Nerdy-Cool: 1978 AMC Pacer DL Wagon

This l’il red wagon is one of the current it-cars, as in, being so nerdy-cool and hip that it’s probably more popular now than when it was new. At least in some circles.. especially with guys with big beards, skinny jeans, and huge, black plastic glasses. I have a tiny, gray goatee, skinny legs, and regular, boring glasses so maybe I don’t fall into that nerdy-cool group but I sure do love this 1978 AMC Pacer wagon! This beauty is on Craigslist with a $6,800 asking price in gorgeous Cayucos, California. The archived CL ad is here. Thanks to Pat L. for submitting this great find!

If this car had a manual transmission it would nail quite a few checklist items for me. And, the ad also intrigues me, mainly for the fact that the seller says that the, “AC needs to be recharged”. Normally that wouldn’t stand out, but those two extra words, “to be”, seem to be left off more often than not these days. I’m also surprised at some info that is left off of the ad: there is no mileage listed and I would assume that this is a low-mileage car. Any guesses?

That’s one unusual grille. I see that the seller has the Ron Jon surf shop license plates on this car, because, of course, if you’re a modern, nerdy-hip person you’re going to be a surfer as well. It looks like some of the “wood” is peeling and/or fading a bit, but replacement material is available. Or, just let it patina to perfection, yeah, that’s a better option.

The interior appears to be in great condition, both front and rear. The seller mentions that there’s a crack in the windshield but other than the AC needing charge.. I mean, needing to be charged, everything else works. Have any of you seen power windows in a Pacer? I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen that but it had to have been an option? No?

The style and color give the bling, this 258 cubic-inch inline-six gives the zing! Well, with around 100 hp in a 3,300-pound car with an automatic, it’s not a lot of zing, but probably enough to drive to car shows and on weekend jaunts around town. And, of course, to the beach to hang-ten and shoot the curls, and whatever additional surfer lingo applies here.. This looks like a really nice example of a pretty hot car right now. In a year or two some of us may regret not buying cars like this one.


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  1. Rabbit

    The “oddly shaped grill” was because the hump in the hood was added to accommodate the newly available in the Pacer 304. We had a 78 at the dealer for a runner back in 83, & with the 8 it was quite the mover!

    • Tony Waters

      There are two cars that were so bad that one very,

      very rarely sees an old one on the road. They are

      the Yugo and the Pacer.

      Q:Who wrote “The Hatchback of Notre Dame”?

      A: Victor Yugo

      • Fred W.

        Someone else can chime in here if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Pacer was anywhere near Yugo territory when it came to being a bad car. Most Yugos were in the junkyard within 5 years, but 10 years after they were sold, I still saw Pacers running around. I would put the Vega on equal ground with Yugo though.

      • Chas

        Actually, Pacers were pretty good cars, except for their propensity to crack exhaust manifolds and also to crack flywheels. Otherwise they were a reasonably reliable and durable car, despite being an “Econobox”.
        I respected AMC for having the courage to build and offer something completely different in many of their model products which sold reasonably well for a small independant car company.
        Also, Yugo would have had a better reception here in the states if there was the proper amount of dealer support. The Yugo was a Fiat, licensed and built in Yugoslavia, and like all of his other get rich quick import schemes, the importer, Malcolm Bricklin persuaded several dealers to load up on cars, and once they were sold to the dealers and he was paid his percentage, he dropped all support or dealer training, so the dealers were stuck with inventory that they could not sell, and customers cars that they could not repair.
        Malcolm did the same thing with the initial Subaru 360 import scheme (although that plan turned out far better as Subaru really set its sights on capturing the American market despite its initial model 360 failings, and once the FF1 arrived, they were off and running). Malcolm did it again with the Bricklin Safety car as well.
        Yugos failed because they were a very cheap car, crudely manufactured, and imported with no dealer network or support, so when they broke, nobody would fix them.
        Also, at the time, Americans were accustomed to bulletproof, sterile cars that required absolutely no interaction from the owner, as opposed to European cars which required that the owner be an involved and active participating player in the owner/car relationship.

      • George

        Maybe you don’t like the Pacer, but it just wasn’t a “bad” car. The Yugo was a bad car because it was unreliable and fell apart.

    • david

      I have a’77 Pacer wagon. Not a young chick magnet. My teen nieces refuse to be seen in it, the younger 17 year old coveting my ’96 Cherokee. How does that figure?

    • Tim Rusling

      Look at the front of a 2004+ Toyota 4Runner and ask where they got their grill design.

  2. Tom Smith

    Power windows? Looks like manual windows to me.

  3. Chas

    I love the Pacer, but the wagon lines just seem contrived and not as generic and proportioned as the regular Pacer, and that later hood and grill really ruined the look in my opinion. The original Pacer was perfect, and the later changes seem forced somehow.
    Still, this looks like a very nice example of a really cool car at a very reasonable price. Someone should grab this before it is gone.
    I trust that you know the history of the intended rotary engine for the Pacer, and how they had to shoe horn in their stock inline six cylinder after GM pulled the plug on its Wankle prototype that AMC was relying upon when it designed the original Pacer. That is why the dashboard ended up being so long as the AMC inline six was considerably longer than the GMC rotary that the engine compartment had been designed for, so the old inline had to extend into the passenger compartment, and the number six spark plug actually resides under that dashboard extension. Also, pacer doors are asymetrical with the passenger door being slightly (four inches) longer that the driver’s door.
    I have a standard (non wagon) 1975 AMC Pacer in dark green with three on the tree. I love the car, and drive it all the time.

