The Pacer Chronicle: AMC’s Wide Small Car from 1975–80

Always following its path, American Motors introduced the quirky Pacer in 1975, referring to it as the country’s “first wide small car.”

The American Motors Pacer, which debuted as a mid-year model on March 1, 1975, was a risky move because it took $60 million to construct, a significant amount of money for the small carmaker. Gerald Myers, the product leader at AMC, conducted a thorough study program that examined 36 distinct package configurations. Ultimately, a unique compact platform was selected, which had a wheelbase of 100 inches, similar to the original Nash Rambler, but was 77 inches wide. American Motors called it “the first wide small car.”

A tall greenhouse with yards and yards of glass was part of the unusual (some would say odd) exterior design, which offered a spacious cabin with a great view. An incredibly short hood added to the oddball look. AMC had intended to use a General Motors-supplied tiny Wankel rotary engine to power the Pacer, but after the program was abruptly shelved, the company converted its reliable 232 CID inline six to a rear-drive configuration.

With a roll hoop in the roof and a robust body built for federal safety regulations that were never implemented, the Pacer’s larger, heavier engine made it heavy for its class at over 3,200 lbs. Because of this, the ride and road manners were good but the fuel economy was never great.

As AMC liked to say, the Pacer was built “from the inside out.” The spacious and comfortable cabin accommodated a variety of seating arrangements, such as split-bench and reclining buckets-and-console arrangements, and the upholstery options ranged from traditional to flamboyant (1977 Perforated Vinyl and Basketry Print Fabric variations shown above). Because the Pacer was only available as a two-door, it was one of those instances where you wondered, “Why don’t all the automakers do that?”

A two-door station wagon with a roof rack and options for woodgrain or vinyl was added to the lineup in 1977. The front end underwent a small facelift in 1978, which included a bigger grille opening. That year also saw the release of the AMC 304 CID V8, in addition to the 232 and 258 CID inline sixes. However, by that point, sales of the unusual car had sharply decreased as the eager but constrained demand was satisfied. Sales of the Pacer peaked in 1976 with 117,000 vehicles, and by 1980—the model’s last year—the number had dropped to just 1,746.

Though this is no longer with us, the Pacer was a rolling joke in Mike Myers’ teen comedy Wayne’s World in 1992. Take a look at it below!

It seems improbable that the vehicles could ever turn into investment-grade collectibles, given their odd nature. As per the Hagerty value guide, the current rates for a Pacer in fair condition start around $2,400 and go up to $14,300 for a #1 Concours condition. However, having a vehicle that is unique from everyone else is part of the appeal of owning a collector automobile, and the Pacer certainly fulfills that requirement.

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