(first posted 1/5/2017) In the early 1970s, Road Test Magazine could always be counted on to review rather obscure models that were studiously avoided by the other buff books. Case in point: this 1972 AMC Hornet Sportabout with the Gucci trim option was put through its paces in the June 1972 issue.
That’s right, Gucci, the famed Italian design house partnered up with lowly AMC to offer a very unique designer edition, only available on the Sportabout body style. Though the 5-door Hornet was one of AMC’s most popular models, the pragmatic little wagon hardly seemed a likely candidate for the glamour treatment. But look inside! This grocery-getter could boast Gucci-designed interior trim with unique upholstery and Gucci signature headliner.
Outside, the Gucci treatment was less distinctive, with the only identification being badging and a limited color palette (Snow White, Yuca Tan, Grasshopper Green or Hunter Green—like the color of Road Test’s feature car). One ironic note on the 1972 AMC color chart: Classic Black was an extra cost option, while the rainbow array of unique and bright colors were standard. Contrast that to a color chart today, where black and white are standard, Fifty Shades of Grey are often optional, and anything remotely bright like blue or red can be extra cost. As for Turquoise or Plum, fuggedaboudit…
The resulting Gucci Sportabout was very unique and ultimately quite rare. This pristine Hunter Green specimen, written up by Edward Niedermeyer, was one of just 2,583 produced for 1972 (total Gucci trim package sales represented just 7% of the 35,000 Sportabouts built that year). So what was it like to drive?
No matter the fancy trim, there was a lot to like about the Hornet Sportabout. AMC’s compact class wagon was the only one on offer from a U.S. maker for 1972, so it had a nice niche all to itself, at least until 1976 when Chrysler introduced the Aspen/Volare wagons. Lines were clean and handsome, and the car was functional and reasonably efficient. Most were sold with one of the two 6-cylinders—only 14% carried an optional V8.
In addition to the Gucci trim package for $141.75 ($818 adjusted), Road Test Magazine’s featured test car was equipped with the larger 258 CID 6-cylinder, which cost an additional $50.70 ($293 adjusted) and an automatic transmission for $198.15 ($1,144 adjusted). The car also sported air conditioning for $471 ($2,720 adjusted), a price that included mandatory tinted glass and power steering. Oddly, the test car did not have power brakes, a strange omission given the car’s upscale designer positioning. The brakes were also fairly priced: power drum brakes cost an added $44 ($254 adjusted), while the power front disc brakes cost $79 ($456 adjusted). So the A/C-equipped Road Test Gucci Sportabout with manual drum brakes presented a rather perplexing option combination from Kenosha…
While the Gucci package was primarily cosmetic, one functional benefit it did offer was front seat back recliners for the driver and front passenger. Unfortunately, the recliners were not easy to use, and the driver needed to be stopped before making adjustments. This is a perfect example of a little detail that the Japanese brands got right as they stormed the U.S. market in the early 1970s. While American brands offered the recliners on some models at extra-cost (if at all), the Japanese served-up standard, easy-to-operate seatback recliners on many models as a “surprise and delight” feature for American small car buyers.
Road Test found the Sportabout to be a very compelling small wagon. The driving position was good, handling was competent and the added versatility of the 5-door body style was much appreciated. The biggest knock was against the optional roof spoiler, which needed to be adjusted just right or too much wind noise would ensue. Overall, the Sportabout earned scores in the “excellent” or “good” range—a pretty impressive showing.
The as-tested price of this particular Gucci Sportabout was $3,582.45 ($20,685 adjusted), which seems like a great price for a nice small wagon. For comparison, a stipper Chevrolet Chevelle Nomad wagon with a 6-cylinder automatic and no options (a barren beast to be sure—A/C wasn’t even available with the I6) would have cost $3,106 ($17,935 adjusted). So AMC was a trendsetter in offering a nicely equipped small car for a bit more money than a no-frills larger model. However, being ahead of the curve with special editions and high value compacts just was not enough, and AMC struggled through the 1970s as a peculiar little brand for thrifty buyers.
