What Is It?

What is it?

Last week’s photo showed the 1974 AMC Gremlin, and it brought in responses from readers far and wide. Many even spotted it as the X model.


Several readers thought it was the larger, rounder AMC Pacer, and a few hazarded other guesses, but many others had indelible memories of the Gremlin, which was produced from 1970 to 1978.

Chosen randomly from the correct entries was Erich Prahl, of Augusta, who said his friend used to have one in Maryland, and they took out the six-cylinder and put in a Chevrolet 283-cubic-inch V-8:

“Good memories. We put a bigger engine in it and used to race it in. He won a couple of drag races.”

Prahl wins a prize from The Augusta Chronicle. Other readers identifying the vehicle were:

AIKEN: Craig Hemrick said: “We rode up and down the road all the time. I have a lot of stories – but I can’t tell you much of them!”

Bob Hottel wrote: “This week’s car is a Gremlin, made by American Motors Corp.”

AUGUSTA: Gary Engen wrote: “It’s a Gremlin by American Motors Corp., probably an X-Package model. The Gremlin was an ingenious idea, supposedly sketched by the designer on a napkin. American Motors didn’t have the resources to design a subcompact from scratch, so the designer basically chopped the back off the company’s Hornet sedan and shortened the wheelbase 12 inches to 96 inches. The car was a creative and well-executed way to create new products out of existing ones.”

Victor Loftiss wrote: “These were ‘econoboxes’ from that time, and over the years I’ve seen a number of them turned into drag racers in order to say good riddance to their former status (plus, it’s hilarious to see a car that ugly go really, really fast).”

Donnie Davis wrote: “What a car. My sister once dated a guy who drove one of these ugly
ducklings, and the driver door would not open! She had to let him in first and then he would crawl over the console to sit in the driver’s seat. Oh, the wonderful memories.”

Lee Casey wrote: “A neat-looking car!”

Pat Walsh wrote: “The make and model for the 1974 is an AMC Gremlin X.”

L. Helmly Jr.,whose first car was a 1942 Chevrolet that he bought just after World War II, said his son-in-law owned a Gremlin. He pointed out that the X model had a straight six-cylinder of 258 cubic inches.

Gerald Byrd said: “Of course, it’s a Gremlin. I knew that right off the bat. I had to show it to my wife, Pam, and she took one glance and said. ‘I know that’s a Gremlin.’ She had a red one, and it was one of her favorite cars. She talks fondly of it, and all the Gremlins I knew had girl drivers.”

Lowell Fritsche said: “It was a car brought out to try to capture a part of the compact market. It had some innovation on it, sold pretty well. If you could get one with a V-8 it was pretty hot car.”

Also: Max Blanco.

CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “If you lived through the 1970s, you know the AMC Gremlin. Both loved and reviled, it is absolutely unforgettable once you have seen one.

“As maligned as it is, by all measures, the Gremlin was a successful car – and remember it was the ’70s. The fuel crisis was setting in upon us, a flood of imports was hitting both shores and Detroit was responding as quickly as it could throw and manufacture a new design together. Quality and safety were only secondary concerns of the day, as the mantra was to get them to the dealer sales floors. The automotive magazine test reviews were mostly positive towards the Gremlin in its introductory year.

“AMC beat both Ford and Chevrolet to the punch with their small car offering of the Gremlin by several months in 1970. It would be later in the year before we would be introduced to the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto.

“Since the photo mentioned that it was a picture of a 1974 model, it is interesting to note that while the 1970-73 model years had seen respectable sales volumes, according to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1974 was its highest volume production model year. The Gremlin only saw the light of day from 1970-78, with a total production run a little under 700,000 cars and just over 171,000 of those were built in 1974.

“And now for your history lesson. Because of Mitt Romney, most of us are now aware that his father, George, once ran AMC. That stint was from 1954-62, but Romney still had an early influence in the development of the Gremlin. Struggling Nash-Kelvinator merged with Hudson Motor Co. in May 1954.

Romney was handed the assignment to develop the Rambler, AMC’s new small-car focus. On the death of Mason in October 1954, Romney ascended to president and chairman of the board. He laid the early groundwork for what eventually led to the development of the Gremlin.”

EVANS: Bill Harding wrote: It’s an American Motors Corp. Gremlin X. The Gremlin came along a few months before the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto subcompacts. Because AMC had limited financial resources, the Hornet was used as a basis. GM and Ford were able to construct their subcompacts as totally new from the ground up, including engines.

“AMC’s design chief (Dick Teague) and head stylist (Bob Nixon) took a foot out of the Hornet’s wheelbase and overall length and kept the existing engines and transmissions. Although somewhat strange looking, the Gremlin proved to be more reliable and more structurally sound than the Vega and Pinto, which were prone to early rust. The Vega’s 2.3-liter, mostly aluminum, overhead-cam four was troublesome throughout its life. Gremlin’s in-line cast-iron six was more reliable, quicker and nearly as economical as the fours in Pintos and Vegas.”

Wayne Wilke wrote: “The name ‘Gremlin’ comes from the the Scottish/Irish word graemling, which is defined as ‘an imaginary small, ill-humored gnome humorously blamed for faulty operation of equipment.’ Wow, that name was an augury, omen and portent all rolled up into one to tell the world what this little car was going to be. The car was infamous for many things:

• An exposed gas cap that jutted out on the flank of the car as on a 55-gallon drum. It was frequently stolen, so owners just replaced it with a greasy rag.

