(first posted 2/23/2016) It’s always noteworthy when one sees an AMC Gremlin in the wild, and even though Gremlins have been examined previously on this site, there can always be more said about what is one of the most distinctive and polarizing cars in recent memory. This particular car is from the Gremlin’s penultimate year of 1977, and – as if being a Gremlin wasn’t startling enough – is painted in firecracker red.
Modern references to Gremlins usually take the form of being on someone’s Top 10 list of ugliest/worst/most shameful/etc. cars ever made. To name two such lists, Time magazine called the Gremlin one of the worst cars of all time, and Hagerty Insurance named it the 6th “most questionable car design of all time.” Yet, despite this ignominy, the Gremlin sold well over its 9-year lifespan: about 650,000 were produced. Far from being a failure, the Gremlin was a remarkable and underappreciated success for a company that was perpetually on the verge of collapse. Its story is more interesting than one might imagine.
To start, let’s briefly look over the Gremlin’s origins. American Motors Corporation had long been associated with smaller cars, and was set to introduce its new compact, the Hornet, in 1970. Sensing a need for a still-smaller car to battle the increasingly popular imports, a plan was devised to create a subcompact version of the Hornet. The concept was essentially a truncated Hornet, and AMC’s VP of Design, Richard Teague, evidently first sketched the Gremlin’s design on an airplane air-sickness bag.
The design featured the Hornet’s long hood and mid-section mated to a wedge-shaped rear that AMC termed a “chopback.” Wheelbase and length were over a foot shorter than the Hornet. The size difference all came from the passenger/cargo area, and the above ad is revealing: the rear seat was only suitable for small children, and a pet could occupy the cargo area — as long as it didn’t move.
Its angular rear was unusual, but that was the point. AMC gambled that a new type of buyer was purchasing subcompact cars, and such a buyer wanted something unconventional – something that didn’t resemble mom and dad’s car (for a modern analogy, think of present-day companies trying to anticipate millennials’ consumer preferences).
Due to its roots in an existing product, the Gremlin was almost comically cheap to bring to market (total tooling costs came in at $5 million). That was very much in line with AMC’s new product approach, since in the 20-year period between 1960 and 1980, the firm spent a paltry 1.8% of its revenue on research and development.
Initially aimed squarely at the Volkswagen Beetle, early marketing materials pointed out that the Gremlin was lower, wider and heavier than the Beetle, and came standard with a 6-cylinder engine. In other words, it was marketed as a more substantial car. The Gremlin was a subcompact that felt bigger and sturdier than it was, and that paradox became a selling point.
Unfortunately, sturdiness did not bestow roadworthiness, and the Gremlin wasn’t exactly delightful to drive. Nose-heavy, with a choppy ride and notoriously slow steering, Gremlins had driving characteristics that would doom most other cars. In addition, interior space, while ample for the driver and passenger, was compromised. The rear seat was small and uncomfortable (6” less legroom than a Hornet), while luggage room was meager (6.4 cu. ft. with the rear seat up) and difficult to access through the high liftgate. The wide C-pillars created large blind spots. Still, Gremlins sold well. Why?
Because of price. The Gremlin was the most affordable American-made car when introduced, and stayed price-competitive throughout its life. Its core market of young, slightly unconventional buyers placed a low priority on space efficiency, and the low price and operational affordability compensated for its drivability shortcomings.
In fact, the Gremlin was a masterpiece of marketing. Take the name, for example. “Gremlin” had its origin in WWII British aviation slang, initially meaning a mythical creature that caused mechanical problems in airplanes. The term caught on, and in 1943, Roald Dahl wrote a wartime children’s book called “The Gremlins,” complete with illustrations of impish critters. Gremlins then surfaced as creative plane nose art as well, usually represented by mischievous characters. The name became fixed in the English language, with a negative, but rascally connotation.
Like its aviation predecessors, AMC’s Gremlin debuted with a critter mascot, found on early models’ gas caps (which became a frequent target for thieves) and fenders. In a world of magniloquent automotive names and symbols, Gremlin stood out.
AMC published the Gremlin’s initial press release on Thursday, February 12, 1970 – beating Friday the 13th by one day. Consumer sales began on April Fools’ Day of that year. In the marketplace, Gremlin had the advantage of being the first domestic subcompact – beating its GM and Ford rivals (Vega and Pinto) by several months. That helped to spring the Gremlin to popularity upon introduction; orders outpaced production capacity for much of the first year.
Source of production figures: Standard Catalog of American Motors, 1902-1987
Sales boomed during the 1973-74 energy crisis, when over 100,000 Gremlins were produced each year. Those two years alone, when small cars’ desirability suddenly surged, accounted for 45% of total Gremlin production. For the non-energy crisis years during Gremlin’s 9-year model run, sales averaged about 45,000 units, still not a shabby number. For our featured year of 1977, AMC produced 46,171 Gremlins.
While it’s impressive that an odd-looking car with poor space layout and questionable handling sold well at introduction, it’s amazing that sales held up for many years afterwards as well. Gremlins received only minor updates for its first 7 model years.
1977, our featured car’s year, saw the Gremlin’s first significant styling update. True to form, it flew in the face of convention. When introduced, the Gremlin was angular in a world of rounded cars. Then for ’77, when the boxy look was coming into vogue, AMC slightly softened the Gremlin’s edges.
Larger, more rounded tail lights, a bigger liftgate and a new slanted grille distinguished the 1977 models, along with a 4-inch shortening of the Gremlin’s long nose. But the Gremlin still looked very much like a Gremlin.
While 1977 saw the introduction of an optional 4-cylinder engine, 83% of Gremlins were powered by one of the two available 6-cylinder power plants. Standard was a 232-cu. in. engine developing 88 hp, while an optional 258-cu. in. engine produced 26 more hp. Both sixes were available with a 3-speed, 4-speed or automatic (floor- or column-shift) transmission. The previous V-8 option disappeared for 1977.
This particular car is a fairly well equipped example, with optional wheels, a column-shift automatic and some convenience options. Its red paint, gold rally stripe and matching red-and-cream perforated vinyl bucket seats provide an eye-catching look.
The 1977 Gremlin carried a base price of $2,995 – a good bargain for the time, and the biggest reason why the car continued to sell well even 7 years after its introduction. But sales didn’t grow profits at AMC, and the company’s passenger car business generated a pretax loss of $90 million that year. In business articles of the day, AMC was often called “troubled AMC” or “imperiled AMC,” an indication of the company’s travails. Still, the Gremlin soldiered on.
By 1977, though, the Gremlin was clearly outdated, and became hard pressed to keep up with newly innovative small cars such as VW’s Rabbit or Ford’s Fiesta. Its shortcomings were finally catching up to it.
1978 was the Gremlin’s last year. Sort of. While an 9-model-year run for this odd-looking car would have been improbable enough, AMC rebranded the Gremlin as the “Spirit sedan,” and kept producing it with only detail changes through 1982.
Though often maligned (both then and since), the Gremlin was a fascinating car. It is perhaps the best example of a car succeeding despite itself. For all of its obvious faults, the car sold well to its targeted audience of young, budget-conscious buyers, and perhaps the very hostility generated by the car propelled it to a degree of counterculture acceptability.
It’s easy to think of the Gremlin today as an embarrassment. But a certain amount of genius lurks under the awkward body and the driveability faults. For its minimal initial investment, AMC got a car that generated showroom traffic, and significant sales, for a decade. In due course, it was not enough to sustain AMC’s independence, as Renault bought a controlling interest in the company in 1979. However, the Gremlin did more than its fair share to stave off AMC’s demise.
Years later, the most memorable aspect of the Gremlin is still the design; no one has ever mistaken a Gremlin for anything else. AMC President William Luneburg once called the Gremlin’s design “purposely contentious,” a phrase that’s hard to beat in describing this car’s character. Ultimately, that character proved to be the car’s ticket to success – if the Gremlin were conservatively designed, it’s doubtful the car would have sold as many copies, or for so many years. Many of us may laugh at AMC Gremlins, but just like the mythical creatures in the 1943 children’s book, the Gremlins had the last laugh.
Curbside Classic: AMC Gremlin – 1971 Small Car Comparison Number 6 Paul Niedermeyer
Curbside Classic: 1977 AMC Gremlin – Pay 8% More And Get 13% Less HP And 33% Fewer Cylinders Paul Niedermeyer
COAL: 1977 AMC Gremlin – Very Easy To Find In A Parking Lot Nelson James
Lets not forget the prototype that begat the Gremlin…the AMX-GT
Thanks: that was the origin of the Gremlin’s styling.
