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Affordable Driving Project: 1974 AM Hornet Hatchback

Enthusiasts always welcome affordable project candidates, and their attraction grows if they run and drive well. This 1974 AMC Hornet Hatchback ticks those boxes, and the fact it appears rock-solid adds to its appeal. It will almost certainly never be a meg-bucks classic, but it is a competent and practical vehicle that should offer years of motoring enjoyment. The Hornet is listed here on Craigslist in Vallejo/Benicia, California. It could be yours for $3,500, and I must say a big thank you to Barn Finder Rocco B. for spotting this promising project.

AMC introduced the Hatchback derivative to its Hornet range in 1973, bringing welcome versatility. It received some minor cosmetic updates in 1974, with those at the rear designed to accommodate a different bumper to comply with government regulations. The original owner ordered this car in Fawn Beige, which is probably not the most inspiring shade available that year. However, it is a neutral color allowing scope for some minor enhancements, like pinstripes, that would offer a more striking contrast than the current Gold. The exterior carries a collection of dings and dents requiring attention, but none are bad enough to justify panel replacement. These classics are not renowned for rust issues, and if this car has spent its life in California, that bodes well for potential buyers. There may be some small spots in the lower door corners, but the photo quality isn’t good enough to make a definitive call. The wheels are period-correct, but I don’t believe they enhance the car’s appearance. The trim is in good order (apart from a slight bend in the rear bumper), and I can’t spot any issues with the tinted glass.

The seller supplies no photos and only limited information on the Hornet’s mechanical configuration. They confirm that the engine bay houses a six-cylinder powerplant, but whether it is a 232 or a 258 is unclear. There is little to separate the pair in power, performance, or fuel consumption, and shifting duties fall to a three-speed automatic. The car has a claimed 137,915 miles on the clock, which is relatively low for a vehicle of this vintage. It isn’t extraordinary, but if it is accurate and the Hornet has been appropriately maintained, it should offer years of reliable service to its new owner. The car starts, runs, and drives, making it a turnkey proposition.

This classic’s interior is a mixed bag because while the seats look nice, there is deterioration in other areas requiring attention before this aspect of the Hornet presents at its best. It is serviceable, but the dash shows significant flaws, as does the carpet. The sunvisors have seen better days, but the headliner might respond positively to a deep clean. There is also some deteriorating plastic, but searching a pick-a-part or the usual online auction sites may uncover the required parts. There are no aftermarket additions, but it is also short on factory options. Aftermarket air conditioning would probably be a wise investment if the car remains in a warm location, but the AM radio should relieve boredom on long journeys.

Introducing a new body style to an existing model can be a high-risk venture, but AMC scored a hit with the Hornet Hatchback. The company found 55,158 buyers in 1974, with only the Wagon producing a better result. It is doubtful whether this car will ever be worth a huge sum, but that may not be its true purpose. If someone is considering tackling a first DIY project, this Hatchback appears to be an affordable and straightforward proposition. It might represent a golden opportunity as a skills-development exercise without the new owner risking it all on something potentially more desirable and valuable. That makes it worth careful consideration.

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Ray

    I always thought the hatchback and wagon had the best proportions on the Hornet. The interior is disappointing…AMC has some fun prints for their seats during this time period. One of the plaids would’ve improved the appeal to me. My uncle had a white one with a bluish plaid interior. Maybe I’m biased.

    Like 7
    • Avatar photo Greg in Texas

      I think they were trying to match the era. Remember the chain smoking? It turned everything that color, from the carpet and drapes.. to your lungs. I like the car though. Strip it down, a turquoise blue, double chrome any chrome on it. Interior white or buckskin leather. Overhaul engine and trans with everything tight and fresh, fuel injection with CDI ignition and good header, unrestricted exhaust. Expand cooling with oil cooler and add intercooler intake. It won’t be a dragster, but it won’t be slow. And it will get 25+ mpg reliably.

      Like 0
  2. Avatar photo Paul R

    AMC Hornet and now the new Dodge Hornet.
    I guess when a company goes down , model names are up for grabs.
    Another example , Pontiac Pathfinder has morphed into the Nissan Pathfinder, for a while now.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo jrhmobile

      It’s not like the Hornet name was up for grabs, Chrysler bought all AMC assets — aincluding all it’s intellectual property — 35 years ago.

      So it’s not so much like Dodge stole the Hornet name, because Chrysler/Stellantis already owned it and decided to use it again.

      Like 12
      • Avatar photo Paul R.

        Right you are.
        Wonder if we’ll see a Dodge Gremlin.

        Like 6
      • Avatar photo Steve

        When will they introduce the Dodge Pacer?

        Like 5
      • Avatar photo Greg in Texas

        Have you seen the Fiat Club wagon or whatever they call it? With not much change maybe curved corner glass at the rear: Fiat Pacer?

        Like 0
    • Avatar photo Ray

      Have you heard of the Scout being brought back as a fully electric vehicle since Volkswagen bouth Navistar…which was International?

      Like 5
    • Avatar photo Rick

      Like with the Edsel. The Ranger name was later used on Ford pickups. The Pacer came to be an unforgettable AMC vehicle. Ford of Britain, and later Lincoln here in the States, got some more usage of the Corsair name. And, perhaps most insulting of all, the name Citation adorned an X-Car from Chevrolet.

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Ray

        The Explorer was a package on Ford trucks and first generation Broncos too

        Like 1
  3. Avatar photo rayburn

    The first car I drove at about 16 yrs old was a 72 hornet, a friend let me drive it on basically a deserted road.

