AMC Gremlin
The AMC Gremlin is a two-door subcompact car
Subcompact car
Subcompact car is a North American term used to describe automobiles whose class size is smaller than that of a compact car, usually not exceeding in length, but larger than a microcar...

 produced in the United States and Canada by the American Motors Corporation
American Motors
American Motors Corporation was an American automobile company formed by the 1954 merger of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and Hudson Motor Car Company. At the time, it was the largest corporate merger in U.S. history.George W...

 (AMC) between 1970 and 1978. AMC reduced its development and manufacturing costs by adapting a shortened Hornet
AMC Hornet
The AMC Hornet was a compact automobile made by the American Motors Corporation in one generation beginning with the 1970 model year and continuing through the 1977 model year. The Hornet replaced the compact Rambler American marking the end of the Rambler marque in the American and Canadian markets...

 platform with a Kammback
A Kammback is a car body style that derives from the research of the German aerodynamicist Wunibald Kamm in the 1930s. The design calls for a body with smooth contours that continues to a tail that is abruptly cut off. This shape reduces the drag of the vehicle."Kammback" is an American term...

-type tail. The manufacturer described the car as "the first American-built import".

Introduced on April 1, 1970, and competing with the Chevrolet Vega
Chevrolet Vega
The Chevrolet Vega is a subcompact, two-door automobile that was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1971-1977 model years. Named after the star Vega, the car was powered by a lightweight aluminum-block inline four-cylinder engine...

, Ford Pinto
Ford Pinto
The Ford Pinto is a subcompact car produced by the Ford Motor Company for the model years 1971–1980. The car's name derives from the Pinto horse. Initially offered as a two-door sedan, Ford offered "Runabout" hatchback and wagon models the following year, competing in the U.S. market with the AMC...

, and imported cars including the VW Beetle and the Toyota Corona
Toyota Corona
The Toyota Corona is an automobile manufactured by the Japanese automaker Toyota between 1957 and 2002. Traditionally, the competitor from Nissan was the Nissan Bluebird. The word Corona is Latin for "crown"...

, the Gremlin became AMC's best-selling passenger car since the Rambler Classic
Rambler Classic
The Rambler Classic was an intermediate sized automobile that was built and sold by American Motors Corporation from model year 1961 to 1966...

. A total of 671,475 were built.

Origin and design

A 2005 book described the Gremlin as a "bold and innovative” response to two imminent crises faced by the American automobile industry at the time of its design: reduced gasoline supplies, and an "alarming increase" in the sale of fuel-efficient imports.

Ford and General Motors were to launch new subcompact cars for 1971, but AMC did not have the financial resources to compete with an entirely new design. Chief stylist Richard A. Teague
Richard A. Teague
Richard A. Teague , born in Los Angeles, California, was an industrial designer in the North American automotive industry...

's solution, which he said he sketched on an air sickness bag, was to truncate the tail of a Javelin
AMC Javelin
The Javelin was a production version of one of the AMC AMX prototypes shown during the 1966 AMX project nationwide tour. Intended to rival other pony cars such as the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. American Motor's Javelin debuted on 22 August 1967, for the 1968 model year...

. The resulting AMX-GT
The AMC AMX-GT is a 1968 concept car developed by American Motors Corporation . A rear-wheel drive pillarless coupe of monocoque construction with two doors and a truncated rear end treatment, its design was influenced by AMC stylist Richard A...

, first shown at the New York International Auto Show
New York International Auto Show
The New York International Auto Show is an annual auto show held in New York City in late March or early April. It is usually held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. It usually opens on or just before Easter weekend and closes on the first Sunday after Easter...

 in April 1968, did not go into production. (The AMX
The AMC AMX is a two-seat GT in style and approach sports car that was produced by American Motors Corporation for the 1968 through 1970 model years. The AMX was also classified as a muscle car, but "unique among other American cars at the time due its short wheelbase"...

 name was used from 1968 to 1970 on a shortened, two-seat version of the Javelin.)
Instead, Bob Nixon, AMC’s future Chief of Design, designed the new subcompact based on the manufacturer’s Hornet
AMC Hornet
The AMC Hornet was a compact automobile made by the American Motors Corporation in one generation beginning with the 1970 model year and continuing through the 1977 model year. The Hornet replaced the compact Rambler American marking the end of the Rambler marque in the American and Canadian markets...

 model, a compact car
Compact car
A compact car , or small family car , is a classification of cars which are larger than a supermini but smaller than or equal to a mid-size car...

. The design reduced the wheelbase
In both road and rail vehicles, the wheelbase is the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels.- Road :In automobiles, the wheelbase is the horizontal distance between the center of the front wheel and the center of the rear wheel...

 from 108 to 96 in (2,743.2 to 2,438.4 mm) and the overall length from 179 to 161 in (4,546.6 to 4,089.4 mm), making the Gremlin two inches (50 mm) longer than the Volkswagen Beetle and shorter than the Ford Pinto and Chevrolet Vega.

Capitalizing on AMC's advantage as a small car producer, the Gremlin was introduced on April 1, 1970, and was rated a good buy at an economical price. The April 6, 1970 cover of Newsweek magazine featured a red Gremlin for its article, "Detroit Fights Back: The Gremlin". The car was available as a "base" two-seater with fixed back window, at a suggested retail price
Suggested retail price
The manufacturer's suggested retail price , list price or recommended retail price of a product is the price which the manufacturer recommends that the retailer sell the product. The intention was to help to standardise prices among locations...

 of $1,879 (US$ in dollars), and as a four-seater hatchback
A Hatchback is a car body style incorporating a shared passenger and cargo volume, with rearmost accessibility via a rear third or fifth door, typically a top-hinged liftgate—and features such as fold-down rear seats to enable flexibility within the shared passenger/cargo volume. As a two-box...

 with opening rear window, at $1,959 (US$ in dollars).

