Nicest One Left? 1981 AMC Spirit DL

One of the best and most reliable cars that I have ever owned was a 1991 Dodge Spirit that I put over 300,000 miles on. Oddly enough, we also own a Hoover Spirit vacuum cleaner. Neither of those two appliances are as cool as the 1981 AMC Spirit DL posted here on craigslist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just north of Kenosha where it was made 39 years ago. The seller is asking $6,300 or best offer.

The AMC Spirit came in-between the AMC Gremlin and the Renault Encore and Alliance, so yeah, AMC was known for making some unusual vehicles and going through some unusual deals. They were made for the model years 1979 to 1983 and I can’t remember the last time that I saw one on the street. It has easily been two decades or more, maybe three decades. The seller says that this Spirit has 57,000 miles on it, which is an average of only 1,462 miles per year since it rolled out of the factory.

This car does look good which is an understatement. It actually looks great overall and it looks like new in many areas and from almost any angle. There are only two places that look like rust is rearing its ugly head, on the door sills. If that’s it for rust that would be the best news ever. They mention that the underbody is in great shape with no rust. The Spirit has a great, unique sloping hatchback body style and AMC went as far as to do up an AMX version in 1979 and 1980.

Sadly, there are no engine photos (sigh) and they have it listed as a 4-cylinder so it must be the 2.5L inline-four, GM’s Iron Duke with 82 horsepower. They say that it runs like a charm and everything works. The interior looks pretty much like new from what we can see of it, especially the seats both front and rear. They say that it’s a time machine and it sure looks great. Have any of you owned an AMC Spirit? How about a Dodge Spirit? A Hoover Spirit vacuum? Ha…

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  1. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    Whenever I see “Nicest One Left?”, I know that it must be a Scotty Gilbertson write-up and I just have to read it whether I like the featured car or not. Actually, I like this car and the price seems reasonable. The AMC Spirit and Eagle were very popular in NE Pennsylvania in the 80’s. They tolerated the snowy winters fairly well. Since you mentioned Renault, I once dated a woman that drove a 5 speed Renault Fuego. That car was fun drive, but quite quirky. Come to think of it, so was the girlfriend. Oh well, that was many years ago. As always, great write-up Scotty!

    Like 13
    • Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      You’re way too kind, sir, thanks! A guy’s got to stick with a theme even though it probably gets old after a short while. Titles are sort of like little categories, “Nicest One Left?” or my favorite, “Good Buy or Good-Bye?” Thanks for being a reader and a member, not to mention a regular commenter.

      Like 4
    • John and Julie Bous

      We still have the 81 AMC Spirit my wife and I took on our Honeymoon through the Black Hills.
      It has a Pontiac 151 motor as was listed back in the day. Needs a little work but the body is sound.
      No it is currently not for sale but we would entertain offers.

      Like 1
  2. George Louis Member

    A man Named Bill Templeton owned Templeton Service 11175 Chalmers Detroit, mi He bought a 1981 AMC Spirit , it was white with a blue interior. Bill left the car at the gas station for me to wax it one Sunday in October. It was a nice car and easy to wax. I had a 1974 Dodge Spirit 2,5 automatic, air blue cloth interior. The car was built in Mexico. THe dealer applies the rustproofing process. The blue paint started to lift even though it had been waxed. The entire roof went to rut color once paint was gone. Car had only 104.000 miles on it. Got good gas mileage but I finally had to get rid of it when it would cut out on me while driving. Replaced hall effect distributor plate but it did no good. I could not trust it to get me where I wanted to go so it got scrapped.

    Like 3
    • JoeNYWF64

      I think u mean 1994 dodge spirit. I wonder if you could have swapped in an old points & condenser distributor – or pertronix.

    • David Bailey

      Man!! Sounds like EVERY AMC Carburetor–EVER!!..Sound little cars–Disposable–Plastic-ee, but once you got then going , would run forever!..(My Dad used to swear by ,”..The extra main bearing in the engine..”..)…Owned at least a dozen AMC’s–They were much cheaper than GMs or Fords…

      Like 2
  3. jerry z

    Needs a 401! Perfect car to mod. No way would I leave it stock.

    Like 2
  4. Joe

    I had a 1980 with four speed. Kept up with a lot of stuff on the road at the time. Was a good car. Traded it in for a new 85 Cavalier Type 10. Was a mistake.

  5. David Simon

    My grandfather’s last car was a 1980? Spirit, white, color keyed wheel covers and this stripe kit, with maroon velour and corduroy seats, 4 cylinder, 4 speed manual, no A/C, no radio. I only drove it once, and it was a bit of a turd. I was with him when he picked it up from Wullenweber AMC in Cheviot OH. As I recall it came with radial tires and the first thing he did was visit his Kelly Springfield dealer and get proper bias belted tires installed; he didn’t trust those newfangled radials. Fond memories…I don’t want one, but fond memories nonetheless.

    Like 4
  6. Stan Partin

    Best car I ever owned was a 94 Chrysler LeBaron. Sister to the Spirit. No problem until 185,000 mi when the head gasket developed an internal leak. Since it was winter here in MN & the leak was on the firewall side, I decided to retire her. No rust or paint issues. I miss that car, & still see her about town over two years later. My parents had an AMC Eagle as did the Virginia City, NV police dept. They loved it.

    Like 1
  7. Riddler

    I owned a 81 Spirit. It stands as my example of the worst car I ever owned. A iron duke auto car, that appeared rust free, handsome red coupe with tan interior, would be a nightmare of a money pit of unreliability. I junked it, rustfree at about 83k, running perfect, with a broken rear spring, because I could not in good concious, subject an innocent person to this turd. I was told by numerous mechanics of this car frankenstien construction. Pontiac motor, chrysler transmission, Ford brakes etc. Partial list of never ending problems, rear springs breaking, transmission mount breaking, alternator mount breaking, distributor breaking, car misfiring. Seat breakng, radio speaker goibg out, window rolling down in its own, doors hanging, exhaust falling off, despite not being rotted out. Car kept me broke and borrowing parents cars. Had enough, junked it running great when 5th spring broke. No, it wasn’t a hot rod I abused. Decent looking and MPG. Just deceptive poorly produced piece of junk. Only saving grace was it was not expensive to buy, just to own. I have a similar tail of a 93 4×4 Chevrolet W/T with the 4.3 gutless vortec. A vehicle with less than 39k, 5 year loan that didn’t smoke or leak oil, yet consumed 3 of its 4.5 quarts of oil by every 3k oil change. Told by GM this was within normal range for trucks milage. Weak and unreliable turd. I’ve had better luck with japanese vehicles.

    Like 3
    • JoeNYWF64

      MIght have had better luck with an early stripper Gremlin with peppy straight 6 & points & condenser – if it was not used in bad weather – to prevent the early rust that would occur otherwise – especially in door hinge areas.

      Like 1
  8. Bob19006

    I inherited my dad’s 1982 AMC Spirit after he died in 1990. My 1982 Renault LeCar engine failed under 100,000 miles and the Spirit became my regular car from 1992 to 1996 and then my extra/ classic tagged car until 2005 when we bought a minivan as our utility/spare car. Drivers reclining seat was broken when I got it so I replaced the 2 front seats with 2 new looking burgundy velour seats from an AMC Concord. One leaf spring broke and had then replaced by heftier springs so rear sat higher instead of a little low. Car had the big 258 AMC straight six cylinder which was more than enough power. Otherwise the car was dependable with some oil leakage from the darn AMC straight 6 plastic valve cover. When we bought the minivan in 2005 I sold it to someone who was building a Spirit AMX and he only wanted the unibody as his body had too much rust.

  9. Christopher Gentry

    Dad had a 79 Concord , really never see those any more. Took my drivers test in it in 86. Was doggone near bulit proof. 6 cylinder. Only trouble I recall him having was it ate alternators. He kept it about 10 years. Tuff ole girl

    Like 1
  10. Stevieg

    If anyone is interested in the feature car, I would be willing to check it out.
    I had one with a 4 speed & this engine. I liked it at the time. Other than the drivers seat reclining mechanism breaking, it was a decent (although unremarkable) car for me.

    • scottymac

      What’s “power” like with the four banger? From what I understand, the four banger crossmember works better with a V-8 transplant than the six version. Does Bullfrog still make the V-8 brackets?

  11. Stevieg

    Keep in mind that the speed limit in Wisconsin was still 55 mph when I had mine, but power was on the low end of adequate. The stick shift helped, automatic would have flat out sucked lol.
    I don’t know anything about converting it to a V-8.

  12. Glenda

    I use to own an AMC Spirit back in the 80’s. Called it the Batmobile because it was black and that thing kept right on going. Lost it due to police towing it while it was waiting on parts to get it fixed. Wished I would have fought to get that one back. This car would live well on the West Coast where I live at now.

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