Maybe not so much “the origin” but as a way to get the public used to the idea of what was coming with the Gremlin. A classic “concept car” that previewed a coming production car.
Funny what kind of wonders a little styling can work. Those sidepipes and the wheel/tire package could make just about ANYTHING look amazing.
Plus its AMX based. The roofline is much lower, which makes it look longer. Overall its very pleasing to the eye, instead of the dorkier roofline of the production model.
what is the vaIue of a 77 GremIin today? I have a chance to buy one,and don’t know what to offer him?
This is an interesting car. It does look like it was designed to counter good looks and common sense. I think the owner of this one knows this and is playing up the oddness (note the PBBBBBBHHHH ‘raspberry’ bumper sticker). I can appreciate such on odd bird, but I imagine if I owned it, just looking at it each day would wear down my mind. The interior especially draws attention to itself. You can imagine the reasonable green and blue ones have all been recycled, and this really loud example lives one. Note my bias- my DD is a 2000 Corolla silver with dark grey interior.
In the 80’s my sister traded her first car a 72 Ford Pinto that she bought bare bones in beige manual everything 4 speed, for the son of Gremlin an AMC Spirit that looked very much like this Gremlin. Both were very basic and lasted way past 10 years and 100,000 miles. I learned to drive stick on both of these cars.
I’d love a classic Gremlin X in orange with a V8, poor man’s AMX.
“Modern references to Gremlins usually take the form of being on someone’s Top 10 list of ugliest/worst/most shameful/etc. cars ever made.”
those lists are as worthless as the publications which come up with them. very few of the entries on that list are actually “bad” cars; most of them are cars whose styling hasn’t aged well. which is stupid since there’s a lot of things from the ’50s-’70s whose styling looks dated now.
I just assume those “bad cars” lists are something the magazines give some stupid intern kid to do.
“While it’s impressive that an odd-looking car with poor space layout and questionable handling sold well at introduction,”
when will enthusiasts get it through their heads that nobody cares about handling? not back then, not now. If they did, Mazda and VW would own the market. but they don’t.
I agree. Its shamefully inaccurate to put the Gremlin on a “10 Worst” list because the journalists are not using any kind of reasonably quantifiable criteria. They are simply resurrecting a name with which people are familiar, to produce a more relatable article for readers.
If they truly did make a list of worst cars, they would name makes that most readers have never heard of, like Wartburg and Isetta, and that would not sell magazines.
Hey; I can find plenty of good things to say about both the Wartburg and Isetta!
Which of course supports your point: humans love to label everything and stereotype. And stereotyping the Gremlin is no different than you are doing the same with the Wartburg and Isetta. 🙂
Unless everyone can agree on the specific criteria for what exactly makes a car “good” or “bad”, there will never be agreement on this subject. And folks will keep generating lists with the Gremlin and Wartburg.
I like the looks of the Wortburg 311 and the 353. The 353 has that Volvo 240 vibe going on.
Some valid points. But keep in mind that the Gremlin really was pretty atrocious under hard braking and handling; no car today would be able to be that much worse than the competition. It’s not a relevant comparison. From my article on the Gremlin, including quotes from C/D:
With its “incredibly heavy clutch” and super-slow unassisted steering (6.25 turns lock-to-lock), the Gremlin is utterly devoid of the typical small car nimble feeling. “Its handling is ponderous, and in braking, the weight transfers to the front wheels to such a degree that the rears lock up and the car yaws sideways”.
I’ve driven Gremlins, they’re not all that bad when optioned with power steering, front disc brakes, and decent tires. Traction in slippery weather is terrible though due to the light rear. Early models came with vacuum windshield wipers!
I like vacuum windshield wipers, They are infinitely adjustable. All you need to do is put a vacuum reservoir on them and they never have problems. Think of it power brakes were vacuum activated and nobody complained about them because they had a vacuum reservoir. A lot of the 50-70’s luxury cars used vacuum appliances. I think it was very stupid cost cutting on the part of car makers not to put a vacuum reservoir on windshield wipers. I put one on my ’63 Rambler and between that and the double diaphragm fuel pump never had a problem. Very simple rugged system with a minimum of parts.
Ford UK had vacuum tanks to assist their wipers they still didnt work it was a cheap and nasty idea from day 1 and abandonned by the early 60s everywhere.
I think the vacuum-powered wipers made sense back in the 6V days, but not so much after that.
I saw a retro car review a few years ago, I think of a European, likely French, car of some sort. 1960s I think. Can’t remember the make. In any case, the wipers ran off the pressurized air in the spare tire. That idea inherently bothers me. I know that in that situation I would use the wipers less than absolutely required.
As so often in those days, it so often came down to the options the buyer specified.
The Gremlin was quite successful in IMSA’s RS series. Radial Sedans were very close to production specifications. Cars generally raced with their warts and strengths intact. Mazda RX2s were fast but had no brakes. BMWs handled and stopped but were too slow. Vegas performed okay but drank oil and had single use engines. The Gremlins were fast because of their big I6 engines, but had the usual deficiencies in handling and braking. They were still competitive for years, with Amos Johnson in 1973 through Gene Felton in the mid ’70s, to Joe Varde towards the end of the RWD era in RS, IIRC. Here is Gene Felton leading a BMW 2002 in 1975 on an infield road circuit at Talladega:
Furthermore, George Alderman won the 1974 IMSA RS Challenge Championship in an AMC Gremlin. Here’s a good story about the series that documents the limited modifications allowed that didn’t prevent the Gremlin from beating the rotary Mazdas, BMW 2002s, Datsun 510s, Alfa-Romeo GTVs, Volvos, Pintos, and Colts:
Dare I say it but with racing spec springs & dampers on a smooth race track the ‘normal’ shortcomings of the car would be fairly insignificant.
One of the issues of the Gremlin from memory is they had to use very short leaf springs.
Yes you dare say it, because it’s quite true. None of the issues that compromised the Gremlin in normal use were serious issues on the track, with a bit of work.
All faults read like it was a panic job to keep a sinking company going with no money.Garbage compared to a Beetle Opal etc . How could an economy car do ,say only 18mpg. Sorry they were ment to be economical to buy not to run!
Mostly unbreakable with robust engines and transmissions, effortless high-speed highway cruising vs the 4-cylinder competition… they had their positives
The funny thing with these lists redundant clickbait websites come up with is often how contradictory they are, you’ll often find overlap between “top ten ugliest” and “top ten coolest” if you look hard enough. It’s not like they’re scientifically compiled, it’s just some jag boomerang kid in his parents basement putting their lucrative journalism degree to work, and espousing their narrow minded context lacking opinions… or just basing it off of OTHER clickbait lists for reference.
And I totally agree about the latter part as well. Your average person really doesn’t know what good handling is, some it still means ride quality over bumps, others it’s responsive steering, and others braking distance. Not whether the car oversteers, understeers, goes around a german racetrack in 7 minutes or any of the crap magazine testers tell you is important – *in reality* convincing the public this stuff is important is only to rationalize their indulgent careers. Actually reviewing a car that spends time in traffic, drives to the grocery stores and treks up to the inlaws out of state isn’t exactly going around a closed course all day and proclaiming “see? Look how much more brand X rolls through this slalom we set up! This test of course represents a zombie apocalipse whereby you need to keep speed without denting your car on the undead scattered in the street!”
it’s just some jag boomerang kid in his parents basement putting their lucrative journalism degree to work, and espousing their narrow minded context lacking opinions…
You do realize that by endlessly repeating this worn-out meme you’re guilty of the same thing? I can almost predict when you and Syke are going to use that line, a gross and derisive generalization about automotive bloggers that actually has much less truth to it than the Gremlin deserving to be on a Ten Worst Car list. The pot calling the kettle black…
Given that there’s some 150 “bloggers” that contribute to this site, on behalf of all of them and myself, I find your comment offensive. And I know a lot of other bloggers on other automotive sites that would too. There’s nothing wrong with someone trying to make a living by what they enjoy doing, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.
Paul, I know we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but I do feel bad if you or any contributor took that line as an insult. I do apologize, and I genuinely had no intent for that to be a dig at the passionate writers out there.
