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44K Miles: 1981 AMC Spirit Liftback

AMC made the Spirit from 1979 to 1983 as a replacement series for the former Gremlin. The Gremlin never came with a sloping hatchback or liftback, and I wonder what may have looked like (insert dream sequence here). The seller has this 1981 AMC Spirit Liftback posted here on craigslist in beautiful Spokane, Washington, and they’re asking $12,000. Here is the original listing, and thanks to Pat L. for sending in this tip!

The American Motors Corp. Spirit – not to be confused with a Dodge Spirit, one of the best and most reliable vehicles that I have ever owned (no, really) – actually came in both a sloping “liftback”, as company literature referred to this body style, and also a very Gremlin-looking “sedan”, with yes, a big, vertical Gremlin-like hatchback. I prefer the Spirit Sedan, as it reminds me of a car that I’ve been looking for, an Eagle Kammback.

There’s the unique and cool shape of the liftback. You’re correct in that the AMX also came in this body style, and Eagle also made an AWD version in this body style. How the hell did AMC go out of business with so many unique vehicles?! What a crying shame that they aren’t still around. Until then, I guess we have to find the nicest surviving examples that we can, and this may be one of the nicest base model Spirit liftbacks left. For 1981, the Limited and AMX models were gone, leaving the base model as seen here and the D/L, which was now the highest trim level, although, a GT trim package was available in the liftback. This car appears to have GT-style wheels and the white letter tires look great – the seller says that the wheels and tires are new.

Spirit buyers could have chosen “Deluxe Grain” vinyl, but for the ultimate in comfort, this car has “Coventry Check” fabric and you can see that there are a couple of tears in it. I just looked at the SMS Auto Fabrics site and they don’t have anything listed for a 1981 AMC, but if you type in 1980, AMC comes up and they have this fabric, but not in blue. Bummer. In any case, the interior looks great otherwise. This car has a Chrysler-sourced three-speed automatic with a column selector for pushing the power to the rear wheels.

Speaking of power, here’s yet another case where a craigslist seller doesn’t bother to pop the hood to show the engine. There are literally six photos of the wheels and tires, but not one engine photo, I’ll never understand that but it’s more common than not. The engine should be a GM-sourced Iron Duke 2.5-liter OHV inline-four with 82 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. It reportedly “fires right up” and has new front brakes and shocks. The price is double what I would have expected, but it is 2023. Any thoughts on this AMC Spirit?


  1. Moparman Moparman Member

    Really nice looking, I think the seller may be a little optimistic on the pricing. I’d repair the seats and enjoy this one! GLWTS!! :-)

    Like 6
  2. eric22t

    find me a rot free 4wd and i’d be all over it. cousin had one years back and it was a great snow belt commuter.

    the craigers fit well here

    Like 1
  3. B.B.

    If anyone cares, this may be a factory paint scheme. Here’s an ’80 brochure which features it as DL 43..


    Like 0
  4. wjtinfwb

    A Maverick and a Spirit in one day, aren’t we lucky! Amazing any of these cars survived as they were generally loathed when new and traded or handed down to a succession of owners who cared less and less about them. If next up someone posts a Valiant Signet with a slant six in Aqua or Brown, we’ll know the late 70’s alternate universe has arrived.

    Like 2
  5. JustPassinThru

    The Spirit was just a hatchback Gremlin…or, not even, with the Kammback Spirit. It got a new grille and an updated instrument panel; and somewhat updated interior appointments. That and a four-cylinder engine – first, an Audi-sourced OHC four that was worse than pathetic, so bad, and Audi knew it, that VAG forbade AMC to use their name in any way. Second four was the Iron Duke (should have been called Limp-Wristed Earl, said the late Joe Sherlock)…which was in fact an improvement.

    I don’t know if the AMC four, 15 years late, arrived in time to fill 1973 Spirit engine bays. It may not have…it was a good engine, but the die was cast. Spirit and Concord, formerly Gremlin and Hornet, got axed after 1973. It was Alliance, Encore, Eagle variants, and the Jeep lineup. Unwittingly setting the stage for being put completely out of business through the Chrysler purchase – they only wanted Jeep and the Bramlea Assembly plant. Not Kenosha, not Eagle, not the AMC Renaults, and not the parts business.

    On first blush, this one would be fun to have…I had a 1972 Gremlin 232/3 on the floor, a torquey devil. But roominess was an issue inside; and the hatchback roofline and seemingly-serious back seat would take up more of it.

    If I bought it, it would be with plenty of money to replace the Limp Duke with a later Jeep four, with Chrysler FE. Most decidedly mated to a five-speed. The Aisin transmission, marginal in the XJ and TJ, would be fine in the Spirit.

    Like 0
  6. JustPassinThru

    EDIT ABOVE: 1983, not 1973.

    The Iron Duke was a Pontiac production – to their shame.

    Like 0
  7. Maggy

    Buddy’s dad when I was kid traded in a bright green74 matador wagon towards a yellow 80 spirit 4×4.He liked it and he was 6’5″.Liked his amc’s I guess.I remember going to the Chicago auto show back in 79 or 80 seeing the AMC display for these with one just showing the drivetrain moving by an electric motor so you could see it moving . I think they called it quadratrack.I think this one is priced to high but maybe not.glwts.

    Like 0
  8. eric22t

    huh, same car same plates for sale june of last year for 1/2 the price

    Like 0

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