Collectible Classic: 1975-1980 AMC Pacer

Eric McCandless
#AMC, #Pacer

There's no rule that says a car has to be beautiful to be eligible for Collectible Classic status. The AMC Pacer isn't beautiful. It's definitely different, though, and people notice it. Behind the wheel, you're an instant celebrity. Other drivers honk, wave, and smile. The Pacer - ugly, cute, or anything in between - spreads happiness like flowers and confetti wherever it goes, and it generously clears our magazine's "No Boring Cars" hurdle solely by virtue of how it looks.

Ironically, it's what's inside the Pacer that actually defined its shape. The "first wide small car," as it was marketed, was designed from the inside out to accommodate four adult passengers in comfort. This unique philosophy gave the Pacer its unusual proportions: at 171.5 inches long, the two-door hatchback is shorter than a Honda Civic, but its staggering 77-inch width is as robust as many contemporary full-size cars. To ensure great visibility, the Pacer was given an unusually low beltline and enormous windows - more than one-third of the hatchback's exterior surface area is glass, and the door windows are so tall that they can't roll down completely. To aid entry into the back seat, the passenger-side door is almost four inches longer than the driver's.

The Pacer's propulsion system was also supposed to be unconventional - AMC originally designed the car for a rotary engine that General Motors was developing. Unfortunately, GM dropped the rotary due to insurmountable emissions and fuel-consumption problems, so AMC instead installed its own in-line six-cylinder engines. It was a tight fit, with the rear two cylinders shoehorned under the windshield, but it worked. Two sixes, displacing 3.8 and 4.2 liters, were offered initially. These were not powerful engines - breathing through single-barrel carburetors, they produced somewhere between 90 and 100 hp (AMC made no mention of output in its marketing materials, and quoted output varies by source). A two-barrel carburetor later became available on the larger engine, increasing power to 120 hp. A 5.0-liter V-8 was eventually crammed under the hood as well.

Presumably in the interest of a low base price, standard equipment on the Pacer included, um, four wheels but not much else. The seats were not adjustable for rake. The headliner was practically cardboard. There was no rear defroster. Each of the wheels had a drum brake, and power assist was optional. The standard transmission was a column-shifted three-speed manual. The Pacer's unassisted steering required nearly six full turns of the wheel to get from lock-to-lock. The optional power steering had a quicker ratio, but it was overboosted to the point of absurdity.

The Pacer did have many available options, and magazine road testers were put behind the wheels of Pacers loaded with enough equipment to nearly double the price. Air-conditioning was a particularly popular add-on due to the Pacer's heat-trapping greenhouse.

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