Cheap Project: 1979 AMC Spirit

When AMC unveiled the Spirit for the 1979 model year, it became apparent that it was a reworked version of the previous Gremlin that the company had produced for nearly a decade. This practice was (and remains) nothing unusual, and other manufacturers have followed the same path over the years. They do it is for a good and sound financial reason. In today’s terms, developing a new vehicle platform can cost more than $1 billion. Therefore, manufacturers need to extract the maximum from that platform to get a return on their investment. Consequently, it is common for a shiny new offering from any manufacturer to be little more than new panels draped over older bones. The Spirit proved that AMC product developers and engineers could squeeze the maximum out of every dollar they spent because the car appeared refreshingly more conventional than its predecessor. This Spirit is from that first year of production, and the owner found it languishing in a shed. It had occupied that spot for more than twenty years, but he has returned it to a running and driving state. It needs some minor mechanical work and a few rust repairs, but it is essentially a sound classic that would make a great first restoration project. Located in Olathe, Kansas, you will find the Spirit listed for sale here on craigslist. The owner has set their sale price at an affordable $3,600. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Pat L, who has spotted another excellent project car for us.

It isn’t clear how the seller stumbled upon this Wedgwood Blue Spirit, but it seems that wherever it was, it had been sitting largely forgotten for more than two decades. When he dragged out into the light of day, he found a structurally sound car with only a few minor rust issues. There is an area at the top of each fender and another in one rocker. The supplied photos suggest that the buyer could address these problems with simple patches rather than resorting to panel replacement. There is nothing else visible externally, and the owner indicates that the underside is rock solid. It would be interesting to see how the paint responded to a wet sand and buff because this could allow the next owner to retain the vehicle as an original survivor. Otherwise, the lack of physical damage and bumps in the panels mean that a repaint would be a pretty easy process. The car retains its color-coded hubcaps, and these are in good condition. Similarly, the external trim and glass are in good order. It seems that returning the exterior to a factory-fresh state may not be difficult or expensive.

AMC offered buyers a broad selection of engines in their 1979 Spirit range. When you look at the performance figures across the board, it is easy to see that the company’s perilous financial position did not allow them to spend money on development to counteract tightening emission regulations. This little AMC features the 232ci six-cylinder engine that produces 90hp. The power finds its way to the rear wheels via a three-speed automatic transmission, giving the car the potential to cover the ¼ mile in 20.8 seconds. That figure was not impressive in 1979, and it is less so today. With some money in the bank, the company would have had the opportunity to perform some development work on their engine range and should have been able to extract significant performance improvements. However, the cupboard was bare, so the status quo remained. The owner says that this Spirit has a genuine 79,000 miles on the clock but doesn’t indicate whether he holds verifying evidence. He has returned it to a running and driving state but says it will require brake work and a carburetor rebuild to be considered roadworthy. If that proves to be the only work required, it won’t take a lot of money or effort to have this classic terrorizing the tarmac once again.

It is no surprise to open the doors of this Spirit to find plastic trim that is faded and bleached. This problem is common for vehicles of this age, and while replacing parts would be prohibitively expensive in a case like this, there are some high-quality plastic paints and dyes on the market today that would match the original color extremely well. The rear seat upholstery is good, although both buckets exhibit some wear and fading. A cheap solution would be to fit some aftermarket slipcovers, but if the buyer seeks a tidy and original interior, a set of front seat upholstery in the correct color and material can be found for under $400. With an additional $200 for a new carpet set, that would make a world of difference to this interior. The faux woodgrain trim on the dash looks respectable, while the remaining dash components and pad show no signs of severe deterioration. The car is equipped with factory air conditioning, representing a $791 option in 1979. That wasn’t pocket change and equates to an inflation-adjusted $2,800 today! It isn’t clear whether the A/C system blows cold, but if it doesn’t, returning it to that state would be worth the effort.

It is a reality of life that, with a few exceptions, vehicles wearing the AMC badge remain affordable. That is the case with the Spirit, and there is little chance that a pristine one will command a high price in the near future. However, if a canny buyer is careful to undertake as much of the restoration work as possible themselves, a car like this can remain financially viable. Restored to a high level, it could potentially be worth close to $7,000 on today’s market. With the current sale price, that means that its next owner will need to be particularly hands-on in this process. Sometimes, a buyer will look at a car and disregard the cost in their quest to have it sparkling like a new penny. This approach has less to do with finances and can be motivated by the desire to own the best example of a particular model that they hold in high regard. This 1979 Spirit will probably suit that type of person, and I hope they feel that sense of satisfaction when they put down the tools for the final time.


  1. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    Good informative writeup, Adam. Though I laughed at the thought of “terrorizing the tarmac” with 90hp.

    Like 9
  2. erik in ri

    My little brother’s first car! Same drivetrain & all, just brown instead of blue. He had it about a week before he drove it into a wall watching a girl walking on the other side of the street & not the road. My Mom’s reaction at the time was priceless… “Well, you HAD a car.”

    That car was a tank though & one new fender later it was on the road again. Good thing it was a slow car or it could have been worse!

    Like 8
  3. Dave Peterson

    The surprising thing was that the straight six was almost the equal of the 304. We sold a messenger company a fleet package of 32 cars and one was a GT 304 for the boss’ secretary and one a six with a stick. The rest were the Audi four with I think a carb. They loved them but had driven Chevette previously.

    Like 3
  4. Bob-O

    This is a nice car and I’ve always liked this body style. If I didn’t keep it stock I’d put a stock’ish 401/automatic in it and add a beefier rear axle with around a 3.23 gear. I’d also lower it just a touch and add a period correct wheel/tire combination. Better disks up front, too. You could do all that for not a ton of money and have a pretty fun and unique car to cruise in.

    Like 4
  5. Allen Member

    What a neat find, with an extensive informative description. Except Adam sez: “… a repaint would be a pretty easy process.” Oxymoron of the week: “easy paint job”.

    Earl Scheib, where are you?

    I do agree that some vinyl paint on those faded interior panels would be a huge improvement. I’ve had a couple of those AMC straight sixes but can’t remember: 232 or 258. Is the 258 just a mildly bored-out 232? At any rate, they seemed bulletproof.

    Like 1
  6. Bob19116

    My last AMC was my father’s 1982 AMC Spirit that I inherited in 1993. So, I had AMCs continuously from 1967 to 2005 when i sold my dad’s Spirit to someone building a Spirit AMX who just wanted the rust free unibody. My wife’s 1979 Concord had rust holes in both front fenders but her 1981 Concord and my 1982 Sprit had no rust. I believe that AMC switched to galvanized front fenders around 1980 or 1981 on the Concord/ Spirit/ Eagle platform.

    Like 1
  7. trav66

    Fair asking price IMO. Wouldn’t take much more work to have a dependable daily driver.

  8. Greg

    Not a bad car for the price. It’s different, but the buyer could make improvements on the interior, then do a little work, under the hood it could be a good grocery getter.

    Like 1
  9. Rw

    Want to make cool bullet proof runner,swap 91 or newer 4.0 HO ,will preform very well.

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