America: land of unlimited possibilities. Of course, not all roads lead to success. Image: the author Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I French couture designer Pierre Cardin* was no stranger to dabbling in the automotive sector: in 1972 and 1973 AMC offered a specially upholstered version of the Javelin with his name on it. Not only […]Stateside Slip-ups — Driven To Write
What would a Gremlin have been without Bob Nixon’s on-a-budget barf-bag-sketch chop back truncation? What would it have been with any other silhouette behind the B-pillars? Correct, it wouldn’t be a Gremlin at all, which is fairly obvious given the Gremlin’s successor, the Spirit, swapped the chop back for a liftback and nobody ever confused the latter for the former. But what if AMC’s designers tried to give the Gremlin more utility by turning it into, say, a station wagon?
Granted, there’s no information attached to this image of a wagon-bodied Gremlin-nosed AMC small car that the Gateway AMC club recently posted to Facebook that would suggest that was the intention behind the mockup. In fact, there’s no information attached to it at all, and AMC enthusiasts have been trying to discern whatever they can from the image since, including the location of the photo. We know, for example, that the schnozz comes from a 1977-1978 Gremlin, though those wheel covers came on 1973-1975 Hornets.
We know from Pat Foster’s “American Motors Corporation: The Rise And Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker” that AMC execs were looking to keep Gremlin sales from collapsing during the late Seventies – hence the redesigned front end, along with several other changes like a larger rear window, more standard equipment, and the newly available Audi-built 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Could the mockup above have been another proposal for juicing Gremlin sales?
Above, the Gremlin G-II. Below, the Hornet GT and the later Concept Grand Touring.
Then again, as mentioned above, the Gremlin wasn’t the Gremlin with a different profile, and AMC had already toyed with semi-wagon small-car rooflines and with the Gremlin silhouette. First, there was the circa-1973 Hornet GT, a sort of shortened two-door Hornet Sportabout on the Gremlin’s 96-inch wheelbase—a running prototype with two different rear side window treatments that eventually became the circa-1978 square-headlamp Concept Grand Touring with a different interior and an odd vinyl top. Then there was the 1974 Gremlin G-II, another show car built on the Gremlin’s wheelbase with Hornet front fenders, though this time with a Spirit-like hatchback and aggressively wide rear quarters. They all looked sharp, but unlike, say, the 1974 Gremlin XP, they had no real resemblance to the Gremlin.
For years, AMC Pacers have suffered the brickbats and ignominy that only come with being a little too different, the marketplace having long ago decided which side of the intersection of daring and dopey the Pacer parked on. The airy greenhouse, the long doors, the last-minute change from GM’s aborted rotary engine to an inline-six out of the Rambler parts bin… it wasn’t an easy birth for the Pacer, and it wasn’t an easy life, either.
Time heals all wounds, it seems. Yesterday’s wackadoo freakshow is today’s individualistic outlier. The ’70s weirdo is the ’20s’ brave choice. For the second time in just two years, Hemmings Auctions has set a world-record sale price for a non-Wayne’s-World Pacer: a stunning $37,275 inclusive of buyer’s fees (a modest 5 percent, it’s worth noting). Showing less than 27,000 miles on its odometer, this first-year Pacer X spent its first dozen years as a showroom attraction in Pennsylvania and has a complete history from new. The result was only $125 shy of the movie car’s 2016 sale price, but well shy of the Mirthmobile’s most recent result of $71,500 at the 2022 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction.
