Wacky Wagon: 1979 AMC Pacer DL

1979 AMC Pacer DL Wagon

I’ve always been fascinated by AMC’s naming conventions. Names like Rebel and Javelin may reflect the sporty and wild nature of those cars, but Matador and Pacer should evoke aggressive power or out right speed, yet neither car match their names all that well. The Pacer is especially deceiving, as the word pacer literally means pacesetter and for some reason looking at this 1979 Pacer DL I have a hard time seeing it setting any kind of pace. Perhaps it was the pacesetter of the compact econocar class? Regardless of names, these odd shaped cars have been slowly gaining interest in the collector world. This one is claimed to be a running survivor that has been in storage for the past 30 years. After pulling it out of the Colorado barn it is now in Fairfax, Vermont and can be found here on eBay.

AMC Pacer Interior

If the shape of the Pacer is just too egg-like for your tastes, then perhaps this wagon’s more conventional styling will be more palatable. The additional cargo space is also a plus and makes the already spacious interior almost cavernous. For a compact car there was a surprising amount of space in these cars, they are just as wide as some full size cars of the era. Being a DL model, this one came well appointed with plush bucket seats and wood grain dash. It’s showing signs of sun fade and some wear, but for the most part it just needs a good cleaning.

258-inline-six

The Pacer was meant to be a domestic alternative to the economic cars being imported from Asia, but the Pacer didn’t end up being all that economical. It got better fuel mileage than a V8 powered full size, but wasn’t very competitive with its foreign rivals. Of course it was larger and more comfortable, but if your primary concern was fuel efficiency this clearly wasn’t your first choice. This one is extra inefficient as it has the optional 258 cui (4.2l) inline six with a four speed manual. Personally, I would take this configuration over the 232 six or anything with an automatic though.

pacer-wagon

The roof rack and simulated wood paneling are fitting tributes to the wagons of old. Most people probably won’t understand the meaning of these touches though and may just consider them odd. It won’t ever be able to haul as much stuff or as many people as a Country Squire, but the spirit lives on in its own strange way. The wagon may have been killed off by the SUV and the minivan, but we hope to do our part by keeping a few more of these old haulers on the roads. Even if they do have unequal length doors… So, anyone up for a wacky wagon?

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Comments

  1. Barry

    I never owned one myself but back when they were new a co-worker bought one and I thought it was a neat car and still do. Bigger is not always better and these small wagons just seemed so practical. Never drove one so I have no idea what they drove like, this one appears to have a manual transmission. Do you know if that was common?

    • Lindalee Upton

      I had a wood trimmed wagon. I loved that car! It had a wide wheel base and held the road very nicely. I had a deluxe I interior package. Big comfy seats a a great stereo package for the time.

  2. Barry

    I should read everything before I comment, I would then have known it has a manual trans. I must say that the guy selling this on ebay should have used a bit more light on the car when he photographed it.

  3. RichC

    As I understand, (or “if I remember correctly”) the Pacer was designed to accept GM’s rotary engine which explains the stubby engine compartment. When GM gave up and refused to buy licensing rights for the Wankel design AMC was left with the in-line 6, which explains why a couple cylinders are under the dashboard.

  4. Don Andreina

    Good call on the naming thing, Josh. Cute car, but not for me.

  5. Newport Pagnell

    If I wanted an inappropriate AMC badge, I’d go with Gremlin. Sha-Wing!

    • Jesse Staff

      Gremlins were cool too. I knew a kid in school who had one and I can still picture the scene in his front yard when he swapped out a blown engine. It was the V8 model and he always seemed to have a smile on his face when he was behind the wheel.

      • Newport Pagnell

        No hate here for Gremlins. They are a cool looking machines. The name just conjures up “issues”.

  6. Rich Truesdell

    A few notes here, coming from an AMC enthusiast.

