Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: AMC Pacer Found in Amsterdam – The Chubby American Golf

Corey Behrens found this Pacer parked in front of a VW Golf in Amsterdam. Given that the Pacer is only three inches longer than a current Golf, it rather fits in, physically, anyway, if not so much in some other ways. The fact that both the Pacer and the VW Golf arrived in 1975 led me down a bit of a rabbit hole, in comparing how two very different continents arrived at a vehicle designed to be the compact car of the future, anticipating a world where resources were expected to be scarcer, fuel more expensive, traffic denser, and families smaller.

And although the Golf obviously addressed those issues with more aplomb and to great lasting effect, the Pacer did anticipate one aspect of the future more accurately: with a waist 14 inches wider than the Golf, it anticipated a world where calories would be cheaper and more bountiful than ever.

Design work for the Pacer began in 1971 under the direction of AMC’s design Chief, Dick Teague, in anticipation of an increase in demand for smaller vehicles in the coming decade. This actually had already well started before 1971, but the small car was clearly on the ascendant. His goal was to make a very compact car, but unlike the narrow little imports, one that would be as wide as traditional full-size cars, giving Americans the sensation of driving a large car without the actual penalty associated with that, meaning the ridiculous overhangs at the front and rear.

Of course the issue of its drive train at that stage had not yet been really considered, as there appears to be little or no room for one anywhere. But a guy can dream, eh? The solution was to be the compact rotary engine, and AMC took a license from Curtiss-Wright in 1973 to develop their own. When that didn’t go so well, AMC made a deal to buy rotaries from GM. But that didn’t go well either, as the energy crisis killed GM’s infatuation with the thirsty Wankel. Just as well; one more Deadly Sin narrowly averted. But that left AMC no choice but to stuff their inline six into the stubby engine compartment.

There’s little doubt that Teague’s target was to essentially replicate the interior dimensions of the most popular class of American car at the time, the PLC such as the top-selling Monte Carlo. They’re both equally wide (77.3″ and  77.6″), but the Monte is a full 40″ longer.

All it takes is a look under the Monte’s hood to see that cutting most of that 40″ off the front alone wasn’t going to be really much of a challenge.

Here’s the Pacer’s big (3.8 or 4.2 L) inline six tucked away under its short hood. The firewall had to be re-designed to make room for the lengthy six. But AMC was well versed in such ways, having used its cutting torches to create the Gremlin from the Hornet.

Teague’s concept of providing an American-sized interior without the wasteful overhangs wasn’t actually all that new of a concept, as the 1959 Studebaker Lark trod that path some 15 years earlier. The Lark was a mere three inches longer than the Pacer, had a bigger back seat, and a good-sized trunk. And it didn’t need those bulging hips either.

Let’s consider briefly how the Pacer compares to the Golf/Rabbit. Or is that even necessary? The Pacer was 17″ longer than the US version of the Rabbit, with its 5 mile bumpers, and 27″ longer than the Euro version. It was 14″ wider, weighed 64% more, was 25% slower (0-60), and the (gas) Rabbit got 88% better fuel economy (all R&T test stats). Yes, front seat width was wider, but the Pacer’s rear seat, jammed between the wheel wells, was no bigger, if even that. And the high floor of its luggage compartment meant that it wasn’t very commodious either.

And I left out handling. Do I need to say something about that? I didn’t think so.

As mentioned in the opening, the current Golf is a mere 3″ shorter than the Pacer. And it’s put on some girth too, so now it’s only 6.5″ narrower than the Pacer. But there’s no point in even beginning to compare its interior accommodations as well as its dynamic qualities. That’s progress.

But then the Pacer’s claim to fame was never going to be in the numbers; it was its quirky styling. Which made it a brief fad in the US, but it turns out Americans aren’t so hot about riding in a stubby glass bubble that got mediocre mileage and had pokey performance. But the Europeans, especially the French, were all over it, as they are wont to do when America shows a bit of genuine creative spark. Well, not in real numbers, but more in the realms of mental masturbation.

But the Germans took it more seriously than that, and copied it in the form of the Porsche 928, which came out three years later.

So there’s my musings for today on this Pacer found in Amsterdam. It looks quite at home, and I’m sure it’s well appreciated; probably more so than from where it came.



Vintage R&T Review: 1975 AMC Pacer

CC 1975 Pacer X – The Spacer   PN