The car achieved sales of 25,300 in its abbreviated first model year.

From the front of the car to the B-pillars, the Gremlin was essentially the same as the AMC Hornet. Although it was only fractionally longer than the contemporary Volkswagen Beetle, Time said the length of its hood over the front-mounted engine made "the difference seem considerably more," adding that the car "resembles a sawed-off station wagon, with a long, low hood and swept-up rear, and is faintly reminiscent of the original Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker Avanti
See also Avanti cars The Studebaker Avanti was a sports coupé built by the Studebaker Corporation at the direction of its president Sherwood Egbert between June 1962 and December 1963...

." As with the Volkswagen, the Gremlin's styling set it apart from other cars. Time said that “like some other cars of less than standard size, the back seat is designed for small children only." The Gremlin's wider stance gave it "a stable, quiet and relatively comfortable ride - for the two front passengers”, for whom, by small-car standards, there was more than average interior width, seat room and leg room. The six cubic feet of luggage space behind the back seat was less than in the rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle, but with the seat folded the cargo area tripled to 18 cubic feet (509.7 l).

The upright design of the tail, which enlarged interior space, was aerodynamically efficient. Later, European and Japanese manufacturers similarly created different models from basic small car designs by extending or curtailing the trunk (e.g. Volkswagen’s Jetta
Volkswagen Jetta
Although the Golf had reached considerable success, in the North American markets, Volkswagen observed that the hatchback body style lacked some of the appeal to those who preferred the traditional three-box configuration...

 and Golf
Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen Golf is a small family car manufactured by Volkswagen since 1974 and marketed worldwide across six generations, in various body configurations and under various nameplates – as the Volkswagen Rabbit in the United States and Canada , and as the Volkswagen Caribe in Mexico .The...



AMC executives apparently felt confident enough to not worry that the Gremlin name might have negative connotations. Time noted two definitions for gremlin
A gremlin is an imaginary creature commonly depicted as mischievous and mechanically oriented, with a specific interest in aircraft. Gremlins' mischievous natures are similar to those of English folkloric imps, while their inclination to damage or dismantle machinery is more...

: "Defined by Webster's as 'a small gnome held to be responsible for malfunction of equipment.' American Motors' definition: 'a pal to its friends and an ogre to its enemies.'" The car’s cartoon-inspired mascot
The term mascot – defined as a term for any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck – colloquially includes anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name...

 was marketed for product differentiation
Product differentiation
In economics and marketing, product differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors' products as well as a firm's own product offerings...

 and was intended to be memorable to consumers.

AMC promoted the Gremlin as "America's first subcompact". This description overlooks the Nash Metropolitan
Nash Metropolitan
The Nash Metropolitan is a car that was sold, initially only in the United States and Canada, from 1954–1962.It conforms to two classes of vehicle: economy car and subcompact car. In today’s terminology the Metropolitan is a “subcompact”, but this category had not yet come into use when the car was...

 and the earlier Crosley
The Crosley was an automobile manufactured by the Crosley Corporation and later by Crosley Motors Incorporated in the United States from 1939 to 1952.-History:...

. The Metropolitan—a subcompact-sized captive import
Captive import
Captive import is a marketing term and a strategy for an automobile part or entire vehicle that is foreign-built and sold under the name of an importer or by a domestic automaker through its own dealer distribution system....

, American-conceived and American-designed for the American market, and built in the UK with a British engine—has a claim to be "America's first subcompact."


The Gremlin debuted in April 1970 with AMC's 199 CID I6, a seven main bearing design which produced 128 hp as standard equipment, with AMC's 232 CID I6 - producing 145 hp - as an option. AMC said the Gremlin offered "the best gas mileage of any production car made in America". According to the auto editors of Consumer Guide it had "an unusually long option list for the era" so owners could have luxury and conveniences typically found in more expensive cars, and these options "came with a much higher profit margin" for the automaker. Sales for the abbreviated model year were 25,300.

A nationwide survey based on 1,350,000 owner-driven miles of the 1970 AMC Gremlin by Popular Mechanics concluded that the unique styling attracted many buyers, but economy topped their likes.


For the 1971 model year the "X" appearance/equipment trim package
Trim package
A trim package is an automotive package composed by a set of cosmetic embellishments to a vehicle. In some cases the trim package may include a specific model or ending name...

 was introduced as a $300 option on the 4-passenger model and "proved extremely popular." It included body side tape stripes, body color front fascia, slotted road wheels with Goodyear Polyglas D70x14 tires, blackout grille insert, bucket seat
Bucket seat
A bucket seat is a seat contoured to hold one person, distinct from bench seats which are flat platforms designed to seat multiple people. Bucket seats are standard in fast cars to keep riders in place when making sharp or quick turns...

s, and "X" decals.

The 2-passenger Gremlin version entered into its second and final season. The 232 CID I6 engine that was optional for 1970 became standard, while a longer-stroke 258 CID version became the option. Compression ratio
Compression ratio
The 'compression ratio' of an internal-combustion engine or external combustion engine is a value that represents the ratio of the volume of its combustion chamber from its largest capacity to its smallest capacity...

s dropped from 8.5:1 to 8:1 for 1971, resulting in 135 hp (gross) from the 232 CID and 150 hp (gross) from the 258 CID

1971 Gremlin prices increased slightly (up by $20 to $1,899 for the base model), and sales for this first full model year rose to 53,480.