I personally just find those kinds of clickbait top 10 list websites(they are rarely from automotive sites) to be the antithesis of real automotive sites like this, often containing gross errors even in the 5 word caption – “what were they thinking! No wonder AMC died off in the 70s!”. That’s where the narrow minded context lacking part comes in, dragging in boomerang kids (I am not one to talk there lol) was just to say someone who probably didn’t experience all ten cars, spanning several decades, first hand to compile them in a list. I should have just left that out in hindsight.
I understand. Keep in mind that a lot of “bloggers” like pretty much all journalists are paid to do one thing: generate eye balls. We all make compromises to one degree or another for success in our work, whatever that may be.
We’re lucky here at CC, because we are free from that demand, and can afford to write what we feel like, not because of pressure from some boss. Of course, the result is that we can’t pay our bloggers at all. 🙁
The moral being that if you want to make a living in this business, you pretty much have to find a way to break through the huge clutter. Lists like that are well-know to do that. For some reason, Top 10 lists are magnetic to human eyeballs.
My real point is this: I feel bad for young writers that it’s so hard to make a living in this business. There’s lots of kids who have some talent, but the opportunities are often dismal.
I think what Matt is getting at is that there is a lot of blatant misinformation being flung around. A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth, as they say. And I think he’s tapping into something, when it comes to these bloggers parroting each other but with little to no real world experience. These ‘lists’ are old hat. That said, I get what youre saying about clickbait doing its job also.
+1. news flash for auto journalists… 99.9% of drivers don’t autocross their cars…
jz78817, maybe Americans don’t care about handling, but many other nationalities do. Aussies for one have always valued handling more than some American Holden engineers have been prepared for, despite apparent similarities between our driving conditions. And the Mazda 3 is regularly the top-selling car in Australia. The 2 is often top of its class too.
I’ve never been quite certain on what to think about these. Part of me is so intrigued and another part is so repulsed; I’m not thinking of anything else that has such a bi-polar affect upon me.
When growing up, a neighbor got tired of feeding the 455 in his ’74 Buick LeSabre and bought a Gremlin. Those two made quite the combination in their garage.
Eric, I do have a (good-natured) bone to pick with you. You took this picture in Paris, didn’t you? It looks like the Gremlin is parked just off Interstate 15. You’re squatting on my territory, mister. This isn’t good. However, in the interest of being fair, you can have all of Missouri north of US 36 and west of US 71. Sound fair? Probably not! 🙂
Seriously, this was a good find, especially for that area.
Yes! The Gremlin was in downtown Paris, just off of 15. I have relatives who live near Paris, and I was driving from there down to Bennett Spring for a camping trip when I took these pictures. Sorry for invading your territory!
I’m in Missouri several times a year, and often enjoy trying to figure out exactly where your articles’ pictures were taken (esp. those along Missouri Blvd.) — so I’m glad I was able to return the favor.
I’ll politely decline your offer to stay in the NW corner of the state, though!
If you see a car you need to catch it! There is a building near where you took this picture that did have a Model T on display in the window; or it did from 2006 to 2011.
If you go to Bennett Spring, Lebanon is awesome for car finds. I’ve found a bunch there, as well as Rolla. Only about a quarter to a third do I find in Jeff. You do have me convinced to start identifying where I make my finds, like what Joe Dennis is doing.
You should have my email; next time you are in the area let me know and I’ll show you some car spots around here.
Lebanon was full of CCs when I was there. I remember sitting in the Dollar General parking lot, watching one after another pull up. Rte. 64 from Lebanon to Bennett Spring was a virtual CC Highway. And I remember your Nash Ambassador find from Lebanon as well.
Missouri is great for CCs. On the same trip, I took pictures of a great (in my opinion) ’84 Cutlass Supreme Brougham, but I accidentally deleted the pictures from my camera.
I do like Joseph’s practice of identifying where his cars were found. It adds another element of interest to the finds, especially to folks like me who are captivated by geography as well as cars.
I plan on being in Jeff City sometime this spring, so I’ll e-mail you!
The last time we were at Bennett Springs, we saw an International Scout!
Putting the Gremlin on a list of “10 Worst Cars” list is just opinion on stying. I can come up with a hella lot more than 10 crappy cars before I’d get to any AMC car.
Great piece and very well illustrated, Eric. Prefer the Pacer myself but I like the AMX-GT john posted above.
Reminds me of the story behind the Australian Valiant Charger which was a last-minute drastically-shortened addition to the yet-to-be released ‘fullsize’ 1972 VH range. I’ve posted this before, but its worth showing again as some of the initial concepts bore much similarity to the Gremlin.
Chrysler AU cut a ute down to see if the wheelbase of the Charger would handle well enough in the actual marketplace and used that as a test mule, that prototype still exists somewhere.
The “Levi” blue jean edition is the only Gremlin I would consider worth collectible. If I remember correctly , it could be had for just under $200 and truly made the car look appealing. Also, it fit the rebellious nature of the car.
Yeah, but those brass buttons on the seats of those Levis-equipped interiors effectively turned into branding irons on bare skin during hot summer days.
That may be true, but it was still the best looking of all Gremlins
I don’t imagine they actually used denim for the trim though?
IIRC it was some sort of nylon chosen for its resemblance but longer-lasting.
I expect some people wouldn’t mind their vehicle trim wearing and fading like denim does, until it got too bad at least unless there was another layer of material underneath. On the other hand I can see it making resale challenging…
They did indeed have real honest to god Denim , they even had the cute little red ” LEVI ” tags with the letters in white .
Levis fade more from washing than the sun and denim wears like wool .
I don’t think it was real denim, unless it was treated with some sort of fire retardant.
I just bought a ’73 Levi’s Gremlin, which will have to wait a couple of years for love until I finish my Bricklin. The original fabric was called “spun nylon” because denim was a fire hazard. I’ll be using a modern stretch denim to restore it. The Grem will be a real favorite at the local car shows. Can’t wait.
Great looking car, inside and out.
I wouldn’t mind having one in good shape. If feasible I’d boost the ride height an inch or two and run oversized ATs on it, give it a Jeepster interpretation.
AMC beat you to it–see the 1981-82 AMC Eagle Kammback.
I remember seeing one in Four Wheeler magazine mounted up on a CJ-7 frame shod with 35″ tires and even wearing a snowplow rig! Now THATS doing it right! It was nicely built and looked right at home, actually.
Pretty nice. I actually prefer the earlier Gremlin front end though, the Concord/Eagle grilled and quad headlight set up was pretty blah. Also like the Gremlin’s upswept quarter window
I’m sure in typical AMC fashion all the running gear is pretty much interchangeable.
For some reason, this is the modern hatchback car that reminds me the most of the AMC Gremlin, because of it’s long hood. 2009 Alfa Romeo Brera
The Brera likened to a Gremlin – only at Curbside Classic!
Seriously though, I can see where you’re coming from, Glenn. And I have a soft spot for Gremlins too.
Haven’t seen a Gremlin in 20 years. Hornets and Eagles were common around here until very recently, so it’s not a matter of quality. Most likely a ‘caste’ distinction. Because Gremlins ended up in the hands of poor families with no spare money for maintenance, they declined fast.
I’ve always liked the Gremlin, at least from a styling quirkiness perspective. Never had opportunity to drive one. I might have ridden in my older cousin’s when I was in my early teens, but that would have been before I really got into cars (beyond model building).
Always enjoy an AMC post – very nice article. Gremlins, like Hornets were great beaters – my preference in this category were Darts/Valiants/Dusters – but sure wouldn’t turn down a Gremlin if it was available. After the slant 6, the 232/258 was one tough unit.
I’ve never so much as ridden in one of these, which is actually an accomplishment given how ubiquitous these were in the 70s. My childhood next-door neighbors owned two!
But I always thought AMC finally got the greenhouse right when they extended those rear side windows and rebadged it Spirit. If only they hadn’t chosen to hike the car up several inches at the same time, ruining its stance.
Wow. Another car I overlooked that would fit in the garage I rent for my toys, which is 174″ deep.
The first one I knew of was owned by a fellow who occupied the ground floor of the building I where rented a “garrett atelier” (attic) in the student slums of Providence, RI between ’70-’71. His was lime green.
I stopped to chat with him about it one day, and he was enthusiastic, as it fit his life style even though he wasn’t described in the demographic most often cited in ownership polls. He was middle aged and living with a significant same-gender partner, so he didn’t really need the back seat for passengers. And, as a city dweller he had gotten rid of his big car for the Gremlin to facilitate parking. He loved the utility of the hatchback, and the low price. It was a new car that he didn’t mind leaving on city streets overnight.