In contrast to long-vanished AMC, Gucci is still going strong and remains at the forefront of the “flashy fashion” trends. Ironically, the “Nymphea” handbag above, which lists for $4,700, probably costs as much as (if not more than) a 1972 Gucci Sportabout in mint condition.
Gucci has also tried again with limited edition automotive partnerships, most recently with Fiat for the retro-cute 500 in 2011. As with the Gucci Sportabout from 1972, the interior of Gucci Fiat 500 featured the signature green and red Gucci stripe and plenty of “double G” logos.
Outside, however, the Fiat Gucci branding was far more prominent than anything seen on the AMC Sportabout. Who could miss those stripes? Certainly not the fashionistas in Southern California or South Florida.
So AMC did indeed start something with the designer Sportabout. Wrong car targeting the wrong buyers, but a sound concept nonetheless.
Just ask Lincoln. Proving once again that no good idea in the car business goes uncopied, Ford’s flagship division successfully marketed designer editions starting in 1976. Of course, many Lincoln customers either owned, or at least aspired to own, fashions from the likes of Bill Blass, Givenchy, Cartier and Pucci (probably Gucci as well), so the brand fit was far better.
As for AMC, the regular Hornet Sportabout served its intended mission as a frugal little hauler quite well, designer duds not required.
Top 10 Obscure Special Editions and Forgotten Limited Run Models: AMC Edition by William Stopford
QOTD: What Is The Best Way To Sell A CC? A 1972 Hornet Gucci Sportabout, More Specifically by Paul Niedermeyer
I always wondered if AMC buyers even knew what “Gucci” was?
And the Gucci name appeared again in 1979 as an after-market Cadillac Seville package.
The 1979 Cadillac Seville Gucci:
Why fuse designers with automobiles, why I ask why?
It’s not going to make the car run any better. The only car model that I thought sounded clever and made sense was the Lincoln Town Car “Cartier Edition”. I give this one a pass because there was no gaudy fabric patterned seats etc. Cartier to Lincoln just meant a more elegant refined interior trim package, and small Cartier script sprinkled around the car.
I owned one of these Gucci Sportabouts, a 1973 model, in the early 2000s. And it was a 304 car with A/C that could turn the interior into a meat locker.
While the 304 V-8 was not a high-performance engine per se, in its time this was a potent engine given the relatively light weight of a Hornet Sportabout.
Right now, having just launched Legendary American Motors Magazine (available on Amazon at http://bit.ly/OrderLAMMonAmazon) I am looking for the best possible Gucci Sportabout for a story I’m working on that will cover all of AMCs designer interior cars. And I can safely say that this is one car I should have never sold, especially being a fan of both AMC and station wagons.
When I lived in Yorba Linda, California, and this was my daily driver, I had the opportunity to snap this photo. Still brings a smile to my face.
“Hey! Keep that Diablo away from my AMC; I don’t want any door dings!”
Cool picture. It does make you smile.
Paul, I’m sure you noticed how the Diablo was parked.
Of all the cars I’ve owned over the years, more than 40 in all, this is in my top five that I’ve regretted most selling. Bulletproof, great performance and very versatile cargo-carrying abilities.
Have you checked out my AMC magazine, Legendary American Motors Magazine? Here’s a slideshow.
If you every want to do a story on small-scale, niche automotive publishing, give me a shout.
Hello I was introduced to a fabulous Gucci version amc yesterday and while I know your story is several years old I thought it may be of some interest. I had taken my grandpa to pick up a lawnmower yesterday at a gentleman’s home only 20 minutes from where I live and low and behold he had the most awesome car collection I have ever personally seen. 65 corvette 68 camaro 66 dodge 426 wedge coronet 55 Bel air some hellcats and transams to name a few. I had never heard of the Gucci edition amc but it was a very interesting car and it was in immaculate condition. Don’t know the gentleman’s name but I know where he lives if you ever had interest in seeing I don’t think he would mind.
