The 1973 fuel crisis hit America’s psyche harder than did the russians beating them to space in the Fifties. Cheap and unrestricted personal transportation had been a way of life, and then America suddenly faced the horrifying prospect of paying more than forty cents a gallon. Overnight, stock in car manufacturers became as popular as Richard Nixon.
Detroit’s first response was to kill the muscle car. The second was to revive the “compact” and invent the “subcompact.” AMC had first entered the subcompact market in 1970 with its immensely popular Gremlin model, but the 1975 Pacer was a different beast. Advertised as “the first wide small car,” it had the passenger compartment of a sedan, the nose of a European commuter shuttle, and no back end at all. Ironically, it wasn’t even that economical, but America didn’t notice because it was on a guilt trip, buying over 70,000 of the things in ’75 alone.
STYLING TO TALK ABOUT
In the mid-Seventies, the Pacer was sold as the last word; “the face of the car of the 21st century” bragged the ads. Happily, they were wrong. Pundits of the time called it a “football on wheels” and a “big frog.”
The aerodynamic windshield aided fuel economy and reduced interior noise.
There was more headroom and legroom than the contemporary Chevelle or Torino, making it feel spacious.
The Pacer had the largest glass area of any contemporary American sedan, making the $425 all season air-conditioning option almost obligatory. There was no doubt that outward vision, though, was quite superb.
Twin-Grip differential was a $46 option.
The body was almost as wide as it was long, and though opinion was divided on the Pacer’s looks, it did garner some hefty praise; Motor Trend magazine called the styling “the most innovative of all US small cars.” Credit went to Richard Teague, who also penned the ’84 Jeep Cherokee.
With rear seat folded, cargo area was an impressive 30 cubic feet.
In 1977 Pacers were stretched a further 4 in (10 cm) and offered as station wagons.
Surprisingly, the Pacer was never a cheap car. Add a few interior options and air-conditioning and you could easily have been presenting the dealer with a check for $5,000. De Luxe trim pack included wood effect side and rear panels, which made the Pacer about as tasteful as Liberace.
Adaptability even stretched to the front of the car; 26 percent of all Pacers had reclining front seats.
The Pacer’s rack-and-pinion steering was one of the first on a US car.
Stock power was a none-too-thrifty 258cid straight six unit. In addition, for all its eco pretensions, you could still specify a 304cid V8.
Unbelievably, the Pacer’s rear end inspired the comely rump of the Porsche 928.
Originally slated to use urethane bumpers, production Pacers were equipped with steel versions to save money.
Inside was stock Detroit, with sporty front bucket seats and a cheesy polyurethane dash.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL AMC Pacer
PRODUCTION 72,158 (1975)
BODY STYLE Three-door sedan.
CONSTRUCTION Steel unitary body.
ENGINES 232cid, 258cid sixes.
POWER OUTPUT 90–95 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual with optional overdrive, optional three-speed Torque-Command automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: coil springs; Rear: semi-elliptic leaf springs.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 105 mph (169 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 14 sec
A.F.C. 6.4–8.5 km/l (18–24 mpg)