This week's autoTRADER Find of the Week is a strange car from a strange company. American Motors Corporation (AMC) tried to compete with the big three, but it never had the budget to beat them. It was formed with the merger of Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Cars in 1954. They would build strange cars on a shoe-string budget from that year until their demise in 1987.
During those years they built Ramblers, Javelins, Matadors, Eagles, Marlins, and Gremlins. They bought Jeep, invented the crossover, were bought by Renault, and then eventually folded into Chrysler. Their Eagle nameplate outlived the parent AMC and lasted until 1999's Daimler-Chrysler merger. The inline six they invented is one of the longest lasting engine designs ever, sticking around from 1964 until 2006, when even the Jeep Wrangler finally needed an upgrade.
One of the strangest of all was the Pacer. It was a small car, designed for a country and an era that hated small cars. It was one of the first hatchbacks in North America. The design originally called for a rotary engine, which they were planning to buy from General Motors. It is both one of the most iconic cars in movie history and the car most likely to appear on a list of the ugliest cars of all time.
Design of the Pacer started in 1971, and AMC stylist Richard Teague anticipated that there would be a demand for smaller vehicles. But drivers didn't want small cars on the inside. That lead to a body that was shorter than a modern Ford Focus sedan but within five centimeters of a current Silverado pickup in width. It was wider than a 1977 Chevrolet Impala. The marketing department pitched that it was "the first wide small car," and used cheeky taglines like "You only ride like a Pacer if you're wide like a Pacer." The real reason for the width was that AMC production lines were set up for full-size cars and they couldn't afford to change them. The car had a passenger side door that was 10 cm longer than the driver's side. That was to allow easier access to the rear seats. There was a massive amount of glass and far more curves than contemporary cars. It was even very aerodynamic for the time, with a coefficient of drag of just 0.32, good even by today's standards.
Underneath, the entire front suspension was isolated from the body and frame with a subframe and rubber mounts. That was a first for an American small car. It was also designed to meet 1980 safety standards from the day it launched, five years before they came into effect. That's why it has massive five mph bumpers.
When the Pacer arrived in 1975 it was heralded as "fresh, bold and functional-looking," but not everyone was sold. AMC Chairman Roy Chapin said that "It will be a visibly different car, maybe even controversial." There was no rotary engine, but instead, a pair of inline-six cylinder engines. In 3.8L and 4.2L displacements, they both made 100 hp and 185 lb-ft. Not ideal in a car weighing 1,500 kg. Further not helping were the options of a three-speed manual or a Chrysler automatic.
In the first year of production, AMC sold nearly 150,000 Pacers. Reviews liked the novelty, room, and ride, while consumers liked anything they could buy that was small in the high-gas-price mid-70's. The sales fell off quickly, though, and after 1976, sales dropped to around 10,000 per year.
Our find of the week is actually a wagon version. That model was introduced for 1977 and gave the car both a more conventional looking rear, and an extra 510 L of cargo space. It's a 1979, which means it has the facelifted nose with the even more controversial egg-crate grille.
There's even a V8. Introduced for 1978, the engine was AMC's 5.0L "304" V8 that made 125 hp in 1979. It added some acceleration, but the extra weight wasn't kind to an already heavy car. Fuel economy dropped again, to an estimated 17 L/100 km city.
This car is a Manitoba car, that wintered in Arizona. The seller says that it was in the same family from new. It's a Limited package car, which was the top-trim model that year. The Limited pack includes leather seats, sound deadening, and thicker carpets. It also got an AM radio, power locks and windows, and tilt steering. This Pacer also has air conditioning fitted.
The low mileage car has only 59,100 km and is for sale in Winnipeg, Manitoba. If you think you're interested, check out more details on our Find of the Week.