Cheap Project! 1976 AMC Pacer X

The AMC Pacer is a hard car to forget. It had a most unusual shape with its “jellybean” styling, a variety of nicknames like “The Flying Fishbowl” and played a key role in the Wayne’s World movies. This ’76 edition in “X” trim was parked by the seller 22 years ago and left untouched until recently. It runs but is going to need a lot of work to be roadworthy again, much less look good. There will be some arm wrestling to do with the DMV because the title is missing. Located in Santa Rosa, California, this AMC product is available here on craigslist on the cheap for $850. Our thanks to Pat L. for this tip!

With design work dating back four years, the Pacer was a 2-door “compact” built by AMC between 1975-80. For whatever reason, the engineers decided to go with a rounded shape and large glass area and the car’s width was equal to full-size automobiles of the day. AMC promoted the Pacer as “the first wide small car” and was the leading modern, mass-produced, U.S. car design using the cab forward concept. Body surface area was more than one-third glass and 16% more than the average passenger car at the time.

The “X” package was available on the Pacer coupe between 1975-77. It came with vinyl bucket seats, a sports steering wheel, custom trim, a floor-mounted shifter, and a front sway bar. Add to this some exterior chrome, styled wheels, and Pacer X decals. We don’t know how long the seller has owned this car, but there were 117,243 other Pacer coupes and sedans built-in 1976. He parked it in a barn around 1999 when it began overheating and using water but was still running.

Fast forward to 2021, the seller put a new battery in the Pacer, and it started up. The fuel pump has conked out, so it must be manually fed to idle. The overheating problem hasn’t been addressed but a bad head gasket is the primary suspect. Add a new master cylinder to the to-do list and probably anything rubber on the car. The body is straight and there is some rust on the hood and under the rear hatch, so there is more than paint that this car needs.

I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of dealing with the California DMV with a lost title on a car no longer in their system. The buyer will get a bill of sale, a “statement of facts” and an application for a duplicate title.  These cars haven’t appreciated greatly over the years with the top end being $16,000 according to Hagerty. But the price for buying into this car is cheap enough to leave some room for much of the work needed to get this rolling jellybean up to snuff again. Would the asking price motivate you to take this project on?


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  1. Sam Shive

    two words ….demo derby

    Like 3
    • AMCFAN

      Sam, Two more words. Dumb Move.

      Like 13

      1. First, you have to make it run.
      2. NOT a great vehicle for a demo derby – too short. Very short overhangs at BOTH ends means that your mechanical systems will be affected in VERY short order after a hit.

      Like 1
      • DON

        In states where rust isnt a big issue ,these and Gremlins are still put in compact derbies because they are very tough cars.

  2. David Zornig

    It is more likely the DMV told him to order a duplicate title in his own name before selling it, but did not do so because it is cheaper to pass the process on.

    Like 2
    • Steve R

      The DMV website lists about 20 steps needed to get a new title, they won’t accept photo copy’s so even if the seller has owned the car for decades, he needs to prove it with some form of original documentation. There are some expenses and a fair amount of effort involved. For $850, the seller is just going to blow it off as too much hassle and let whoever buys it sort it out.

      Steve R

      Like 3
      • Miguel - Mexican Spec

        If the car is still in the DMV computer, all the registered owner need to do is sign the paper saying the title is lost.

        If the car is no longer in the computer, that is going to be much harder.


    Several things. The price is fantastic. An X package bought you the sporty bucket seats and floor shift and cool wheels. This is a manual. Another plus. I do see rust and that is bad. The no title is an issue that with some leg work wouldn’t be one. In my years of buying deals like this pop up. I would take advantage.

    The only downside is the interior is going to be pretty crispy. Don’t plan on picking an 1-800 build a car catalog. Seat covers and maybe carpet. Don’t plan on much of anything else. For the money it is a steal and well worth saving. Whats one more car?

    Like 8
  4. That Guy

    New title is pretty straightforward in California. A few documents and a VIN inspection by the Highway Patrol is about the extent of it.

    Like 1
    • Miguel - Mexican Spec

      That Guy, that tag on the rear plate looks pretty old.

      If the car is not in the computer anymore, it is going to be difficult to get the title.

  5. Dave

    Some folks make a big deal out of a no title car. Connecticut doesn’t require or even want to see a title on a car 20 years old and older.

