Collectible Classic: 1975-1980 AMC Pacer

Eric McCandless
#AMC, #Pacer

The Pacer's mission was to transport four people in comfort, though, and in some respects it did that well. The automatic's shifts are smoother than those of many modern gearboxes, and although the engine's location under the dash transmits the pitter-patter of the rearmost cylinders, the smooth six never sounds hurried or harsh. The cockpit is wide up front, but the rear seats' location between the rear wheels reduces aft shoulder room. Trunk space is modest in the coupe, but a wagon, added in 1977, addressed that shortcoming. The wagon was less than three inches longer than the coupe, but its less severely raked rear end and reduced glass gave it a big boost in cargo capacity.

In 1978, the Pacer's styling was updated, with a raised, trapezoidal grille replacing the previously rectangular, horizontal grille. The face-lift didn't do much to rejuvenate sales, which had peaked in the 1976 model year but then fell by at least 50 percent each year afterward. It seems that the Pacer's futuristic styling had a very short shelf life once the public got used to seeing the bubble-shaped curiosity on the street. And word had gotten out about its hothouse interior.

For some, however, the love affair with the Pacer has been anything but short-lived. The car you see pictured here is lovingly cared for by Nolan Dehner of Windsor, California. He bought this 1976 D/L coupe after a cross-country trip a decade ago, during which he noticed several Pacers. Dehner wanted one because the Pacer was so rare, and he loves the way it looks. Mention that the Pacer has won just about every "ugliest car of all time" award, and Dehner gets upset. "It's not ugly," he insists. You might think him unsound, but other drivers on the road demonstrate their support with smiles and waves. "I love all the thumbs-up," he says. The gentleman has a point - how many people give nods of approval to passing Pontiac Azteks?

THE SPECS

Engines: 3.8-liter OHV I-6, 90 hp, 170 lb-ft; 4.2-liter OHV I-6, 95-120 hp, 180-200 lb-ft; 5.0-liter OHV V-8, 130 hp, 220 lb-ft
Transmissions: 3- or 4-speed manual 3-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Suspension, Front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Live axle, leaf springs
Brakes F/R: Disc/drum or drum/drum
Weight: 2995-3430 lb

THE INFO

Years produced
1975-1980
Number produced
280,858 (220,346 coupes, 60,512 wagons)
Original price
$3299 (1975)
Value today
$2000-$10,000
Why buy?
To tell the world you have a sense of humor. If we're being honest, the Pacer doesn't drive all that well - but it sure does look groovy. Driving a Pacer is like sitting in a mobile fishbowl, and it looks like nothing else on the road, inspiring curious glances from everyone. The wagon has slightly more conventional styling, but if you're going for a visual statement, the coupe is the better choice.

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