A Classic '70s Eyesore: The AMC Pacer

Jane Lu
Dec 22, 2021 · 4 min read
Many classic cars don't gain relevance just because of their rarity and out-of-this-world performance specs. The 1998 Mercury Cougar didn't have the best interior, but it's still considered one of the most gorgeous cars ever created. Others like the Datsun 510 have unique yet practical designs that you can't find anywhere else.
Unfortunately, the AMC Pacer was neither stylish nor powerful, which is strange for a vehicle from the ‘70s. Though short-lived, AMC still created a handful of memorable cars, including the Gremlin. What went wrong with the AMC Pacer?
Front view of white and red 1975 AMC Pacer X coupe parked in a museum
The AMC Pacer had a strong start but several design issues led to declining sales.

The history of the 1975 AMC Pacer

To be fair, SuperCars says that the AMC Pacer had a strong start initially. Released shortly after the Gremlin, the Pacer was named the first "wide car" due to its shape. Although its dimensions compromised cargo space, it was a joy for city parking while providing plenty of passenger space.
In addition to its jelly bean shape, it was famous for its large windshield. This gave the car more outward visibility, a futuristic design, and allowed it to have less interior noise. The Pacer also featured sporty bucket seats and rack-and-pinion steering, two features that weren't common on most rivals.
Critics were intrigued when the car was released in 1975, calling it bold and innovative. Consumers took that high praise to heart and quickly fell in love with the shiny new Pacer. Over 70,000 units were sold during the car's debut year, but that success wouldn't last.

What made this car so bad?

You would think that a car of the Pacer's size would be more economical. Unfortunately, the AMC Pacer is only rated for 18 mpg in the city, the environment most suited for its segment. The engine itself doesn't provide any satisfying trade-off, merely capable of 90-95 horsepower and a top speed of 105 mph. 
Trying to accelerate to 60 mph takes a grueling 14 seconds. This is because the car's wide-body design also made it heavier than similar ‘70s cars that could carry five passengers. Driving is also a chore because of the tiny glass area in the back, which creates troublesome blind spots.
Indie Auto points out that several mistakes for the Pacer were due to the automaker's oversight. For one thing, the Pacer has such a unique shape that it can't be configured easily into other body styles. AMC also decided to take a risk on the Pacer's success when it was already dealing with the failures of other models.
A wagon body style was eventually implemented, but it was too late to appease drivers. By 1978, the Pacer's yearly sales had dropped to just 58,000 units. It was discontinued in 1980, and AMC would eventually be purchased by Chrysler just eight years later.

How does the AMC Pacer compare to other ‘70s-era gems?

The AMC Gremlin, produced in 1970, was still popular despite its unreliability. It was cheap at the time and had a peppier engine than the Pacer, though some might argue that it had sloppy handling.
Although they both had unique designs, these classic AMC cars couldn't keep up with other rivals. The Plymouth Barracuda's performance still holds up today, as well as the ‘70s-era Chevy Monte Carlo.
Of course, we're not going to judge you if you find the AMC Pacer's design to be charming.

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