    Weird thing about the Pacer, the passenger door is bigger than the drivers door

    Like 2
    • JMB#7

      As a two door, it would be the side that most people enter the back seat from. Makes sense to me. Why did mini-vans have the sliding door on the passenger side only (originally). Same line of thinking.

      Like 3
    • George Louis

      That is not weird it is an engineering feature that allowed for easier access getting in or out of a vehicle. A smart move by the AMC People at the time and could be applicable for some vehicles today.

      Like 2
    • DON

      CT. has a form called a Q1 ; its for a sale of motor vehicle in absence of a title . Other than the usual attitude of the DMV, I’ve had no issues getting cars registered .

    • Miguel - Mexican Spec

      Dave, if an out of state car comes in to CT, they would require the title to prove ownership.

      From there the car wouldn’t have a title.

  6. Michael T Freeman

    I didn’t notice that for years until a friend ended up with one from an older aunt. Supposedly it was done to “encourage” passengers to load on the curb side of the car.

    Like 1
  7. George Member

    The unusual dimensions of the pacer are in fact, its reason for being

    By the late 60s, there were many American consumers tiring of the ever larger Detroit products. The Pacer was designed to provide the interior of a large American sedan in more manageable dimensions. The asymmetrical doors helped entry and exit for this smaller car with a large interior

    The Pacer was designed just before the fuel crisis, It was to have been powered by GM’s Wankel and it was designed to meet future rollover standards, resulting in a very heavy car

    The result was a smaller car that didn’t get very good gas mileage at a time when gas mileage was the main thing consumers were looking for. It was a victim a very poor timing

    Like 2
    • JMB#7

      The original plan was to use the Curtis-Wright Wankel engine. Then AMC decided to go with the GM Wankel engine, but later GM dropped the development of their Wankel.

      Like 1
  8. David Bailey

    I’ve loved all different cars my whole life but growing up in NorthWest Detroit a mile from AMCs massive World HQs on Plymouth Rd., I “chose” AMC/Rambler as my go to car. That being said , although my wife and I bought identical except for color 1977 Hornet-X’s, I never could figure out the Pacer’eggs’. Especially the station wagon vs. 2 doors. I STILL hear my Dad saying how good the Rambler/AMC 6 cylinder engine was because it had an extra(?) main bearings?…

    Like 1
  9. RC Paulsen

    AMC’s straight six engines had seven main bearings, meaning every crank throw was supported. Some of the competition only had five.

    Like 10
    • Rick

      Some of the competition had only four main bearings, such as the Chrysler Slant Six.

      Like 3
      • George Louis

        Evidently, the “ENGINEERING” was correct as the slant six was able to go for “Miles and Miles and Miles” on four main bearings as many will attest to!!!!

        Like 1
  10. Howie Mueler

    Now i see why its only $850.

    Like 1
  11. Karen Bryan

    Somebody in AutoWeek, years ago: “A lousy car, but a great terrarium.” $850 is about $849 too much.

    Like 1
  12. Steve Clinton

    Dealing with the California DMV is the last thing you want to do.

  13. Steve Clinton

    The last thing the gas station attendant heard before he was seen running for the hills “Check the oil and clean the windows for me, please.”

    Like 1
  14. chrlsful

    I’m with those above who say goferid. BUT only as a waggy. How can there be such a big difference? I don’t know, but like the jeep (only a CJ-8 or scrambler) only the wagon here. No ‘hood bump’ on this 1. The i6. Not sure the “X” came in wagon. And as DD I’d want the auto as shifting w/ a coffee in ur hand is tough, otherwise, I’m “on” w/it…

  15. MitchRoss Member

    Good price on an X. AMC motors in excellent condition can be had for less than $500 if you don’t want to bother doing a head gasket. The seats look ok but the main problem with these is the interior plastic which crumbled in the sun. I have the same car but Red with white inside, more rust but I paid $300 less for it, which is incedental when you’re going to spend another $7000 fixing it.

    Like 2
  16. Kevin

    Wow it’s even uglier than the matador, and cheap as heck,my buddy had one in the eighties, and bumped a curb with it,and bent the tie rod,were talking at pretty low speed,ugly junk!

    Like 1
  17. Patrick Farmer

    They look cool as hell with a chopped top.

    Like 1

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