    • olddavid

      I found my personal perspective to be just the opposite. I thought a 1979 Pacer Limited wagon 304 V8 to be the perfect shape and equipment for the car. It was my wife’s and we loved it. Deep maroon with framed wood siding, it was a beauty. Your green car with the stick is a real gem. I’d be proud to daily that car.

      • Tony Waters

        You may be right. I never owned or drove one, just

        found it striking that so very few survived. As a

        rule that means owners did not think them worth

        saving, but there be another explanation. I SIT


  4. Francisco

    Many of you Barn Finds writers have been guilty of omitting the infinitive “to be” in your write ups. I know this because every time I read it, I cringe. My initial reaction is to comment, but I don’t want to be a p. i. t. a. I’m only mentioning it now because you brought it up.

    • Tim Rusling

      I’ve noticed that people omitting the infinitive “to be” come from certain pockets of rural areas. It drives me nuts. “The bumper needs rechromed”. I prefer fingernails on chalkboard.

      • John Newell

        Don’t get me started. Shined instead of shone. Leaped when it should be leapt. Hard to believe the people who have forgotten grade four English.

  5. Frank

    Back in the late 1980’s we had a 76 Pacer wagon, dark brown with wood grain sides. It had the 6 in it and enough power to haul a family of 4 (2 young boys) and all our stuff. It rode smooth with its wide wheelbase but we lived in the Illinois rust belt and even at 65,000 miles, the rust was evident.

  6. ccrvtt

    Nice find. I would prefer yellow as these cars seemed perfect for young hausfraus with 1.4 children. In fact I dated a girl whose brother worked for AMC and that was her ideal vehicle. I wonder whatever happened to her? Probably got married and had 1.4 children.

    And a yellow Pacer station wagon…

  7. John Newell

    The unique thing about AMCs was that their engine compartments accepted any of their engines from small 6 to 401 with almost special effort since externally the motors mounted in the same place and all of the V8s were externally identical but for the casting numbers indicating bore and stock number. So a juiced 401 in a Pacer makes for an amazing ride that can blow the doors off nearly anything on the street with four wheels, get around corners in a hurry because they’re so well balanced so not much can keep up to one.

    What most people don’t realize is how much AMC Pacer technology has influenced today’s cars and especially Chrysler’s offerings. It was substantial.

    • Roger

      John,another thing about interchangibilty where AMC engines is concerned is from what I understand the bellhousing pattern is identical unless you would need the AMC specific 727 Torque Command (same as Chrysler Torqueflite from ’72 on) not sure if the 904 was the base offering in AMC as it was in Mopars or if only a 727 was used at the time.

      • John Newell

        The Chrysler 727 fits behind all of what are known as the 2nd generation AMC V8s. Apparently the 1st generation too since I have a 343 AMX with a 727 behind it. The only modification required for AMC engines pre 1972 is a pilot bearing in the rear of the crank to accept the 727. The 727, 924 and 998 were all used from 1972 to 1987 and required the AMC bell housing for the bolt pattern to match up to the holes in the back of the block.

  8. Jeff

    Whenever I look at a car and the seller says the a/c works but needs to be “recharged” I call Bullsh*t and tell them my offer will be based on the assumption the entire system is bad. If you’re asking a premium price then get the damn a/c charged!

    • John Newell

      A comment that is long overdue Jeff!

      • Sam

        Agreed, net it out of the price with your offer. Anything mid “80’s or older will have a f$@k up with the AC.

  9. Troy S.

    I remember a TV commercial where a chef put this enormous pizza in the back of a new amc pacer! My hats off to amc for giving it their best shot at competing with the big three, those are three tough acts to follow.

  10. johnforsman

    My next door neighbor bought a Pacer in the late 70s. I asked him, “why?” His response I’ve never forgotten, “It’s a 928 Porsche in drag.”

    • Tim Rusling

      Found this:
      “Porsche designer Tony Lapine credits the Pacer with having inspired his use of a bubble-shaped tail end for the highly regarded Porsche 928” (Orange Country Register, 2001).

  11. JimmyJ

    These things have always been the brunt of jokes I always made fun of them as a kid. But it has a strong following and being on this site has given me more appreciation for amc
    What do I know anyways I just bought a Volvo 240 wagon with a5 speed for my son cuz we think they’re cool! We’re planning a small block swap😄

    • Tim Rusling

      Volvo 240s are indeed cool – and arguably better than some of the company’s later products.


    Those doors were so heavy. I would assume they had hinge problems . Very few garages lube hinges latches and locks during an LOF, which being old school, was always part of the job when I did it.