AMC made around 280,000 copies of the Pacer, of which some smaller fraction survive today. The number of clean, unrestored examples of the wide, small car is an even smaller fraction. Of that subset, a connection to Chilson Motors makes this 1975 AMC Pacer X up for bids on Hemmings Auctions a rare offering. Those already in the AMC fold know the Chilson name well. Gordy Chilson kept the AMC flame alive by hosting an annual gathering at his family’s dealerships (which once included an AMC franchise) near the Pennsylvania/New York state line. Suffice it to say, when an AMC from the Chilson collection comes up for sale, it’s probably one of the good ones. From the auction listing:
This original 1975 AMC Pacer is doubly historic for fans of the United States’ last independent automaker, American Motors Corporation. First, this is one of more than 90,000 examples of the audacious, widebody Pacer compact built in the model’s initial production year. Next, the car is reported to have been custom ordered by Gordy Chilson, of Chilson AMC in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, the site of a well-known AMC gatherings. The Pacer, with the desirable X trim package, is said to have been a display inside the Chilson showroom since the original owner traded it for a new AMC Eagle in 1987. A fully optioned car, including air conditioning, cruise control, and an 8-track audio system, this Pacer is part of the Chilson AMC collection, with an odometer reading of 26,811 that the seller believes is accurate.
This Pacer’s interior, including carpeting, is described as being entirely original, the materials presenting as being in excellent, undamaged condition. The padded dashboard also presents as being in excellent condition, with no missing trim or small controls. The seller reports that all instrumentation is functional, including the original 8-track audio system. The heating and air conditioning system are believed to be in good working order although the a/c system may need to be charged before use. The cargo area presents as being undamaged and strongly clean.
This was the AMC Javelin that won the “Bonneville Speed Spectacular,” setting a new C-Production class record of 161.733 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats with Craig Breedlove at the wheel in 1968.
The competition was sponsored by AMC and CarCraft Magazine. They took three Javelins and assigned them to three separate three-man teams who had applied to enter the contest. The team with the fastest car then won all three cars – one for each man.
Fast Facts – A “Bonneville Speed Spectacular” AMC Javelin
- The name Craig Breedlove needs to introduction to anyone even vaguely familiar with land speed record racing. He’s a five-time world land speed record holder and the first person in history to reach 500 mph and 600 mph on the ground.
- The car you see here is the winner of the 1968 “Bonneville Speed Spectacular,” a competition that was held at the Bonneville Salt Flats. This car set a C-Production class record of 161.733 mph.
- Three 1968 AMC Javelins were entered in total, each was modified by a team of three contestants, the winning team with the fastest car then won all three cars – one each.
- The AMC Javelin was developed as an answer to the Ford Mustang and the wildly popular “Pony Car” genre. The Javelin was released in 1968, and the “Bonneville Speed Spectacular” was developed to drum up publicity for the new car.
The 1968 Bonneville Speed Spectacular
In 1968 with the release of the Javelin, AMC set to work creating a publicity stunt that would win the company coverage from coast to coast, and permanently link the new pony car challenger with two things: a world speed record at Bonneville and the Craig Breedlove – the national hero and famous land speed record setter.
This competition was co-sponsored by Car Craft Magazine. Readers of the magazine were invited to enter a competition to join one of three teams that would be modifying three Javelins in the hope of setting a new C-Production class record.
The Three Teams
Each applicant had answer some true or false questions and write a paragraph selling their mechanical aptitude. Nine winners were selected and divided into three teams, they were: Carl Tracer, Alynn Luessen, and Bruce Nottingham on Team #1.
Charlie Seabrook, Pete Darnell, and Matt Strong on Team #2, and Bill Tinker, Jim Riley, and Larry Lechner on Team #3.
Interestingly, Pete Darnell of the winning team was flown in from the Vietnam War to compete.
Each of the teams modified their AMC Javelins to the best of their abilities and Breedlove drove each of them down a marked course on the Bonneville Salt Flats in November of 1968.
This is the 1977 AMC AM Van, a concept vehicle that was planned to have a four-wheel drive powertrain headed by a turbocharged engine – both quite novel ideas for a production car in the 1970s.
This van was part of AMC’s seven car “Concept 80” traveling motor show, intended to showcase to the American public their vision for the future of the automobile. The AMC AM Van was by far the most popular vehicle in the show, resoundingly winning the public vote everywhere it was shown.
Fast Facts – The 1977 AMC AM Van
- The 1977 AMC AM Van was penned by legendary automotive stylist Richard Teague, the creator of the AMX, Javelin, Jeep Cherokee and a slew of other designs.