I actually see the occasional Gremlin in the Metro NY area, left over from the fad of some years ago when young millennials were acquiring them for the same reason their parents once did.
Here’s the Bugs Bunny gremlin cartoon from 1943:
I knew a couple of people who were still driving Gremlins in the early 1980s. These were as sturdy and unkillable as a cockroach but crude cars to drive – as bad as a Maverick and inferior to Darts and Valiants. It’s not hard to see why sales slowly tailed off after Fuel Crisis I. By the way, ever see a Gremlin with a sunroof? AMC sold a few in around 1972 and are probably one of the most collectible Gremlins today. .
I’ve seen those ads but I’ve certainly never seen a 70’s AMC with a sunroof. Can’t imagine they made it very long before leaking.
Count me among the Gremlin’s fans. From the moment they came out, there was something about their quirky styling that I liked. In “X” trim (and especially with the 304) these genuinely excite me.
Though I knew several people who owned Gremlin’s, I have never driven one. Knowing AMCs reputation for driving dynamics, perhaps my enthusiasm would wilt after some wheel time.
The Gremlin reminds me a bit of Studebaker’s Lark, a cut-down larger car that managed to compete in a smaller class reasonably well. More power can hide a multitude of other failings.
The X models with their just-right racing stripes and roadwheels were the Gremlin looking its best, IMHO. A sporty interpretation on these cars just looks right. Stuffed with the 304, performance was decent for the times too.
My grandpa bought a ’74 Gremlin, purple with dog dish hubcaps, black vinyl bench seat, 3 speed on the floor that kept popping out of 3rd because the shifter rubbed the seat…the good techs at Wullenweber AMC heated and straightened the shift lever so it would no longer rub…voila, problem solved. He liked it so much he traded it on a 77 Hornet hatchback, dark brown with plaid seats…biggest plaid pattern I’ve ever seen in a car.
His good AMC experiences led my dad to buy a ’75 Gremlin, orange, gold stripe kit, full wheelcovers, tan vinyl bench seat, automatic on the column…WORST car ever, got traded within a year on a new ’76 Olds Cutlass S sedan. That ’75 was just awful, spent a LOT of time at the dealer. When we came out from mass one Sunday and the radiator had fallen off its mounts and punctured itself on the cooling fan, that was it…
My main memory of the Gremlins was that the shoulder belts would flap in the breeze and make an awful racket if the windows were down…maddening noise when the belts slapped the interior trim over and over and over, ad nauseum.
One of my high school car buddies had a Gremlin similar to this, although it was eye searing orange. Nobody liked it much, the back seat was torture for gangly teen boys and driving was unpleasant because the three speed shifter was worn out and had a poor chance of getting the desired gear.
Personally I quite like the early Gremlins, the wheels, colors and stripes work for me. Although of course I prefer my Matador hardtop which appears in the 1972 advertisement…
Another Gremlin fan here. Still remember the guy in the Presque Isle SCCA autocross series running A Sedan in a Gremlin X with the 304 and a 4-speed. It was quite competitive. Never did get a chance to talk to him to find out what he did with the suspension, but it sat a bit lower than stock.
Driving south on 95 I said what the heck is that being towed on a trailer? Lo and behold! Gremlin! Wait, no, it was a Pacer. Close enough….
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a well-preserved AMC in YEARS…..
Glad the Bugs Bunny “Falling Hare” gremlin cartoon was posted above.
I owned a ’71 with a stick. Paid $60 for it and drove for a couple years. It was a ball.
Also had a chance, back in the day, to drive one with a 304 V8 and a 4-speed. That, too, was a ball.
I found them to be reliable, cheap to own, and durable. When you’re 21 and on a tight budget, that overcomes slow steering, poor space utilization and unspectacular gas mileage any day of the week.
Those who place Gremlin on any “all-time worst car” list (and I’ve seen several, usually put together by college journalism-school interns) only reveal their lack of real knowledge on the subject IMO.
Oh, and I thought they were cute as cute could be.
Every time I see one of these I think about that Simpsons episode with the Gremlin in it.
I used to see a lot of them with missing fuel caps that the owner shoved a rag in to the exposed filler neck to protect it from the elements. It is was like it was a rolling Molotov cocktail.
In addition, Marge drove a Gremlin when she dated Homer.
Lookin’ good! My old Gremlin parts car had the Molotov gas cap as well. There’s a pic of it somewhere but I can’t seem to find it.
I have always liked the Gremlin. It was more reliable than the Vega, and didn’t have the exploding gas tank problems of the Pinto. If you spent enough for the right options such as the Levis interior, it could be quite livable inside. The last 2 years were the best. The car finally got the restyling it needed with a new front clip that reduced front overhang and make the car look more “balanced”. It also received a larger glass hatch, a practical improvement. In 1978 it got Concord’s new instrument panel, a 1000% improvement over the previous affair.
The main problem with AMC in the ’70s was that they let their bread and butter cars, Hornet and Gremlin, wither on the vine while wasting money on projects like the Matador coupe and Pacer. Should have had Concord/Spirit at least 4 years before they did, and spent precious development money on updated platforms for these two models.
This Gremlin is a really nice example, though and seems to be in pristine condition. It’s always great to see an oddball car and time capsule like this kept so well.
I helped a friend of mine put a modified Chevy 350 and THM350 in a 73 Gremlin. It was a tight fit, but worked well. Hugely entertaining to drive. The tires would spin and the rear end would hop and slide all over the place. We flared the rear fenders and put on fat tires and slapper bars to quell the bad behaviour.
When doing this, I discovered why these cars like to rust. The sheetmetal panels were bare steel inside. No coating at all, not even paint. Any moisture, even a bit of condensation would start rust.
My friend grew up in England, away from all the bad PR on these cars. For him, the Gremlin was a dream car and he ended up with 3 of them.
That would be hard to believe as these were still using the dip rust proofing that AMC pioneered. That one may have been poorly repaired as it wouldn’t have come from the factory that way
Funny – my brother did a similar thing with another AMC product, stuffing a 400SBC/Turbo 400 into a 1976 Pacer, with similar results.
And lastly, this article isn’t complete without mention of the rare 401-equipped Gremlins which I heard stories of a couple of times over the decades:
While I like the Spirit, at least the ones with the squared off roofline and side window (I don’t care for the “fastback” Spirit) the “new” 4 headlight front treatment of the Spirit canceled out that nicer side view. For me, the penultimate Gremlin (or Spirit?) would be a 79 “squareback” Spirit with a 77-78 Gremlin front clip. Then, whichever engine with a floor shifted transmission.
I rode in an early 70s Gremlin a co-worker had as a rental while his Super Beetle was in the shop. While the assembly quality of many cars was seriously lacking in the 70s, that rental Gremlin was really bad. Gaps in the dashboard’s panels were the widest I think I ever saw in a near new car. It looked like the tolerances for the machines that stamped out the parts was in inches, not fractions of inches. But that car could get up and go.
There is a 2 door Hornet on my local Craigslist…a borderline sad looking unit. It’s nice and clean enough but it’s that light brown/beige color in and out.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this freak of a car, as I have always had a soft spot for this freak of an auto manufacturer.
Growing up in Chicago, AMC was what families drove when their Ramblers died and they still didn’t have enough cash or credit for other wheels.
Cheap! Cheap! That is what I see when I see a Gremlin. You must fill it with real options to even make them sufferable. By the time you got the right engine, transmission and power steering, you lost the fuel economy you hoped you would get.
No back seat. As bad as a Beetle. No window to look out of if you did fold yourself up to sit in the back, unlike the Beetle. But, no engine noise or smell in the backseat like the Beetle, either. In a Gremlin, it was front seat or no go for any male over 6 foot tall. Even skinny ones like me.
The Spirit upgrade was needed right away – not eight years later. It made this car decent. But AMC was burning up its money on stupid cars like the Matador Coupe and the Pacer. AMC so needed to keep its Hornet and Gremlin modern.
The new Gremlin is very popular!
It is the Kia Soul!
Vanilla Dude, that “no cash or credit for other wheels” is just your assumption. You’re just stereotyping. As today, Chrysler is not the sub-prime queen, GM is, but everyone just keeps up the meme that Chrysler is where people go who have no credit and no money.
And the window in the rear seat was right where the passengers sat, so yes you can see out. You have obviously never been in a Gremlin, much less driven one.