All Gremlins received a new body-colored front fascia treatment for 1972. Among many other changes was an available 304 CID V8 engine. Engine ratings were downgraded to more accurate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) net hp figures, bringing the 232 CID engine to 100 hp, the 258 CID to 110 hp and the 304 V8 to 150 hp. The base two-seater model was discontinued, having sold 3,017 in 18 months. Gremlins also switched from non-synchro 1st gear manual transmission
Manual transmission
A manual transmission, also known as a manual gearbox or standard transmission is a type of transmission used in motor vehicle applications...

s to full synchromesh, and the Borg-Warner-sourced automatic transmission
Automatic transmission
An automatic transmission is one type of motor vehicle transmission that can automatically change gear ratios as the vehicle moves, freeing the driver from having to shift gears manually...

 was replaced by the Chrysler-designed TorqueFlite
TorqueFlite is the trademarked name of Chrysler Corporation's automatic transmissions, starting with the three-speed unit introduced late in the 1956 model year as a successor to Chrysler's two-speed PowerFlite...

. Other more minor technical upgrades improved the car's reliability and durability.

AMC introduced America's first bumper-to-bumper warranty
In business and legal transactions, a warranty is an assurance by one party to the other party that specific facts or conditions are true or will happen; the other party is permitted to rely on that assurance and seek some type of remedy if it is not true or followed.In real estate transactions, a...

, called the "Buyer Protection Plan". Numerous production and product improvements would result in fewer warranty claims, better public relations
Public relations
Public relations is the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc....

, and greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. 1972 sales totaled 61,717, a 15% gain over the previous year.


For the 1973 model year, AMC strengthened bumpers able to withstand a 5 miles per hour (2 m/s) impact in the front and a 2.5 miles per hour (1 m/s) impact in the rear, to meet new safety mandates by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an agency of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, part of the Department of Transportation...

 (NHTSA). Optional was a Levi's interior trim package, which included spun nylon upholstery made to look like denim (fire safety regulations prohibited the use of real cotton denim). Details included removable map pockets, burnished copper denim rivets, and red Levi's logo tabs. Rear-seat legroom was increased. The X package received a new tape-striping pattern that kicked up over the Gremlin's rear wheel flares.

Sales improved to 122,844 units, nearly 30% more than 1972. A 1973 Gremlin purchased by Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports is an American magazine published monthly by Consumers Union since 1936. It publishes reviews and comparisons of consumer products and services based on reporting and results from its in-house testing laboratory. It also publishes cleaning and general buying guides...

 was top-rated in a group of six subcompact models tested for the June issue. That car had relatively few sample defects and proved reliable over a long-term test.


The Arab Oil Embargo of October 1973 came just as the 1974 model year began. AMC improved the Gremlin's back seat. A deeper front fascia made the car appear longer. A larger front bumper was mounted on self-restoring telescoping gas and oil cylinders. Unlike most other designs, the Gremlin did not use filler panel between bumper and body. A stronger rear bumper was set lower - front and rear passenger car bumpers were now required by NHTSA to have uniform heights, take angle impacts, and sustain 5 miles per hour (2 m/s) impacts with no damage. The rear fascia was modified slightly to blend with the design changes. The Gremlin X stripe pattern was given a "hockey stick" look for 1974: the stripes followed the window line as it tapered aft, and swept up now to include four diagonal lines on the wide C-pillar. A new typeface for nameplates was used by AMC for 1974, including on the Gremlin. With the car's 1974 model year extended into November to delay the need to install catalytic converter
Catalytic converter
A catalytic converter is a device used to convert toxic exhaust emissions from an internal combustion engine into non-toxic substances. Inside a catalytic converter, a catalyst stimulates a chemical reaction in which noxious byproducts of combustion are converted to less toxic substances by dint...

s required by United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 (EPA) 2004 regulations starting with 1975 models, AMC sold 171,128 1974 Gremlins, an increase of nearly 40% over 1973 and 130% over 1971.


Fewer changes for the 1975 model year included minor modifications to the shape of the bumpers, availability of a catalytic converter, and standard electronic ignition. Struggling under stagflation
In economics, stagflation is a situation in which the inflation rate is high and the economic growth rate slows down and unemployment remains steadily high...

 and an inflationary economy, American subcompact sales slumped. AMC sold 56,011 Gremlins in the (albeit shortened) 1975 model year
Model year
The model year of a product is a number used worldwide, but with a high level of prominence in North America, to describe approximately when a product was produced, and indicates the coinciding base specification of that product....

, a 67% drop.


Changes were greater for 1976. Oval headlight bezels replaced the previous circular items. The grille shape became a stretched hexagon and included in its insert two opposing loops stacked atop each other and housing new rounded parking/turn signal lights. Front fenders were taller, with a slight finned effect. A new "Custom" trim line debuted, featuring a striped interior trim called "Potomac", as well as a spare tire cover and other minor details. The A models were given another new striping scheme: the hockey stick-style stripe of the previous year adding a secondary extension that ran from the door-handle straight back. The X package was now available only on Custom models. Due to flagging sales, the 304 CID V8 engine option (now downgraded to 120 hp) was cancelled at midyear, after only 826 installations. (A total of 40,994 Gremlins were equipped with the V8 engine from 1972 to 1976.) A 4-speed manual transmission
Manual transmission
A manual transmission, also known as a manual gearbox or standard transmission is a type of transmission used in motor vehicle applications...

 was made available at midyear. Sales tapered slightly to 52,941 - a decline of 5.5%.


