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Compact Hatchback Showdown: Gremlin VS Pinto

Compact Wagons

Oh, how the times change! At one time people looked down on compact cars and hatchbacks. It seems that people are now becoming more aware of things like handling, character and practicality than they use to be. We have also noticed that cars that were once uncool and unloved are starting to be seen as classics worth saving. Sure there are still those out there that look down on anything that isn’t a Camaro, Mustang, or Corvette, but more and more drivers are starting to see that there are other cars out there that can offer more. They may have even seen some of these cars years ago but turned their backs on them and called them junk, but the stigma with many of these cars seems to be diminishing.. No group of cars has been hated and mistreated more than the compact wagons and hatchbacks of the 1970’s. After Jim S tipped us off to the 1977 AMC Gremlin X here on eBay, we went out on a hunt for another equally unloved compact, but one with a few characteristics that may appeal to a different crowd. We thought it would make for a rather interesting comparison and a good conversation. The 1973 Ford Pinto we found here on eBay seemed like a rather fitting competitor.

Compact Showdown Motors

A quick glance at our competitors and you will notice that the only thing that they really share in common is their general shape and the fact that they were looked down upon from day one. Now that isn’t to say there weren’t people who saw their potential. If there hadn’t been, we probably wouldn’t have either car in their current conditions. The Gremlin was obviously owned by someone who appreciated it for what it was and took good care of it. The Pinto’s owner on the other hand saw the potential of what it could become, which led to it being modified for drag racing. Under the Gremlin’s hood is an Audi sourced 2.0 liter straight-four powering the rear wheels and offering 33 mpg on the highway. Wedged between the Pinto’s fenders is a 302 cui V8 that has been modified for racing. Unlike the Germlin, which was actually offered with a V8, the Pinto was never sold with a V8 from the factory, but that didn’t stop many owners from fitting them into the engine bay. In a straight line this race wouldn’t even be close, that is if the Pinto doesn’t burn all of its fuel first or suffer a catastrophic failure.

Compact Showdown - Interiors

The interiors of both of these little cars look to be in nice shape. Both look original, although the Pinto has had a different shifter installed and a tachometer added to the dash. One would think the interior of the Pinto would have been stripped to the bare essentials or at least upgraded with more safety equipment. Surprisingly, the Germlin has the more sporting interior of the two. While we think the bright green upholstery clashes with the bright yellow paint, we can’t help but love the way the Gremlin’s interior looks. It would look perfectly at home in a GTi or any other European hot hatch. The Pinto on the other hand, looks like its interior was taken from a family hauler.

Compact Showdown Winner

While both of these cars have their pros and cons, we have always been fans of the Gremlin and the originality of this one wins us over. We appreciate the Pinto and we can only imagine how exhilarating this modified one could be, but getting it safe and reliable is going to be a massive undertaking. While it would be fun to see the look on people’s faces when they hear that V8 and get beat off the line by one of the most unloved cars of all time, we think the Gremlin X would be a better choice as a daily driver. We all have our own tastes and goals, so if you love the idea of blasting off in a V8 powered Pinto don’t let our decision stop you! We just hope the next owners of both cars will get in touch and keep us updated on what becomes of them! So now that we have claimed this Gremlin victor, do you agree with our decision or would you crown the Pinto instead?


  1. Will

    I prefer the Gremlin also. I only wish it had an original v8. The only problem I have with either car is the attitude of the haters. And that problem is with the haters not he cars. I love the normal cars of the day. Not the over abundance of muscle cars most people today believe everyone drove back in the day. I know “they suck” I’d rather walk” and so on will rule this thread. So let the hating begin. Gremlins and Pintos were great cars for what they were made for. Which was basic everyday transportation. They were never meant to be compared with muscle cars. (or made into them). Does anyone doubt the direction this comments section will take? Have your fun haters.

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  2. Mark E

    I’ve always loved Gremlins but given a choice of these two cars I’d take the Pinto just because of the outrageousness factor. Back ‘in the day’ I remember seeing a Chevette dragster that someone had shoehorned a big block Chevy ‘rat’ engine into and the idea of shoving the largest engine into the smallest possible car just amused me. Not that I have even gone to drag races, mind you. Perhaps it’s growing up with Big Daddy Roth’s exaggerated ‘weird-oh’ cars??

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  3. Mike D

    If it were an earlier model Gremlin, I would have chosen it, but, I have to go with the Pinto. It would be hard to disguise the Pinto’s V/8 power on the street as shown. I am sure it would smoke the competition at the track.

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  4. Andrew Minney

    Actually in a perverse way I like both of these cos many people don’t!
    But for that sheer bizarre factor how about a Pacer


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  5. Ho Dad

    No doubt about it, I’d take the Pinto.

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  6. RandyatBBY

    I think the design in general was just ahead of it time like the Chrysler Air Flow. Now we look at it a little different.

