AMC Pacer

From Dodge Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
AMC Pacer
AMC Pacer coupe
ManufacturerAmerican Motors (AMC)
Production1975 – 1980
AssemblyKenosha, Wisconsin United States
Mexico City, Mexico (VAM)
Body style(s)2-door hatchback
2-door station wagon
LayoutFR layout
Engine(s)232 cu in (3.8 L) I6
258 cu in (4.2 L) I6
304 cu in (5 L) V8
Transmission(s)3-speed manual
3-speed with overdrive
4-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Wheelbase100.0 inches (2,540 mm)
Length171.8 inches (4,364 mm) (coupe)
Width77.3 inches (1,963 mm)
Height52.8 inches (1,341 mm) (coupe)
Curb weight3,000 pounds (1,361 kg)
Fuel capacity21.9 US gal (83 L; 18 imp gal)
DesignerRichard A. Teague

The AMC Pacer is a two-door compact automobile produced in the United States by the American Motors Corporation between 1975 and 1980. Its initial design idea was started in 1971. The car's unusual rounded shape with massive glass area greatly contrasted with the mostly boxy, slab-sided models of the era. The Pacer's "jellybean" body style is a readily recognized icon of the 1970s.


AMC's chief stylist Richard A. Teague began work on the Pacer in 1971, anticipating an increase in demand for smaller vehicles through the decade.

Car and Driver magazine noted that "AMC said it was the first car designed from the inside out. Four passengers were positioned with reasonable clearances and then the rest of the car was built around them as compactly as possible."[1]

Designed to appear futuristic, the shape was highly rounded with a huge glass area, and was very unusual for its time. Road & Track magazine described it as "fresh, bold and functional-looking".[2]

Development was under Product Group Vice President Gerald C. Meyers, whose goal was to develop a car that was truly unique: "...everything that we do must distinguish itself as being importantly different than what can be expected from the competition..."[3]

Unique for a comparatively small car, the Pacer was as wide as a full-size American car of the era. Contrary to myth, it was not widened six inches (152.4 mm) to make room for the rear-wheel drive configuration. According to an AMC market study from the early 1970s, front-wheel drive was never considered,[citation needed] although the editor of Road & Track asserted that front-wheel drive, as well as a transverse mid-engined configuration, were among "various mechanical layouts...tossed around by the idea people at AMC", adding that "it's unlikely they ever had much hope of being able to produce anything other than their traditional front engine and rear drive, using components already in production."[4] A rear-engined layout was also explored. 1975 AMC advertising literature proclaimed it as "the first wide small car".

The width was dictated partly by marketing strategy—U.S. drivers were accustomed to large vehicles, and the Pacer's occupants had the impression of being in a larger car—and partly by the fact that AMC's assembly lines were already set up for full-size cars.

Also unique at the time, the passenger door was four inches (101 mm) longer than the driver's. This made passenger loading easier, particularly from the rear seats; and they would also tend to use the safer curb side in countries that drive on the right. Ford used this design element in the 1990s Ford Windstar minivan.

Teague's low-drag design, which predated the fuel crisis and the flood of small foreign imports into the American market, was highly innovative. Its drag coefficient of 0.32 was outstandingly low for a car of its size. Teague even eliminated rain gutters, smoothly blending the tops of the doors into the roof—an aerodynamic detail which, although criticized at the time for allowing rain onto the front seat, has become the norm in today's designs.

The Pacer was also among the first production cars in the U.S. to feature rack-and-pinion steering.

In the mid-1970s the U.S. government mandated major safety improvements for the 1980 model year, to include 50-mile-per-hour (80 km/h) front-end crash testing, 25-mile-per-hour (40 km/h) side crash testing and 30-mile-per-hour (48 km/h) rollover testing, as well as installation of bumpers to resist 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) impact at the front and 10-mile-per-hour (16 km/h) at the rear. The Pacer was designed to these specifications, and also had laminated safety glass in the windshield.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler persuaded the government that it was not financially viable to modify existing production cars to comply with the new regulations, and that instead each company would be put to the enormous expense of producing new, safety-compliant vehicles. Accordingly the government requirements were reduced, which led to the deletion of several safety features from the production Pacer—for example the roll bar over the passenger compartment, and the bump in the roof that accommodated it. The Pacer's remaining safety features were not strongly advertised, and seldom influenced a potential customer's purchasing decision. The car's extra weight—due in part to the safety equipment and the abundance of heavy glass—hurt fuel economy: production models tested by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave 16 miles per US gallon (15 L/100 km; 19 mpg-imp) in the city, but 26 miles per US gallon (9.0 L/100 km; 31 mpg-imp) or better on the highway (depending on driving habits and transmission), thanks to aerodynamic efficiency.

Originally the car was designed for a Wankel rotary engine. In 1973, AMC signed a licensing agreement with Curtiss-Wright to build Wankels for cars and Jeep-type vehicles. (The agreement also permitted Curtiss-Wright to sell rotaries elsewhere.)[5] Later, AMC decided instead to purchase the engines from General Motors (GM), who were developing them for use in their own cars. However, GM canceled development in 1974 for reasons that included durability issues, the fuel crisis, tooling costs (for the engines and also for a new product line designed around the rotary's ultra-compact dimensions) and the upcoming (late 1970s) U.S. emissions legislation. It was also thought that the high-revving Wankel would not suit Americans accustomed to low revs and high torque.

