Free Associating: 1977 AMC Pacer Wagon

To know the AMC Pacer is generally to have an opinion about the AMC Pacer and, often as not, to have some kind of interesting mental association with the AMC Pacer. Maybe you think of Wayne’s World; maybe you had a quirky relative or acquaintance who had one; maybe you think of the tagline, “The first wide small car”; maybe you were (or are) bold enough to have one yourself. This little Pacer wagon project car certainly pulled up an interesting association for me, which we’ll get to soon enough; if your associations are strong enough to have you reaching for your checkbook, know that the seller is asking $1,100, that the car is located near Reno, Nevada, that you can learn more here on craigslist, and that intrepid reader Jack M. shared it with us.

Okay, story time: earlier this week, I noticed that the brand name on a tub of yogurt in our fridge was “Mountain High,” which immediately implanted John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” in my head on a continuous loop. I hope none of you have this mental health problem, but I am often driven by this condition to play the song in question to try to excise it, which only works about ten percent of the time; in any event, playing John Denver in my household was a source of befuddlement to the rest of my family, which was compounded further when my free associating brain then drove me to pull up a YouTube clip of the trailer for the John Denver-starring 1977 film Oh, God! If you remember this movie, you might remember that Denver’s dorky grocery store manager—to whom God, played by George Burns, begins appearing—drives a wood paneled ’77 Pacer wagon, much like this one, and it was this, and only this, that I could think of when I saw Jack’s submission. Now that you’ve had this terrifying look into my fevered mental state, let’s move on, shall we?

Overall, the exterior of this wagon looks mostly good, until you arrive at the passenger-side rear quarter and see that a home-brewed sheetmetal repair has been attempted without fully removing the woodgrain appliqué. Not a fatal error, but not great. The trim strips that border the woodgrain are also missing all the way around, and I suspect replacements might not be easy to find. I’d try, though, because the wood is a big part of this car’s goofy appeal to me.

Speaking of hard-to-find replacements, the part of this project that would scare me the most is the poor condition of the “Navajo basket” fabric upholstery. I found one article online claiming that replacement fabric was still available (but costly), but it had been written nearly 20 years ago; do any of our AMC fans in the comments know if this stuff can still be sourced? Again, it’s such a central element to the Pacer’s charm. At least this interior probably hasn’t been rained in; John Denver’s character must have been relieved to have the full vinyl interior in his Pacer!

The AMC inline six under the hood isn’t pictured in the ad, and it isn’t running, either. No word on whether it’s the standard 232 or optional 258-cubic inch version, but the seller’s theories on what it would take to get it running don’t sound at all daunting. Plus, depending on how far you are from Reno, the seller has kindly offered to deliver the car since it’s already on a trailer. It’s not a bad offer; the price is reasonable and, though far from perfect, none of this Pacer’s needs seem to be insurmountable. What mental associations do this Pacer wagon project conjure up for you?

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  1. Tim S. Member

    Couldn’t even be bothered to get it off the flip trailer before taking photos.

    • Kris

      Like 3/4 of flipper cars featured on this site.

  2. David Frank David Frank Member

    This is a puzzle. Why would he list it in Reno, a small city and the land of 4X4s and pickups instead of Sacramento, a much larger city, where it’s located, at least according to the map in the ad. Well, it’s on the “outskirts” of Sacramento anyway. Except it had a Nevada plate. Who knows the mind of a flipper. At least this time the price isn’t too high or perhaps some will think it’s exactly $1100 too high.

    • scott

      Probably because here in California, if you don’t “non opt” the car before the registration expires, they fees go up exponentially…. If it is 3 years out, it’s like $600+ to register, and, it would require a smog test being newer than a 75. It’s very common to list quick flips in another state now. The new “in thing”

  3. Classic Steel

    Waynes world 🌎

  4. CanuckCarGuy

    I recall my late uncle, a licensed mechanic, owning a new Pacer…as I got older, I came to realize that he was rather eccentric. Now as an adult (and a car enthusiast) it all makes sense to me.

