AMC Gremlin: The Affordable Collector Car
by Michael E. Bailey
In 1970, American Motors Corporation introduced an entirely new automobile to fill the unprecedented demand for a smaller, more affordable and fuel efficient American built car. The company desired a product to compete with cars such as the increasingly popular Toyota Corolla, Datsun 510 and the venerable Volkswagen Beetle.
This new AMC was dubbed the Gremlin, and it was an instant hit. In its nine year model run from 1970 through 1978 over 670,000 units were produced. Such a large production run makes good examples fairly easy to find today. This popularity is also an important factor when finding parts and fellow collectors who can offer advice on repair, maintenance and restoration. The Gremlin was by far the best selling American compact of the 1970s. The American compacts competing with the Gremlin in the market were the Ford Pinto, the Chevrolet Vega, the Japanese built Dodge Colt and the English built Plymouth Cricket.
Advantages for today's budget conscious old car fan include easy affordability, a high degree of parts interchangeability and great fuel mileage. Another benefit is that AMC designed the car to be easily maintainable by the average backyard mechanic.
There are some differences between model years to be aware of. The 1970 through 1973 model years have different styling on the front fenders and grille area than the 1974-76 and 1977-78 models. However, this "front clip" may be interchanged as a whole among the various model years. This makes repair of damaged sheet metal much simpler in cases where these parts cannot be located immediately.
Other differences in styling are evident in the rear quarter panels. There is a particular impression in the sheet metal behind the side windows that takes the form of fake vents. Enthusiasts refer to these fake vents as "gills." On the 1970-73 model years these gills were horizontal, while the cars produced from 1974 to 1978 featured vertical gills.
The 1977-78 model years saw more changes to the front clip, with shorter fenders and a different grille treatment. Also in these last two years the entire rear panel of the body was changed. The changes come in the form of a larger back window, different tail lights and some trim differences. These features are shared with the 1979-82 AMC Spirit Sedan and the 1981-82 AMC Eagle Kammback. Both of these cars heavily resemble the Gremlin. The primary difference from a styling standpoint is that the rear quarter windows were changed from the Gremlin's triangular shape to match the profile at the rear of the car. The Eagle is a four wheel drive car. This means that only the engine and rear axle are interchangeable with the Gremlin's drive train. The front clip sheet metal, windshield and doors on both cars are fully interchangeable with the Gremlin.
The Gremlin was available with three different engines during its production run. The inline six cylinder was the most common power plant. The six was available in 232 cubic inch and 258 cubic inch sizes. From 1972 through 1976, a 304 cubic inch V8 was also offered. The V8 was dropped for the final two years, but a 150 cubic inch four cylinder was offered in addition to the usual six. Any of these engines can be interchanged among all models. This means if you happen to find a V8 car that is beyond repair, you can remove the drive train and install it in any model year in the series. All that is required is to exchange the front cross member of the V8 car with that of the smaller engine.
The transmission offerings were three speed and four speed manual gearboxes as well as a three speed automatic. Any of these transmissions is easily interchanged among the models and engine types.
If you do decide to go with the Gremlin, there are AMC clubs from coast to coast. Fans of the Gremlin are all over the internet on club sites and car community websites. Generally they are more than happy to offer advice and help find parts. It's a good idea to obtain an AMC Technical Service Manual, available from car literature websites and eBay for around 20 to 50 dollars. These manuals are far more comprehensive than the average car repair manual, and were produced by American Motors for use by its dealer network to perform repairs according to factory specifications.
Pricing is quite reasonable on these cars when compared to the more commonly seen muscle and collector cars on the market. It's easy to find a drivable or repairable example for under 2000 dollars. Starting at around the 4000 or 5000 dollar mark, you can find cars which have been restored or preserved to appear as new.
The AMC Gremlin represents an outstanding value for the budget conscious old car fan. This car has a unique and sporty appearance, good performance and reasonable gas mileage. The Gremlin is well known for reliable operation, is easily repaired and has good parts availability. It is more affordable to buy or restore than just about any other American built car from the 1970s. This is a car worth considering to anyone looking for an inexpensive entry point into the collector car hobby.
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