GM's change of plans left the Pacer without an engine. AMC had invested too much money and effort in the car's design to scrap it, so they hastily reconfigured it to accept their existing straight-six engine. This involved a complete redesign of drivetrain and firewall to keep the longer straight-6 within the body dimensions designed for the Wankel, but allowed the Pacer to share many mechanical components with other AMC models.


1978 AMC Pacer station wagon.
Wagon looks more conventional than hatchback

Introduced in showrooms on February 28, 1975, the Pacer was designed to attract buyers of traditional large cars to a smaller package during a time when gasoline prices were projected to rise dramatically.[6] In its first year of production, the Pacer sold well, with 145,528 units. Some reviewers referred to it as a "fishbowl on wheels" or a "jellybean in suspenders" because of its unconventional styling, while some described it as a "cute" car. There was little competition from other American manufacturers, most of whom had been blindsided by the oil crisis. The increased demand for compact, economy vehicles was growing rapidly. However, Pacer sales fell after the first two years, and it was available through the 1980 model year. Similar to its mid-year introduction, on December 3, 1979, production of the Pacer ended at the Kenosha, Wisconsin assembly plant where it had begun five years earlier.[7] A total of 280,000 cars were built. Increasing competition from the Big Three U.S. automakers and the rapid consumer shift to imported cars during the late 1970s are cited as the reasons for this outcome.

The Pacer's unconventional styling was commonly cited in its lack of success. Other concerns included a lack of cargo space when carrying a full load of passengers (because of its short wheelbase). Cargo space could be increased to 29.5 cubic feet (0.84 m3) by folding down the back of the rear seat to form a flat floor. Drivers also cited a lack of power. The Pacer was heavy — Car & Driver wrote, "American Motors had already quoted a curb weight of 2990 lb. for the basic Pacer when we first wrote about the car, and that already seemed quite heavy; but when we weighed the test car (whose air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering and so forth would not account for the full difference) it registered an astounding 3425 lb."[8] — and the standard 232 cu in (3.8 L) I6, with a single-barrel carburetor and optimized for low emissions (all vehicles at the time carried emissions-reducing devices), was relatively low-powered ("The Pacer comes with either of two AMC inline six-cylinder engines, both producing 100 bhp, but the larger 258-cu-in. (4.2 liter) unit delivering better mid-range torque"[8]). In 1976, a "High Output" version of the 258 cu in (4.2 L) engine was offered, which helped performance at the cost of higher fuel consumption. By the time a 304 cu in (5 L) V8 was offered in 1978, the company had introduced a successful line of "luxury-compact" models (the AMC Concord). Additionally, gasoline prices remained high, limiting demand for V8-powered vehicles.

For increased cargo capacity, a station wagon body style was offered from 1977. A less unusual-looking design, it was longer, with a squared-off back and straight, almost upright, rear side windows. Although front vent windows were optional on all Pacers, the wagon's rear side glass featured vent windows as standard. The big rear hatch opened to a wide, flat cargo area with 47.8 cubic feet (1.35 m3) of space. The rear seat also folded flat to form a continuation of the cargo floor. Some wagon models featured simulated wood-grain trim on the lower body sides and the liftgate.

Model designations

The short lifespan of the Pacer is interesting as it went from being an economy car initially, to becoming a small luxury car. The following information details some of the highlights.

The "X" Package: A "sporty" edition Pacer. The Pacer X was available from 1975 until 1978 on the coupe version of the car. The title changed to "Sport" in 1978 and was eliminated after that. The package consisted mainly of cosmetic changes including vinyl bucket seats, and a floor gear shift. On the outside it received exterior chrome features, styled road wheels, and package identification.

The "D/L" Package: A more upscale edition of Pacer, the D/L was available for the entire run of the car becoming the "base" model in 1978. This package was more upscale including, originally, a "Navajo-design" seating fabric and a woodgrain instrument panel as well as a few interior features that were optional without it. The exterior received additional chrome accents, different wheelcovers, and identification badging.

The "Limited" Package: Available in 1979 and 1980, the Limited package was an elegant farewell for Pacer. Inside, leather seating was standard as were many features that would have been options: AM radio, power door locks, power windows, and tilt steering wheel, to name a few. The exterior offered many chrome accents, styled road wheels and exterior identification badging.

The "Sundowner" Package: In 1975 only, a Sundowner Pacer was available through AMC dealers in California. This marketing promotion consited of the basic Pacer with a $3,599 suggested retail price. This package included options listing for $300 at no extra cost.[9] In addition to the mandatory California engine emissions controls and state-required bumper guards, the Sundowner package included a "custom interior" featuring Basketry Weave fabric upholstery with coordinated trim on the door panels, remote control exterior mirror, rear window washer and wiper, styled road wheels with white wall tires, and a roof rack.[10]

The "Levi's" Package: Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the Levi's Gremlin and Hornet, AMC introduced a Levi's Pacer for 1977. This option added blue denim-like upholstery and door panel trim, with small "Levi's" tags on both front seats. However missing were the traditional copper buttons found on the other AMC Levi's seating. The package also included a "Levi's" logo sticker for each front fender. It could be combined with the Pacer "X" package. Not well promoted, the Levi's Pacer didn't sell in large numbers so very few exist today. The Levi's Pacer did not return for 1978.