1977 changes included redesigned sheet metal for the first time in the Gremlin's now 8-year history: revised hood, shorter front fenders, new bumpers, taller glass tailgate, enlarged taillights, and rear license plate now covering the fuel filler. The front end was shortened by four inches (102 mm) with all new sheet metal and a crosshatch grille insert. Parking lights reverted to rectangular, and headlights were recessed into square bezels with rounded corners. The new hood had a small "power bulge" at the front. The base model now included carpeting, as well as rocker panel and wheel lip moldings. Available was the "Custom" model with a list price of $2,998. The X package returned as a $189 option, with a new striping pattern that ran straight back from the front fenders and crested upward over the rear wheels. Front disc brake
Disc brake
The disc brake or disk brake is a device for slowing or stopping the rotation of a wheel while it is in motion.A brake disc is usually made of cast iron, but may in some cases be made of composites such as reinforced carbon–carbon or ceramic matrix composites. This is connected to the wheel and/or...

s became standard.

At the start of the model year, the Gremlin was available with either the standard 232 CID or optional 258 CID six-cylinder engines. Both had increased power from updated cylinder head
Cylinder head
In an internal combustion engine, the cylinder head sits above the cylinders on top of the cylinder block. It closes in the top of the cylinder, forming the combustion chamber. This joint is sealed by a head gasket...

s and two-barrel carburetors. In addition, AMC offered a carbureted four-cylinder engine: a Volkswagen
Volkswagen is a German automobile manufacturer and is the original and biggest-selling marque of the Volkswagen Group, which now also owns the Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, SEAT, and Škoda marques and the truck manufacturer Scania.Volkswagen means "people's car" in German, where it is...

Audi AG is a German automobile manufacturer, from supermini to crossover SUVs in various body styles and price ranges that are marketed under the Audi brand , positioned as the premium brand within the Volkswagen Group....

 2 l (122 cu in) Straight-4
The inline-four engine or straight-four engine is an internal combustion engine with all four cylinders mounted in a straight line, or plane along the crankcase. The single bank of cylinders may be oriented in either a vertical or an inclined plane with all the pistons driving a common crankshaft....

, also used in fuel-injected form in the Porsche 924. It gave better fuel economy but less power than the standard six-cylinder engines, and reduced the Gremlin's weight by 250 pounds (113 kg), allowing it to achieve an EPA rating of 21 miles per US gallon in the city, and 33 miles per US gallon on the highway. It was reserved for the Custom version of the Gremlin because the expense of acquiring the rights to the engine meant that AMC could not afford to make it standard equipment. Of 46,171 Gremlins built for 1977 (13% less than in 1976), 7,558 had the new 2.0 L engine.


In its final year of 1978, the Gremlin received a number of changes, but customers on a tighter budget could still get a standard six-cylinder base model Gremlin for under US$3,400. Inside, there was a revised instrument panel borrowed from the then-new 1978 Concord
AMC Concord
The AMC Concord is a compact car produced by the American Motors Corporation for the 1978 through 1983 model years. The Concord replaced the AMC Hornet and to some extent the mid-size AMC Matador, discontinued after 1978 in a market moving to downsized automobiles...

. The dashboard had high-level ventilation HVAC
HVAC refers to technology of indoor or automotive environmental comfort. HVAC system design is a major subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer...

, radio switchgear within easier reach, and a flat, full-width top. The X's tape striping pattern was revised to match the 1978 Concord Sport package design, with the stripe at the lower body side and curving over the wheel lip.

At mid-season, a GT package became available with a front spoiler
Spoiler (automotive)
A spoiler is an automotive aerodynamic device whose intended design function is to 'spoil' unfavorable air movement across a body of a vehicle in motion. Spoilers on the front of a vehicle are often called air dams, because in addition to directing air flow they also reduce the amount of air...

 and flared wheel openings as on the 1978 AMX. The GT added an aluminum overlay to the instrument panel, was powered by the 258 CID I6 as standard, and had its own stripe scheme: a wide tape stripe, outlined by a narrow one, ran back from the front fenders and widened aft of the rear quarter windows. The package also included body-color fender flares and front air dam, as well as body-color bumpers, all of which combined to give the GT a modern, aggressive look. Fewer than 3,000 Gremlin GTs were built.

The Gremlin's body shape had not changed appreciably in its nine years of production, and other more advanced subcompacts, lighter in weight, with more doors, better interiors and front-wheel drive
Front-wheel drive
Front-wheel drive is a form of engine/transmission layout used in motor vehicles, where the engine drives the front wheels only. Most modern front-wheel drive vehicles feature a transverse engine, rather than the conventional longitudinal engine arrangement generally found in rear-wheel drive and...

, had appeared on the market. Gremlin sales for the final year fell 52% to 22,104 units. By the time production ceased, a total of 671,475 Gremlins had been built.


During its era, the AMC Gremlin's performance was above subcompact car levels. A road test by Motor Trend
Motor Trend
Motor Trend is an American automobile magazine. It first appeared in September 1949, issued by Petersen Publishing Company in Los Angeles, and bearing the tag line "The Magazine for a Motoring World". Petersen Publishing was sold to British publisher EMAP in 1998, who sold the former Petersen...

 magazine recorded a zero to 60 mph
0 to 60 mph
The time it takes to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph is a commonly used performance measure for automotive acceleration in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the rest of the world 0 to 100 km/h is used...

 (0 to 97 km/h) acceleration time of 12.6 seconds with the 232 CID engine. Both the Ford Pinto and the VW Beetle were in the 18-second range. Fuel economy was reasonably good at 28 miles per US gallon to 30 miles per US gallon with the small six, but it was not competitive with the 35-plus mpg economy of the VW Beetle.

