Vintage R&T Technical Analysis: AMC’s New Pacer – As Short As A Pinto; As Wide As A Chevelle


(first posted 11/2/2016)     Perhaps we need to start an AMC Deadly Sins Series, as the Pacer certainly qualifies. Like so many things at AMC, it started out as pretty radical idea to repackage the American car; lots of passenger comfort in a compact package. But any serious effort at that would have had to include FWD and a compact engine, rotary if possible. Instead, the Pacer came out to be more like something of a re-bodied Matador, with a whopping 77″ width and yet a very compromised rear seat. Road and Track takes a closer look at its development and execution.


The surprising success of the goofy Gremlin gave AMC design head Dick Teague the confidence to do something outside of the usual comfort zone for a follow-up. And strictly from a design point of view, there’s a whole lot to like about it. It was pretty radical for 1975; think Ford Granada as a counterpart. Teague wasn’t imitating anyone here; in fact his Pacer would go on to influence a wide range of cars, both in Europe and Japan.


The wider/longer passenger side door was one of the many unusual solutions to what he called the “Urban Concept”. And of course both the rotary engine and FWD were contemplated. The first mule was made by cutting down a Matador by 30″ in front and back. The Lark of the mid 70s. And like the Lark, it had a great first year and a half. In its shortened 1975 MY, a healthy (and above projections) 72 k were sold, followed by 117k in 1977. But then the Pacer crashed, by over 50% in ’77, and then just shriveled away to almost nothing in the painful subsequent years.


As long as a Pinto and as wide as a Chevelle. How’s that for an odd approach?


A Pinto on sideways steroids. I rather suspect the Pinto influenced Teague’s thinking quite a bit, as it really does have a number of similarities.


The Pacer ended up with the usual shortcomings in this approach, like a super-slow manual steering ratio with six turns lock-to-lock. In that regards, a Pinto had it beat hands down.


With the Rambler six under the hood and all that glass, weight was a rather hefty 3,000 lbs in the most basic stripped version. But there were folks who liked the idea of feeling like they were sitting in the front of a roomy big American car, but without all the unnecessary length. Well, at least for the first year or so. It was not a recipe for lasting pleasure or success.