• Add-on ‘hockey stick’ decals as shown on this week’s car.

• Optional ‘genuine Levi jeans’ seats that also had ‘genuine’ copper rivets known to rip pants/sear skin if one wore shorts on a hot day.

“Legend has it that Gremlin’s designer, Richard Teague, sketched the basic shape (intentionally to look different from GM, Ford and Chrysler sporty little cars) on a Northwest Orient Airlines air sickness bag during a flight. The car was unveiled to the automotive press on April Fools Day 1970.

“I had the experience of riding in a 1974 Gremlin that a friend owned. The 135-horsepower straight six engine growled way beyond its power level, and the ride was jittery, bumpy and really unpleasant.”

PJ Rodgers wrote: “It’s the 1974 American Motors Corp. Gremlin.”

Jerry Paul wrote: “This week the auto of the week looks like a AMC Gremlin X.”

Larry Heath wrote: “This appears to be the X model, based on the striping. This car was a shortened version of the AMC Hornet compact. The base engine was an in-line six-cylinder that allowed for excellent gas mileage. The country was in the midst of the first gas ‘crisis’. The X option was basically a trim package of stripes, wheels, etc. Also, I remember there was a 304-cubic-inch V-8 engine available that gave this lightweight car decent performance.”

Bob Snow: “It it’s an AMC Gremlin.”

Bob Gordon: “It’s an AMC Gremlin, I’m pretty sure.”

Pete Schiffbauer said: “I saw quite a few. Such a unique vehicle. It’s hard to forget; obviously, I knew exactly what it was.”

GROVETOWN: Dianne Scott said, “They were so ugly.”

Robert Martin wrote: “The picture is an AMC Gremlin X.”

Also, Deborah McKenzie.

HARLEM: Brad Keen wrote: “It is an AMC Gremlin.”

HEPHZIBAH: Herman Keith said, “I had a roommate who had one in the Army at Fort Gordon.”

Leo Bennett said he used to have one: “It was a good little car, good on gas, with a six-cylinder engine in it.”

KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner wrote: “It’s a 1974 AMC Gremlin. I delivered mail in one of these. It’s good to throw in an old car to identify once in a while.”

Patricia Bowen said: “I always thought they were a cute little car.”

MCBEAN: Robert A. Lamb

MARIETTA, GA.: David Mondecar

MARTINEZ: Lynn Sammons said: “A friend in high school had one that we went to Beta Club convention in Atlanta. It was a good little car.”

Jim Muraski identified the Gremlin X and wrote: “This design was the brainchild of Richard A Teague. He originally sketched out the design on an air-sickness bag while in flight and intended it to be a shortened and truncated version of the Javelin. A prototype called the AMX GT was actually built and debuted at the New York International Auto Show in April 1968. This version did not go into production, however. Instead, Bob Nixon, who would become AMC’s future chief of design, used this truncated design based off the compact Hornet model, and thus the Gremlin came to be.

“A friend of mine had one of these up in Wisconsin back in the mid-’70s, and it proudly lived up to its name, as it constantly had various mechanical ‘gremlins’ occurring. He actually had this car stolen once, but the thief made it only three blocks from his house before the shift linkage ‘gremlin’ appeared and he got it locked up between two gears and abandoned it!”

Hubert van Tuyll wrote: “The picture is an easy one for my generation. That is an AMC Gremlin – a car designed on the back of an air sickness bag by two AMC execs flying back to Detroit. The car saved American Motors, but not Detroit.

“It was less efficient than its two main competitors – the Chevy Vega and the Ford Pinto – but was a more solid car. You couldn’t kill an AMC in-line six. My father bought me its bigger stablemate, the AMC Pacer, my senior year in college.”

Rita Clarke wrote: “That car is an AMC Gremlin. I rode/drove across the country in one in 1974, so I am fairly certain that is what it is!”

NEW ELLENTON: Robbie Ogden wrote: “The make is AMC, the model is a Gremlin.”

NORTH AUGUSTA: Susan Johnson wrote: “That picture is of a 1974 AMC Gremlin X.”

Also: John Simurda.

PATRICK, S.C.: Paul White

PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson wrote: “It looks like we have a 1974 AMC Gremlin. If I remember right, the TV ad’s tag line was: ‘Where’s the back of your car?’ ”

SHAWANO, WIS.: Karen McKenna wrote: “With that black, hockey-stick stripe on the side, this week’s car should be the 1974 AMC Gremlin X. The Gremlin really started out as the Rambler American, which morphed into the AMC Hornet, which they then cut the back off of to make the Gremlin … as the front end, hood and doors all come from the compact Hornet.”

WARRENTON, GA.: Don Wiggins said: “They were great little cars. I had one brand new in ’74. … It was the best car I ever had.”

WARRENVILLE: James Covar said: “It looks like half of a car, but they were popular back in the 1970s.”

WAYNESBORO, GA.: Vivian McBride.

NO CITY LISTED: Lucretia P. Brown wrote: “This week’s car is an AMC Gremlin.”

Also: Dale Stoddard.


Can you tell us the make and model of this 2013 vehicle? If you know what it is, call (706) 823-3419 or send an e-mail to glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

Tell us your name and telephone number and the city you live in. It helps if you spell your name for us so we can include your response along with everybody else’s. (We couldn’t include one caller who identified the Gremlin because he didn’t even give his name.) Entries might be edited for style and fit.

You have until midnight Tuesday to respond. A winner will be chosen randomly.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer