Fishbowl on Wheels: 1975 AMC Pacer

1975 AMC Pacer

After our Know When to Say No post, we got a lot of interest in the AMC Pacer that Jesse had contemplated buying. While there were a lot of great comments about the Pacer, we thought it was time that we did a proper post about this unique automobile. Jim S was kind enough to tip us off to a pristine ’75 Pacer that is for sale on eBay, so we thought we would use it as our focal point. It’s a great example of the Flying Fishbowl and with a BIN of $3k, we think it’s a great deal for a driver.

AMC Pacer Ad
Photo Credit: HatchHeaven

Oh Pacer, the negative comments that have been made about you! You have had just about every terrible word in the book thrown at you over the years. Yet somehow there continues to be a dedicated following that can see past all the hate and quirky engineering issues. If you step back and take a good look at the Pacer, is it really that bad?

AMC Pacer hatch

Alright, so there are some styling issues, but what design doesn’t have a few bad angles? It wasn’t ever meant to be a show stopper or a trophy winner. It was designed to be affordable and practical transportation. Take the passenger’s side door for example; it is 4 inches longer than the driver’s side. Why? It made loading stuff, especially people, into the back easier. It also encouraged rear passengers to exit onto the curb instead of the busy street. Makes you wonder if Mini looked to the Pacer for inspiration when they added a “club door” to the Clubman

Pacer Ad - Built with you in Mind
Photo Credit: Flickr

The design people at AMC claimed that when they designed the Pacer, they took a different approach. Instead of designing it outside in, they started with the inside and designed the whole car around the passengers. Hence the bulbous rear window and tall roof. There might be some truth in their claims, but many of the design elements were born out of necessity. AMC didn’t have the means to build all the new pieces in house, so the design had to work with existing parts and machinery too.

Pacer Ad - Small but Wide
Photo Credit: eBay

They marketed the Pacer as being the widest compact car on the market and that they built it that way to offer more interior room. It did offer more room, but the reason they made it so wide had more to do with the width of their production line than customer comfort. That isn’t to say that customers didn’t appreciate the added room, as it gave the Pacer the feel of a much larger car. For all the complaints about styling, it certainly did well at dealerships with 145k sold in the first year. Sales were good for a few years to follow, but pressure from more economical Japanese alternatives hurt Pacer sales so badly that by 1980 less than 2k were sold.

AMC Pacer

For the past 20 or so years, the Pacer has been the butt of many jokes, but there seems to be a new found appreciation for them. They haven’t reached true collector status yet, but for those who want something unique or a flashback to the Mirthmobile, clean running examples are getting hard to come by. The seller claims this one runs and drives great and that other than a few minor interior issues is ready to be driven. We don’t see anyone bowing down to this Pacer, yelling “We’re not worthy” any time soon, but we are sure someone out there will enjoy it! If there is anything we missed that you’d like to add or have some fond memories of the Pacer, please feel free to share below!

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Comments

  1. paul

    Everything is a collectible, you may have learned to drive in this car, your mother could have driven you home from the hospital in this car etc. I of all people should know this, I have a Corvair, many people would laugh at such a car. In my case I have had track time & find these quite fun to toss around a sports car track. So it’s a little odd, but so is a Saab Monte Carlo 2 stroker.

  2. rusty

    thanks jesse for the heads up..subscribing… and good followup thread cheers

  3. rusty

    Gottasay I dont think there is any styling issues in my eyes..I just love it’s look..I’d have one here in Aussie but only one thing I fear..cars here are stinking hot in the summer with just a sloping front screen…I’d be a little worried about the heat from the rear screens…hee hee..ah stuff it…as long as it had air..its the rear screens that do it for me. [oh and that rad front.]

    And to think it wasnt that long before this, that AMC in partnership with AMI did sell limited numbers of cars officially here…[Hornet & Matador etc]..oh why couldnt they have held out here a little longer..hee hee.

    Just read a single Gremlin [branded Rambler Gremlin] was officially assembled by AMI and a Pacer imported for evaluation..this accounts for one or the other I came across years ago for sale.

