American Built Import: 1972 AMC Gremlin

1972 AMC Gremlin Deluxe

The 1970’s were tough for American auto manufacturers. Foreign imports were flooding the market and American drivers just couldn’t get enough of these overseas fuel sippers. In an attempt to compete, American brands rushed their own econo-boxes to market. Some were hits and others were complete misses. AMC wasn’t known for building winners, but every once in a while they built a car that was just right for the times. For the 1970’s their Gremlin turned out to be the right car for the right time, at least for AMC. They went so far as to even call it the first American built import. It might have been a good economy car, but there was a lot more to these little devils. Most of the ones we come across were driven hard and put away wet, but the green 1972 Gremlin above is still running and the seller claims it has just 31k miles. Have a look for yourself here on eBay.

1972 Gremlin Interior

The Gremlin was born out of necessity, as AMC knew they needed a new compact to battle the incoming wave of imports. They lacked the financial means to design and build a completely new car, so in typical AMC fashion the car needed to be based off an existing model. Early designs for the new compact were based on the Javelin, but the final production car was based on the more modest Hornet. The interior was similar to its Hornet sibling, but had Gremlin specific trim and a special steering wheel badge (featuring an actual gremlin). This particular car looks to be right in the middle of the options list, with the 258 cui inline 6, Torque Command transmission, and AM/FM radio.

1972 Gremlin Engine

This Gremlin probably won’t win any awards at the track or the car shows for that matter, but it will certainly win you over at the fuel pump. This inline six was rated at a mere 110 horsepower, but was good for around 25 mpg on the highway. There are modern cars that would struggle to get better mileage than that and we doubt any of them would light up the rear tires like this one can. Now if fuel mileage isn’t as much of a concern to you as smoky burnouts, there was an available 304 V8! We don’t know what it would take to drop one in this Gremlin, but we doubt it would be too difficult.

Low Mileage Gremlin

At one time these little cars were the butt of many a joke, but they have been getting a lot more attention lately. There has always been a dedicated fan base, but as Muscle and Pony car prices climb these seem to be a more affordable alternative. If you can accept the quirky styling, they actually make sense as a fun daily driver. This one needs some work, which makes it hard to believe it has just 31k miles, but it would definitely be worth saving! While the V8 would be fun, we think we would leave the I6 in there and just drive it as is. What about you?

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Comments

  1. Joe Howell

    Cute little cars. Old girlfriend had one, traded her for one with a VW Scirroco:) I married her:)

    • stanley stalvey

      Awww, what a beautiful story. I just love a good wedding and romance. I was a DJ and did 900 weddings in a 10 year period in the city of West Palm Beach, Fla. Like I say, I just love a good wedding story. Good job..

    • Horse Radish

      that makes sense…
      Why would you have an ‘old’ girl friend ?.
      a younger one would always be more fun ;^}

  2. Connor

    I love the styling of the gremlin, it’s sorta like marmite, you either love it or you hate it.
    I would prefer to have a V8 gremlin X however.

  3. Dave

    I always liked these little cars. Would love to find one in this good of shape.

  4. Dave Wright

    More closely related to a Jeep than an import. They were not really bad cars but never were known for great fuel economey. The were built on the cheep side, interiors and the like. I always thought of them of an extension of Studebaker/Rambler economey cars of the early 50’s and 60’s.

  5. Steve F

    When I was in high school, I worked as a delivery person at a drugstore in Western PA. Basically learned how to drive on snow and ice and any other bad weather in a Gremlin. The one I drove was stripped to the bare bones with vinyl bench seat, rubber floors, AM radio, no A/C and always had bald tires (not sure how that happened….) I credit my driving skills today with the time spent in that car. If you can drive that up and down hills in the snow and ice, then you can drive anything.

    A nearly indestructible machine plus way more room in the back that it looks. Great memories.

    • stanley stalvey

      Good Reply.. I like the new bench seats in this one..

  6. mike

    i remember these in the early days of the IMSA series.Team Highball.258 6cyl with a 4 speed..was an option AMC said but the public couldn’t order one though…neat cars back then.

  7. Jeff

    The pictured example does NOT have AM/FM as stated…

    • Josh Staff

      Jeff thanks for the correction!

  8. davew833

    My family had a Pacer and a Javelin– maybe it’s time for a Gremlin now.