The car's front-heaviness was generally thought to compromise the handling, although Mechanix Illustrated
Mechanix Illustrated
Mechanix Illustrated was an American magazine founded in the first half of the 20th century to compete against the older Popular Science and Popular Mechanics...

s Tom McCahill
Tom McCahill
Thomas Jay McCahill III was an automotive journalist, born the grandson of a wealthy attorney in Larchmont, New York. McCahill graduated from Yale University with a degree in fine arts....

 found it "fast and easy", and the ride was comparatively stiff because of the shortened rear springs. On the other hand, he showed that acceleration and top speed were better than other subcompacts of the era. McCahill ran the 232-engined Gremlin with automatic transmission from zero to 60 mph
0 to 60 mph
The time it takes to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph is a commonly used performance measure for automotive acceleration in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the rest of the world 0 to 100 km/h is used...

 (0 to 97 km/h) in 11.9 seconds and saw 100 miles per hour (161 km/h) on the Daytona Speedway straightaway. He summarized: "on a dollar for dollar basis, I rate the Gremlin the best American buy of the year".

Car and Driver
Car and Driver
Car and Driver is an American automotive enthusiast magazine. Its total circulation is 1.31 million. It is owned by Hearst Magazines, who purchased prior owner Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. in 2011...

 magazine recorded a 0-60 mph time of 11.9 seconds with a Gremlin powered by the 232 cubic inch engine.

In a "Critical Look at the 1973 American Cars" article in Automobile Quarterly the summary verdict was that the basic "Gremlin offers outstanding performance for an economy car and excellent fuel mileage."

Popular Mechanics magazine tested the new for 1977 Audi four-cylinder engine and found its acceleration with a four-speed manual to "feel amazingly strong" with zero to 60 mph and quarter-mile elapsed time only one second slower than with the 232 cubic inch straight-six (16 vs. 15, and 21 vs. 20 seconds respectively. The small engine produced EPA
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 mileage of 35 miles per US gallon highway and 22 miles per US gallon city.

The Gremlin's body structure was heavier and stronger than its domestic or imported competitors. The engines were more powerful than any fielded by its main domestic competition. Not only were the Gremlin's powertrains smoother and more reliable, but the car also had a cleaner recall
Product recall
A product recall is a request to return to the maker a batch or an entire production run of a product, usually due to the discovery of safety issues. The recall is an effort to limit liability for corporate negligence and to improve or avoid damage to publicity...

 record. The Gremlin's chief import rival, the Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Type 1, widely known as the Volkswagen Beetle or Volkswagen Bug, is an economy car produced by the German auto maker Volkswagen from 1938 until 2003...

, did not handle as well, and got similar gas mileage from about 40% of the Gremlin's horsepower, but it was packaged marginally better (both cars were the same overall size). Gremlin designer Richard Teague commented in Motor Trend magazine that to compare the Beetle (whose basic design originated in the late 1930s) to the Gremlin in profile and body design was like "comparing a Ford GT40
Ford GT40
The Ford GT40 was a high performance sports car and winner of the 24 hours of Le Mans four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969...

 to the Hindenburg
LZ 129 Hindenburg
LZ 129 Hindenburg was a large German commercial passenger-carrying rigid airship, the lead ship of the Hindenburg class, the longest class of flying machine and the largest airship by envelope volume...


Randall 401-XR

Randall AMC dealership in Mesa, Arizona
Mesa, Arizona
According to the 2010 Census, the racial composition of Mesa was as follows:* White: 77.1% * Hispanic or Latino : 26.54%* Black or African American: 3.5%* Two or more races: 3.4%* Native American: 2.4%...

 received AMC's endorsement to build 401 CID V8 powered Gremlins. The cars started out as 304 V8 models from the factory and after Randall's modifications would run 13.90's at 103-106 miles per hour (171 km/h) in the quarter mile, for $2,995 (US$ in dollars). Known as the Randall 401-XR (X for Gremlin X, R for Randall), a total of twenty cars were built for the street and one for the strip during 1972, 1973, and 1974. Car Craft magazine tested one with some modifications and achieved 115.07 miles per hour (185 km/h) in 12.22 seconds while still remaining a "totally streetable, daily-driver".


The AMC Gremlin saw action on numerous auto racing
Auto racing
Auto racing is a motorsport involving the racing of cars for competition. It is one of the world's most watched televised sports.-The beginning of racing:...

 venues, including dragstrip
A dragstrip is a facility for conducting automobile and motorcycle acceleration events such as drag racing. Although a quarter mile is the best known measure for a drag track, many tracks are eighth mile tracks...

s, endurance, as well as oval and road racing
Road racing
Road racing is a general term for most forms of motor racing held on paved, purpose-built race tracks , as opposed to oval tracks and off-road racing...


Due to their inherent inexpensiveness, strength and the ease with which they could be modified for higher performance, many AMC Gremlins were used in drag racing
Drag racing
Drag racing is a competition in which specially prepared automobiles or motorcycles compete two at a time to be the first to cross a set finish line, from a standing start, in a straight line, over a measured distance, most commonly a ¼-mile straight track....

. Some still appear in competitions: for example, at the 2006 World Power Wheelstanding Championships (not a race event, but a "wheelie
In vehicle acrobatics, a wheelie is a vehicle maneuver in which the front wheel or wheels come off the ground due to extreme torque being applied to the rear wheel or wheels. Wheelies are usually associated with bicycles and motorcycles, but can be done with other vehicles such as cars, especially...

" contest), Brian Ambrosini's specially modified 1974 Gremlin took second place.

During the 1970s road courses such as the Virginia International Raceway
Virginia International Raceway
The Virginia International Raceway is a road course located in the community of Alton, Virginia near Danville, Virginia. It is found less than a half-mile from the North Carolina/Virginia border just outside Milton, North Carolina on the banks of the Dan River...

, a challenging course with many turns, straightaways, as well as over 100 feet of elevation change, hosted numerous racing events with smaller American cars, such as the Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin, became the norm on the track.

Lenny Podbielski was "a major player in late 1970s Speedbowl action" and the Gremlin-bodied machines he raced were "some of the prettiest cars of the era."

