|Manufacturer||American Motors Corporation|
|Production||1970 – 1978|
|Assembly||Kenosha, Wisconsin USA|
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Mexico City, Mexico (VAM)
|Body style(s)||3-door hatchback|
|Engine(s)||122 cu in (2 L) Audi/VW EA827 I4|
199 cu in (3.3 L) I6
232 cu in (3.8 L) I6
258 cu in (4.2 L) I6
304 cu in (5 L) V8
|Transmission(s)||3-speed Borg-Warner manual|
4-speed Borg-Warner manual
3-speed with Laycock-DeNormanville overdrive
3-speed Borg-Warner automatic
3-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic
|Wheelbase||96 inches (2,438 mm)|
|Length||161.3 inches (4,097 mm)|
|Width||70.6 inches (1,793 mm)|
|Designer||Richard A. Teague|
The AMC Gremlin is a subcompact car that was made by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) for nine model years. During its manufacturing run from April 1970 through 1978, a total of 671,475 Gremlins were built in the United States and Canada.
Responding to the introduction of competitors from Ford and Chevrolet, AMC advertised the car in its second model year as "America's first subcompact". The St. Louis-Post Dispatch states that to cite the Gremlin as “America’s first subcompact” is to overlook the Crosley and the Nash Metropolitan. The latter—a subcompact-sized "captive import", American-conceived and American-designed for the American market, and built in England with a British engine—has a claim to be "America's first subcompact."
AMC's designer Richard A. Teague may have come up with up the Gremlin's name. AMC apparently felt confident enough to not worry about the word's negative connotations. Time magazine noted two definitions for "gremlin": Defined by Webster's as "a small gnome held to be responsible for malfunction of equipment." American Motors' definition: "a pal to its friends and an ogre to its enemies."
The car was introduced on April Fools' Day 1970, six months ahead of subcompacts from Ford and GM. It was created to compete with imported cars from Japan and Germany; and although its appearance received some criticism, the Gremlin had an important advantage with its low price.
"With AMC's thriftiest six-cylinder engine and base prices below US$2,000, AMC's 'import-fighter' initially sold well: over 26,000 in its abbreviated first season" before the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega were introduced.
Executives at American Motors knew that Ford and General Motors were to launch subcompact cars for 1971, but did not have the financial resources to respond with an entirely new competing design. Chief stylist Richard A. Teague's solution was to truncate the tail of a Javelin (legend has it that Teague sketched the design on a Northwest Orient air sickness bag). The result was the AMX-GT, first shown at the New York International Auto Show in April 1968. The AMX-GT was never produced (although the "AMX" name was used from 1968 to 1970 on a shortened, two-seat version of the Javelin).
Instead, the new subcompact, designed by future Chief of Design, Bob Nixon, was based on the Hornet, a compact car (based on interior volume) with a wheelbase of 108 inches (2,743 mm). For the Gremlin, the Hornet wheelbase was reduced to 96 inches (2,438 mm) and the overall length cut from 179 to 161 inches (4547 to 4089 mm). The Gremlin was AMC's "bold and innovative approach" to preparing for two imminent crises in the American automobile industry: reduced gasoline supplies, and an "alarming increase" in the sale of fuel-efficient imports.
From the seatbacks forward the Gremlin was essentially a Hornet, but the shortened wheelbase and reduction in overall length made for a minimal rear seat and cramped rear legroom. The cargo area was smaller than that of a Volkswagen Beetle (although folding the rear seat more than doubled the cargo area). The cut-off "Kammback-type" design was the butt of jokes such as "what happened to the rest of your car?" However, it allowed for interior space and was aerodynamically efficient so that other subcompacts, including the Chevrolet Vega station wagon, later adopted it.
The Gremlin was available in two versions: a "plain" two-passenger model with fixed back window, intended as the leading "import-fighter" with a suggested retail price of US$1,879; and a four-seater with flip-up rear window "hatch", at US$1,959. As with the Volkswagen Beetle that it was designed to compete against, the Gremlin's styling made it impossible to confuse it with anything else on the road.