  4. Joe Brugger

    Did the right-hand-drive version have a longer door on the left side?

    • rusty

      hey joe I think the single factory imported Pacer [to Australia] was per factory LHD as an evaluation car where as the Gremlin was a imported as a rolling body and finished with Australian content as previous Ramblers.[ie along our production lne by what i read].It was made to RHD but I believe the Gremlin had both doors equal length??

      I imagine the Pacer would if eventually made here still have unequal doors per US..we have many cars here that didnt reverse features when made here. But this being a big change I would conclude that reason alone as a safety issue would have very likely killed the Pacers introduction to Aussie even if Rambler had been able to keep going here.

  5. Ken Nelson

    My generation called it the pregnant roller-skate, but I did like the strange sill hump on the inside of the doors which served as a grab handle for hauling the doors shut – worked fine. I actually liked the front end treatment where the hood bulges over the headlights.

  6. Robert J

    Pinto Vs . Pacer face-off anyone?

    • Josh Staff

      I like it Robert!

  7. alan

    Just an over inflated Porsche 928.

    At the time the sales pitch was the “wide small car” when it should have been the short big car.

  8. Colin

    If a car isn’t ugly, it might be boring. The “ugliness” often means its different and unusual. If nothing else, ugliness makes it less ordinary and more recognizable.I love Pacers. They were a daring concept and a bit radical in an era of big, conservative land yachts.It was truly a car of the future, only the mid-70s idea of the future was not the same as todays and therefore it looks dated.
    I hope this one goes to a caring enthusiast. Many Pacers are still being killed off in demo derbies and most others have noticeable rust.Really clean, well-kept survivors are extremely rare and need to be preserved.
    As for the Aussie Gremlin, only one was made and it belongs to an American collector. My father saw it on display in Michigan and talked to the owner about it.

    • rusty

      Author: Colin said ” As for the Aussie Gremlin, only one was made and it belongs to an American collector. My father saw it on display in Michigan and talked to the owner about it.”

      thankyou …so no need me looking for it now….hee hee

  9. rancho bella

    I still like them, from new to now. Small yet roomy. Each time I see one it makes me think of George Jetson in the family runabout……….and come on……..who doesn’t like the Jetsons?

    • rusty

      rancho bella said ” Each time I see one it makes me think of George Jetson in the family runabout……….and come on……..who doesn’t like the Jetsons?”

      hee hee..yeah exactly..thats it… thats what is appealing to me…that bubble roof especially as I own a 1959 Aussie microcar that to me has always made me consider it was like a Jetson car but ironically standard versions of my car dont, only my one as it has the only known clamshell hardtop so its the bubble shaped roof that inspires thoughts of Jetson cars .]. ..I guess thats why these appeal to me..that 50’s space look is very appealing.

      On a side note dont it was great to see Astro go on to Star In Scooby Doo…though it was hard believing his fake tan was real as they rarely adventured in any really hot climates…still he kept his accent! [thanks Don Messick] hee hee.

  10. Shilo

    John Denver drove one with God (AKA George Burns) the front seat. In “Oh My God” the movie. Oh it rained inside and not outside. When he appeared onscreen in that car everyone in the theater moaned and laughed. “Oh No a Pacer”.

  11. hhaleblian

    Scatamooch scatamooch can you do the fandago, thiunder bolts and lighting very very frightning!
    Wayne, “A sphincter says what?”
    Politician “What?”
    Wayne “Exactly”
    Worth 3 g’s for that movie alone.

  12. Mark E

    As I always like to say, put a Pacer in reverse and you get a Recap!!

  13. BruceJ

    Only AMC could design a car that looks like a turtle with bad knees.

  14. Tom S.

    I’ve always thought these were attractive cars.

  15. Kenny

    I remember my dad buying one new in 1976. My mom was so exited…the first day she took my brother and I out for a ride (I was 10 and he was 12). I sat in the front passenger seat and my brother was in the back. My mom was driving about 50 mph when my brother shifted from one side to the other. The body roll was so bad it sent the car into the oncoming traffic lane. She recovered and had my brother sit in the middle of the back seat and rock side to side. The body roll literally sent the car all over the road.