Heading AMC's Pro Stock drag racing efforts, Wally Booth drove AMC Gremlins painted in the hash red, white, and blue pattern that AMC had adopted as its corporate race livery. Dick Arons built the engines. The team "transformed the brand’s staid grocery-getter reputation from the ground up into that of a genuine performance powerhouse." Wally Booth "was one of the Edelbrock crew's favorite racers."


Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos
Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos
Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos S.A. was an automaker in Mexico. The original organization, a distributor for Willys-Overland vehicles, became government controlled in 1963 with American Motors Corporation holding a minority interest. The company imported and produced automobiles and light...

 (VAM) manufactured Gremlins in Mexico under license and partial ownership (38% equity share) by AMC, and continued to use the Gremlin name for several years after it faded in the U.S. The VAM cars had trim, interiors, and model names that differed from the equivalent AMC-made models. The 1976 VAM Gremlin X came with the longer front end from the Hornet, and its interior was trimmed in the "Navajo" pattern cloth upholstery that was optional on AMC's Pacer DL models built for the Canadian and U.S. markets. The base VAM Gremlin also included luxurious seating with a center armrest that was never available in the U.S. models.

All engines built by VAM were of AMC design, modified to deal with Mexico's lower octane
Octane rating
Octane rating or octane number is a standard measure of the anti-knock properties of a motor or aviation fuel. The higher the octane number, the more compression the fuel can withstand before detonating...

 gasoline and higher altitudes. Options included a unique 282 CID version of AMC's straight 6.

Hurst Rescue System 1

Between 1972 and 1974, Hurst Performance
Hurst Performance
Hurst Performance, Inc. of Warminster Township, Pennsylvania, manufactured and marketed products for enhancing the performance of automobiles, most notably for muscle cars.-Products:...

 marketed "a highway safety vehicle" for emergency services, as well as a compact alternative to trucks for motorsport
Motorsport or motorsports is the group of sports which primarily involve the use of motorized vehicles, whether for racing or non-racing competition...

 race track
Race track
A race track is a purpose-built facility for racing of animals , automobiles, motorcycles or athletes. A race track may also feature grandstands or concourses. Some motorsport tracks are called speedways.A racetrack is a permanent facility or building...

s. The "Hurst Rescue System 1" was based on the AMC Gremlin and designed to quickly assist vehicle extrication
Vehicle extrication
Vehicle extrication is the process of removing the vehicle from around a person that has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, when conventional means of exit are impossible or unadvisable. A delicate approach is needed to minimize injury to the victim during the extrication...

 of crash victims. The vehicle came with the "Hurst Rescue Tool", commonly known as "The Jaws of Life
Hydraulic Rescue Tools
Hydraulic rescue tools are used by emergency rescue personnel to assist vehicle extrication of crash victims, as well as other rescues from small spaces. These tools include cutters, spreaders, door busters and rams...

", winch, stretcher, as well as firefighting and first aid supplies. The vehicle also included push bumpers and a 25-gallon water tank. The price for this fully equipped rescue vehicle was between $11,000 to $13,000.


The Gremlin proved a popular test-bed for experiments with alternative fuels. Many universities converted them to run on natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

, hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

, and electric power.


In 1972 University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Los Angeles
The University of California, Los Angeles is a public research university located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, USA. It was founded in 1919 as the "Southern Branch" of the University of California and is the second oldest of the ten campuses...

 researchers won a nationwide Urban Vehicle Design Competition when they modified a 1972 AMC Gremlin to run on hydrogen and the lessons learned are still useful today. The engine was a converted Ford 351 CID V8 noted for its volumetric efficiency
Volumetric efficiency
Volumetric efficiency in internal combustion engine design refers to the efficiency with which the engine can move the charge into and out of the cylinders. More specifically, volumetric efficiency is a ratio of what quantity of fuel and air actually enters the cylinder during induction to the...

. Lacking sophisticated electronics and injection systems, the carburetor
A carburetor , carburettor, or carburetter is a device that blends air and fuel for an internal combustion engine. It is sometimes shortened to carb in North America and the United Kingdom....

 was a modified propane
Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula , normally a gas, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel for engines, oxy-gas torches, barbecues, portable stoves, and residential central...

 unit and the 100 litres (26.4 US gal) "thermos"-type
Vacuum flask
A vacuum flask is an insulating storage vessel which keeps its contents hotter or cooler than its surroundings. Invented by Sir James Dewar in 1892, the vacuum flask consists of two flasks, placed one within the other and joined at the neck...

 hydrogen tank gave the Gremlin a 160 miles (257 km) range. Tests indicated that the car would not only meet the scheduled 1976 vehicle United States emission standards, but also actually emit slightly cleaner air than it took in. In 1984, UCLA's first hydrogen-powered car was sold for one dollar to the William F. Harrah
William F. Harrah
William Fisk Harrah was an American businessman and the founder of Harrah's Hotel and Casinos.-Early years and education:...

 Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada
Reno, Nevada
Reno is the county seat of Washoe County, Nevada, United States. The city has a population of about 220,500 and is the most populous Nevada city outside of the Las Vegas metropolitan area...


Alternative fuels

Other experiments used AMC Gremlins. To evaluate non-petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 fuel and measure mechanical wear under mostly short city driving, a 1970 Gremlin with AMC's 232 CID engine operated successfully on methanol
Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical with the formula CH3OH . It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to, but slightly sweeter than, ethanol...

 for ten years and 46250 miles (74,432 km).

The broadest range of fuel tests were conducted by the United States Department of Energy
United States Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy is a Cabinet-level department of the United States government concerned with the United States' policies regarding energy and safety in handling nuclear material...