In 1970, the Gremlin debuted with AMC's 199 cu in (3.3 L) I6 (a very sturdy and durable seven main bearing design), which produced 128 hp (95 kW) as standard equipment, with AMC's 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6 – producing 145 hp (108 kW) – as an option. Sales started at a respectable 28,560 units in only five months of production.
In 1971, the "X" appearance/equipment trim package became optional ($300) on the 4-passenger model. It included body side tape stripes, body color front fascia, slotted road wheels with 70-series tires, blackout grille insert, bucket seats, and "X" decals. The 2-passenger Gremlin version soldiered on into its second and final season. The 232 CID I6 that was optional for 1970 became standard, while a new stroked version of the 232, a 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 became the optional powerplant. Compression ratios dropped from 8.5:1 to 8:1 for 1971, resulting in the 232 cu in (3.8 L) six producing 135 hp (101 kW), while the new 258 cu in (4.2 L) made 150 hp (112 kW). Sales improved for 1971 to 76,908 units.
All Gremlins received a new body-colored front fascia treatment for 1972. There were a host of other changes, not the least of which was an available 304 cu in (5 L) V8 engine. Engine ratings were downgraded to more accurate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) net hp figures, bringing the 232 cu in (3.8 L) engine to 100 hp (75 kW), the 258 cu in (4.2 L) to 110 hp (82 kW), and the 304 V8 to 150 hp (112 kW). The base two-passenger model was dropped, having sold only 3,017 in 18 months. Gremlins also switched from non-synchro 1st gear manual transmissions to ones with full synchromesh. The Borg-Warner-sourced automatic transmission was replaced for 1972 by the sturdy Chrysler-designed TorqueFlite unit. Other, more minor technical upgrades found their way into the Gremlin in order to make it more reliable and durable. This year AMC would introduce America's first bumper-to-bumper warranty, called the Buyer Protection Plan. AMC hoped these improvements would result in fewer warranty claims, better public relations and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. 94,808 Gremlins were sold in 1972, a 23% gain over 1971.
For 1973, AMC introduced bumpers able to withstand a 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) impact in the front and a 2.5-mile-per-hour (4 km/h) impact in the rear, to meet new U.S. government mandated safety regulations. Gremlins also received the option of a Levi's interior trim package, which included spun nylon upholstery made to look like denim (fire safety regulations prohibited the use of real cotton denim). Details included removable map pockets, burnished copper denim rivets, and red Levi's logo tabs. One notable and widely appreciated change was the increase in legroom in the rear seats. The X package received a new tape-striping pattern that emphasized the Gremlin's rear wheel flares by kicking up over the flare itself. Gremlin sales improved again to 122,844 units, nearly 30% more than 1972. A 1973 Gremlin purchased by Consumer Reports was top-rated in a group of six subcompact models tested for the June issue. That car had relatively few sample defects and proved reliable over a long-term test.
The Arab Oil Embargo of October 1973 came just as the 1974 model year began. AMC improved the Gremlin's back seat. A deeper front fascia made the car appear longer and there were larger front bumpers, with no filler panel between bumper and body). Appearance also changed at the rear with a new federally mandated 5 mph rear bumper, which was set lower in 1974. The rear fascia was modified slightly to blend with the design changes. The Gremlin X stripe pattern took on a "hockey stick" look for 1974, with the stripes following the window line as it tapered aft, and swept up now to include four new slanted vertical impressions on the wide C-pillar. A new typeface for nameplates was used by AMC for 1974 and the Gremlin was no exception. AMC extended the 1974 model year into November 1974 to delay the need to install catalytic converters required by United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2004 regulations starting with 1975 models. In so doing, AMC sold 171,128 1974 Gremlins, an increase of nearly 40% over 1973 and 130% over 1971.
1975 saw fewer changes, as AMC's attention was focused on the midyear debut of the new AMC Pacer. However, minor modifications to the shape of the bumpers were seen, as well as the availability of a catalytic converter and standard electronic ignition. Struggling under stagflation and an inflationary economy, American subcompact sales slumped and AMC was not immune, having only sold 56,011 Gremlins in the (albeit shortened) 1975 model year, a 67% drop.
