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Low Mileage Survivor! 1980 AMC Pacer Wagon

Before we launch into a review of AMC’s Pacer, let’s establish a modicum of credibility for a car that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. First, Brigitte Bardot owned a Pacer, a wagon version complete with faux wood trim. She could own anything, but she loved her Pacer enough to feature in ads for AMC. Second, a blue ’76 Pacer nearly starred in Wayne’s World! I’ll stop there because Wayne’s World – can’t get any better than that. Well, unless you consider the Pacer’s sales in its first year, at 145,000. AMC was seeing salvation from its financial impoverishment. Alas, the Pacer didn’t save the failing company, but we can thank AMC for trying because now the enthusiast hobby has “the small wide car” in the category of affordable classic. For instance, here on facebook Marketplace is a very fine 1980 AMC Pacer wagon survivor, with an asking price of $12,500. The buyer may want to preserve the odometer’s 27,900-mile reading by trailering it home, but the car is perfectly capable of motoring to its new garage. Steve Hudson submitted this righteous ride to our tip page – thanks!

While the Pacer had a promising start, sales fell off dramatically after its launch in 1975. The last cars were made in 1979; fewer than 1800 were sold in 1980 as leftovers from the prior year. While the styling was … fresh, it was also controversial. The large rear window, accessories like air conditioning, and loads of standard safety features added to the car’s curb weight, diminishing performance despite its six-cylinder motor. The car was originally designed for a rotary engine, licensed from GM. But rotarys were thirsty and the gas crisis punctured their viability, so AMC went back to the drawing board, making room in the engine bay for its tried and true 232 and 258 sixes. Unfortunately, the suspension was not uprated for the heavier engines and early Pacers experienced steering failures. Later, the company managed to shoehorn its 304 V8 underhood. Speaking of underhood, our featured Pacer is just as fine as they come in that respect.

The interior is near-perfect. Clean up that heel mat and polish the sill plate – there isn’t much else to do. The headliner is pristine, and the back seats are wonderful. The courtesy lights even work. This car has a three-speed column-shift automatic. It is badged as a D/L – at first a luxury trim level but by 1978, the base offering.

The wagon is slightly more conventionally styled than the coupe with its fishbowl back glass. But Pacer oddities keep cropping up: the passenger’s door is some 4″ longer than the driver’s door, to facilitate loading; the greenhouse bucked the industry trend with its increased height; and to add a sensation of spaciousness, the windshield was pushed far forward of the front seats. Then there’s that width: the Pacer was almost half as wide as it was long. We could go on – you get the idea. The Pacer is a funky oddity with a dedicated fan base, and one of those fans will think this car is reasonably priced.

Comments

  1. Nevada1/2rack Nevada1/2rack Member

    Ah, the eclectic AMC Pacer, revered by….someone somewhere we’re told. You’re right, Michelle, the wagon does look a little better than the sedan but then the sedan is a profoundly strange design, though not as ugly as a, say…
    Let me get back to you on that. There have been attempts to improve its salability as in this episode of Wheeler Dealers- https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dgNMq4_iFpc

    But, as has been pointed out before, someone somewhere liked it enough to initially buy it-whether anyone else shares the vision is another matter.

    As an aside, the failed engineering designs that you and your team write about that address the issues of the subject machine is a big plus IMHO-thank you.

    Like 4
    • Danny G

      I’d buy it just because it’s goofy and you’re NEVER gonna see another one like it on the road today which makes it really cool. Plus, I think some people underestimate the quality build of cars from AMC. I’d use this unheard of low-mile, great conditioned car as a trailer queen because of it’s legacy. I hope the next owner treats her with the respect and care that she deserves.

      Like 5
  2. Richard

    Where is it?

    Like 1
    • Greg B Greg B Member

      Boise, Idaho. I’m the current owner who has it for sale.

      Greg
      (208) 412-9744

      Thank you Michelle for the outstanding write up, and Steve for finding it to have it shared here!