 (DOE) labs in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Bartlesville is a city in Osage and Washington counties in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The population was 43,070 at the 2010 census. Bartlesville is located forty-seven miles north of Tulsa and very close to Oklahoma's northern border with Kansas. It is the county seat of Washington County, in...

. Engineers estimated the performance and fuel economy of 1977 Gremlin Xs operating on ordinary gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

, a variety of wide boiling range fuels (naphtha
Naphtha normally refers to a number of different flammable liquid mixtures of hydrocarbons, i.e., a component of natural gas condensate or a distillation product from petroleum, coal tar or peat boiling in a certain range and containing certain hydrocarbons. It is a broad term covering among the...

, kerosene
Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

, etc.), as well as two alcohols, ethanol
Ethanol fuel
Ethanol fuel is ethanol , the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is most often used as a motor fuel, mainly as a biofuel additive for gasoline. World ethanol production for transport fuel tripled between 2000 and 2007 from 17 billion to more than 52 billion litres...

 and methanol
Methanol fuel
Methanol is an alternative fuel for internal combustion and other engines, either in combination with gasoline or directly . It is used in racing cars and in China...



The Electric Fuel Propulsion Company (EFP) of Ferndale, Michigan
Ferndale, Michigan
Ferndale is adjacent to the cities of Detroit to the south, Oak Park to the west, Hazel Park to the east, Pleasant Ridge to the north, Royal Oak Township to the southwest, and Royal Oak to the north....

 produced a number of electric cars including the AMC Gremlin based, two-passenger X-144. Introduced in 1973 it featured a 20 hp direct current
Direct current
Direct current is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through...

 motor fueled by a 144-volt cobalt
Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. It is found naturally only in chemically combined form. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal....

Lead is a main-group element in the carbon group with the symbol Pb and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft, malleable poor metal. It is also counted as one of the heavy metals. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed...

 storage batteries
Rechargeable battery
A rechargeable battery or storage battery is a group of one or more electrochemical cells. They are known as secondary cells because their electrochemical reactions are electrically reversible. Rechargeable batteries come in many different shapes and sizes, ranging anything from a button cell to...

 designed to reduce the formation of harmful gasses during recharging, as well as a regular 12-volt battery to operate the cars lights, horn, and heater blower. Performance was claimed to be similar to a base gasoline Gremlin, including a top speed of 60 miles per hour (27 m/s), but with a calculated lower cost per mile for the X-144 over five years and 20000 miles (32,187 km) of use.


Engineers at Coleman Products Corporation in Coleman, Wisconsin
Coleman, Wisconsin
Coleman is a village in Marinette County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 716 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Marinette, WI–MI Micropolitan Statistical Area. A Mr...

 created a non-drivable plexiglas Gremlin as a demonstrator of the placement and function of electrical wiring harnesses.

Gremlin Voyager

In 1972 AMC developed a prototype "Gremlin Voyager" with a slide out rear panel called "Grem-Bin". The car was a production Gremlin with a proposed "shelf" design to make cargo loading easier.

XP prototype

In 1974 a production car was modified and dubbed the Gremlin XP prototype. It has a larger glass hatchback and additional side quarter windows. A pronounced crease started from the mid-body section and wraps over the roof while the rear quarter panels feature bulges around the wheel well openings. The rear panel has a recessed and blacked out area with four lights. The design of the concept car improved visibility around the Gremlin's original wide C-pillar.

Concept 80

In 1977 American Motors presented six show cars to illustrate the automaker’s commitment to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles for the 1980s. Three of them, the "Concept I", "Concept II", and "Concept Grand Touring" represented new subcompact designs.
  • The Concept I car combined a "wedge-design" with a short hood, low body beltline, steeply raked windshield, and expanded glass area. The front featured a mesh grille with “rally-type” parking lights and rectangular headlamps. The rear end was squared off featuring large rear quarter windows to eliminate blind spots. The rear panel incorporated a characteristic continental tire
    Continental tire
    A Continental tire is an upright, external, mounted spare tire behind an automobile's trunk compartment. The term also describes a non-functional bulge that is stamped into the trunk lid or a cosmetic accessory to the rear of the car giving the impression of a spare tire mount.-Development:The...

  • The Concept II design was another Gremlin replacement proposal featuring integral soft bumpers, headlamps concealed by flush sliding doors. A pronounced center structural "Targa-band
    Targa top
    Targa top, targa for short, is a semi-convertible car body style with a removable roof section and a full width roll bar behind the seats. The term was first used on the 1966 Porsche 911 Targa, and it remains a registered trademark of Porsche AG....

    " was designed to add strength to the roof. The squared off rear end featured a glass hatchback.
  • The Concept Grand Touring was a larger luxury hatchback designed for four-passengers. The interior was appointed in leather and corduroy upholstery and luxury appointments with deep-pile carpeting. The front end featured a “venturi” grille with rally-type lights. The rear side windows were "opera
    Opera window
    Opera Windows are small porthole sized side windows in the C-pillar of some cars. Typically offered in unison with a vinyl roof, they were a very common design feature of American automobiles during the 1970s. The design was new at the time, "... and would prove to be very popular, indicated by its...

    " recessed and surrounded by a vinyl cover that ran over the roof’s rear quarter. The Concept GT car had genuine wire wheels
    Wire wheels
    The rims of wire wheels are connected to their hubs by wire spokes. Although these wires are generally stiffer than a typical wire rope, they function mechanically the same as tensioned flexible wires, keeping the rim true while supporting applied loads.Wire wheels are used on most bicycles and...


Design elements from the Concept II and Concept GT were incorporated into the Gremlin's replacement, the AMC Spirit that was introduced in 1979.