Changes were greater for 1976. The front fascia was revised again for oval, in place of the previous circular, headlight bezels. The grille shape became a stretched hexagon and included in its insert two opposing loops stacked atop each other and housing new rounded parking/turn signal lights. Front fenders were also modified to be taller, with a slight finned effect. A new "Custom" trim line debuted, featuring an striped interior trim called "Potomac", as well as a spare tire cover and other minor details. The A models made do with another new striping scheme, this time with the hockey stick-style stripe of the previous year adding a secondary extension that ran from the door-handle straight back. The X package was now available only on Custom models. Due to flagging sales, the 304 V8 engine option (now downgraded to 120 hp (89 kW)) was cancelled at midyear, after only 826 installations. (A total of 40,994 Gremlins were equipped with the V8 from 1972 to 1976.) A 4-speed manual transmission was made available at midyear. However, the changes were not enough to revive sales, which tapered slightly to 52,941 - a decline of 5.5%.
Changes for 1977 included redesigned sheet metal for the first time in the Gremlin's now 8-year history: revised hood, shorter front fenders, new bumpers, taller glass tailgate, enlarged taillights, and rear license plate now covering the fuel filler. The front fascia was revised, with a crosshatch grille insert. Parking lights reverted to rectangular, and headlights were now recessed into square bezels with rounded corners. The new hood had a small "power bulge" at the front. The X package returned again, with yet another new striping pattern that ran straight back from the front fenders and crested upward over the rear wheels. Front disc brakes became standard. This was also the first year that AMC offered a four-cylinder engine: a Volkswagen/Audi 2.0 L (≈122 cu in) Straight-4, its introduction gave the Gremlin one of the widest ranges of engine size of all time, from 122 CID to 304 CID (2.0 L to 5.0 L). The new engine also saw service in the little Porsche 924 (but with Bosch fuel injection - the Gremlin's version had a carburetor). It gave better fuel economy but less power than the standard six-cylinder engines. These were carried over from 1976, with a power boost from updated cylinder heads. The expense of acquiring the rights to the new 122 CID (2.0 L) engine meant that AMC could not afford to make it standard equipment in the base model, reserving it instead for the Custom version. The changes did not result in improved sales: AMC moved only 46,171 Gremlins for 1977, a mere 7,558 of which carried the new 122 CID (2.0 L) engine. Sales had dropped 13%.
In its final year of 1978, the Gremlin received a number of changes, but customers on a tighter budget could still get a standard six-cylinder base model Gremlin for under US$3,400. The biggest was inside: a revised instrument panel borrowed from the then-new 1978 Concord. The dashboard featured high-level ventilation, HVAC and radio switchgear within easier grasp, as well as a full-width flat top. The X's tape striping pattern was yet again revised to mirror that of the 1978 Concord Sport package design, with the stripe at the lower body side and curving over the wheel lip.
At mid-season, a "GT" package became available with a front spoiler and flared wheel openings as on the 1978 AMX. The GT added an aluminum overlay to the instrument panel, was powered by the 258 CID (4.2 L) I6 as standard, and had its own stripe scheme: a wide tape stripe, outlined by a narrow one, ran back from the front fenders and widened aft of the rear quarter windows. The package also included body-color fender flares and front air dam, as well as body-color bumpers, all of which combined to give the GT a modern, aggressive look, but fewer than 3,000 Gremlin GTs were built.
The Gremlin's body shape had not changed appreciably in its nine years of production, and more advanced subcompacts, lighter in weight, with more doors, better interiors and front-wheel drive, had appeared on the market. This probably explains the 52% drop in sales for the Gremlin's final year, bringing the 1978 total to 22,104 units.
The Gremlin was not as economical as smaller, lighter subcompacts with four-cylinder engines, but it did get 28 mpg-US (8.4 L/100 km; 34 mpg-imp) to 30 mpg-US (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg-imp) overall with the small six-cylinder engine.