All Pacers without the optional vinyl roof trim could be finished in several unique two-tone paint combinations[11] that included front and rear body side scuff molding extensions. However, the top and bottom two-tone treatment was changed in 1977, to an "up and over the roof" accent paint scheme for the duration of production.[12]

1979 and 1980 saw a hood ornament and center chrome strip down the hood. Power door locks were available in 1978; however it would be 1979 before power windows would join the option list.

International markets


French magazine advertisement from 1975.

American Motors exported the Pacer to several European nations. The AMC distributor in Paris France, Jean-Charles, compared the rounded body of the new Pacer to another attractive rear-end shape in its magazine advertisements. Cars exported to Europe were available in higher trim levels.[13] According to some reports, the Pacer sold well in Europe and even Brigitte Bardot is said to have promoted the car in Paris.[14] Nevertheless, the Pacer was designed for American drivers and highways, and not the narrow streets typically found in Europe.

The level of current European interest in Pacers is indicated by the number of European nations listed in the AMC Pacer Registry,[15] the members' cars in the Swedish AMC/Rambler Society,[16] a German Pacer enthusiast Internet site,[17] and the fact that a former AMC dealer in Germany[18] that stocked an inventory of original parts as recently as the early 2000s. A private museum in the Netherlands exhibits a Pacer wagon.[19]

United Kingdom

Unlike AMC's other models,[citation needed] the Pacer was only available with left-hand drive. The British importer for the Pacer converted the car from left-hand to right-hand drive by leaving the majority of the steering gear on the left-hand side of the car, and running a chain-drive behind the dashboard from the steering wheel (now on the right-hand side) to the top of the steering column. However, the car retained its unequal-length doors, designed for LHD markets, meaning that in the UK the longer door was on the driver's side, leaving the passengers to use the smaller door, which "in the typically confined British parking spot was virtually impossible."[20]. The Pacer was wider than a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and slightly longer than the then-current Ford Cortina. [20].

The car was adversely reviewed by the motoring press and AMC soon stopped importing it.[20]


The Pacer was produced in Mexico by Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) starting in 1976. The cars came with different engines, interiors, and other components because vehicles made in Mexico had to have at least 50% locally sourced parts. The engine was an AMC design, but modified and built by VAM. A unique to Mexico 282 cu in (4.62 L) I6 engine was standard. It was designed to cope with low octane fuel and high altitudes. This engine featured dished pistons with a 3.909-inch (99.3 mm) bore and 3.894-inch (98.9 mm) stroke, as well as a unique head and exhaust porting design.

All Pacers built by VAM came with the following standard equipment: power disk brakes, power steering, handling package, slot wheels with ER78x14 radial tires, reclining front seats, and a radio.[21] The Mexican Pacers also had different interior trim and seats that featured high-design upholstery that was not available in the U.S. models.[22]

Media appearances

  1. Sherman, Don."AMC Pacer" Car and Driver February 1975
  2. New York Times "Marlins and Hornets and Gremlins, Oh My: The Quirky Classics of A.M.C." by John Matras, April 4, 2005, retrieved on March 28, 2008.
  3. Patrick Foster, "American Motors' Pacer" Hemmings Classic Car - March 1, 2005. Retrieved on July 15, 2007.
  4. Wakefield, Ron: "American Motors Pacer" Road & Track February 1975.
  5. Ward's Auto World Staff, "Rearview mirror", Ward's Auto World, February 1, 2000. Retrieved on: March 29, 2008.
  6. "Rearview Mirror" Ward's Auto World, December 1, 2003 Retrieved on: March 29, 2008.
  7. "Rearview Mirror" Ward's Auto World, December 1, 2001 Retrieved on: March 29, 2008.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Road & Track April 1975.
  9. Sundowner brochure, page 3,retrieved on 2008-10-13.
  10. Sundowner brochure, page 1,retrieved on 2008-10-13.
  11. 1975 AMC Exterior Colors, retrieved on 2008-10-13.
  12. 1977 AMC full-line brochure, page 6, retrieved on 2008-10-13.
  13. Extras and Originality "plain and naked base model (hardly to be found in Europe)", undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  14. database, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  15. AMC Pacer Registry web site, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  16. the Swedish AMC/Rambler Society, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  17. AMC Pacer Projekt Amigo, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  18. US-Autoteilehandel Gericke GmbH in Bad Homburg, Germany.
  19. The Rambler - AMC museum in Berlikum, Netherlands, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named martin
  21. American Motors 1976 Pacer "Numero Uno in Mexico". AMC Marketing Department Press Release, November 1976.
  22. Arcticboy's VAM page #3, 1976 Pacer brochure illustrating the interior, undated, retrieved on 2008-06-28.