  9. stanley stalvey

    Excellent article, Ugly car but here’s an idea that will interest you. Contrary to your statement ” won’t win any awards at the track.” I beg to differ.! These cars are ugly on the street but can be converted to a beauty by way of “Weekend Warrior” mentality and the fine arts of Drag Racing. Even the Pacer suddenly becomes more interesting. I’ll send you some photos if you like. Here’s the details: any V-8 made by AMC can be formed to fit in this car. Wasn’t there a 401ci engine at that time.? Yes, I believe so. The Gremlin we are talking about has excellent power-to-weight and streamlining capabilities. Think of a lightweight contender in Bracket Racing with a sporty, original style AMC paint job and graphics from any factory offering . I’m thinking Lime green and big Drag Slicks boiling rubber in the rear with a wing on top. hehe.. I can put one of these together on a $2000 or so budget, I believe. Also, I met a girl with one like your photo and had a whirlwind relationship for about a month. She was too wild for me. By the way, if you can add it to your article or create one, I will send you the photos of some sharp little Gremlin drag machines.. Thanks..

    • Josh Staff

      I’ve seen a few Gremlins with the 304 and the 401, talk about mean machines. I mean this particular car probably won’t win any awards at the track as is. With a little work I’m sure it could be a real head turner though. If you’d like to send some photos over to me, I’d certainly love to have a look and I would have them a future Gremlin article! You can just send them over to me at mail@barnfinds.com. Thanks!

  10. Tom Cotrel

    De-smogging the engine will radically improve driveability. Put in a/c, re-do the interior, repair what needs to be repaired, patch over what needs to be patched over, put in an updated sound system with Bluetooth and Satellite Radio and use it as a daily driver.

  11. Mike Eurke

    A friend had one with the 304 – bought it cheap modified the motor and his Gremlin could give most other cars a good run for the money.

    • Vince Habel

      They 304 made it a screamer.

  12. Chris

    Our 1996 Ford work truck only has 78,000 actual miles and is ready for the scrap yard. I would believe just about anything at this point.

  13. Mark H

    I actually had one. Mine was a 1976 Levi Edition with 304, automatic, posi rear end, tilt wheel, a/c, power steering, power disc brakes, high back buckets with a console. Bought it for $300, sold for $600, it went to California. Miss it once in a while but you can’t keep all of them.

  14. jim s

    make it a stick and i would drive it. if it had the 4cyl that would be different. nice find

  15. A.J.

    My best friend in 7th grade’s mom owned one in the same color. When I see one I always think of Ramon in Fast Times at Ridgemont High pulling in the parking lot with “Little Dick” covered in poster paper.

  16. Chris H.

    When I was a kid, my dad had a ’72 Gremlin X (silver w/ a fat blue stripe that said “Gremlin X”) with said V8. He did some massaging to the motor (cam, intake, carb, etc.), put some fat meats on the back with baby moons at all four corners. There wasn’t much around at the time that he couldn’t leave in the rearview mirror!

  17. Sic

    Family got one from my Grandmother. Horrific car. Brakes terrible, seats terrible, handling horrible. Run away!

  18. Gas station attendent

    Where’s the rest of your car, toots?

  19. Dave Jacobus

    An AMC V-8 WAS A BOLT IN 304 360 401 were all the same physical size. And believe me a 401 Gremmy would flat haul ass once it hooked up. My 401 Hornet X ran mid 12,s and this was in the late 70,s on G60,s

  20. RandysSpit

    Meh…kind of reminds me of a Lotus Elite…

  21. Jim-Bob

    I have a 1979 AMC Spirit that I converted from a 232 I6 to a 360 V8. It’s definitely not an easy swap today because some of the parts needed have become quite rare. I did mine in the early 90’s, when finding a small AMC with a factory V8 in a junkyard was still possible. The hard part is finding the motor mount plates and the front suspension crossmember (think of a Chrysler product’s K member and you get the idea). I used the crossmember, sway bar and front springs from a rare Spirit AMX. However, the car I got them from had had an engine swap done to it and so someone had welded a set of GM engine mounts to the AMC crossmember. Since it was such a rare part, I pulled it anyway and cut the excess mount off the otherwise undamaged crossmember. It then took me a further 3-6 months to find the mount plates, which I scavenged from a 304 powered Concord sedan. The other difficult thing to find is the alternator mount for a GM 10SI alternator (used on 6 cylinder cars) on a vehicle that came without A/C. Most of the V8 cars used the externally regulated Ford alternators which are wired differently (at least on my 79) and are also less reliable. It uses an unusual Z shaped bracket for the pivot point that lets you use the smaller bolt hole of the 10SI with the larger hole in the front of the head of the AMC engine.

    For a rearend, you can try to find the rare AMC model 20, or go with the much easier to find Ford 8.8 out of a Fox body Mustang and add leaf spring perches to it. There is also a junkyard way to change it to a 5 lug, using Ranger axles and drums. However, you would also need to switch to the Ford’s flanged U joint system since it is incompatible with the U bolt system used by AMC.