You are correct on the sorry build quality of AMC’s cars, not just the Gremlin. You can see the lousy fit of the dashboard in the featured car. My parents had a 71 Gremlin and a 72 Ambassador: both were finished and built in the lowest rent fashion in the industry.
And BTW, they had plenty of money and credit to buy anything they wanted at the time.
Funny you should mention the Soul — I too see a lot of similarities in the two cars, although the Soul is probably more space-efficient.
Although separated by decades, it’s amusing that both AMC and Kia used the triangular-shaped quarter window and an angular rear to achieve an edgy design that would appeal to younger buyers.
The Soul just needs a hockey-stick shaped tape stripe, and it would really be a modern Gremlin!
And ten years before the Gremlin, there was this. There’s that side window shape again (ignoring the reverse-slant rear screen). It goes back as far as some Sunbeams in the thirties, at least.
The back seat in the Gremlin was considerably tighter than a VW’s. I spent plenty of time in a VW back seat; with the front seat not all the way back, it was not that bad. There’s no way I could ever fit in a Gremlin back seat. It was not designed for adults.
They should have made the Gremlin a few inches longer, so as to give it a half-way usable back seat.
Funny you mention that as I managed to contort myself into the back seat of my Gremlin last week. No that’s not what I do for fun, I was getting the wiring loom through to the back. I lasted at least 15 mins back there, but the move required to escape has about 4 distinct steps. At 6′ tall my legs are sideways, shoulder against the side and head grazing the roof, with the front seat all the way forward.
Still better than the jump seats in an old S-10 though.
Imagine if they had not cut the wheelbase when creating the Gremlin, the additional sheetmetal would add little extra cost or weight, in the scheme of things, and AMC may even have come out ahead due to not needing separate dies for the short floorpan as well as extra sales from having actual rear seat space.
While we are speaking of modern Gremlins, there was a relevant “additional reading” post done recently by William Stopford – the Mitsubishi Mirage.
Loved the Gremlin! Loved our 1976 model, too.
I think with these cars, the Gremlins, and Pacers too, will be “true cult cars”, not only for AMC fans(+1) in nearer future.
Wait and see…
My parents had one when I was a kid – a ’72, in yellow with a black stripe and tan vinyl interior. They kept it until 1989, when they traded it in for a minivan. I think they bought it mostly because they wanted a small car and knew the guy who ran the hometown AMC dealership. I mostly remember that it seemed like half the car was hood.
I don’t remember them having any mechanical issues with the car, although by the time they got rid of it it had giant rust holes in it. My dad used to work at a chemical plant, which may have had something to do with that.
Half the car ~was~ hood!
When I was in college, a “Gremlin” was a frozen orange sherbet bar on a stick, sold by vendors at football games. Frozen Orange Gremlins. Then one year a bunch of people fell ill from eating them…food poisoning, it was thought. They disappeared overnight.
I had neighbour who had an AMC Gremlin when I was a boy. Although I never got to ride in it, I did find it quite attractive.
My parents had a 71. It’s appeal was that it drove like a larger car compared to the sub compacts of the day.
Horribly built, floor filled with water on a rainy trip to PA. Seat hardware poked through the side upholstery early on, paint drips, wavy trim pieces, slap dash assembly everywhere and the crude latch that held up the back seat squeaked over every bump from day one . Plastics were Vacu-form quality.
I learned to drive in one. It was a very stiff structure. Quick off the line, mediocre gas mileage with the automatic: it got 23 mpg on that same trip to PA.
A car full of contradictions. My folks traded it for an Ambassador Brougham which was no better built, but one they drove for 8 years. Gremlin quality in AMC’s finest car.
My parents had a 1973 Gremlin, and had owned a 1959 Rambler station wagon.
After owing a Gremlin as a second car, my mother wouldn’t allow my father to consider another AMC car, even a Matador. It was an Oldsmobile Delta 88 or nothing else for her!
My parents owned a ton of AMC products, including a Gremlin. Then they bought an ’86 Renault Alliance from their local AMC/Jeep/Renault dealer. It broke down all the time. When they were looking at their next car, my dad suggested a Renault/Eagle Medallion wagon, and that’s when my mom put her foot down.
They ended up with a Plymouth Voyager.
By the mid-1970s Gremlins were ubiquitous enough to be considered mainstream. Sort of. Anyway, few of my friends thought of my ’77 as oddball—although even fewer thought of it as cool. No, it was not a fine piece of machinery, but it suited my purse and personality well enough. And hey, it had those gold rally stripes!
Buddy of mine loaned me his Gremlin when I first got to Norfolk without a car and he was going to sea for a short cruise. I was used to driving crappy cars so the Gremlin had nothing in particular that was different between it and the others that one would see. One thing I didn’t appreciate was the rear window which wasn’t (at least the ones I have seen) a hatch. Just a window that opened with the inherent limitations.
I get a kick out of some of these pubs that talk about cars that they never drove. A gremlin would do me just fine even today. Want a hot rod. Any of the V8s from 304 to 401 would do. 232 was enough but the AMC 258 was their standout engine for me. So, for today – make mine a 258 with a floor mounted four speed. And since we are dreaming, give me a real hatchback. That otta duit.
*Great* piece, Eric, and I love that your take on these cars is a sympathetic take. Certainly, the Gremlin (and Spirit) were a bright spot for AMC during its production run. I hope the owner attends to the minor rust soon!
One of the most fascinating things I read in this article was that as late as ’77, AMC sold 46,000 Gremlins. Chevy sold a combined total of just under 50,000 Vegas between the notchback and hatchback bodystyles (not including the additional 25,000 “Kammback” wagons). The Vega was, by ’77, a much improved car from where it started. Of course, the Pinto sold something like 225,000 units (all bodystyles combined). I guess my point is that given AMC’s tiny market share by that point, the Gremmie was holding it down!
Keep in mind that the Vega was utterly toxic by then, or already had been some years earlier. And there’s another factor: the 1975 Monza made the Vega coupe essentially irrelevant, as it was more attractive, newer, and didn’t have the Vega’s rep. And the Chevette ate away at the lower end of Vega sales. After 1976, the Vega was largely irrelevant, by design and otherwise.
Great points, Paul. A better comparison would have been a tally of, say, all Chevy subcompacts vs. the Gremlin’s figures. But still, I love that the ’77 Gremlin was just barely outnumbered by the non-wagon Vegas of the same model year. I remember seeing those ’76 Vegas ads touting the “Dura-Built” engines surviving in some desert with minor problems, but the damage had already been done.
Also consider that Toyota Corollas and Datsun 210s with far superior quality were coming on strong and eating into compact car sales from GM, Ford, AMC, & Chrysler in the mid to late 70’s. This would explain part of the big dip in Gremlin sales.
About this time, my 69 VW Beetle died while I was still in college. My Dad was insistent on avoiding any American compact car because of the issues with the Vega, Pinto, and Gremlin. In the end, I bought a Corolla.
Nice article on one of the more interesting cars of the era. You’re obviously a bit more sympathetic to it than I have been in the past, and some of your points are quite valid.
But I still think AMC made a mistake by cutting the gremlin so short; if they had cut the Hornet’s 108″ wheelbase down to about 100-102″, instead of 96″, the Gremlin could have had a semi-reasonable back seat, instead of one that was absolutely not usable by adults. That would also have improved weight distribution, etc.
They would have ended up with a more functional hatchback car, instead of one that was rather severely compromised.
Maybe someone here can do us a photoshop of a gremlin with a longer wheelbase and bigger rear side window? Just a simple stretch?
A few points about the Gremlin’s….styling (?):
The rear side window on a Gremlin looks to be the same shape as the rear side window of a Hornet 2 door sedan, though the Gremlin has the right side Hornet window on it’s left and turned upside down.
If, the Hornet and Gremlin side windows are interchangeable, that would have a (small) bearing on the Gremlin’s wheelbase.
But probably NOT interchangeable and the folks at AMC just wanted to produce a car similar to that AMX prototype shown near the top. If so, somewhat interesting that the Spirit/Gremlin fastback would eventually sport the AMX nameplate.
One thing AMC could have done is share the Sportabout wagon rear end with the Gremlin, which would have given it better looks and better access to a slightly roomier cargo space.. The result would have been a shortened Sportabout with no rear side doors. The Hornet hatchback was introduced in 73. They could have chopped a few inches off that and call it a Gremlin. These ideas would have been cost effective for AMC.
