1977 AMC Gremlin
The one gremlin that you can get wet and feed after midnightby Robert Moore, on LISTEN 08:10
Warning: Don’t feed it after midnight and don’t get it wet. Okay, not really, but we are talking about a Gremlin here. Not the kind from the awesome 1984 movie “Gremlins” and not even proverbial gremlins that cause problems you can’t figure out. Nope; I’m talking about the AMC Gremlin, and while it was an economy car by 1970s standards, it was pretty damn cool, to say the least. Produced in just one generation from 1970 to 1978, the car didn’t exactly have a long life by today’s standards, but it did feature a number of various engines that included a four-banger from Audi and a couple, rather mean V-8 engines. If there were category for “classic hot hatches,” this car would be the poster child.
Known in its day as the “the first American-built import, the Gremlin was tasked with competing against models like the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto, Volkswagen Beetle, and even the Toyota Corona. Over eight years of production, more than 670,000 examples were built before it was finally replaced by the AMC Spirit. At the time, AMC didn’t have the funds to design and all new car to compete with the new subcompacts from Ford in General Motors that would come out in 1971, so Bob Nixon, who eventually became AMC’s Chief of Design, designed a new car based on the AMC Hornet – AMC’s compact car at the time. The Gremlin and its weird, flat-back design debuted on April 1, 1970, and the rest is history.
So, now that you know about the history of the Gremlin, let’s take a look at this 1977 model that is set to go under the hammer at the Mecum Auction during Monterey Car Week, August 2016.
Continue reading for our full review on the AMC Gremlin.
As I mentioned before, the Gremlin was essentially a shortened Hornet, so it was nearly identical to that model from the front end all the way back to the B-pillars. From there the car had a look of its own. Up front, the car featured a chrome front bumper and a grille with solid rectangular mesh. The headlights were recessed into the front fenders. While the sealed-beam headlight bulbs were round, they were surrounded by a square bezel, giving the car an interesting appearance. With nowhere for the turn signals lamps to go, they were integrated into the radiator grille. The hood wasn’t really anything to write home about, but it did feature some character lines that gave the car a somewhat sporty appearance.
The Gremlin was essentially a shortened Hornet, so it was nearly identical to that model from the front end all the way back to the B-pillars.
Moving to the sides, there wasn’t really any serious design work to note. This specific model features a double pinstripe that runs from the front reflectors to the rear where it swoops upward and is split into four individual stripes. It seems like it would be an odd look for a car such as this, but it actually made the car look a little longer, and made up for the rather odd-looking rear end. The model seen here featured chrome door handles and chrome trim around the windows, wheel wells, and side skirts. It also features chrome roof rails that helped make it a little more utilitarian since there was practically no cargo space inside.
Around back was where the Gremlin got really weird. It had an almost vertical rear end that was slightly tilted forward up top. As you can see the taillight and rear signal units were integrated as individual units on each side, with the tails/brakes on top and the signals on the bottom. As is the story with the front, the rear bumper is also chromed out, and in excellent shape on this specific model. The rear glass was hinged at the top and could be opened for easy access to the rear.
The interior of the Gremlin was very basic. This specific model features leather-wrapped bench seats with square and rectangular designs. There was no center console to speak of and virtually no dashboard either. There was a small storage cubby that served as a glovebox of sorts on the passenger side. To door, trim panels mimicked the seats with a similar square and rectangular design and was entirely wrapped with leather. There was no real armrest, however, it was a common practice back then to install the door armrests from other, larger models. The instrument cluster was even more simple, featuring nothing more than a speedometer, a fuel gauge, and a temperature gauge.
As was the case with most subcompact economy cars of the era, the rear seat wasn’t really suitable for adults, but two children had plenty of room. There was practically no cargo space behind the rear seats, with just six cubic feet available. However, if the seat was folded forward, cargo room tripped to 18 cubic feet, which wasn’t too bad given the actual size of the car.
This specific model features a 232 cubic-inch, 3.8-liter, inline-six backed by a three-speed automatic transmission. There were also a number of other engines available over the lifespan of the Gremlin including a 122 cubic-inch, 2.0-liter, Audi-built four-banger; a 199 cubic-inch, 3.3-liter, inline-six; a 258 cubic-inch, 4.2-liter, inline-six; a 304 cubic-inch, 5.0-liter V-8; and a 401 cubic-inch, 6.6-liter V-8 that was also known as a Randall 401-XR.
This specific model has just 16,000 original miles and has front disc brakes to go with drums in the rear. It came from the factory with air conditioning, and the wheels have been replaced with a rather nice set of Cragar wheels. As far as performance specifications go, it’s hard to really nail anything down as there is lots of conflicting information out there. It wasn’t exactly a fast car in most cases, but the models equipped with a V-8 were pretty spunky for what they were.
The entry level Gremlin started out at just $1,879 back in the 1970s. While that doesn’t sound like much, it is the equivalent of about $11,673 today. It was an economy car, so it certainly makes sense. I don’t know about you, but I would drive a brand new Gremlin for less than $12,000. This specific model will be auctioned off by Mecum later this month, however, there is no estimate as for potential pricing. There have been a few 1972 models that have sold for as low as $10,500 and as high as $25,000. Assuming this model is unrestored, and the mileage is, indeed, actual, this model could approach $25,000 or $30,000 with the right people in the crowd. Check back with us soon to learn about how much this specific model sells for – it is a no-reserve listing, so it’s likely that it will sell.
As a subcompact economy car, the Gremlin had a lot of competition. Models like the Ford Pinto and Chevy Vega were main competitors, but the Volkswagen Beetle and Toyota Corona took the Gremlin head-on as well. These models were all similarly priced and featured similar interior space.
When I saw the AMC Gremlin show up on Mecum’s auction list, I just had to do a quick review on it. Often overlooked as a “true classic,” these little cars were actually pretty cool in their day. If you’ve ever had the chance to drive a decent example, you know that they are pretty hearty vehicles. Even though they were small and basic, two adults could sit in the front seat fairly comfortably. I wouldn’t want to take a road trip across the country in one, but as a daily driver or even a weekend warrior, the Gremlin is definitely up there on the list of models I wouldn’t mind owning should I happen to come across the right one.