- AMC was known for unusual and oftentimes quite prescient vehicle designs, including the likes of the Gremlin, the Eagle 4×4, and the SX/4 4×4.
- Had it been approved for production the AMC AM Van would likely have sold well, the 1970s were a time when vans were king, and with the included turbocharged engine and 4×4 drivetrain the van would have ticked a lot of boxes for a lot of consumers.
- Sadly the van didn’t get the green light for production, and now just this single fiberglass bodied concept vehicle remains to show the world what might have been.
The AMC “Concept 80” Traveling Motor Show
The AMC Concept 80 traveling motor show was unveiled in 1977 and sent on a seven city tour of the United States, to showcase the future direction of the American Motors Corporation
The Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company merged in 1954 to create the American Motors Corporation, AMC, which would be the fourth biggest car company in America until it was acquired by Chrysler in 1987. Over their 33 year run, AMC managed to create cars that if not better than the big three, always seemed to be unique and interesting. Often AMC would lead the way, only to be over taken in the long run by foreign companies and the big three. So to better understand the history of AMC, here is a list of the top 10 cars sold by the American Motor Corporation, and also Jeep, the “crown jule” of AMC.
#10. Jeep Scrambler CJ-8
In 1981, Jeep under AMC released the CJ-8 Scrambler, a long wheelbase truck version of the CJ-7. Unlike other trucks at the time, the bed was not separate from the cab, but connected to the rest of the body, creating a small bed in the back. The car was officially named the CJ-8, but became known as the “Scrambler” after a popular appearance package pictured above. One notable owner was US president Ronald Reagan, who many of you will also remember owned a Subaru Brat, telling me he must have had a soft spot for small trucks or something. The Scrambler was built to battle new imports, and to widen the range of customers Jeep had without having to design a completely new vehicle. The positives of the Scrambler are it’s appearance, which is charming, and it’s utility as it is still a good off-roader but also a truck. One downside of the Scrambler, as with all AMC jeep products at the time, was that the components from the AMC parts bin, especially the engine, were not exactly grade A material, so you couldn’t expect a lot of speed or reliability. Overall, the CJ-8 Scrambler was one of AMC Jeep’s better ideas, but they have had much better sellers, and revolutionary vehicles later in the list. Outside of this list, I still have a soft spot for this sporty little Jeep truck and its quintessential 80s styling
#9. AMC Rambler and Hornet (SC Editions)
The AMC Rambler and it’s successor the Hornet were cool American compact cars before compact cars were cool. I don’t have much to say about the base models other than that they seem like nice basic cars, but the SC versions are both batsh!t insane in a good way. Hurst and AMC partnered together to create the Hurst SC Rambler with a 315 hp 390 cu. in. (6.4L) V8, which propelled the compact muscle car to the quarter mile in 14.4 Seconds @ 100 mph. Other features included a unique multi-color paint job shown above, a nice Hurst Shifter, a functional hood scoop with gaudy “air’ logo in front, factory ready for (NHRA) F/Stock class, and under $3,000 (priced at under $20,000 adjusted for inflation, but would likely be priced at closer to $30,000 today). In short, the Hurst SC Rambler was the late 60s drag car equivalent to the modern Subaru WRX STI! Later, when the Rambler was replaced by the Hornet, we got a less beast, but more beautiful SC 360 HornetWhat the 360 SC lost in craziness it made up for in more reasonable styling and practicality. The SC had standard a respectable 245 hp, which could be upped to 285 with an optional “GO” Package, which added a four-barrel carburetor and a ram air induction system. The car was supposed to be a hit, but less than 800 were produced due to raised insurance premiums, and the car was only ever made in 1971, with the 360 cu in engine becoming just an option in 1972. Overall, these were both good cars, but they failed to impress in sales and were not completely revolutionary idea wise. In a better world, we would have seen more of the Hornet SC 360, but the dieting muscle car market destroyed a neat little car, at least little for its era anyway.