They did do such a prototype and I have seen the pics in the comments section of a post recently. I believe it may have been Steve who posted it? It looks pretty good, definitely would have been far more space efficient then the Gremlin.
That being said AMC was focussed on the Pacer and Matador coupe at the time and we all know how that worked out.
Not interchangeable. Not an easy window to find these days.
A 5 minute job. Stretched by half a wheel (not tire) width. Should be right around 102″.
Perfect. Thanks. I’m going to use it for a “What If” post. Let’s see what folks think. I
Curses! Beat me too it. My stretch is a little less.
Check out the VAM “Lerma”, a stretched Gremlin.
Trying to get my head around that one. A stretched Gremlin? Or was it more like a hatchback Hornet? Ultra-cool, however you look at it. And 282 inches was one BIG six!
That looks like a Hornet/Concord sedan with a Spirit Hatchback rear end. Interesting.
I learned to drive on my parents’ 1973 Gremlin. It was the same shade of red as this car, and with gold pinstripes. It came with the 258 I-6, floor-mounted Torqueflite transmission, air conditioning, power steering and an AM radio. My parents bought it in the fall of 1974, when it was a year old, and had less than 12,000 miles on it.
Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but that car remains, by far, the worst car that either I or my parents have ever owned. It was constantly in the shop for one thing or another. Every interior component looked and felt as though it cost no more than .10 cents. The plastic, multi-piece dashboard looked as though it had been assembled by bored sixth graders. The plastic dash panels were badly warped by the time the car was two years old.
By the time the car was four years old, it had displayed these recurring problems (aside from the problems that required it to be towed or driven to the dealer just to keep the car running):
1. It was extremely difficult to keep the engine running smoothly. Gas mileage wasn’t much better than the mileage in my parents’ 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale hardtop sedan, which had a 350 Rocket V-8.
2. The front side window kept falling out of its track.
3. The driver’s side exterior rear view mirror would fall down when the door was slammed. My dad bought a replacement at the AMC dealer. Within a year, the new mirror was doing the same thing.
4. The alternator light glowed permanently. I saw this same condition on a few Gremlins and Hornets from that same vintage.
5. The manual tuner on the AM radio kept slipping, and eventually stopped working completely.
6. The struts in the hatch failed.
7. The factory-installed carpeting (a bilious gold color) was tearing away from the transmission shifter console within one year, and was worn through on the driver’s side within two years.
8. Front grille/headlight panel was completely cracked above each headlight.
9. Front passenger seat back kept coming out of its holder, which meant that back seat passengers would push the seat release button and move the seat back forward…only to be holding the front seat back in their hands.
It finally died on a cold winter day, with less than 100,000 miles on the odometer. My parents sold it to a local mechanic. He installed another engine, put 1965 Chevrolet Super Sport wheel covers on it, and drove it around town for about a year.
Our small town had an AMC-Pontiac dealer located close to our house. I remember the day in August 1976 that I saw a Gremlin that didn’t look like other Gremlins parked in back. Turned out to be the first 1977 Gremlin this dealership had received from the factory. It was a base red car with black stripes. By that point, word was getting out that AMC was in serious trouble, and the Gremlin looked dated even to “non-car” people. That car sat on the lot for about 8-9 months before he finally sold it.
A Gremlin filled with gremlins?
We kept waiting for the day it would begin projectile vomiting pea soup and start talking in the voice of actress Mercedes McCambridge.
Must have been a miracle that it lasted long enough to almost made it to 100,000 miles.
Can’t help but wonder whether your Gremlin was built by that “slap-it-together-paint-it-over-cover-it-up” motley assembly line crew pictured below the production graph in the article.
Is that picture typical of 1970s automotive assembly lines? No wonder the cars fell apart in a short time. I’ve seen German and Japanese auto assembly line pictures from the same era and they definitely look more organized (not in the UAW way) and professional.
I’ve never been a fan of the Gremlin myself, I always thought the styling just wasn’t to my tastes. But I do know a fan of these cars, dear old dad. My dad’s first car was a Gremlin, another car in the tradition of AMC vehicles his family had. He was a huge fan of his car, saying that despite the exterior, it was a great car with plenty of power thanks to the 304. It predictably didn’t survive the harsh conditions, as he recalled it getting really nasty rust thanks to the winter conditions in Ohio. Despite this, he still has great memories of the car, in fact when we went to a car show that had an orange mint condition 1970 model, he made it a point to wax nostalgic about his to my cousin, who was with us and had very little knowledge on the car. I never shared dad’s enthusiasm for the Gremlin, so this car does very little to me.
This one looks quite nice with those gold stripes over bright red and color-keyed wheels. Though the idea that you could get the subcompact Gremlin with the 304 V8 is almost unbelievably odd to me!
The ad where they compare it to the other “sporty little cars” that “all look the same” is pretty hilarious also. Three out of the four are Ford products, so of course they’re going to have some styling similarity. And they pretty clearly stretched out that Pinto, as it looks just as long as the Maverick/Comet. To say nothing of not including the Dart/Valiant/Duster, because of course it looks nothing like the others, yet they name-drop Chrysler anyway.
Didn’t AMC offer a Levis/Denim seat package on the Gremlin? That must have been something on a hot day with the snaps.
It wouldn’t have been that bad. There were about 4 rivets per seat, and most people don’t drive in the nude.
In the 1970s, shorts for both women and men were really short. Plus, plenty of girls wore what we called “tube tops” – no cloth around the shoulders and no straps, either.
Like ’em or not, you immediately could immediately identify a Gremlin. I always thought the 1977-78 version was the best looking of the bunch-AMC sometimes was good at the ‘cut-and-paste’ updates. With a little bit of searching, a 1978 Concord AMX grille would really look good in place of the 77/78 eggcrate grille. For a taste of ‘alternate universe’ Gremlins, VAM (aka the Mexican arm of AMC) had their own versions of the Gremlin utilizing the 1973/74 Hornet front clip. Personally, I’ll take either a 1978 Gremlin GT or a 1977/78 ‘Levi’s’ edition with the 2 litre/4-spd. combo. (so off the wall it’d be a blast).
Mid 1970’s…coworkers MG Midget was dying…not much of a “car-guy” he asked me to help him shop for a new car. Took him to see all the current compact and subcompact cars and he wasn’t impressed by any of them…until one evening we were at a stoplight and he started hollering, “STOP-WAIT -THERE’S THE CAR I WANT!”. We were in front of an AMC dealer and a silver Gremlin X was in the showroom. We went inside and I had never seen that young man so excited. He special-ordered his V8, silver with the red stripes and all the goodies. When it arrived he was so doggone happy -and it WAS a nice car indeed.
Drove it for several months and got rear-ended at a stoplight…very hard impact which totaled the car but I do believe it was that stout Gremlin body that saved him from a broken neck or even death.
I think his next car was a Nova V8
Although this topic may have been covered in earlier Gremlin posts, a few Gremlins were (somehow) made into competitive road course racers in the IMSA RS series in the 1970s. I was lucky enough to have dinner a couple of years ago with ex-F1 racer Bret Lunger (who was involved in the famous Niki Lauda crash at Nurburgring in 1976) who told me that he raced a Gremlin (for Delaware auto dealer and racer George Alderman) and said he thoroughly enjoyed racing the Gremlin on road courses. I found this picture of a “Team Highball” Gremlin in the Yahoo photos site, and I am not sure of the photographer. Uncertain where the picture was taken–Lime Rock? Mid Ohio? These IMSA RS cars were much more “stock” than pure-racer.
These had some success at dirt track racing too. Of course some of that COULD be since they were so cheap, hacking one up into a dirt modified was no biggie.
Grem’s generally sucked as dragsters, at least in the stock classes…they just wouldn’t hook up. At least until you got into a class that would let you set the engine back some….
This photo was 1974 at Mid Ohio 6 hour race. I am behind the wheel. It was my first race as a driver for Team Highball. I was twenty years old. Amos and I won the race overall. I was too young to legally drink the champagne. I did anyway.
Whoa the CC Effect strikes again… I read this article, then went downstairs to pull up one of my shows to watch on the DVR… About a 6th of the way into it was an action scene; a shootout in some sort of warehouse/garage. There was a 74 Torino, what looked like the shell of a B-210 or an old Tercel, and there, right in the center of the shot… A green Gremlin of the same vintage as our featured car. Cue the Twilight Zone Music. LOL.