    • Rabbit

      At the AMC dealer we greased *everything* that needed greased. But again, back then, a car never left our service department without getting a bath. The difference between 1983 & today…

  13. Tim Rusling

    As to the issue of power windows in Pacers, they were part of the Limited package on the ’79 and ’80 cars, like my own beige ’79 D/L Limited woody. Extra plush carpeting came too.
    The hood bump was a styling refresh, not really for the V8 fitment. . .there are a number of 304/360/401 Pacers with the early low hood.
    It was a lucky break having the rotary engine cancelled because close to zero of them would still be on the road today. The apex seal issue would’ve killed ’em off early. The car would have been radically different to what made it to production. I love the cars very much as they are.
    The doors are indeed heavy, and the pins and bushings didn’t last forever, though a bit of door-closing technique change accommodates the wear in all but the most severe cases.
    My other Pacer is a ’77 silver and black [factory scheme] D/L coupe which is a long-term project. It has the rarest of the cool options, well, most of them, anyway: Sport steering wheel, factory gauge package including tach by the speedo, locking center console, locking rear luggage cover, factory Alcoa-produced aluminum rims. . .it was a rescue from a field in Alberta. [The floor is great].
    My first Pacer was a yellow ’76 X with even more equipment than my ’77, and we put Hooker headers on the six with dual exhaust, and a B&M shift kit in the automatic. Also added body-colored urethane flares from a Hornet AMX. The home-made rear sway bar helped the car beat a ’78 Vette [on points] through a sports car club gymkhana. Its one day of public glory.

  14. mike D

    never was a big fan of the Pacers, looked like an inverted gold fish bowl , I see this and I see John Denver driving one in “Oh,God” or was that an earlier one? AMC/ Rambler never got over the reputation of being an old man’s / family car

  15. Tim Rusling

    I do NOT want everyone to love these cars because that’ll make them unaffordable to us mere mortals. And since when is a goldfish bowl a bad thing? Now, the Nissan Juke. . .that’s one I don’t get!

    • mike D

      the Juke is a Joke, was listed top 5 most dangerous ( new) cars to drive, a friend of mine was involved in a collision with one a couple of years ago and is still recovering ,, but, you got me though! there IS something more ugly than a Pacer !

  16. Chas

    @Troy S.: Actually, my recollection is that it was a huge submarine sandwich for The Sandwich King. Here is the link of the ad that I remember:

    • John Newell

      Thanks Chas, that was a great ad!

  17. John Newell

    The Vega, Chevette and the Pinto could not begin to compare with the Pacer for usefulness and versatility. Since both the Vega and the Pinto were both death traps, it’s hard to understand why AMC got such a bad rap for the Pacer until you realize how completely novel it was at the time. People don’t often like completely new things. It takes a while for acceptability and AMC just didn’t have that kind of time.

  18. Tim Rusling

    Sometimes a product or style has to skip a generation to find acceptance. Most of the young people I know and work with really like my car. Remember when station wagons were scoffed at? Now they have a new appreciation, possibly because their modern interpretations are the SUVs and crossovers that are everywhere.

  19. Chas

    When I tell either of my two daughters that now that they have their licenses, they can drive the pacer, they both always say: “Please Dad, anything but the Pacer!”
    However, my wife loves the car and drives it all the time.

  20. chad

    Self concept, public image, style, personal preference, and more – these all go into the automobile choice (by consumer) AND design (by the corporate staff’n powers). The car guys’n gals get the benefit (dat U n me).

    I like the Pacer wagon (innovation, use of existing technology) & am embarrassed that Wayne’s World would drive em. Here’s wishing the price was in my ball prk for this listing. Likewise Morro Bay (this car’s locale) not what it wuz when this Right Coast kid visited in the era of the car (1978) – gentrified.

  21. Bill Owens BillO Staff

    Power windows, according to the 1978 brochure, were not available on the Pacer, while power door locks were:.
    They were available in 1979 and 1980 Pacers as Tim Rusling noted.

    I have always thought that AMC had some really nice interiors, but in the 1970’s, a nice interior on cars from GM, Ford, and Chrysler included center arm rests in the front. I’ve never seen an AMC car with front center armrests. Going back to the 60s, nice cars had center armrests in the back. My dad’s 1960 Bonneville had a rear center armrest, but no front center armrest. Most cars now have them in the rear, and most every car has bucket seats in front, with a center console, sometimes with the top serving as an armrest.

    • Tim Rusling

      My ’79 has a very comfortable folding center front armrest. I usually drive with all four vent windows open, my left arm steering and my right arm on the armrest. When we were kids, people would go out for a drive for its own sake, not just to reach a set destination. Almost all the time, this is how I drive my Pacer. . .just for the sheer pleasure of the drive.

      • Bill Owens BillO Staff

        Thanks for letting me know, Tim. Yep, I checked the brochure, and it’s there. I guess it was hard to see due to the angle of the picture.

  22. Dennis

    One thing I’ve always wanted to know… can anyone tell me why oh why couldn’t AMC ever get both bumpers on straight? I mean, really, I can remember as a kid in the 70s counting the number of AMC products on the road (brand new even) proudly wearing their trademark crooked bumpers (sometimes both). This one’s no different… looks like it ran into a tree.

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