  5. Charlie

    I’m on the edge of great old classic, and Wayne’s World was the best time this car ever had, though I believe the baby blue one in WW was not a wagon. I tend to like oddball cars like this for some obscure reason. I had a 1979 or 80 Pinto wagon, no woodgrain, loved it. Maybe the draw is from them bring 2-door wagons. Room for stuff, but not inviting for more than one passenger. I don’t think I ever put the back seat of my Pinto up so it could be used. 68 El Camino, same thing. Currently a CR-Z Hybrid, same situation. The Pacer has some appeal to me, such that I read EVERY BF listing of a Pacer that you run. But, I also know I’ll never buy one. Why? My Odyssey van works quite well for stuff, the car is tons of funi with a CVT, and gets a consistent 44+ mpg. With gas here in Hawaii at about $3.75-3.80 a gallon, I can’t ask for any more.

  6. Howard A Member

    Didn’t see a lot of wagons. I thought it was the best Pacer made. I knew several people that had Pacers and loved them. They would have bought another if they could. We know what they are, but someday( soon?), people going to look at this and say, “What’s a Pacer”? Lookin’ for a future, affordable classic, can’t go wrong here.

  7. Billy

    We rented a new Pacer much like this one for doing errands around our wedding in 1975. A source of humored scorn in later years as our adult children saw pictures of it in the family photo album. Nevertheless it was a hoot to drive, with the absolutely mushiest, least supportive lower seat cushion I ever sat in.

  8. Allen Member

    First of all, congrats to Nathan for a very well-written, entertaining article. I wasn’t going to read it but Nathan drew me in. I have collected MGs for 34 years, but a Pacer is on my bucket list. So is a first-year (1960) Valiant with the tire imprint on the trunk lid, and a 1980-84 Cadillac Seville. I’m sure that says something about me…

    But hey, my bucket list also includes a ’53 Raymond Loewy Studebaker coupe and an Avanti, to park next to a Jensen Intercepter.

    • T.W. Day

      We must be related. Except for the Cadi’s all your cars are on my list with a few more thrown in for good measure. Nash Metropolitan, AMC Gremlin just to name a couple. Hell, 57 Chevy’s and Mustangs are like butts, everyone has one. Who wants to own what everyone else owns.

  9. Gay Car Nut Tacoma, Washington

    I remember seeing these American Motors Pacers when I was a boy. At the time, I found them hideous to look at. My cousin often joked that that’s the car I should be driving. At the time, I was not amused. Today, if he said that, I might be more open to driving the car. I might say “Okay. I can drive the car.” I find the 1975-77 Pacer more attractive than the 1978-79 Pacer. If only there were more photos in the Craigslist ad for the car.

  10. HK

    Among Detroit designers, the late Dick Teague was one of few with a sense of humor. Not Ha-ha, but wink-nod; laughing with us, not at us. How else to explain Pacer and Matador? Once he told his story about Hornet turn signals, you could never look at cars or women the same way. Miss him and his designs.

  11. Mitchell Ross

    Pacer is on my list too, and I’m sure I will get one some day. I did just buy a Gremlin last week, so that is off my list.

  12. Country Joe

    My daughter will need her first car in a couple of years. This car might have some potential for that duty……. But it definitely falls way short compared to the orange 1968 Cuda that is currently for sale in our small town😂😂😊

  13. Frank S.

    What most people don’t realize is the Pacer was rather futuristic looking in 1975. In fact, AMC sold 44,000 in the first three months of availability. Why, you ask? That was as fast as they could build them! Unfortunately the Pacer was as heavy as the Matador. Not just all the glass, it was built as sort of a safety car, so it had lots of reinforcement… which means weight. So it was a smallish car (just as much front seat room as a big car though), but got no better gas mileage than a bigger one. Then the gas crisis hit about the same time the Pacer came out. THAT is what killed it!

    • Alen Member

      Frank – well put! Yes, the Pacer styling was a delightful shock in 1975. I really liked the idea of a small car that had the space and comfort of a large one. But I don’t recall it being advertised as a safety car. Had they done so, perhaps the demand would have hung on for a bit longer. As for the weight problem, how about if they had been made of aluminum?

  14. chad

    pacer wagon’s da best!
    Definatly ownable w/258 (swap it out
    2 da ’66 bronco if it blows the i6 4.1L)

  15. Charlie

    Hey, Frank…. Thanks so much for that info. You’re right. I, along with some other car nuts, did not know that. Being a bit of a Pacer lover that’s very interesting. Looking at it you wouldn’t think it was so heavy. I wonder if it rode as well as a Matador?

    • Miguel

      They ride very well as most wide cars do.

      I have had a few of these.

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