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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1975 AMC Pacer

If Ford’s Mustang had stolen the hearts of Canadians away from the economy-minded Rambler, then American Motors was determined to win  back the market with a radical new people-first vehicle. At a time when passengers were routinely being shoehorned into a long-hood, short-rear deck envelope with seating as an afterthought, Pacer represented a completely new way of thinking about urban vehicles.

Richard, (Dick) Teague was American Motor’s Vice President of Styling. He was a small car champion and world renowned for his savoir-faire in the world of compact design. The design guru began to doodle during a meeting with Group Vice President of Product and Design, Gerry Meyers, in June 1971. 

What unfolded before his colleague’s eyes was a passenger car concept so advanced that it looked like nothing ever seen on four wheels. It embodied common sense concepts that were missing from current design:  a capacious cabin, a low beltline for good vision, a fast slope and a built-in centre roll bar for maximum security. For all the world, it resembled a football married to a set of radials. Top management was intrigued and gave Teague and his team of designers the green light to explore the concept to its fullest. The top-secret project quickly came to be code-named Amigo.

As the brilliant concept unfolded, novelty met reality. Drawings as early as September 1, 1971 show that the mid-ship engine and the rear-facing seat for passengers were dropped for more conventional arrangements. Some things didn’t change, though. It held its groundbreaking cab forward design and the roll bar concept. Amigo carried its freestanding five-mile-an-hour bumpers from the first sketch right through to production.

While under development, potential variants of the Amigo were explored. An attractive pickup truck was sketched out, as was a smaller Gremlin-like companion vehicle with a neo-classic, bustle-back trunk.

Artist Brian Parrish created this four-door Pacer. Used with permission.
A four-door sedan version was discarded; it looked too much like a giant sausage on wheels.

A 1975 Pacer pickup truck was cobbled together and sold in Holland.
When the first full-sized tape drawing went up on the studio walls it carried the name Town Car. The vehicle now featured headlamps sunk deep into the outer edges of the front fenders.

By the time the design was translated into the first clay mockup it sported dual headlamps. A later variation carried hidden headlights.

A full-sized, fibreglass pushmobile was shipped to Atlanta, Georgia in 1972 for evaluation by an elite group of people who had been invited to a special mixed make marketing clinic. Those who came were all current owners of compact and sub-compact cars and under the age of 35. This was the target market that AMC wished to lure into its corporate fold. Guests had no idea what company might build this vehicle. From February 3 through 6 they viewed the car and filled out questionnaires.
This is  a 1977 Pacer mockup.

The 2 540-millimetre (100-inch) wheelbased Amigo was presented with both a flat-floored interior and with a transmission hump. Either way, Amigo had a vast cabin, shamefully larger than Ford’s mid-sized Torino and Chevrolet’s Chevelle.

Those who attended fell in love with the unusual little car and a whopping 93 percent of clinic participants swore that Amigo was their dream car. They begged the unidentified manufacturer to build it so they could buy it.
Pacer was favourably compared to Volkswagen, a 1973 Super Beetle is seen here.

Management was skeptical. A second clinic was organized in Dallas and once again, an overwhelming number of those who attended said this car would be their first choice if it were on the market. Lots of folks remarked on Amigo’s cuteness and compared its distinct design favorably to that of the immortal VW Beetle.

The Pacer name was finally chosen in June of 1973. It was pulled from the corporate shelf of American Motors’ long and distinguished history. The Pacer name had once graced a Hudson model.

A running prototype was cobbled together using a 1972 Matador’s underpinnings. 

A rotary engine was under development, to be shared by the Pacer and Chevrolet's Vega.
Gone was the fast slope because the slim rotary engine under joint development by GM and AMC was scrapped because of its poor gasoline economy. Pacer power would come from AMC’s trusty 4-litre  (232-cubic inch) six banger. In a bid to stay ahead of pending legislation from Washington, steel side-impact bars were welded into the doors.

            Sales were absolutely phenomenal when Pacer hit the market on February 25, 1975. Billed as America’s first wide small car, it swept the nation by a storm. At a time when stagflation had all but crippled the economy, consumers had to have a Pacer.

The AM Van might have been produced if AMC hadn't tied the knot with Renault, an automaker with vans of its own.
Jim Alexander worked in Product Planning at American Motors. He remembers that folks stood in line at AMC dealers to trade in their Lincolns and Cadillacs for the swanky little cars. No one cared if it looked like a goldfish bowl on wheels. It was small and ritzy; it was hot and distinctively identifiable. Pacer was the most unique automobile design of the 1970s. 

It was only the second American production automobile to ever sport rack-and-pinion steering. It was one of the first to feature electronic ignition as standard equipment. The passenger door was nearly four inches wider than the driver’s for ease of entry into the rear of the poshly appointed passenger compartment. Pacer was exceptionally wide for a small car, 1 577 millimetres (61.2 inches) in the front track. To emphasize its width, wickedly clever TV advertising showed a Chevrolet Nova parking inside of a Pacer shell.
Instrument panel of the right-hand drive Pacer for the British market.

AMC’s light-hearted, offbeat brand of humour pervaded the whole concept. Extra cost items were listed out in a comprehensive brochure entitled “Open Wide and Say Pacer Options.” The average purchaser cheerfully dug into the bank account for a full $1,000 worth of extra cost goodies to dress their Pacers to the nines.

In its first full year on the market the little Pacer sold 117,245 units. Everybody on AMC’s management team had reason to be pleased.

A smartly styled station wagon joined the sedan in 1977. A year later the nose was redesigned to take AMC’s V-8 engine. During its six-year run, a total of 280,859 Pacers left the factory.

Pacers were so darned lovable that just about everyone made a toy or scale model of them. Racing Champs has issued a 1:64 scale 1977 Pacer; Corgi has a Pacer Rescue Car and even our old childhood friend, Tonka Toys, made Pacers for the Tonka car carrier.

AMC Pacer by Tonka Toys.

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2004
All rights reserved.

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