It was always somewhat uphill for the AMC Pacer. Disco had seemingly taken over the world and then there were the wounds from Watergate. But it was probably mostly its peculiar design which turned out to be its Achilles heel. But was the egg-shaped American simply misunderstood?
As early as 1971, some bright chaps from American Motor Company came up with the idea that they wanted to create something new, different and ground-breaking. AMC had always stood in the shadow of its bigger competitors, and more than ever before, they now needed a success story to turn their ailing economy. Over at Ford, GM and Chrysler there was a profound conservatism where new designs had to be approved through a slow and highly bureaucratic system. Innovation was clearly going to have to come from elsewhere, and it was high time it did. The seventies were a time of changing ideals and lifestyles. Imports into America of smaller and more sensible cars were increasing, yet the American manufacturers seemed intent on maintaining production of their oversized dinosaurs. That’s when AMC approached Dick Teague – the designer responsible for the odd Gremlin – and asked him to come up with something new, compact and practical.
AMC management were overwhelmed with joy when they saw Dick Teague’s sketch of the compact egg-shaped car. They immediately rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Initially, the new car was named “Amigo”, and it was planned to have an interior which felt as big as that of the common full-size American cars, while having the external dimensions of the compact imports. The body was to be aerodynamic with the eye-catching “mirror design” where front a rear almost look identical. As for the drivetrain, the engine was to be sourced from GM, who were in the final stages of developing a new rotary engine.
Already by 1974 they were practically ready to go. AMC had been quick to develop their new model and they were keen to get it launched and onto the market. Unfortunately, in the eleventh hour, GM aborted their rotary project just as AMC were starting to press bodyparts for the car. It left them with no alternatives to dusting off an old 6-cylinder engine and trying their damnedest to shoehorn it into the engine bay of the Pacer. As such, already before being launched, the original concept and design was heavily compromised.
When the Pacer – the Amigo name was dropped during development stages – was finally introduced in 1975, it really was quite the oddity. It looked like nothing else on the streets! The short wheelbase and wide track resulted in the car being almost quadrilateral and quite eye catching. Furthermore, the enormous amount of shaped glass gave the Pacer a very futuristic air, and not least an amazing lack of blind angles from within the cabin. The cabin also had masses of space – even leaving extra space above the heads of tall people regardless of whether they were in the front or the rear seats. For easier access to the rear seats of the two-door car, the passenger door was made 10cm longer than the driver’s door. And from behind the steering wheel, the driver could enjoy a clear view of the road ahead as even the bonnet dropped away out of view.
The first three years were kind to the Pacer. It sold well, and despite development costs having been higher than expected for AMC, they were making money on it now. The costumers were people who wanted something which stood out and dared to be different, but still needed a practical car. But then sales started to slump – quite viciously as well. AMC tried launching an elongated estate version and even the option of a V8 engine, but it didn’t help. Without anyone taking much notice, production of the Pacer was discontinued already in 1980, and the production line gave birth to a a new AMC model: The Eagle.
If you think the appearance of the Pacer is bizarre, then please remember that the same era also gave birth to many other oddities. Disco arrived from a far planet and garments such as the jumpsuit were deemed trendy…
Surely, Porsche 928 fans must have an appreciation of the Pacer design. Squint your eyes a bit and it becomes clear where the Germans found inspiration for their sleek seventies GT.
In my opinion, the Pacer was simply misunderstood. Perhaps not so much in period, but certainly later in life. I’ve never understood how it time and time again gets placed top of the list when either so-called experts or enthusiasts list the ugliest cars in automotive history. I feel it perfectly represents both the fashion and the mood of the time it was created for. Please share your thoughts with us in the reply section below. Have any of our readers ever owned a Pacer, or maybe at least driven one?