    1. Last year Pacer and a short year at that
    2. Four-speed very rare, less than 5% take rate and on a 1979 no less
    3. Very innovative design, either you love it or hate it but station wagon very practical
    4. Passenger door longer than driver’s door, to aid rear seat access
    5. Most interior soft and hard trim, especially in the rear, is made out of unobtainium, with the car being dry stored, ask seller of condition (Trim looks good but dash is discolored)
    6. 258 six is stout but strangled by emission controls, 0-60 takes 15 seconds
    7. Appears to be non-A/C car, with all that glass, a major factor in warm-weather states; factory-style upgrade very difficult
    8. Virtually no financial upside, the best Pacer in the world, with all the right options will barely crack $10,000. Even if this is a clean as it appears, and if it cleans up easily, it’s still going to need all the refurbishment that a car in storage for 30 years will need, figure $3,000 to do it right. If it goes for more than $3,000 when the bidding’s done, I’ll be surprised.

    With all that being said, this is a historically significant AMC car, the last AMC designed fully in house before Renault moved in. Go to a car cruise or even an AMC event, it’s likely you’ll be the only Pacer there.

    Buy it right, don’t skimp on its rehabilitation and have fun. Expect to be the butt of many jokes. Don’t worry, be happy and be an iconoclast. I just hope it goes to a good home, to an AMC enthusiast will fully appreciate it.

    • Alan (Michigan)

      Very informative, great post!

    • Richard V

      Indeed, thanks for the info!

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks for some great info! I appreciate it.
      I’ve been really thinking about finally getting one of my bucket list cars (YES! This is one of them).

      I don’t care what anyone says, I adore this car!

  7. Barry Thomas

    Funny little car, that Pacer. Well maybe not so little. I thought that the “bubble” Pacer was particularly strange looking, but I agree that the wagon had better proportions and I quite liked it. One has to hand it to AMC for trying something different – an economy car that wasn’t economical. Quite the concept.
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

  8. Davew833

    My first car in 1984 was a ’76 AMC Pacer D/L. It was apparently a high-optioned car with a roof rack, rally pack gauges, A/C, a tachometer, extra brushed metal trim on the hatch, etc. It also had the 4-speed manual transmission with the floor shifter like this one. It was silver with blue interior and chrome Cragar S/S rims. I paid $250 for it. It looked pretty nice, actually. One night I was driving around with some friends and the shift linkage fell apart, leaving me to crawl home in whatever gear I happened to be in. It was one of many things that fell off the car in the two years I drove it.

  9. alan

    Honey, I over inflated the 928!

    • Jesse Staff

      Haha, that’s a good one one Alan!

  10. marty

    i am the proud owner of the largest private collection of Pacers in the tri-county area. It consists of a 1977 AND 1978 Pacer Wagons. Both low milage cars that drive wonderfully. Its like driving a recliner with those big wide seats. Seriously though the reason for the first one was 83 yr old Dad with bad hips. That gigantic door allows a ton of room for him to get in and out. he LOVES them.

  11. Charles

    I have not owned a Pacer, but worked for a company that leased a whole bunch of them. I have spent considerable time behind the wheel of various Pacers. Back in the day, they were good drivers, and were far preferable to the cheap imports that they were trying to compete with. Fuel economy was around 18-20 which was not bad when a Beetle only got 25 MPG. Even back than, I don’t remember seeing very many wagons. It’s sort of cute in a strange way.

  12. Robert R. Member

    Here it is again: 1979 AMC PACER DL WAGON 258 4 SPEED – $3500 (GEORGIA,VT)
    http://burlington.craigslist.org/cto/4819345926.html
    “1979 amc pacer dl wagon woodgrain 258 4 speed

    all origional car

    car is origional paint,engine, ect

    we found the car down the road from our house in a dry storage barn. The car has been sitting in dry storage for over 20 years. The guy we bought it from once had 47 of them and this is the only one he kept.. He drove it in storage … Car has never been registered in vermont and has never been driven in the vermont winters. Very solid all origional colaroado car.

    We got the car out and all we did was put a bettery in it and it started right up and we drove it down the road , truley amazing.

    The wipers, heater lights ect all work and didnt need any work!!

    The car is really solid and lie stated origional.

    The only rust spot on the car is the right rear quarter

    this car is not currently registered and has only been driven down the road.

    $3,500 obo or trade, let me know what you have”

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