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by Jay Traugott
It's just one of those cars you love to make fun of.
We know what you're thinking, and your immediate reaction is both expected and understood. Your next moment of thought may be something along the lines of whether this writer suffers from substance abuse of some sort. The answer is no, I'm fine and thanks for your concern. However, a number of readers have written asking us to feature an AMC Gremlin. We've written before about one owner's AMC Pacer and people clearly enjoyed making fun of it despite its certain charms.
The Gremlin, like the Pacer, was designed at a time when gasoline prices were about to surge and subcompacts suddenly became more attractive to American automakers, for better or worse. Based on the same platform as the AMC Hornet, both the wheelbase and overall length were shortened which made the Gremlin just a bit bigger than the original Volkswagen Beetle. It was also smaller than two of its main competitors, the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega.
Believe it or not, AMC truly believed the Gremlin was going to revolutionize the way Americans thought about cars.
Launched in 1970, initial reviews of the Gremlin weren't bad, but there was still something about the Gremlin that didn't sit right with the public. Its purpose was to provide economical transportation, but Americans still wanted to look good when behind the wheel. The Gremlin, however, was certainly not the car to deliver on the latter request. Power came from a variety of engines, starting with the standard 3.3-liter inline six that debuted with the car. It produced just 128 horsepower, but buyers weren't looking for anything like a Javelin. However, AMC did offer their 232 cu in 3.8-liter inline six with 145hp as an option.
Available with either two or four seats, the Gremlin was also offered with a long list of options that allowed provided an array of creature comforts that weren't typically found on other cars in its class. First year sales were also quite respectable, coming in at just over 25,000 units. Recognizing the need to give the Gremlin some improved exterior styling - because let's face it, it really needed it - the "X" trim package appeared in 1971. For an extra $300, buyers received body-side stripes, a unique color-keyed front fascia, special wheels with Goodyear tires, a blacked out grille and bucket seats.
Changes to the Gremlin continued throughout the Seventies, and perhaps the most drastic one was in 1972 when AMC began to offer a 5.0-liter V8. Now, bear in mind the era because the V8 only had 150hp. When the Arab oil embargo hit in late 1973, the Gremlin actually benefitted from gas pump prices in the States because of its relatively respectable fuel economy. AMC also gave the '74 Gremlin a facelift consisting of safer rear bumpers and an updated rear fascia. That year also saw the introduction of the "hockey stick" stripes along the sides.
The Gremlin continued on for a few more years with regular updates taking place along the way, but it never became stylish, nor did other automakers attempt to replicate its design. Perhaps they knew better and AMC did the best they could with a car that everyone loved to make fun of. It was finally discontinued in 1978. Even today the Gremlin is still the subject of ridicule, but it still has its fans. The owner of this 1974 Gremlin, on the other hand, has actually made his car standout from its former self. He bought it only in 2006 for next to nothing with 72,000 miles on the odometer.
However, he swapped out its stock 232 cu in 3.8-liter inline six in favor of a mildly rebuilt 360 V8. He invested an additional $5k into the restoration, but the end result was worth it because the car now sounds great and is reportedly a blast to drive. It only averages 10 mpg, but he regularly receives compliments from onlookers who get a kick out of it. Perhaps the passage of time was the best thing for the Gremlin, and it'll forever remain instantly recognizable, but a beauty it will never be.