      Like 31
      • Michelle Rand Staff

        No problem. It’s a wonderful example and I hope it finds an appreciative home.

        Like 14
      • Scotty collins

        Nice ride Greg, check out drukautosales.com he has some nice rides especially a 72 boat tail Rivera

        Like 3
      • George Strunk

        It does have AC it’s a very nice car i miss the good old days!!!

        Like 3
  3. Robert Proulx

    This one’s a beauty. The carpeting needs a good cleaning but the car is 43 years old afterall. Love the engine bay its super sano. Lucky it dont got a/c where would you put it. ;). . always loved amc for the fact its made up of Ford, GM and Chrysler parts and AMC made them all work together. Hope it fonds a nice home.

    Like 6
  4. Frank Chantry

    The more time passes, the less odd this car looks. Compared to a modern crossover, well… Put a modern driveline in this with all-wheel drive, like an Eagle, you might look at it differently.

    Like 7
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Totally agree that now that it’s been around 40 years, the looks have grown on me. I think that’s because today’s cars – with precious few exceptions – are so bland that almost anything that’s different becomes more attractive only because it’s different.

      Like 17
    • 370zpp 370zpp Member

      “The more time passes, the less odd this car looks.” I also agree.
      The other, similar “metamorphosis” is the Aztek. What has been a running joke for years as the ugliest vehicle ever, now practically blends in with half the vehicles on the roads these days. Not sure if that is a good thing . . .

      Like 4
  5. Driveinstile Driveinstile Member

    It is a nice really nice example. And there arent that many in ad nice of condition as this one.
    I agree with Robert. Before he wrote that I was thinking of the GM ignition switch and steering column and Chrysler transmissions etc. ( not sure what trans is in these) And they did indeed make it all work.
    Hope it goes to a good home and gets taken care of the way it has all these years.

    Like 8
    • Danny G

      I’d buy it just because it’s goofy and you’re NEVER gonna see another one like it on the road today which makes it really cool. Plus, I think some people underestimate the quality build of cars from AMC. I’d use this unheard of low-mile, great conditioned car ad trailer car as a trailer queen because of it’s legacy. I hope the next owner treats her with the respect and care that she deserves.

      Like 0
  6. Greg B Greg B Member

    The AC works good and blows cold by the way. I put a new NOS front windshield in it and also found and put in new NOS wiper blades. I tuned it up and added new plug wires, spark plugs, and a new carburetor. I kept all the original parts though. I fell short not doing a good interior detail but it’s still very nice.

    Greg (seller)
    208-412-9744

    Boise, Idaho

    I have videos I can text serious buyers.

    Like 16
    • Bob

      Beautiful car!!! Back in the 70s and 80s my whole family used to drive AMC’s. My father in law had a ’78 Pacer wagon like yours only white. That car drove great. I’d love to have that in my garage, unfortunately it’s full.

      Like 3
  7. Mark P

    Wow what a nice car. In the early 80s there were seven AMCs in the drive way of my parents and aunts duplex at any given time. I’d like to have this but it’s too nice to drive in New England year round. It would be destroyed by the salt and brine used in winter.

    Like 3
  8. CCFisher

    Nice car!

    Kudos to Michelle for the GM rotary reference. Despite the complications, I think the Pacer was better off with AMC’s sixes. GM’s rotary engine put out 150HP, but only 125lb-ft of torque (which is what actually moves the car). AMC’s 232 put out 100HP and 185lb-ft of torque, and was still a bit weak for the heavy Pacer.

    Like 5
  9. Gagagarage

    Pacer was advertised as “the first wide small car;” not the other way around as you have written. Just wanted to clarify.

    Like 3
    • Bob

      I remember in their ads they used to drive a Chevy Nova inside it.

