Cheap 4-Speed Hatch: 1980 AMC Spirit

While I tend to get more excited when a Spirit AMX pops up for sale, the plain-jane AMC Spirit hatchback is an intriguing buy as a starter classic. This particular car is even more appealing as a manual transmission model, although it’s not the inline-six model but rather the Pontiac-sourced four-cylinder. While not the torque-monster of the I6, parts supply is likely still strong and the seller has performed some cosmetic upgrades to make it a bit more sporting. Find it here on craigslist for $2,500 and located in Delaware. 

The addition of new tires and American Racing wheels completely changes the look of the AMC, and shows off the clean bodywork even more. Unfortunately, the wheels and tires shown in the first photo are an additional $800 over the bottom line. I get that, but it’s always a kick in the gut to get excited about a car’s appearance and then find the rollers aren’t included. That aside, the seller says it’s a clean survivor with a clean title. The body lines look nice and straight and glass appears sound.

I wish there were more interior photos, as it looks well-preserved. The shame of the 1980s model is that emissions requirements became even more stringent, so a rocket ship this is not. The rust-free condition is a bonus, and the seller is correct in noting you won’t see yourself twice at the local cruise-in or Cars & Coffee gathering. The hang-up for me is, however, if I’m searching for an AMC project, I’m going to be far more inclined to find an example powered by the robust 3.8L or 4.2L inline-six.

What do you think of the seller’s asking price of $2,500? It would seem like a decent deal if the wheels and tires were included, but even with the decent condition factored in, it’s no steal at the current price. That said, even the Spirit AMX is hard to come by with a manual transmission, so the presence of three pedals could make this a tempting buy for an AMC enthusiast, especially considering 1980 was the year the company rolled out its new rust-proofing process. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Pat L. for the find.

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  1. Richard Truesdell

    Sorry, but with this poorly written Craigslist ad (doesn’t mention if the car is equipped with air conditioning and there’s no good photo of the interior or engine compartment to show that it is), this is a pass. This is especially true as it’s a four-cylinder car.

    What’s the preoccupation here with 4-speed cars? You seem to overlook much better cars that are automatics. 4-speed or not, these are not “fun to drive” cars, they are entry-level collector cars.

    Over the years, because I’ve been looking for a last-of-the-AMC-RWD-era car (Hornet, Concord, Spirit, Eagles), there’s better ones out there if you look, especially in the rust-free Southwest.

    If anyone comes across a nice Hornet Sportabout or Concord station wagon, let me know as I’m looking for one.

    • Mike Austing

      Richard, I purchased a ’78 AMC Concord DL s/w from the Mannheim PX in late 1977 while stationed in Germany. Waited & waited for it to show up in Bremerhaven from the factory. Really loved that car; would have rather bought the ’78 Camaro but with 2 young sons, the Concord was the smarter buy. Great little car; took me all over Europe testifying at courts-martials of guys I busted on the Dutch/German & Belgian/German border. Even through the Alps in the winter with only radials on it it never let me down!

  2. Jack M.

    Richard don’t always discount cars because they are from the Northeast. We usually put our hobby cars in storage in October and don’t bring them back out until April. Very rarely do they see snow and some people will not even take them out in the rain.

  3. Rock On

    This car is going to be a slug with the four banger. Why would you want to make it even slower with an automatic?

    • Howard A

      It’s a 4 speed.

  4. Troy s

    As I once said about a mid sixties Buick station wagon a while back, those rims will make Any car look good! Even this old Spirit, looks so dull with the factory wheels, instantly transformed into a worthy looking ride with the wheel swap. Been there before more than a few times with the old “don’t come with those wheels though” thing. ARRG!!

  5. Skorzeny

    Anything with an automatic is out. I don’t drive that carp. Manual transmission or nothing.

    • Tim S. Member

      Now that right there is an open-minded car guy, ladies and gentlemen.

    • 71FXSuperGlide

      I’m kinda the same way. Most of my collector cars, and several of my DD, have manuals. The only ones which don’t are simply because they weren’t an option for that particular model. Not a knock on the auto, just more engaging to drive a stick.

      For $2500 (or less), this really isn’t a bad car for someone, considering it is a 4 speed.

  6. Boatman Member

    The pictures are two years old. Does it still look the same?

    • Alexander

      And that flip phone inexplicably sitting in front of the shift lever is like 7-8 years old Boatman. Haven’t seen one of those in a while!

      I call shenanigans with the old “before” photos and the boast regarding wheels and tires that are not part of the list price in the last two photos. Boo!

      • Boatman Member

        Hey now Alexander! I still use a flip! lol

    • JC

      Yeah, with the date stamp they always say “but I just took the pics yesterday”… lol.

  7. Howard A

    Some of the last great AMC cars, before we went down that “Alliance” road.( to eternity) A more modern Gremlin, as it were. Not much experience with the 4 cylinder, seemed like a proven unit, but these cars were so choked off with emission equipment, nothing ran right then. I’d love to have this car.

  8. Rock On

    Hi Howard, I am aware that this car is a 4 speed. I was replying to Richard as to why he would want to saddle it with an automatic.

    • Richard Truesdell

      Rock On, I wouldn’t own a 4-cylinder AMC with an automatic or a four-speed. The AMC 258 six with an automatic would outperform a 4-cylinder Iron Duke.

  9. JC

    Sorry, I just see an old car with nice wheels (for an additional $800) so $3300??… not “collectible” in my opinion, just basic transportation. Wouldn’t even think to take it to car shows. lol.

  10. scottymac

    I have a perverse attraction to the Spirit/AMX, such that I bought the swing pedal setup for a clutch, and the rally pack gauges, just in case I can ever afford one. Sigh.

  11. Mike R in De

    You won’t see many, if any of these ever again. Weren’t very popular when new. Iron Duke was a somewhat torquey engine that GM mainly used in the X car platform. I rented one for an east coast road trip, gave great gas mileage, & reasonable acceleration with an automatic transmission. Change the transmission and rear differential oils to full synthetic, it will help. Or, just buy it and drive it. What else can you buy for $2500 – $3300 today? Cheap transportation and a unique ride, sounds like a win win to me.

    • dweezilaz

      Mike, There’ve been several Iron Dukes in my family. Currently have one in an 86 Calais. Totally schizophrenic in a car that looks like the downsized 86 Eldorado yet sounds like a 30s Chevrolet.

      Part of it’s charm.

      Lots of sound and fury, reasonable pickup and quiets down massively on the open road.

      I’d have this in a heartbeat.

      Used in Xs, As, Ns and the S10/Canyon in RWD mode.

      • Alexander

        Not sure where you’re getting the Canyon from. The GMC version was known as the S-15 and later renamed the GMC Sonoma.

  12. KevinLee

    These just look like a gussied up Gremlin. I’d rather have a V-8 (304) 4speed Gremlin X.

    • dweezilaz

      Kevin: that’s what they are, except the slopeback hatch was new for the Spirit.

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