#8. Jeep CJ-5/7
The classic civilian jeep continued under AMC, and the biggest change was marketting. Instead of just being for retired vets, and work, the CJ was now for all people old and young, who wanted to have fun with no top and doors in the sun (excuse my sporadic rhyme). AMC campaigns to turn the CJ from old war veteran to symbol of youth were successful and a true act of brilliance! As with the Scrambler, AMC engines were a help at first for a car with outdated Willys acquitment, but left much to be desired. Still, the CJ-5, and especially the CJ-7 became more desirable vehicles under AMC, and are still enjoyed by many off-roaders and young people wanting a fun car today. I would’ve place higher, but I have to say the biggest updates to the car came under Chrysler when they updated the design to create the Jeep Wrangler, which added in the area of creature comforts while retaining it off-road ability and a better power-plant.
The dawn of Detroit’s downsized era in the late Seventies was probably long overdue. The bigger-is-better attitude had cost consumers a ton (pardon the pun) thanks to a series of circumstances that included, but were not limited to, a fuel crisis, emission and safety regulations, and rapidly changing CAFE standards.
The necessary diet, however, turned out to be a breath of fresh air in some regards, taken in steps and planned appropriately enough so that handling, comfort, and cabin space – all things most Americans thoroughly enjoyed – was not sacrificed.
A perfect example was Oldsmobile’s Cutlass, which set a staggering production record after shedding its bulk. So, in our latest edition of This or That, we’re celebrating the beginning of the downsized era, which was administered in steps that began in earnest in 1977. As always, we’re delivering just four examples to your inbox to ponder, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.
Even back in the good ol’ days when a car’s alphanumeric badging actually told your what was going on under the hood, we preferred when cars had actual names like Eldorado and Falcon. Style and soul are important, and a name is part of that identity. Our favorite monikers evoke a feeling that matches the car, so once a brand has staked its claim to a good one, it resonates with the public and has equity. Here are nine examples of names that were good enough that at least two brands made use of them.
This is the second time we’ve broached this topic, which we first explored two years ago. There are bound to be more. If we’ve forgotten your favorite, chime in with a comment
While GM’s other brands got companion brands to widen their appeal starting in 1929, (Cadillac-Lasalle, Buick-Marquette, Oakland-Pontiac, and Oldsmobile-Viking) Chevrolet instead created new models to cover more ground. In 1933 the car formerly known as Confederate became Eagle, the premiere Chevrolet model, above the slightly shorter and more affordable Chevrolet Mercury. By 1934, both names were replaced with Master and Standard.
Regional specialty car programs lured curious potential customers into dealer showrooms by promising an exclusive offering, often at a tempting price. Even if consumers didn’t ultimately buy that particular vehicle, it still got them in the door so a savvy salesperson could seize the opportunity to sell them a different one.
These packages normally consisted of a group of options added to an existing model, as well as a catchy name announced with decals or emblems, and possibly special stripes and/or paint colors to make the creation standout further.
Some of these distinctive rides went on to become widely known beyond their geographical points of sale, while others were seemingly lost to time.In 1969, New York and New Jersey-area American Motors Rambler dealers offered the “Raider.” Based on the unit-body midsize Rebel, it featured “Electric Green, Tangerine, or Blue—You’ve Never Seen” (as stated in the ad) exterior colors, a black grille, a vinyl top, a bench-seat interior, a sports-type steering wheel, an AM radio, power steering and brakes, and other small items.
We know those colors instead as Big Bad Green, Big Bad Orange, and Big Bad Blue, and our featured Raider’s original window sticker lists “Big Bad Blue.
“Given its aggressive appearance, you may be expecting to hear that the engine was a rumbling 280-hp 343, or possibly the even-more-powerful 315-hp 390, but it was actually a 200-hp 290 two-barrel V-8 with a single exhaust. It was backed by a column-shifted Borg-Warner Shift- Command automatic transmission and a 3.15:1 axle ratio. The powertrain choice made sense to keep the price reasonable and reach a broader customer base.