      Like 3
  10. Mike Fullerton

    My father bought a 1975 Pacer sedan almost as soon as they were released. He ordered it with the equipment he wanted. It was dark brown with a tan cloth interior. He ordered the bucket seats and a 3 speed in the tree with overdrive. It was otherwise bare bones, no tinted glass, a/c, ps, pb. I loved the shape then and still do. He put a minimum of 320 miles a week on the car, plus being driven by 3 kids. He traded again in 2 years because of the lousy handling on snow and ice. We lived in Iowa at the time

    Like 4
    • Dale L

      Power steering may have helped with the handling. I worked part time at a liquor store in St. Louis Park, MN on the weekends in the early 80’s. At the time I lived off of 49th, and Portland Ave. S in Mpls. After a winter storm dumped 6+” of snow one Saturday night, I thought I would be stranded. I was going to try, and make it home anyway, in my 1975 Pacer. I got stuck on a side road less than a block from the liquor store. A guy in a pickup truck was nice enough to give me a push. When I made it to the main roadway Hwy 7, I was shocked to see that none of the city streets had been plowed. Traffic was non-existent. I decided to keep moving down Lake St. without stopping, by timing every stoplight. My Pacer plowed it’s way to within one block of my home without snow tires. Portland is a Snow Emergency Route, so I was able to make it to 49th St, or my car would have been towed. I dug it out the next morning. More people should show appreciation for this great car.

      Like 5
  11. geezerglide 85

    I’m a little lat to the party here, but I’ll add in my 2 cents. I have always been a Pacer fan, we had 2 in our family. Mine was a ’78 with a 232 and a 4spd., of all the cars I’ve owned my favorite. Pacer demand fell off quick and reason I believe was because it was so unique. Everybody that wanted one bought one, I know some people even bought a second one. Americans being as fickle as they are were then ready for something else. The problem with cars like this is, how do you update them. The same was true I think for the PT Cruiser and the new Beetle. Sometimes I think AMC should have put AWD under this maybe they would have been popular again. This one is a rare specimen and I hope somebody preserves and take care of it.

    Like 9
  12. JLHudson

    The GM Rotary engine was abandoned because rotor tip wear was excessive. The same problem that caused NSU to fold because of the Ro80 engine failures. Mazda almost lost their shorts getting their rotary motor to last.

    Like 3
  13. Nick8778

    As someone who factory ordered a 1973 Gremlin X as my first new car, (I wanted a non-standard color/interior combination) the Pacer Wagon was something of an aspirational car, ha-ha. As a keyboard player in a band, I would have found all that space back there quite useful! We will never know how much better the Pacer might have been with the rotary it was designed for–we had a Mazda RX-4 in the family for a while and it was amazingly fast. Having a much lighter front end and a much better power to weight ration could only have made the Pacer a lot more fun to drive. I also always felt the wagon much better looking than the sedan. Some called the Pacer weird, I would prefer the term “different.” The Datsun F10, now THAT was weird…

    Like 3
  14. Mitch Ross Member

    Pacers in that condition have been selling for way more than the asking price here. Maybe the later grill hurts the value a bit.

    Like 2
  15. Greg B Greg B Member

    UPDATE

    ***Sale Pending***

    Appreciate all the kind words. I am very happy to report that it is going to a woman that is collecting Pacers and has almost one of each year, so it’s going to a good home!

    Like 12
    • Rixx56 Member

      Fantastic news, Greg B, unless…
      you’re the person who missed out!

      Like 1
      • Greg B Greg B Member

        I’m the seller so all is good 😊

        Like 2
  16. Barry. Traylor

    Count me with the ones like the looks of a Pacer

    Like 4
  17. chrlsful

    this time I had some joiners: “waggy so much nicer!”, “this the 1 to have.” etc.
    I’d add: the 258, aztec or ‘blanket’ covers (the ‘denim’ was nice w/certain body colors), no hood bump, never brwn, etc.

    Not sure how long U had it but thanks for posting a few urself Mr.B.

    Like 1
  18. Greg B Greg B Member

    Update:

    SOLD

    Like 0

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