The car's front-heaviness was generally thought to compromise the handling, although Mechanix Illustrated's Tom McCahill found it "fast and easy", and the ride was comparatively stiff because of the shortened rear springs.
In Hemmings, the specialist old-car publication, a Gremlin enthusiast describes the X-package model he restored to stock specification as having "a very stiff ride ... [and] if you try to take a sharp curve at high speed, the rear end will definitely want to get light with you. It has manual brakes, and you really have to push them hard in a quick stop. If you try to do several of them, the brakes will definitely fade on you. [With] power steering ... it doesn't require much effort at all, regardless of your speed, or even if you're standing still. Without power steering, it's a real bear because of all that extra weight on the front."
On the other hand, acceleration and top speed were better than other subcompacts of the era. McCahill ran the 232-engined Gremlin with automatic transmission from zero to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h) in 11.9 seconds and saw 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) on the Daytona Speedway straightaway. He summarized: "on a dollar for dollar basis, I rate the Gremlin the best American buy of the year". Road tests by Motor Trend magazine, also with the optional 232 cu in (3.8 L) engine, recorded zero to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) in 12.6 seconds, whereas the Ford Pinto and the VW Beetle were both in the 18-second range.
Car and Driver magazine recorded a 0-60 mph time of 11.9 seconds with a Gremlin powered by the 232 cubic inch engine, almost a second faster than a fuel-injected Saab 99 sport sedan tested in the same issue (at 106.8 cubic inches, the Saab's four-cylinder engine was less than half the capacity of the Gremlin's six-cylinder, yet the Saab's suggested list price was over US$3,000, compared to the Gremlin's $1,959.)
The V8 cut the Gremlin's zero to 60 time to 8.5 seconds, and Hemmings reports that a V8 Gremlin can more than hold its own against other small-bore V8-engined cars of the 1970s.
The Gremlin's engines were more powerful than any fielded by its main domestic competition. Its body structure was more sound. Its engines were smoother and more reliable, and the car had a cleaner recall record. The Gremlin's chief import rival, the Volkswagen Beetle, did not handle as well, and got similar gas mileage from about 40% of the Gremlin's horsepower, but it was packaged marginally better (both cars were the same overall size). Gremlin designer Richard Teague commented in Motor Trend that to compare the Beetle (whose basic design originated in the late 1930s) to the Gremlin in profile and body design was like "comparing a Ford GT40 to the Hindenburg".
Due to their inherent inexpensiveness, strength and the ease with which they could be modified for higher performance, many AMC Gremlins were used in drag racing. Some still appear in competitions: for example, at the 2006 World Power Wheelstanding Championships (not a race event, but a "wheelie" contest), Brian Ambrosini's specially modified 1974 Gremlin took second place.
Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) manufactured Gremlins in Mexico under license from AMC. The cars came with different trim, interiors, and model names than the equivalent AMC-made models. However, all engines built by VAM were of AMC design incorporating appropriate changes to deal with lower octane gasoline and the higher altitudes in Mexico. This included a unique 282 cu in (4.6 L) version of AMC's straight-6 engine. The Mexican affiliate was so fond of the Gremlin that they continued to use the name for several more years after it faded in the U.S. — "they knew a good thing when they saw it".
The Gremlin proved a popular test-bed for experiments with alternative fuels. Many universities converted them to run on natural gas, hydrogen, and electric power. For example, in 1972 University of California, Los Angeles researchers won a nationwide Urban Vehicle Design Competition when it modified an AMC Gremlin to run on hydrogen and the lessons learned are still useful today. Engineers at Coleman Products Corporation in Coleman, Wisconsin created a non-drivable plexiglas Gremlin as a demonstrator of the placement and function of electrical wiring harnesses.
A total of 671,475 Gremlins were sold in the United States and Canada, making it the most popular single generation body style/chassis produced by AMC (other models, such as the Rambler and even Hornet, have higher production numbers, but consisted of more than one chassis design and body style in the case of the Rambler, multiple body styles for the Hornet).