    Interestingly, you can use a stock 6 cylinder automatic transmission behind the V8. You would want it to be post 1972 though, as that is the year AMC switched from the dismal Borg Warner automatic to the Chrysler Torqueflite (called “Torque Command by AMC) 904 or 998 in the sixes (and 727 in V8’s). My personal preference would be to use the bellhousing from a SR4, T-4 or T-5 and install a T-5 from a 5.0 Mustang. I got close to doing this swap in mine (90% of the parts), but ran out of interest and funds to do so .

    • stanley stalvey

      very nice article… Good Job.!

  22. Robert

    Must have been a brave day in the marketing department when they chose the name Gremlin…….
    Unlike Lotus, who chose names like Elite, Élan, Esprit, Excel……for cars that were full of gremlins!
    Was this the car featured in Wayne’s World? Or was it The Wedding Singer? I know I’ve seen it on screen somewhere……

  23. Mark W

    Back in the early 80s I worked as a lot boy at a Ford dealership in the summers. I remember we got in a stripper Gremlin on a trade. Straight 6, 3 on a tree, manual steering and manual brakes and zero options. It was the single most difficult car to drive before or since. Didnt want to accelerate, slack shifter, steering and braking effort of a shopping cart with 400 lbs of cinder blocks in it. Handled like it was on wagon wheels. Couldnt get out of it fast enough.

    • stanley stalvey

      Sounds like Mister Toads Wild Ride in Disney World… hahaha…

  24. Duffy

    It looks like .it could use a repaint & some engine compartment detailing Otherwise, leave it alone.

  25. AMCFAN

    AMCFAN as a 19 year old kid had a 73 Gremlin X with a 258 floor shift automatic who was showing off for his friends doing a burnout in the middle of town……. and didn’t see the cop parked near by.
    When the tire smoke cleared the 5.0 rolled up with lights on. I pulled over. Friends still watching no doubt. The cop got out and didn’t seem to be in a very good mood. Was on a donut break my guess.
    The seasoned officer started asking questions right away. Not the standard license/registration, he demanded to know what was under the hood. I told him it was a six cylinder and smiled in a Eddie Haskell kind of way….followed with a “Sir”. He asked me to get out of the car and I thought OK this is it. My first arrest. Then he asked me to see the motor. Perplexed I went to the front and pulled the latch to and raised the hood.
    Proudly. There it was. The blue 258 AMC powerhouse. He looked at it and still seemed disturbed and muttered his patrol car (1980 Caprice) did not run like that. Then he walked back to his car and got in and drove off without saying another word. True story.

    Like 1
  26. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Just so everyone knows the feeling of the time- the Gremlin caused quite a stir when 1st introduced. If my memory serves correct the local dealer was taking orders, no questions asked. This was America’s new small car.

  27. Shilo

    No interest in AMC cars except as a curiosity. AMC died for a reason.

    • RC Paulsen

      Responding to Shilo . . .

      The last car designed and engineered by AMC/Renault was the front-wheel-drive 1988 Premier. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Premier

      The Premier would have been the first “big car” AMC produced since the Matador was discontinued ten years earlier. The “Premier” name followed in the tradition of AMC’s prevous full-sized car, the Ambassador, which was produced from 1932 until 1974. The top-of-the-line Ambassador from 1966 through 1970 was the DPL, which was short for “Diplomat” (not to be confused with the Dodge Diplomat which Chrysler produced from 1977 through 1989).

      It’s unfortunate that Chrysler bought American Motors before the AMC Premier could be introduced, because automotive journalists at the time said the Premier was the car that would have saved American Motors. It was the most advanced AMC design ever, and more advanced than anything Chrysler had in it’s lineup at the time. My father bought a 1988 Premier and I bought a 1988 Taurus. Five minutes into my first ride in his Premier, I knew I had made a big mistake. Chrysler management were so impressed with the product that they insisted on marketing the Eagle Premier head-to-head against the likes of BMW and Audi, rather than the other domestic offerings which it had been designed to compete with. It was a major marketing blunder – another example of arrogant upper management thinking they’re so much smarter than the people under them (who actually know something about building and selling cars).

      To their credit, Chrysler recovered from that marketing disaster brilliantly. They sent the Premier to the wind tunnel and it came out as the Eagle Vision, Chrysler Concorde and Dodge Intrepid. That’s right, folks – Chrysler’s “new” cab-forward models were based on the AMC-designed Eagle Premier, but with Chrysler drivetrains under a new skin. Properly positioned in the market, they became great successes for the Pentastar brands.