The CBS Show Super Girl that aired on Monday, 2/22/16. You could probably catch it on demand. The scene was right before the first commercial break. The green Gremlin and the Bondo covered Torino were prominent; the shell of the compact car was less so. I couldn’t quite ID the latter.
That’s not the first time this season that a CBS show featured a Gremlin. The show Scorpion that airs right afterwards briefly had an extra character named Ray that was living out of his Gremlin when the team met him. When he left the show after a few episodes, I think he drove off in it!
Another CBS show called “GRIMM” that airs on Friday nights regularly features Curbside Classics. It’s set in Portland, Oregon, and there was even an episode recently where Paul’s beloved Eugene was mentioned. ;o)
Correction: Grimm is on NBC on Friday Nights. The CBS show on Friday Nights that has occasional Curbside Classics is Hawaii Five-0, although Five-0 is normally a 1 hour long Chevy commercial. One CC that comes to mind is McGarrett’s father’s 74 Marquis, which is actually the original Steve McGarrett’s car for the original Hawaii Five-O. Yes, I watch too much TV.
I never noticed that little “spoiler” at the trailing edge of the roof before.
Great article Eric, always nice to see Gremlins getting some love! I don’t really have much to add, I agree that the final iteration was the best looking Gremlin, although the lack of an available V8 hurts them. Not that many were buying V8 Gremlin by then mind you. Love those AMC rally rims and the interior colours.
Great writeup! Ive always liked these goofy cars. Theyre weird but that’s part of the appeal. Ive owned 2 Jeeps with the AMC 258…a torque mountain and a nearly unkillable one at that. CJs, even with mid 80s too tall MPG based gearing could scoot pretty good. Id imagine that a grem with a 4spd wouldn’t be a bad ride. The factory 304s up the ante, but a swapped in 360 or 401 would make a great sleeper…
One guy near where I grew up did just that. His Gremster was faded yellow, but it was an X model and wore those rallye wheels so it had just the right level of grit if you knew what to look for. He had something beyond a stock 304 under the hood, because on more than one occasion I saw him catch a stoplight challenger sleeping. One time in particular, he DESTROYED a clean black mid 80’s shortbox C-10 that thought he was the business.
Did Gremlin and Pacer share – a la GM & Ford – any
mechanical underpinnings despite their disparate
appearances? After all they were similar in size.
And which other AMCs shared platforms?
Maybe a couple of nuts & bolts-the Pacer’s underpinnings were (mostly)unique to the Pacer.
Cute little cars , truly ‘ Road Roaches ‘ ~ we had a fleet of them @ City Hall , funny looking but reliable as inner city beaters .
Me I hated the _turgid_ steering but in the big scheme of things they were well liked and did fine .
Prettiest in blue for my eyes .
Very much so ~
AMC’s almost always had extremely slow steering and poor caster designed in so they took forever to make a corner and then didn’t unwind , you had to work the steering wheel back straight again .
You had to have actually driven one to understand .
i still liked them but felt them to be poor ‘ driver’s cars ‘ .
Plus, six turns lock to lock.
Worse than the early Falcons!
The Gremlin sucked in virtually every measurable category but, besides the Mopar A-body, what early seventies domestic small car didn’t? In that context, the Gremlin was okay, considering the car company from which it sprang, i.e., those lovable losers at AMC.
When I was four, my folks talked over getting a second car so mom wouldn’t be stranded at home when dad drove to work. There was at least one Gremlin in our neighborhood, and one evening while we were out on a walk, I pointed to a Gremlin and said “Please don’t get that kind of car”. One or the other of my parents said “How come?” and I said “Because it hurts my eyes”. They wound up adding a ’77 Cutlass to their ’78 Caprice.
The Gremlin was high tide and falling when I was in high school. As a stock stripper off the lot it was a boring if not ugly car. But I liked it when I saw one tricked out in mag wheels, side pipes, and it actually could move. The one I lusted for shot past my high school one day I think in 1977. Pretty car it was. Stranger vehicle, not a local. Looks like with some proper work, a Gremlin could be a semi-decent handling machine, too.
My parents had a Gremlin, don’t recall the year. During a snowstorm I had to move it out of the driveway so I could take my car – it got stuck on the level road. That car, and my Ford Aerostar were the worse I ever drove in snow since there was hardly any weight over the rear wheels. My parent’s friend saw me stuck – pushed the Gremlin with her Ford LTD wagon to the side of the road. The plastic grill which protruded a bit on that model year, I think a ’72 – broke.
My Dad was the International Traffic Manager for AMC in the 70’s. Being considered an upper level manager, he was given a company car as part of his compensation. I think we had every product produced by the company in our driveway at one point. I recall for several months he was given a fully-loaded Gremlin that you rarely saw in a dealership. It was a Nautical Blue Gremlin X 5.0 litre V8 with Levis interior. The 304ci engine was good for 150hp and a decent 220lbft of torque fed through the Chrysler-sourced torqueflite auto gave it some scoot. Dad loved tilt steering wheels which meant that the car had to have a column shift. The steering wheel was also leather wrapped with brushed steel spokes. It also had a roof rack and the aluminum wheels. The only thing I disliked was having to sit in the backseat for a roundtrip drive from Detroit to Baltimore. It was pure torture and that was sitting behind a 5’6″ father and a 5’5″ grandmother so their seats were not fully extended by any means. Of course when you grow up in a neighborhood of Dads who worked at mostly Ford or GM it was hard to see them put a new Mustang or Grand Prix in their driveway and me seeing my Dad bring home something like a new Matador station wagon. At least once we had a Jeep Cherokee Chief in bright orange. Now then I felt a little more cool. LOL Oh I probably should say prior to the AMC job my Dad worked for Chrysler and then International Harvester. I was too young to remember him bringing home one of the Chrysler Turbines, but I do recall one awesome Jensen that he snagged from the executive motor pool when Mopar was supplying Jensen powertrains for the Interceptor.
About a decade ago I owned an Eagle Kammback, a 4wd Gremlin. Great vehicle with a robust drivetrain. Was enjoyable in the snow!
The Spirit was what the Gremlin should have been from the start. Much better finished inside and more civilized to live with. Gremlin sold well and made a profit for AMC which was a good thing, but I just find myself lamenting the fact that it could have been so much more than it was, had AMC put a little more effort into it.
I like the Gremlin, too. It was during the classic, quirky, try-anything desperation period of AMC. But I mainly like the inaugural year version with no back seat, fixed rear glass, 199cid engine for the princely sum of $1879. Likewise, my favorite Maverick is the pre-Pinto, 170cid $1995 car. Those base, ultra-strippo models were just so…pure and elemental – nothing more than seats and a steering wheel.
I recall a very special Gremlin to this day. I was working at the Pine Street Post Office in Lower Manhattan near Wall Street for a company doing extensive interior renovations. Being the youngest in the crew, it was my job to take the coffee order for morning break. Across the street was the “New Bambi Coffee Shop”. The owner and all of the staff were rather flagrantly gay. The owner always parked his Gremlin on the street in front of the shop. It was bright purple, but what set it apart from others was that the hood, roof, and panel under the rear window was done in a synthetic zebra skin-furry to the touch. The seats and door panels also were done this way. How I wish I had taken a photo or two. Believe me-this car stood out to make me remember it so vividly after 42 years.
My last year of college, 1972, I traded my 1963 AMC Rambler Classic for a 6 month old 1971 Gremlin-X with 3 on the floor and a roof rack. Bought for $2000 and sold for $950 in 1979 and spent practically nothing on repairs besides basic maintenance. Car still looked very good when I sold it, no rust & good paint. In 1976 I moved and bolted a 4×8 piece of plywood to the roof rack and moved everything (sofa, desk, chests, etc) in multiple trips. I carried a Honda CT-70 trail bike in the back seat on several occasions, it was a very tight fit! I loved the car all the way to the bank! Bought a 1976 Renault-5 LeCar in 1979 and saw a lot more trips to the mechanic and the tiny aluminum Renault engine was crappy compared to the durable all cast iron AMC 232CID straight 6 I had in the Gremlin.
Just found these pictures of my car on your website, laughed when it said rare to see one in the wild…
Great to hear from the car’s owner! And good luck with your sale — the eBay ad clears up some of the car’s history for us (it’s origins in Florida explain its well-preserved body, and the redone interior.
Also, I’m glad to read that this Gremlin provided you with 6 years of good enjoyment — I hope another AMC enthusiast appreciates it every bit as much.