Thanks GN. I loved Road Test specifically because they covered cars the other rags didn’t.
My favorite was the test of the 71 Ambassador.
Earlier editions covered very practical cars and they tried to be like an automotive Consumer Reports, taking no advertising and trying to be totally objective.
That changed some time in the 70s with ads for Mazda [they were all in for the rotary] and the Mark IV Vapor Injector.
Of course with your library, GN, you already know this, I suspect.
I agree about Road Test reviews. It wasn’t the most polished publication, but it had a real-world perspective that was lacking elsewhere, and I enjoy reading their take on cars.
I have only about 2 dozen Road Test magazines in my collection — from the late 1970s and early ’80s — but in those years Subaru was the biggest advertiser, followed by Mazda & Toyota. Datsun & Honda were also regulars, though on a much smaller scale than with other car magazines. What I find ironic is that the Japanese manufacturers accounted for most of Road Test’s ads, but it’s the reviews of domestic cars that most remember the magazine for.
One of the magazine’s best features was a full-page, monthly sales report for each domestic and imported manufacturer. The domestic reports included tallies for each individual model.
In those pre-internet days, that was one of the few ways for people who didn’t subscribe to industry publications to keep abreast of how well various vehicles were selling (or not selling).
I wonder how a Hornet Sportabout would had look with a Levi’s edition just like the one offered for the Gremlin?
…or just combine the two packages: “The 1972 AMC Levucci! Green outside! Blue denim with stripes inside! Rivets everywhere!”
I suspect a Sportabout with a 258 and 4 speed would be a fun daily driver.
I wonder what the performance would have been with the stock 360? Or maybe a 4 barrel and dual exhaust added to a 304 or 360?
I’ll bet a 4 barrel/dual exhaust otherwise stock 360 could have run 15 flats or even dipped in the 14’s as one heck of a sleeper.
A flashy designer interior could not disguise the fact that there was still a lot of painted metal showing and the same crappy, unsupportive seats that I found in my base-model 1980 Concord. Those seats were just awful. Imagine if AMC had actually put a decent interior into these cars, what a difference that could have made. Otherwise these Hornets were ok to drive with decent handling and a pretty good ride for the class. They used the same suspension design as found under the Maverick/Comet and later the Granada/Monarch (with parts bought from Ford).
An even bigger ding on the seats is apparent from the ad photo which shows the pivot point of the recliner is not where it should be, i.e., at the rear of the seat cushion. Instead, the pivot is bizarrely raised above the cushion so the seat back will not recline at the base of a person’s spine (where it should) but, instead, reclines inches above. I’m guessing this some kind of holdover from bench seats and the need to be able to flip them forward for rear seat access.
So, in order to use the recliner, the person in the seat would actually have to awkwardly slide forward several inches. This wasn’t the case in the Asian cars’ recliners and, IIRC, it took many years for Detroit to finally figure out how to offer proper, usable seat recliners. It likely took place about the time front bench seats began falling from favor in lieu of universal bucket seats (which is what Asian cars invariably had).
Frankly, I’m not seeing a whole lot of value in the Gucci package and can understand why there wasn’t much of a take rate. For what it cost, you could have gotten other, more practical options like, say, the power front disc brakes and maybe even an upgrade to the 304 V8.
It’s also interesting that a sunroof was available. That would have made for a very nice Sportabout, indeed. AMC did some goofy things in the seventies, but the Sportabout was not one of them.
The standard Gremlin/Hornet seats are about the worst I’ve ever encountered. A park bench has better support. This is one of the areas where the Rambler American was actually better. The Sportabout looks a lot slicker than an American wagon but is less comfortable and has far less utility despite being very similar under the skin.
One could say Hornet was one of “AMC’s greatest hits”. Sportabout wagon is the ‘roots of modern CUV’s, I say.
If AMC had brought out the AWD Eagle in ’75, instead of the Pacer, who knows?
Why am I drawn to these little wagons? A friend’s mother had an orange one and really liked it.