Production history and reception

A total of 671,475 Gremlins were sold in the United States and Canada, making it the most popular single generation body style/chassis produced by AMC (other models, such as the Rambler and even Hornet, have higher production numbers, but consisted of more than one chassis design and body style in the case of the Rambler, multiple body styles for the Hornet).

The AMC Gremlin is among the cars that people who were in high school in the late 1970s and early 1980s would be familiar with because it was one of the first cars they drove and among most often seen in student parking lots. Kiplinger's personal finance magazine, Changing Times, listed the AMC Gremlin as first among the best subcompact used cars as "selected by top mechanics for good value, good service." Five years after the Gremlin's introduction, the mechanics liked the six-cylinder engine and most preferred automatic transmission. Comments included, "I have one. It's the greatest. I own one with a 304 V-8 engine. Have no trouble outside of normal maintenance."

During the early 1970s American cars “are remembered far more often for their power than their style, and ... throughout the decade, the character of cars became blurred. Only a handful of cars had real personalities...” the AMC Gremlin was one of them, “a pioneering hatchback”.

The Gremlin was restyled with a sloping liftback for 1979 and renamed the AMC Spirit
AMC Spirit
The AMC Spirit was a subcompact marketed by American Motors Corporation from 1979 to 1983 as a restyled replacement for the Gremlin. The Spirit shared the Gremlin's platform and was offered in two hatchback variations, each with two doors — marketed as sedan and liftback...

. The original "Kammback" body style continued in production until 1982 as the Spirit Sedan with larger rear side windows. The basic design was also used for the small AMC Eagle
AMC Eagle
The AMC Eagle is a compact-sized four-wheel drive passenger vehicle that was produced by American Motors Corporation . The AMC Eagle line of vehicles inaugurated a new product category of "sport-utility" or crossover SUV....

 Kammback from 1981 to 1982.

An article published by Time in 2007 included the Gremlin as one of "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time", describing it as an AMC Hornet with the rear end whacked off, and criticizing its exterior proportions, with a long low snout, long front overhang and a truncated tail, "like the tail snapped off a salamander".

In 2007, Popular Science magazine included the 13.4 feet (4.1 m) AMC Gremlin as one of six historic cars that took "Small Steps to a Smart Future" in a special issue about the "Future of the Car: Efficiency".

Future U.S. Presidents

Two future U.S. presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 drove AMC Gremlins during their younger days.

"Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 drove the back roads of Northwest Arkansas
Arkansas is a state located in the southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. Arkansas shares borders with six states , and its eastern border is largely defined by the Mississippi River...

 in his green AMC Gremlin" during his campaign for the first and only race for Congress in 1974.

An AMC Gremlin with a Levi interior was owned by the George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 41st President of the United States . He had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States , a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to...

 family and driven by George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 in 1973 while getting his Master of Business Administration
Master of Business Administration
The Master of Business Administration is a :master's degree in business administration, which attracts people from a wide range of academic disciplines. The MBA designation originated in the United States, emerging from the late 19th century as the country industrialized and companies sought out...

 (MBA) degree.


Scarcity, and the fact that it is a 1970s car, makes the Gremlin collectible, and it has a following among old car hobbyists and collectors of historic vehicles. In some cases, the Gremlin enjoys "a cult-like following in today's collectible car market. In 2007 Business Week reported that 1970s cars such as the Gremlin were increasingly attractive to buyers, and an insurance provider for collector-car owners reported that values were rising.

In light of rising gasoline prices, the Gremlin offers a relatively economical alternative to muscle cars and the more massive American cars of its era-especially for buyers leaning toward the eccentric. AMC said the Gremlin got "the best gas mileage of any production car made in America", and its 21 US gal (79 l; 17 imp gal) gas tank allowed 500 miles (805 km) or more between fill-ups.

It has been said that scarcity makes any Gremlin in good condition worth preserving as a unique piece of automotive history. Original Gremlins with the V8 engine, X package models, Levi's
Levi Strauss & Co.
Levi Strauss & Co. is a privately held American clothing company known worldwide for its Levi's brand of denim jeans. It was founded in 1853 when Levi Strauss came from Buttenheim, Franconia, to San Francisco, California to open a west coast branch of his brothers' New York dry goods business...

 trim, and also the 1978 GT versions, are the most sought-after and command higher prices.

Although Gremlins share numerous parts and components with other AMC models, finding parts for a restoration project can be difficult. This is exacerbated by the fact that many Gremlins were chopped up during the late 1970s and the 1980s to make dirt-track
Dirt track racing
Dirt track racing is a type of auto racing performed on oval tracks. It began in the United States before World War I and became widespread during the 1920s and 30s. Two different types of racecars predominated—open wheel racers in the Northeast and West and stock cars in the South...

 racers. The body of choice on the dirt circuit was the Gremlin and AMC Eagle. The subcompact bodies fit Modified chassis and of special interest was the Gremlin's slab top and sides with a contour that was easy to duplicate in sheet metal.

Over the years, many owners have converted Gremlins into home-built "muscle cars" because AMC engines up to the 401 CID "just drop right in".

There are active AMC car clubs with numerous local chapters to assist Gremlin owners.

Hot Wheels model

Hot Wheels
Hot Wheels
Hot Wheels is a brand of die cast toy car, introduced by American toymaker Mattel in 1968. It was the primary competitor of Matchbox until 1996, when Mattel acquired rights to the Matchbox brand from Tyco.-Models:...

designer Paul Tam created a "bizarre but beautifully rendered model of a six-wheeled AMC Gremlin called Open Fire" with the extra pair of wheels under a giant, exposed metal engine. Other than the engine, extra wheels, and elongated hood, "the Open Fire retains many accurate styling details of AMC’s quirky 1970s econocar."

External links

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