The oil crisis of the early 1970s put the boys from Kenosha in their element. For AMC was all about producing affordable cars for the masses and swiftly came up with a compact to suit the mood of the moment. The futuristic Pacer had curvaceous lines, lots of glass and a handy hatchback, contrasting with the boxy offerings of most other makers. The little car quickly acquired the nickname ‘Jellybean’.
The term ‘compact’ was relative — the Pacer was wider than a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and the smallest of three engine options was a 3.8 litre straight six, paradoxically giving very poor fuel economy compared with imported compacts flooding in from Japan. An unusual feature was a passenger side door that was longer than the driver’s to facilitate back-seat access. The car certainly fulfilled the design brief of being unique and the car-buying public responded well, shelling out for around 280,000 Pacers over time.
However, 145,000 of those sales were in the first year, and AMC was soon casting around for ways to bolster sales. Performance of the first edition was poor, with either straight six engine, so a more powerful version of the larger engine was offered in 1976, then a V8. Although rear seats folded flat to give load space, little remained with the seats up, so a station wagon version appeared in 1977.
AMC also started a hopeful drift from economy compact to luxury compact by offering various upgrade packages. The X was sporty, the D/L was a minor upgrade that became standard in 1978 and the Limited was a leather-upholstered offering loaded with extras that appeared in 1979. There were even specials like The Sundowner (for California) and a Levi’s Package with blue denim interior trim and fender logos. It was all in vain, for this 1970s icon expired with the decade.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1975 (until 1980)
3.8 l (232 cid) or 4.2 I (258 cid) Straight Six; 5.0 l (304 cid) V8
With V8 engine — top speed of 96 mph (154 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 14.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Pacer was originally designed to have a Wankel rotary engine but when preferred supplier General Motors canned their Wankel development programme AMC had to hastily modify the Pacer to take their own straight six motor.