    When we got home my mom made my dad bring the car back to the dealer. He came home with a new ’76 Chevy Nova 2dr hatchback.

    • MikeW

      They did have a big problem with the front ends, the rack and pinions were crap.

  16. Gregory

    I wonder what happened to the Wayne’s World Pacer?? Party On!!!

  17. Jim-Bob

    The extra width is actually a kludge. It was originally designed for the GM Wankel rotary FWD drivetrain that never materialized. Thus, the original car was far narrower as it required no driveline hump. It was added at the last minute, which is why the car was as wide as it is. Also, the Pacer used a unique front suspension with a GM sourced rack and pinion unit. All other AMC products used a GM Saginaw manual or power pitman arm steering system. The car was also MUCH wider than other AMC small cars, like the Gremlin, Hornet, Spirit, Concord, Javelin or AMX. Thus I doubt that it was designed to be built on existing tooling. In fact, there is very little interchange with other AMC products of the time as it was as near a clean sheet design as AMC ever made. Only the notorious Wankel engine forced it to use existing parts.

    Now for AMC copying Porshce’s 928: No, they didn’t. The 928 came out in 1978 and the Pacer came out in 1975-a full 3 years earlier. Porsche was not the only other company to use this sort of rear hatch design either as the Jensen Interceptor also used similar styling as did (to a lesser degree) the Mazda 323 and a few others that escape my memory at the present time.

    It may of been the butt of many jokes, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad car. Some people seem to believe they were unreliable because of how hated they were, but this simply was not the case. The AMC inline six and Chrysler Torqueflite transmission were proven parts and capable of hundreds of thousands of miles of reliable motoring. Plus, unlike GM, AMC used high nickel iron in all of their engine blocks so ring wear was not a huge issue in a well maintained engine like it would be with a small block Chevy.

  18. Mark Westphal

    I never had a pacer nor cared for them, however I was once given a 73 Hornet wagon with the 3 on the tree trans, it had three broken windows and a mixmatched door, it was pretty homely but it really grew on me, ignition tumbler was shot so you didn’t need the key unless you locked the column, great family hauler and great workhorse plus decent gas mileage as well, the guy I sold it to drove it from Brooklyn to California with no A/C, he was braver then I would have been though, truly a great little car from the little car company, wish I’d kept her..

  19. Bryan Cohn

    Cars like the Pacer are positively beautiful when compared to today’s carbon copy egg shapes that are ruled by aerodynamics, fuel mileage and the stupid pedestrian hood height rule. Where would the automotive industry be without cars like the Pacer or Gremlin? Modern F1 cars are ugly. Cars like the Pacer are interesting, different, funky but ugly they aren’t.

    Give me a ’78 Pacer or Gremlin X with the 4spd on the floor, bucket seats and 1 inch front sway bar, then stand back while I grind off the door handles going around corners at speed!

  20. yanmarley

    About 20 years ago I owned a Gremlin, great little car and under-appreciated back then. So no problems with a Pacer, however one of my peeves is a seller who acknowledges flaws in the car he’s trying to sell but doesn’t include a photo of the flaw – how bad could it be ? Just sayin’ as it seems to happen all the time – lots of photos of the good parts and only a carefully worded description of the bad. Anyway, gotta go take another pill ‘n chill out. Hope someone has fun with this one.

  21. geomechs geomechs Member

    And I keep looking for the Sandwich King….

  22. Charles

    So ugly, it’s a cute…, little fat fish bowl! I wouldn’t mind having one in the garage to keep the Pontiacs and Fords company. A nice stock example would make a good conversation piece at the rod runs. I drove a lot of those things as rental cars back in the day. They ran very nicely down the road with no issues that I can remember. Well, maybe the AC was a little iffy on a hot sunny day.

  23. Plasticman

    Respect to anyone that drives a Pacer! what is a ‘Pacer’ though?

    • Jan Snider

      A Pacer is a kind of horse known for its gait or leg movements. It’s a two legged run where two left and two rights move in synchrony. It sets a pace and if it breaks pace it’s disqualified.

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