The Gremlin was restyled with a sloping hatchback for 1979 and renamed the "AMC Spirit". The original "Kammback" body style continued in production until 1983 as the Spirit Sedan with larger rear side windows. The basic design was also used for the small AMC Eagle Kammback from 1981 to 1983.
American Motors launched the Gremlin into the U.S. market that was dominated by import cars. Its smooth ride, solid build quality, and unique (to some controversial) styling set it apart from the competition and it is remembered in automotive history as little piece of America that refused to back down. Like its chief competitor, the VW Beetle, the Gremlin soon acquired a loyal base of owners when new as a domestic alternative to the import models and when it began to appear on used-car lots, it was an excellent car for the first-time buyer on a tight budget.
Scarcity, and the fact that it is a 1970s car, makes the Gremlin collectible, and it has a following among old car hobbyists and collectors of historic vehicles. In some cases, the Gremlin enjoys "a cult-like following in today’s collectible car market. According to Business Week 1970s cars such as the Gremlin are increasingly attractive to today’s buyers, and an insurance provider for collector-car owners reports that values are rising.
In light of rising gasoline prices, the Gremlin offers a relatively economical alternative to muscle cars and the more massive American cars of its era — especially for buyers leaning toward the eccentric. AMC said the Gremlin got "the best gas mileage of any production car made in America," and its 21-US-gallon (Template:Convert/multi2LoffAonSon) gas tank allowed 500 miles (805 km) or more between fill-ups.
Original Gremlins with the V8 engine, X package models, Levi's trim, and also the 1978 GT versions, are the most sought-after and command higher prices. However it has been said that scarcity makes any Gremlin in good condition worth preserving as a unique piece of automotive history.
In the opinion of some, the Gremlin is a sought-after car for restoring and has perhaps "finally caught the imagination of what some may consider a car ahead of it's [sic] time" as well as potentially "the silent sleeper of collectible cars"
However, even though Gremlins share numerous parts and components with other AMC models, finding parts for a restoration project can be difficult. (This is exacerbated by the fact that many Gremlins were chopped up during the late-1970s and the 1980s to make dirt-track racers.) The body of choice on the dirt circuit was the Gremlin and AMC Eagle. The subcompact bodies fit Modified chassis and of special interest was the Gremlin's slab top and sides with a contour that was easy to duplicate in sheet metal.
Hemmings reports that an AMC enthusiast had to buy eight Gremlin parts cars before he could begin restoring his 1974 Gremlin X to stock. He estimated that he invested between $10,000 and $15,000, and about 2,000 hours of labor, in the finished car.
One AMC expert, who owns thirteen Gremlins, estimates that 90% of the surviving cars are modified because parts are so hard to find. Replacement panels are scarce, as are parts the Gremlin shares with other AMC models, e.g. body parts and exterior moldings. Parts for the interior are very scarce. Drivetrain components are easier to find, and performance parts are relatively plentiful, because many Jeeps had the 304 CID engine as an option.
There are numerous active AMC car clubs to assist Gremlin owners.
- Listeners to America’s weekly motoring-focused radio show Car Talk voted the Gremlin into 4th place in the show’s Worst Car of the Millennium contest, behind the Yugo, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto.
- By popular vote, and also by the choice of various popular-interest publications' editors, the Gremlin has appeared in numerous lists of “worst cars”. (Despite which, and despite being named for a mythical creature said to cause mechanical problems, it sold well for an AMC model between 1970 to 1974.)
- The Gremlin also appears on Time’s list of 50 Worst Cars, together with such as the 1966 Peel Trident and the 1971 Ford Pinto. Time characterized the Gremlin as "one of the most curiously proportioned cars ever ... [c]heap and incredibly deprived — with vacuum-operated windshield wipers ... [and] awful to drive, with a heavy six-cylinder motor and choppy, unhappy handling due to the loss of suspension travel in the back."
- The Washington Post reported that in March 2008 CCTV video of a 1974 Gremlin with a racing stripe led police to two suspects—one the distinctive car’s owner—in several shooting incidents in Virginia.