    Like 2
  4. Avatar photo Azzura Member

    Nothing says careful maintenance like rusty and missing lug nuts.

    Like 9
  5. Avatar photo PairsNPaint

    My first mother-in-law had one of these, in a french blue color. Overall I thought it a decent car, would make a good platform for a sleeper street machine with a V8 and 4-speed swap. Get rid of that wheel and tire combo.

    Like 4
  6. Avatar photo Nelson C

    Talk about a car with an alter ego. The sedans looked like an evolution of the American/Classic while the hatchback and wagon suggested a sporty flair. Always thought these and the Mopar duo were good looking compacts.

    Like 5
  7. Avatar photo Steve

    I always wait to see the “I’d put a V8 and 4 speed in it” comments. LOL

    Like 9
    • Avatar photo Shawn

      The six was more reliable, at least in my parents’ experience. (They had three Hornets/Concords over the years, all with the 258 ci six, and one Matador wagon with the 304 V8 – the last of those had a variety of engine-related issues that I don’t recall on the sixes.)

      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Rick

        The AMC V8s both first and second generation were interference engines, and those that used plastic camshaft sprocket teeth often suffered piston and valve damage.

        Like 1
  8. Avatar photo Davey Boy

    I had a 77 hornet AMX. That’s one I wish I never let go. ONLY bad thing (in my opinion) was it had the 6 cyl. in it. Super reliable but not much for power. It did have a straight posi rear end which made for fun times in the snow. She was white with black amx graphics and a rear window louver. Buckets and a floor shift auto. All black interior. Pretty cool alloy wheels also. I liked the look of that car. Would like to find another within my price range.

    Like 3
    • Avatar photo FireAxeGXP

      Dave that sounds awesome. Wish you had some pics to share!

      Like 1
  9. Avatar photo JustPassinThru

    One surprising thing to come out later, was when the Hornet was renamed Concord and then made into the Eagle crossover…that the hatchback didn’t survive.

    Instead, the money-losing AMC division of Renault (what it was at the time) opted to spend money to redesign the Gremlin into a sort-of-hatchback, as the Spirit and SX-4. Yeah, same body shell…but the Spirit hatch and Hornet hatch had little in common beyond sharing a platform.

    This thing is a beater, that’s all. As someone said, it’s got neglect screaming all over it. Buy-Here-Pay-Here material.

    Like 0
  10. Avatar photo Ricardo

    We raced a Hornet like this in the “24 hours of Lemons “ a few years back. 232 engine. We did put an AMC 4 speed in it. Added disks up front and the rear end from a AMC V8. We wound the living daylights out of the 6 over 2 races. Never a problem. It got so that during the second race when we switched drivers we never popped the hood. Never had to add any liquids. Talk about bullet proof.

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Greg in Texas

      I believe the Dodge straight 6 was popular on farms for that durability. Anyone wanting to cram V8 guzzling junk in a car not suspended for that excess weight and waste is a dude looking for dudes. Same old cover up clans in the red hats. Tiresome lot.

      Like 0
  11. Avatar photo Terry J

    Had one similar long ago. One cold icy day I opened the hatchback and when I dropped it closed the glass exploded into the interior. One summer day I was zipping down a long roller coaster hill and at the bottom ( I later saw) was a man hole cover that stuck about 2″ above the surface of the black top. As the suspension bottomed out the tie rod caught the edge of the cover and BAM it caved it in, punched a hole in the oil pan and jerked the front end components on both sides out of shape. TOTALED. The manhole cover was badly scarred from many scrapes and a neighbor told me that more than one motorcycle had dumped over it. I tried to jack up the County but you know how fighting the Govt. goes. Broke my heart, it was a great little car. :-) Terry J

    Like 3
    • Avatar photo Paul R

      Two Mustangs for Bullitt.. The “jumper car” and the “casual car.
      Both are around. The casual car just sold at auction for $3.74 million and the jumper car was found in a junk yard and is being restored.

      Like 0
  12. Avatar photo Earl

    Living in your dream world.,I see.

    Like 0
  13. Avatar photo Joe M.

    “but whether it is a 232 or a 258 is unclear”
    They came with the 304 V8, had one.
    Trans was awful though, 3 speed stick.

    Like 0
  14. Avatar photo Kent

    My sister and brother-in-law had one of these. A 1974 Sportabout wagon. 304 V8 and automatic. It was a neat little car. They trashed it of course, so their is that. One of only two decent vehicles they ever had. They had a habit of buying junk. I’ll never forget that rusted out VW van They bought. What a piece of junk.

    I like this little Hornet. To those that think otherwise, If it were mine, I would turn it into something more fun to drive. It needs a V8, I would prefer to keep it AMC, however, a small block Ford or Chevy would work nice. I’m a Mopar man, but the small block Mopar is kind of heavy. An appropriate transmission, 4-speed or automatic and definitely upgrade the rear axle. I wouldn’t go to nuts though, as I like to be able to drive my vehicle.

    I agree the wheels have to go. They just look odd. Maybe a set of Crager SS would look good and be period appropriate.

    Keep in mind. This car is never going to be worth Uber dollars. It’s a good canvas for making something fun to drive. An AMC 360 and appropriate Torque-Flight maybe and maybe a Ford 8.8 rear axle, or Dana 44 if you prefer. Get the V8 front springs, new rear leaf springs and generally upgrade the suspension and go have fun.

    Like 0
  15. Avatar photo Dern Blanstin

    Fugly, junk and way overpriced. They were disposable cars and this one should of been disposed of years ago…..

    Like 0

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