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  7. jim s

    after a PI to make sure the miles are right and no rust i would go with the gremlin i sent in. with the 4 cyl the nose weight is better then the 6 or V8 and since it is a VW family motor you could swap for a lot of other interesting motors like a TDI. if you do not need a/c this car is at $3050 with no reserve. what ready to go daily driver can you get for that kind of money.

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    • Robert J

      Keeping in mind that if you were to actually swap in a modern engine it would easily end up costing $10,000. That is with you doing the work yourself.

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  8. Privateergm

    The Gremlin is fairly stock. The Pinto has been heavily Modified. How about comparing a 78 V6 Pinto Rallye against a Inline 6 Gremlin.X That would be a fair fight. And it would be about equal. I have owned a few Pintos (still own the 78 Rallye) and my buddies used to own Gremlins since I lived just south of Kenosha. The better test would be either against a B210 or a CVCC or a Corolla of the time period. Only the Corolla SR 5 would stand a chance and the three rice burners would be rotted out before you could make the last payment.

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  9. Todd Zuercher

    Contrary to what the article says, you could get a V8 in Pintos in later years.

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  10. JW

    If I wanted a daily driver definitely the Gremlin, it’s cool cheap on gas and looks to need no work. Now because I love fast cars and drag racing the Pinto would be my choice because I have a daily driver already. I had a friend at work in maintenance who dropped a 327 in a Vega, that car screamed but he couldn’t keep rearends in it so he sold it. Yes these cars were uncool back in the day but a few of us knew what with a little modifications they could be cool. I would keep that 70’s paint job on the Pinto also.

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  11. mike

    THIS pinto is joke.never cared for the fastback type one.once owned a 79 wagon.they were much better looking and useful.the gremblin…you should have found an earlier one..better looking.plus you could make a replica of the IMSA team highball cars.258 6cyl 4speed.AMC said the 4 speed was an ”option” on the 258 6cyl but the buying public could never get one that way..streching the rules a bit back then.saw them in action way back then.quick reliable cars.oh the memories…

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  12. St. Ramone de V8

    The Pinto is interesting to me. When I was a teenager(WAY back) we could get Pintos or Vegas and do crazy swaps. Vegas were easily available as the tin foil engine was really only good for two years. I had a 72 GT that I used a Doug Thorley kit to shove a 327 into it. Kits for Pintos were rare, so build quality was random. Either one when done right was scary fast! Did we upgrade brakes? Suspension? Hell no! I’ll take the Pinto, make my peace with God, and hold on…

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  13. Mark

    In Southern Oregon where I live Pintos and Gremlins are still fairly common on the street. Vegas, Astras,Monzas and the other GM sub compacts are rarely seen and most of those around have had a V8 heart transplant. I am a Ford guy but I wouldnt be ashamed to drive that Gremlin.

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  14. Don Andreina

    hmmm… Not sure, not sure. I shall wait for the advice of the BF restomod consigliere; Jim Bob.

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  15. Jimmy

    Gremlin everytime, always liked the underdog from Kenosha. Though Id prefer an original engine or maybe a Toyota straight 6.

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  16. Dave

    Simply put, I’d take the Gremlin.

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  17. Mark

    I had a 76 Levi Edition Gremlin with a factory 304, posi, automatic, a/c, power steering and brakes, etc. Only thing wrong with it is that I sold it long ago…..

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  18. Jim-Bob

    I’d take the Gremlin. Why? Well, I am an AMC freak so I am sort of biased, but also because of the one engine swap I always wanted to do to one of these 2.0 Gremmies. That swap is to the turbocharged version of this engine, as seen in the Porsche 924 turbo. Add an intercooler, and modern engine controls and you would definitely have a one of a kind German American hybrid.

    As for the Pinto, it’s cool too, but I would want one with a EFI turbo 2.3 out of a Mustang SVO, T Bird turbo coupe, Cougar XR-7 or Merkur XR4Ti (Ford Sierra). Add more boost and a front mount intercooler and you’ll have a fun little street car that won’t break the bank either in component costs or fuel consumption.

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  19. Jim-Bob

    I just looked at the Pinto again and man. That thing is COOL! The vintage street machine vibe is just the sort of thing I would have wanted back in high school. I don’t think I would change much with it except for what is needed to make it reliable. I might make the wheels match, but can’t decide if I would want the Ansen Sprints (slot mags) or the Centerline Auto Drags. I tend to think the Centerlines because the paint scheme screams 80’s more than 70’s.

    The other thing is that I just know the haters will hate it. Fortunately, a V8 Pinto packs enough of a wallop that all they’d see are it’s tail lights.

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  20. thefatkid

    Without question hands down it would have to be the Pinto. I had a gremlin and I did an oil change after mid-night and got it wet, it turned into a citation X-11… Plus I agree with Jim-Bob a V-8 in a small sled like a pinto, the hater will seen nuttin’ but tail lights.

