I kept it for about a month, then I stripped out the engine/trans/rear axle, and the suspension/brakes, and stored that stuff in my barn. My plan was to someday build another V8 gremlin, if I could ever find a good enough bodyshell.
    The stuff is still in my barn, lol. I got hooked on mopars about 15 yrs ago, and have been messing with them ever since. The day will come when I build a gremlin, tho. But I will probably have to look outside of ohio to find one.
    There’s a nice red 304 gremlin at chryslers at carlisle every year.

    • 0 avatar

      I can attest to the robustness of the AMC unibodies. My brother bought a 1983 Eagle wagon in 1984. It was his family daily driver for 20 years straight. Which is not easy to do in the climate of Northwestern Pennsylvania/Northeastern Ohio. He managed to keep the car able to pass the somewhat rigorous Pennsylvania inspections, but the interior basically fell apart. With that in mind, the split bench seats were comfortable to the bitter end, he just kept aftermarket sheepskin covers on them so the stuffing wouldn’t fall out all over the place.
      The biggest problem he had mechanically was the valve cover. It was made of plastic, and after a couple of tries by the local AMC dealership (where I used to work as a kid) to get the plastic one to work, they finally gave up and retrofitted a metal one from a Jeep. There were the regular wear and tear items, especially over 20 years and over 200,000 miles, but the mechanicals held up very well…

  • avatar

    Another robust object built by AMC, stands in a field in Southfield, MI; the (former) American Center (then Chrysler Center, then, could it be Century Financial Center?).

    Building has sort of a World Trade Center look to it (minus the arabesque forms that the trades had at the ground.)

    I don’t know if it is still there, but when the building was built, the boardroom from one of the predecessor companies (I think Nash) was removed from its original location and reinstalled in the American Center.

    As a boy, we used to ride our bikes 2 miles down 11 Mile Rd. to either check out the parking lot to see what kind of cars were there, or to press our faces up against the ground floor windows to see what kind of cars were on display inside.

  • avatar

    Can’t believe I forgot about the eagles. There were a lot of those roaming the streets here for many years, mainly the wagons. They were great in the snow. and they had pretty much the best rust protection that a car could have, as amc started applying ziebart to their car bodies starting in 1980.

  • avatar

    A rather fascinating tidbit about the Pacer is the right-hand-drive version that AMC shipped to the UK and certain markets in limited quantity.

    Pacer was never designed and built for right-hand-drive, necessitating the conversion process once jettisoned from the assembly lanes. The process chosen for Pacer was “half conversion”.

    The steering column was sawed in half with top portion moved to the right-hand side of dashboard and connected by the bicycle chain. This procured the awful sedated feel to the steering.

    The brake and throttle pedals were also moved to the right and linked by rods to the master cylinder and carburettor respectively. Again, this procured the awful sedated feel to the brake.

    The drivers must choose the parking space carefully as his (or her) side has longer door. This procured the awful sedated feel in the stomach when the driver managed to land the pristine parking spot only to find that the space between two cars was inadequate for ingress and egress…

  • avatar

    I can’t resist throwing in this little quiz. Another Porsche had an AMC sourced part as an integral part of its drivetrain. What was the part and which Porsche was it.

    (No Wikipedia cheating).

  • avatar

    I commuted to tech school with a schoolmate with a pacer wagon. It rode great. One of the coolest cars ever designed IMO.

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    The son of the original Pacer designer came up with this updated Pacer sketch in Hotrod magazine

    His interpretation of the modern Gremlin is also interesting.

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    I have that hot rod issue, akear. I also thought the modern sketches of the pacer and gremline were cool, especially the gremlin.
    Since chrysler acquired the rights to amc, it would have been nice if they could have brought out that gremlin, would have been better than that fiat they’re bringing over. Thanks to mercedes for raping them.

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    AMC’s Deadly Sin number 2!

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    What is it with the number of Pacer aficionados who also like Corvairs? Must be a defective gene somewhere.

    I remember the speculation about the Pacer in the months before its debut, and the early articles in Popular Science about its planned use of a rotary engine/FWD layout. Having briefly owned an R100 and test-driven the new RX2 in the mid-70s I am still baffled why AMC bet the ranch on the C-W/GM connection when Mazda had already done so much work to solve the apex seal problem. Seems to me they could have salvaged the original plan without too much fuss, since Mazda was actively looking to increase its market share here and being associated with an American car maker – even l’il ol’ AMC – couldn’t have hurt its business plan. I bet Toyo Kogyo would have licensed the rotary to AMC for a song and helped with tooling as well.

    I’ve owned two ’65 Ambassador convertibles, and they lasted forever even in New England. The one real annoyance I remember was both of them leaked at the seal between top header and vent-window frame when it rained. Nothing major. Finding replacement rubber suspension parts was a royal pain (Steele wasn’t making them then) but on the other hand, when I needed replacement front brake calipers for my second one, those from a ’68 Javelin bolted right up.

    I agree with a previous post – I loved AMC’s ideas for the most part, but the miserable quality in the 1970s and lack of money doomed them. Every dog has his day; AMC had theirs. RIP.

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    So awesome. I had a ’75 Pacer, and it was the most comfortable, easy-to-drive car I’ve ever had. I’d grab another one in a second given the opportunity.

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    In the late ’70’s (and pre-airbag, pre-automatic seatbelt days except for a few like VW), the AMC Pacer was one of the safest cars on the road. Check some of the insurance company ratings from back then and you’ll find the injury index for Pacer’s involved in accidents was impressive.

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