The AMC Gremlin: An Unlikely Hero
Lisa Steuer McArdle
Nov 29, 2021 · 3 min read
Classic cars are not just cool, muscle cars, but they're usually also the cars that were popular in their day. After all, those vehicles were favored for a reason, and that's the case with the AMC Gremlin.
In fact, even though AMC made vintage muscle cars like the AMX/3, the Gremlin—despite being uglier and weaker—was the far more popular car. Here's the story of the AMC Gremlin and how it became an unlikely hero for AMC.
The history of the AMC Gremlin
Like MotorTrend wrote, the Gremlin's story started in the 70s. American automakers were facing a lot of stiff competition from imports, and they knew that they had to respond. However, AMC couldn't afford to develop a brand-new subcompact car from scratch like other automakers.
As such, AMC did it inexpensively by just taking the Hornet and converting it into a cheap, subcompact car. AMC's leadership was well aware of what they were doing, too. In fact, AMC's design chief at the time, Dick Teague, even said, "I don't think the Gremlin's going to win any styling awards."
Despite the fact that nobody expected much from the car, the Gremlin actually did very well for itself. In fact, it even ended up being AMC's second best-selling car.
The specs of the AMC Gremlin
Off the bat, the Gremlin definitely succeeded in being a subcompact car. Despite being physically bigger than the Volkswagen Beetle, the Gremlin actually had a tighter turning radius than its German counterpart did.
On top of that, the Gremlin came with a variety of straight-six engines. These were not powerful engines, but they were more powerful than the Beetle's. Despite that, though, the Gremlin was about as fuel efficient as the Volkswagen was. Plus, the Gremlin had a 21-gallon gas tank, and that allowed it to get quite a bit of range.
The best part, though, was how economical the Gremlin was. Its price tag was roughly the same as the Beetle's. Not only that, but the cheapest version started at about $1,900 at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that's equal to roughly $14,000 today.
That being said, since it was a subcompact car, it wasn't going to have everything. This was especially true when it came to space. The cheapest Gremlin didn't even have a backseat, and its cargo capacity was also laughable.
Why was the car so popular?
But American customers seemed to love the Gremlin despite its looks and its small size. There were actually many reasons for that, but one of the biggest ones was almost certainly environmental.
The Gremlin came at the right time in American history. In the 70s, many people were starting to think about the environment, and more drivers were buying smaller cars like the Gremlin. And then, the fuel crisis happened.
Since gas was so expensive, the Gremlin was a no-brainer for many Americans. The car was fuel efficient and more powerful than its rivals, despite its similar price tag. Unsurprisingly, AMC sold over 670,000 Gremlins from 1970 to 1978. This made it the second best-selling car in AMC's history.
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