      Not since Ford wrapped a sexy skin on a lowly 1964 Falcon and called it the Mustang, had a major automaker so cleverly reinvented an existing model. For those readers not old enough to remember, the original Mustang’s engine lineup and interior were identical to the Falcon. The ONLY difference was the sheetmetal. The same was true of the Plymouth Valient-derived Barracuda, which actually beat the Mustang to the market by 16 days.

      Chrysler management’s meddling in the intorduction of the premier was a “Deja Vu” moment for designers and engineers who had come to Chrysler from AMC. In 1963, they designed an answer to the upcoming Barracuda and Mustang in the form of a sporty fastback version of the 1964 American. The code name was “Tarpon,” and it got rave reviews when shown to the public. Designer Dick Teague recalled car show attendees asking if they could pre-order one on the spot. Enter the “wisdom” of upper management. When CEO Roy Abernathy heard about the enthusiastic public response, he ordered Teague to graft the fastback roof onto the stodgy Rambler Classic because he “knew” American consumers really wanted a car with room for six passengers! It just didn’t look right. Then when Teague was in Europe, Abernathy added insult to injury by ordering the design studio to raise the roof 1-1/2 inches (Abernathy stood 6’3″) and pushed the approval process ahead before Teague had a chance to defy his decision.

      Abernathy always maintained that his reason for insisting on the larger platform was because a V8 wouldn’t fit in the American body, but that wasn’t true either. AMC didn’t offer a V8 in the American line in 1964, but a group of engineers installed a 287 V8 in a 1964 American to prove it would fit. AMC’s 4-bbl 327 V8 shared the same block, so it would have fit, as well. When they pitched the idea to management, Abernathy shot it down. But starting in 1966, AMC’s new 290 and 343 V8’s were offered in the American. (To put that in perspective, the top engine option in the 1964-1966 Mustang was a 289 V8 and the largest V8 in the 1964-1967 Barracuda displaced 273 cubic inches.) If the top brass had stayed on the golf course where they belonged, AMC could have had the third entry into the pony car wars, two years ahead of the Camaro/Firebird, and five years before Dodge introduced the Challenger. In 1965-1966, it would have had the largest V8 in its class. For this reason, alone, it would enjoy a legacy far different than the Marlin’s.

      Fortunately, code names rarely make it to production, because everyone would have been calling the Tarpon the “Tampon” within a week of its introduction. Teague’s choice for a production name was “Rogue,” which AMC later used on a sports/performance sub-model in the American lineup, in either hardtop or convertible form. It was available with 290 and 343 V8’s in 1966-1968, with a 390 V8 added to the option list in 1969.

      As a side note, Chrysler’s management did try to commit marketing suicide with the Barracuda. If the “hired help” who had designed the Barracuda hadn’t stood up to their masters, it would have hit the showrooms with the name the corporate executives favored: Plymouth Panda. (Don’t believe me? Google it.)

      So, Shilo is right. AMC did die for a reason . . . just not the reason he thought.

  28. AMCFAN

    Shito,
    To each their own but AMC didn’t die. They were a very small company that had its issues just like all other auto manufactures. Being small doesn’t equate to inferior. AMC vehicles are not for everyone nor were they intended to be. Ultimatly AMC was purchased by Chrysler. A tragic behind the scenes story that hardly made the news. At the time AMC/Renault was never stronger. They were making profit the first time in years. They had new designs and were introducing new vehicles plus had intended on taking the Jeep brand global (much like Fiat SPA is planning to do) At the time (1986) Chrysler was interested in the controlling interest in American Motors but the CEO of Renault Georges Bessie in France refused to sell. He had turned both companies around and invested heavily in AMC. He knew that hanging on to AMC/Jeep was key for survival. Not all at Renault felt the same way.
    He was assassinated and died instantly taking bullets to the chest and head. AMC was sold within hours of his death.

  29. Gary

    A Gremlin with the v8 used to kick butt on the autocross courses that I used to participate in back in the late 70s. Loud and wild!

  30. Dave Bechtel

    I’m the lucky owner, or at least I think so, of a 73 Gremlin X with the 304 V8 that was a barn find some 10 years ago. Haven’t had a whole lot of extra time and money to get it back to showroom condition. I was able to clean out the gas tank, change the fluids and get it to run not more than a few hours after getting it home from where it sat indoors for 16 years. Have replaced the interior and the tires and rims, basically tuned up the motor and did some brake work and its now a daily driver. The body is is very good condition for a Gremlin with rust in the usual spots. Fun and powerful car to drive. Had always wanted one since riding to garage sales in the back of my grandmother’s as a kid and was lucky to find the X, which I preferred as well as a yellow color as her’s was.

  31. Greg

    I liked the VW Thing better

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