I can picture a silver Hornet with steel wheels and base model hubcaps with beefier 70-series radial tires, black and white houndstooth interior, 304/torqueflite, kind of the wagon version of a Dodge Dart. What a cool daily driver/weekend toy that would be.
I always see just a little bit of Mopar’s Virgil Exner in these early small bumper Hornets and Sportabouts. Which, of course, is not there.
I will echo Frank Bray and Rudiger – these were among AMC’s very nicest designs, but were still a letdown when you got inside the car. But a Sportabout is cool enough that I would overlook that.
I love the exterior design of these Hornets – and the post-1972 models were one of the few Detroit offerings that wore their safety bumpers well – but I’m trying to figure out how any reviewer could look at that dashboard and give the car an “excellent” rating for finish.
I had a &6 Motor Trend roadtest of a Gremlin? and it mentioned the dash was made up of 10 plus parts hence rattled!.
And, if AMC spent money refining/updating Hornet/Concord, made the Spirit hatchback earlier, and not burned cash on the Pacer/Matador coupe…
Agreed. Though I do like the later ’79-80 Pacers with their much improved interiors and V-8 engines, and I particularly like the wagons, they were a major cash burn for a small company that could ill afford such mistakes. AMC desperately needed the upgraded Concord/Sprit around 1975 when sales started to seriously decline. Also, they were the only domestic to offer a compact wagon during 1970-75 – too bad they kept churning out low-bucks basic transportation.
If I like a car in the first place, there’s no need for a Gucci edition. If I don’t like the car, then a Gucci edition won’t help.
I’ve always had a thing for the Hornet Sportabout.
I know backdating newer full-size Wagoneers is a thing…but has anyone ever backdated an Eagle wagon to look like a Hornet?
If I recall correctly, the designers badging used the 70’s and 80’s cars was a hit. Back then, it was a big deal, and people, especially women, did know the names of these designers. Every women’s fashion magazine carried these guy’s couture on their glossy pages, and women were (and still are) 50% of the buying public. By making the optional designer edition a fashionable choice, I am sure more than a few were bought just based on the fact that it bore the Gucci “G’s” on it. The other point is that the designers actually did work on these cars. This was one way to have something with a designer name, only this time it was not a purse or shoes. Also, they were, for the most part, really cool and, dare I say, beautiful designs. The Pierre Cardin Javelins are one of my favorites.
And who can forget the ne plus ultra version from High Anxiety?
I always liked the look of the original Sportabout, and have pondered a restomod version with a 4-litre six. But no Gucci option thanks… in fact, I’d probably have to do a new interior altogether.
One of the best-looking wagons of the 70’s. I particularly like the steep slope of the C-pillar; yeah, it cuts into cargo space, but it just looks good. Reminiscent of the C3 Audi Avants. Though I do wonder–what’s with the high liftover? Would it have been that much of a structural problem to cut the liftgate down between the tails to the bumper?
AMC’s history includes Nash and Nash had Carrozzeria Pinin Farina assist in their mid-1950s car design. So it isn’t a stretch actually, but a continuation of Kenosha’s connection to designer cars.
Oleg Cassini, Guicci, Pinin Farina – all used by AMC before Lincoln copied them with their luxury Marks.
The financial end of this tie-in intrigues me. Presumably, Gucci got an initial design fee plus a per-car royalty. Most of the package seems to be special fabrics and badges; the reclining seats are the only “mechanical” change. $141.75 for the package doesn’t seem like there’s much room for profit after Gucci got their cut.
This car proves that you can dress a geek in designer clothes, but it still remains a geek car.
Stellantis/Fiat did the same thing with the new Fiat 500 by coming out with a Gucci Edition a few years ago. Didn’t do much to stop Fiat 500 sales that were falling out of a 10th story building window faster than a Russian oligarch in Moscow.
George Romney made a conscious decision to “hit ’em where they ain’t” when positioning AMC products. Even the largest Ambassadors were not as huge as the Big Three’s land yachts and the Rambler Classic was just the right size, so much so that everyone else came out with similar-sized cars. Add the compact Rambler American and you had a company that was good at staying within itself.