It’s very cute but looks pretty close to being a parts car…..pretty rough and old repaired rust is coming back again.
Heater disconnected, entire dash board ruined with Foo-Foo can paint job.
I hope you get a decent offer, these fun and inexpensive to run cars are getting thin on the ground.
“… someone’s Top 10 list of ugliest/worst/most…”
Click bait junk, and usually with wrong facts about cars and market. Like the myth of “Chevy Nova was misread in Latin America as ‘Chevy no-go’.”
In 70’s Gremlins were popular small cars, but then in 80’s/90’s were out of style and became “Leno/Seinfeld jokes”, and the endless “Worst car” lists. geezz!
Pretty much every SUV I see has copied that upswept rear side window.
AMC was a just a few decades ahead of it’s time, trend-wise.
Except it looks like you can see better out of the Gremlin.
😲Top ten WORST cars of ALL TIME! Number 1 will SHOCK you 😲
#2 AMC Gremlin, durr, amiright? So just for a short history, before the Dodge corporation bought them out AMC were actually car versions of Jeeps, and this was what they came up with, what were they thinking!!! Should have stuck to SUVs!
#1 Pontiac Aztec. 💩💩💩 amiright? This car was so ugly it single handedly sank the Pontiac brand! Even Walter White couldn’t make these cool!
And there you have it, the ten worst cars ever LULz. Thank’s for watching and don’t forget to smash that like button and subscribe to get your feed inundated with content from my growing channel. C’mon guys lets hit 11 million subscribers! Subscribe to my Patreon for literal minutes of exclusive content and buy our latest merch!
Brilliant! Nicely played.
Note that the author of “The Gremlins” is RAF Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl. That is almost certainly the brilliant writer of the same name. His children’s books are delightful, his adult short stories are creepy and intriguing, and his autobiography “Boy” is brilliant.
Near the end of “Boy”, Dahl writes of his RAF service in North Africa.
Yes, it’s the same person. “The Gremlins” was his first children’s book.
It’s a great book – I checked it out of the library and read it while I was writing this article, and liked it so much I bought my own copy.
Good stuff! Thanks for the confirmation – I’ll look for the book.
I had a friend who was a bit of an “artsy” gal proto hipster who bought one used in the early ’90s. Orange. It had a manual choke as I recall.
I traded my 1st car, a 1963 AMC Rambler Classic with the old AMC 196 CID engine for a much smaller 1971 AMC Gremlin-X with the 232 CID engine . I liked that it was a really a mid-sized car chopped down to compact size with a durable big 6 cylinder cast iron engine and transmission and front and rear ends that were made for heavier cars. So, they were extra durable compared to the competition that had small 4 cylinder aluminum engines, small transmissions & toy like front suspensions. I put a couple of cinder blocks in the hatch when it was snowing to get better traction with the car due to the 60-40 weight distribution with the big cast iron standard engine in the front. Bought it for $2000 slightly used in 1972 and sold it in 1979 for $950. Car needed only regular maintenance, engine and trans never touched by a mechanic. I laughed all the way to the bank!
That’s right, that’s what the Gremlin was good for. Robust mechanicals and chassis that cost a little more fuel but would run 200,000 miles with minimal care. A bit truck-like handling but would eat up expressway miles with relative ease. I grew up in Kenosha & had an opportunity to see lots of these and I drove a friend’s, also drove Hornets which are very similar, so I have some experience and I agree with your sentiments.
My parents had a new ’61 traded for a ’63 Rambler Classic wagon back 5 years before the Gremlin debut. They bought the ’61 in Compton, Ca, though they later moved to Pittsburgh PA where the ’63 was bought…snowy climate. But FWD cars were really uncommon then, so in the winter they just dealt with the lack of traction.
Going forward another decade, we were living in Vermont; the Classic was a distant memory (actually was totalled outside our motel room when we’d vacated our home in Catonsville MD preparing to move to Vermont). My Dad bought his first FWD car, a ’76 Subaru DL (Saab, VWs, Hondas were really expensive, and I had a bad experience with a Fiat so that was also out). I still had a RWD Datsun 710, it was a light car, but it had a trunk where you could put something heavy (sand, cinder blocks and the like) in the winter to help with rear traction. It was my last automatic car and had a fast idle until it warmed up, such that I had to shift it into neutral at stoplights lest the rear end crab sideways in the winter due to slippery surface.
I would have liked a Gremlin or Hornet, especially with their old iron block and simplicity since I mostly couldn’t afford to have anyone but myself fix ailments while I was a student….but would have preferred the latter, since it had a normal back seat and trunk…especially the trunk since it had space to put the weight in the winter for better rear traction. Did have snow tires (before all season tires were common) and it was a pain to change over 2x/year and find space to store the tires.
My parents never bought another AMC after the ’63. We moved to the sunbelt 40 years ago, so winter traction is only a concern a couple days per year, so such a car would work OK for us, but the timing of our move south coincided with many common cars changing over from RWD to FWD, so the decision was made for us. I shopped for some RWD cars for my sisters, in fact my middle sister still has her ’97 Nissan 240SX which is RWD of course, but myself haven’t had a RWD car since that ’74 Datsun when I sold it and bought a ’78 Scirocco, 41 years ago.
In the mid to late 1970’s my dad bought an early Gremlin with a 4 speed and the small six as a work commuter car. He liked the car enough at first to repaint it metallic bronze, and a previous owner had put Cragars on it. My main memory of the car was the punishment of riding in the back seat as my dad was six foot, two inches tall and he adjusted the front seat accordingly. To this day, thinking of it sets off the claustrophobia that must have started from riding in that Gremlin. My younger brother and I were both teenagers at the time, and you can imagine there were fights over who would NOT ride in the back seat. No human above toddler size should ever ride in the back of a Gremlin. The car would have been better off as a business coupe and did away with the back seat altogether.
Over time, the Gremlin started living up to its name and my dad got tired of constantly having to repair it. He was a very good mechanic and none of his previous Mopars before or after gave him as much trouble as the Gremlin. None of us were sorry to see it go. In conversations about cars my dad used to own, he never waxed nostalgic about the Gremlin ever. It probably wasn’t as bad as my aunt’s brand new first year Vega, but my dad was frustrated with how with just a little more effort it could have been a lot better car.
In the late 80’s college friends of mine who married each other, got a Gremlin that I replaced a starter in a very hot parking lot. The attitude of the parts counter guy when I named the car the starter was for was pretty bad. One of the friends was a schoolteacher at a school where the kids were driving cars 2000 percent nicer than the Gremlin and they let him know it. When the car needed carburetor work, his wife rebuilt the carburetor on the kitchen table, and she got really good at filing points with her nail boards and eventually replacing them outright. She also changed tires and he never did. At the time he was driving the Gremlin, she was driving a ’68 Beetle that she and her brother fixed up together. She misses the Beetle to this day. An electrical fire put an end to that car on I-75 one day on her way to work.
Never a fan of Rambler, as I think of and refer to all AMC cars as, but I actually kind of like the styling of the Gremlin. No, not E Type gorgeous, but for what it was I liked it. Compare it to a Pacer and it’s downright good looking. Seems like it was under designed and engineered, no back seat or trunk? And just a little window to load things in, not a real hatchback? And the blind spot must have been the size of a semi looking at the C pillar, but just to look at it I don’t think it’s bad for the era.
Up until 2000-2002, used to encounter a Gremlin X , with the denim interior, near Va Ave/Rock Creek Pkway/PA ave over pass area.(in DC) Must a had a garage to shelter in.
Was a 75-76 model; was still looking good in the late 90’s.
Between the Hornet/Gremlin/Sportabout trifecta, AMC was actually doing okay at the time. 1970 was also the year AMC bought Kaiser-Jeep. The future truly looked bright for the last of the independents.
The downfall was when they decided to spend what precious development funds they had on the money-pit Pacer and Matador coupe. Imagine if that money had, instead, went into improving and modernizing their traditional compacts. If they had followed that path, the Renault merger might not have been necessary. Of course, a healthy AMC might not have been feasible to merge with Iacocca’s Chrysler, either.
I am an owner of a 1977 Gremlin and the above mentioned Vam Lerma, which is in no way a stretched Gremlin, it is simply a Concord hatchback. Someone above mentioned that the IMSA RS Gremlins had many of their shortcomings addressed through suspension mods which is true, This video is of a Showroom Stock race where a stock 1978 Gremlin is seen holding its own against the “modern” VW Golf (Rabbit)