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Fishbowl Survivor: 1978 AMC Pacer

You could always count on AMC to come up with products whose thinking was a little “out of the box”. The AMX, the Rebel Machine, the Gremlin and – of course – the Pacer. To many, it resembled an upside-down bathtub or fishbowl. To AMC, it looked like another opportunity to stay viable in the automobile business. And it worked for awhile as they sold more than 280,000 Pacers in six years. This 1978 Pacer came along as the sales flames were starting to die down. Originally a California car that moved to Wisconsin, it’s back in California again (San Diego) and available here on eBay where the no reserve auction has reached $6,700.

The Gremlin was AMC’s answer to the flood of subcompact imports in the early 1970s. But it really wasn’t a subcompact, so AMC tried again in the mid-1970s with the Pacer, which wasn’t exactly a subcompact either. But if was different, focusing more on the passenger and storage compartments with asymmetric doors for easy entry/exit. The car was also nearly 40% glass, one third more than any other car its size, so no one should have complained about blind spots. When parked next to domestic subcompacts like the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto, the thought-process for the Pacer became readily apparent. The first two years of the Pacer would be its best in terms of sales. But after that, the novelty of the smallish car that was different must have worn off with buyers and sales fell by 50% between 1976 and 1977. The 1978 models saw sales of just 21,000 units, with a third being sedans/coupes like the seller’s car. The Pacer would later achieve a cult following, thanks to its role in the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey musical/comedy movie, Wayne’s World.

This 1978 Pacer (likely a D/L because of its amenities) is said to have just 84,000 miles on it. The car originated in California and moved with its owner to Wisconsin in 2008. But it’s back in California again but with a Wisconsin. No doubt after it’s trek to the Midwest, the Pacer lost its West Coast emissions equipment, so anyone wanting to re-register the car in California will have to think about to get around the lack of a smog pump. We’re told the Pacer still wears its original paint with no rust or dents, due in part to being stored largely indoors much of its life. However, the paint on the driver’s side door doesn’t seem to quite match with the rest of the car. The interior looks nice, inviting and quite large inside, although the car was still only designed to seat four people.

We’re told what’s under the hood is the car’s original six-cylinder engine, which would likely be the 258 cubic inch version rated at a whopping 95 hp net. It’s said to run and stop well, but that lack of horses won’t make this rather heavy car for its size much of a drag racer. A 3-speed automatic transmission was standard fare for these cars. You could get a factory V-8 in later Pacers, which would have helped with performance, but since it was essentially an economy car, takers were relatively few.

Pacers were interesting cars then and always get a second glance now. Try as they did, AMC sometimes missed the mark with their audience and maybe the Pacer is another example. Most any year Pacer will top out at no more than $15,000 according to Hagerty, with one in between good and excellent condition (which is probably a fair assessment of this car), would be between $5-10,000, so perhaps bidding on this Pacer has already starting to peak. The AMC Pacer has toyed with collector status over time, but it seems to be more of a special-interest car. One that could be an inexpensive curiosity hit at Cars & Coffee. Thanks to Ate Up With Motor and AMC Pacer for history and statistical information.


  1. alphasud Member

    Funny to take a picture of this car against a beige building backdrop. Car blends into obscurity. With the beige paint and beige interior I think D/L stands for dull. I like the ones with the Navajo interior.

    Like 1
  2. Arby

    Wow – what’s more exciting than a tan Pacer?
    A tan Buick maybe??

    Like 2
  3. That AMC guy

    Not the best color for one of these (or anything else), looks like government issue. That later Pacer hood design is really ugly too. Hope the A/C works or you’ll really fry in the hot sun!

    Problem with the Pacer is that performance and gas mileage was really no better than a Matador with the same engine. The Pacer is also a heck of a lot more difficult to work on with a piston engine crammed into a space designed for a small Wankel.

    Looking into the garage behind it this Pacer has been keeping some exotic company!

    Like 1
    • Miguel

      Hi Amc Guy. Off topic, but do you know where I can get a gas tank for a 1967 Ambassador sedan? They are hard to find. Thanks

  4. David Zornig

    1978 was the first year for the optional 304 V8, except in Mexico.
    It is why the hood is different than those on the `75-`77 Pacer, changed for under hood clearance for the V8.
    Pacer history below.

    Like 1
  5. Little_Cars

    “Old man tan” as my friend would say. And he would know, he owns a couple of mid-60s Mopar in a similar color. Appears the driver’s door was repainted at some point. Different luster, if you can call it that.

  6. Mont Hunt

    Funny to see that there’s a Countach and a McClaren in the garage behind the Pacer! Odd company…

    Like 2
  7. Joey V.

    This is a D/L model, based on the velveteen crushed fabric interior, And don’t assume it has the 258 6-cyl. The Pacers came standard with the 232 and 3-spd. floor shift manual trans. Automatics were optional.

  8. chrlsful

    waggy only, plez

  9. geezerglide85

    I think all Pacers for ’78 got the D/L upgrade. I had a ’78 wagon, blue with blue and white indian blanket seats. It had a 232 six and 4spd stick, got almost 30mpg on the highway. Great car with a lot of room for camping gear, went to Florida in August with no a/c. After I bought mine my father bought a ’77 wagon (in the fall of ’78 that was a dealer left over, dealer also had a ’76 coupe left over too). The ’77 wagon was 258,auto., a/c, wood grain paneling ect. but was not a D/L, so no padded armrests and what else I don’t know. Both were really good cars.

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