Roy Abernethy did a 180, trying to compete toe to toe with Detroit and getting trounced. By the time this Hornet came out, AMC was trying to go back to filling market niches Detroit neglected. During the first oil crisis, they did very well, having the right smaller cars at the right time. Unfortunately, they were so undercapitalized they couldn’t follow up. The Pacer, second-gen Javelin and restyled Matador didn’t catch on, and by 1978 they were facelifting the Hornet and calling it a Concord. A few years later, Renault bought in and AMC was building Alliances. The gem of that relationship, however, was the Premier platform that became the LH.
Meanwhile, AMC plowed every penny they could spare into Jeep. The XJ Cherokee and YJ Wrangler were hits, and that made them ripe for a Chrysler buyout.
So the AMC engineering department that brought us the Jeeps basically took over Chrysler, getting it out of its K-car rut with lots of fresh product, including the ZJ Grand Cherokee, the aforementioned LH, the Neon and the Stratus.
I think that is not quite so. The The LH undercar was a clean-sheet design, not a reskinned; revised; reconfigured, or modified Premier platform. Here’s what Bob Lutz said about it:
And Corey Lewis’ article (on the site we don’t link here) says:
Emphasis added: bold for the phrase probably giving rise or oxygen to the idea of the LH car as a Premier 2.0, and italics for words that mean—at least to me—the LH undercar was categorically similar to the Premier undercar, similar in broad concept and configuration, but really not more than that. A few bits and pieces shared here and there, which is normal for any car company, often even on very different vehicles sharing only a manufacturer.
I would have liked to have seen an AMC Eagle Gucci Wagon! Or Cardin for that matter.
OMG! Those Lincoln designer series. Great idea!! Such elegance! we will never see again They have that certain something that the current Lincolns lack so much today. Back to AMC and all automakers, the colors of the 1970’s WOW! Some so bright and vivid. No prob seeing Jolly Green in a snowstorm.
For a few dollars, power disc brakes, handling package, and radial tires would make for a far better car.
Things we take for granted today…
Oh, hey, now! I’m voting (twice; both hands raised) for that sure-yeah-it’s-Gucci-why-not upholstery. Green with ivory and green/red stripes? Yup, I’m onside with that, without a second thought.
Exterior colour…h’mm. Kinda torn. Jolly Green is tempting, but…mmmmm…myeahhhh…I’m goin’ wit’ option B: Wild Plum. Because it’s 1972, that’s why; I’ve been to the future and I know what colours are(n’t) offered on cars.
The Hornet is one of my favourite US designs. We’ll forget about the bit until the Eagle came along…but pleased to read they were rather good, too.
Even if it looks slightly ‘offended’, bit like the Dodge Dart rental we had when I briefly lived in Los Angeles in 1968.
Of course, I’m intrigued by the Mexican AMC Borgward Isabella 2.3 proposal, which went nowhere. That was the facelift, not-offended version and almost would have looked about right!
These could have really given Volvo a run for their money, but the rear hatch, including being “styled” with a slanted rear window that reduced usable space, didn’t go all the way down to the bottom of the cargo bay, meaning you still had to lift grocery bags over the sill. With a Volvo 145/245, the hatch opens all the way down, meaning it’s easy to slide things in, and you can “tailgate”. Again, one of those ‘little details’ the foreign manufacturers seemed to get right.
These folks rave over the rear-seat accomodations, but my impression was always that it was rather cramped back there, with a large hump for the transmission and driveline. But, then, I’ve only looked at AMC Eagles, maybe things were modified to accomodate the 4wd.
Agree that the Sportabout’s rear hatch configuration is really goofy, very close to the ‘what were they thinking?’ category.
I’m going to say it had something to do with the vehicle’s structural integrity, that they needed that solid connection between the tailights. It’s worth noting that it looks like the hatch on next year’s 1973 Hornet hatchback looks to have the same design.