Vintage Review: 1972 AMC Hornet Gucci Sportabout – Road Test Drives A Designer Edition

(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.

Additional Reading:

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