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  21. whiskey runner

    i like the gremlin.. i even still have one out back along with a pacer wagon and 2 javelins and a matador..:).. in the late 70’s i bought a older gremlin that already had a 304 in it.. so of course i found a 70 model 401 and 4speed to replace the wore out 304.. drove it for a few weeks till the N50 dot drag tires wore out then sold it to get the cash for my first javelin.. but it was fun while it lasted..ha ha ha

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  22. Ted

    Id prefer a Gremlin.although never owned one .I did have a 73 Pinto wagon before it wasn’t what Id thought it to be when I bought it Later on a few months Id sold it never own another one.

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  23. seguin

    There seems to be a bit of confusion in the comments. The Audi-sourced 2.0L is original to the Gremlin. This was before AMC’s own 4cyl – they were trying to get a powerplant with good gas mileage and bought some from Audi. Unfortunately, the Audi 2.0s were extremely unreliable and parts prices were, well, Audi parts prices, so not many left the factory with it.

    I believe that they went this route because of the Pacer. They wanted GM’s Wankel, and when they didn’t get it, they had to make do with their six-cyl until they found the Audi, which turned out not to be so great.

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    • Jim-Bob

      AMC never used it’s own 4 cylinder engines in any of it’s passenger cars. In 1980, they switched from this engine to the Pontiac 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” 4. Later on, AMC/Renault would go on to cut down the AMC straight six for a four cylinder engine that would be used in various Jeep models.

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  24. dj

    I liked the 76 back Gremilin. It looked better and the X Rally Pack came with different wheels and a different stripe than this. Plus you could get the factory 304 V8 in it.

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  25. Barry Thomas

    The Pinto’s garbage. I really like the clean look of the Gremlin, so that’s the “money car”. The Pinto looks like so many of those hot rodded cars of the ’80’s. Wonder if it can do a wheelie?
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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  26. privateergm

    V8 engines were never a option in the Pinto. In fact in 1980 only the 2.3 was available. They had quit offering the 2.8 V6 by then. If you see a Pinto with a V8, it is a cob job. Now some cob jobs are very well done, but it is a cob job nonetheless.

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  27. DT

    Jess,buy the Pinto and put the running gear in your Mustang

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  28. AMCFAN

    Pretty mismatched pair. A 4 cyl Pinto Vs. 4 cyl Gremlin. Even better a Maverick Vs. a Gremlin. I’ll agree the Pinto is giving me a 70’s vibe and I like it too. 302 in a Pinto was a popular engine swap as was adding a small block to a Vega in the day. But the Pinto looks very beat. To make it nice will take alot of work.

    The Gremlin on the otherhand looks like it just needs someone behind the wheel. The 77/78 Gremlins have been generating interest as nice examples have been bringing decent money. The latter Gremlins like this are harder to find. They were very prone to rust. In 1979 AMC installed plastic inner fenders on the Concord and Spirit that ended the rusted out fenders and doors. These can be installed on the earlier Hornets and G’s.Highly recomended.
    Closer inspection revels
    The Audi 4 cyl. kills it. You could get a 4 speed in a 77 Hornet AMX with a 6 cyl and that combo would have been offered on the Gremlin also. Wouldn’t need a V8 with that package. Would be incorrect as the V8 was last offered in the Gremlin in 1974. A few in 75 were reported made.
    The dog dish poverty hubcaps and steelies would not be correct with the X package. The rims would not be painted body color, The grille would have been silver. The upper door panel is painted body color and should be low gloss black. I would need to see the trim tag as with everything adding up I question the side stripes. Never seen black on yellow. Should be white stripes. With a set of AMC Ralleys would make it pop and would still make a great driver. The King Kong 2 gen Grem would be the rare low production GT package offered in 78

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  29. steve

    Pinto! I recall the 76 vegas had a red white an blue theme available. It would have been a harder choice if the Gremlin had the 304 engine though.

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  30. AMCFAN

    Most all auto manufactures had Bicentennial editions,

    The 304 wouldn’t have been an option for the Gremlin in 77. It was last offered in 1974. A few were made in 75. A 304 was offered on the 77 Hornets 78 Concords and 79 Spirit. These were available as an AMX package option.

    A V8 Crossmember and V8 coil springs you could easily swap in a 304. But why stop there. You could install a 360 or 401 with the same effort.

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  31. jim s

    gremlin sold for $3800, did anyone on the site buy it?

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  32. Sunday Driver

    I think the comments have been favorable. It shows, like the article says, that peoples opinions have been changing on these cars.
    I agree with the basis of your statement. People gave these cars no respect. Not the case anymore. Thank the baby Jesus that so many were made!

    That Gremlin was not too far from me. Wanted to bid so bad!

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  33. Will

    I guess I stand corrected. The haters held back this time. How pleasant.

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  34. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

    Both cars have SOLD!

    Pinto – $2,550
    Gremlin – $3,800

    Looks like the Gremlin won the fight!

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  35. Bill

    In high school, circa 1976, a friend let me drive her blue Gremlin V8. It was a snowy day. The car was very light in the back and skidded all over the road. A big change from the 72 LTD 400 wagon that I normally drove. I would be fun to get to drive that Gremlin again (and of course, the Ford).

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