- Hans Moleman, a character in the American TV animated sitcom The Simpsons, drives a Gremlin, as did Marge Simpson when she was dating Homer.
- In the popular Sci-Fi Drama Heroes, Niki Sanders is seen driving a navy blue AMC Gremlin.
- In the short-lived NBC comedy/teen drama Freaks and Geeks, Kim Kelly drives an early-'70s Gremlin which was given to her by her late aunt. It is primered in grey.
- In the popular 1990s childrens show "Clarissa Explains it All", the main character Clarissa Darling makes it very clear in the "Urge to Drive" episode that she wants a 1976 Gremlin.
- In the Season 5 episode The Golden Girls entitled "Rose Fights Back", Rose Nylund states to Enrique Maas (a consumer reporter who doesn't want to hire her because he believes she is too old) that she is a battered consumer because she drives an AMC Gremlin.
- On the December 4, 2008 episode of The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart claimed that his first car was a Gremlin.
- The popular internet cartoon Homestar Runner features a white Gremlin from time to time, prominently in the Strong Bad Email 'road trip'.
- A Gremlin appeared in the film Radio.
- In the Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud, Sally Kellerman's character drives a 1970 Gremlin that plays a pivotal role in the movie's lengthy chase scene.
- Adler, Dennis (2000). Chrysler. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing Company. pp. 188. ISBN 978-0760306956. http://books.google.com/books?id=DALX2AsrZTcC&pg=PA188&dq=AMC+Gremlin+first+subcompact&lr=&ei=H59NSMa0JpTyiwHJwPzlDQ&sig=OBxpvQqWyYM0e5Z4Phs94PDVpno.
- Sagert, Kelly Boye (2007). The 1970s (American Popular Culture Through History). Greenwood International. pp. 213. ISBN 978-0313339196. http://books.google.com/books?id=9feBCLNhcFQC&pg=PA213&dq=AMC+Gremlin+first+subcompact&lr=&ei=nJRNSL-WDJWmigGutuH5CA&sig=g1csNfYEP2dcWMyNKjNtLcMuVPo. Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Sagert" defined multiple times with different content
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- Foster, Pat: "Developing the Metropolitan", Hemmings Classic Car October 1, 2005, retrieved on 2008-06-15. The term "subcompact" was not in use to describe the Metropolitan's size: "During WWII and immediately afterwards, Mason began to explore the idea of developing a truly small car, the size of what today we'd call a subcompact."
- Note: the North American categories of “compact”, “subcompact”, “midsize” etc. had not come into use when the Metropolitan was made. It was called an economy car, not a subcompact, at the time. (Contemporary articles also called it "a small automobile"; in sales brochures it was "America's entirely new kind of car" (1955), "Luxury in Miniature" (1959), and "crafted for personal transportation" (1960).Sales brochures, retrieved on June 15, 2008. One writer described it as "little larger than a toy car.") Nevertheless the Metropolitan fits the “subcompact” classification, as stated in the following: "[T]he...president of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation decided to market what would ultimately be called a "subcompact"...""1954-1962 Metropolitan" by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, undated, retrieved on June 15, 2008. Numerous small American-made cars, e.g. American Austin, American Bantam, Crosley and World War I-era "cyclecars" such as the American, existed long before the Gremlin. (Except for the cyclecars, those cited are classified as microcars.)"List of microcars", Vintage Microcar Club, retrieved on June 15, 2008.
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- "UCLA Hydrogen Powered Car Wins 1972 Urban Vehicle Design Competition" Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science History. Retrieved on January 21 2008.
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-  Internet Movie Cars Database
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- Original drawing of the Gremlin by Bob Nixon
- Picture of the AMX-GT from matadorcoupe.com
- An article about the AMC Gremlin
- AMC Gremlin fan site
- Page containing pictures of the car
- Do Not Feed After Midnight: The AMC Gremlin
- The American Motors Marque
- A Hot Wheels six-wheeled, 12-cylinder Gremlin
- IMCDB list of AMC Gremlins in movies and TV series
American Motors road car timeline, United States market, 1954–1988
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