Some automobiles like 1966 Chevelles and 1969 Camaros get better looking with the passage of time. In the case of cars like the Ford Motor Company's "Edsel" from 1957-1960 and Chrysler Airflows from the 1930's, the passage of time has a way of making us wonder what the big deal was about. Then you have cars like the AMC Gremlin that the passage of time brings to light just how awful they were in first place and actually look worse now than they did when they were new. Our subject is a 1976 Gremlin.
As with most things in life that appear odd or unusual, there's more to the story than what meets the eye. However, assuming best intentions as always, forgive us if we wonder about what the hell AMC was thinking when they came up with this car.
Quite simply, the Gremlin was nothing more and certainly a whole lot less than AMC's answer to the Volkswagen Beetle. AMC's answer though was obvious to economy car buyers that AMC either didn't understand the question or just couldn't do any better.
In fairness and hindsight being 20-20, AMC probably did understand the question and being as cash strapped as they always were, couldn't do any better. With VW Beetle sales swelling to more than 500,000 a year at the end of the 1960's, AMC had to do something. After all, small cars had been AMC's bread and butter and VW was eating AMC's breakfast, lunch and dinner. The problem was, not only did they not have a sub compact chassis, they didn't even have a four-cylinder engine. That in mind, their decision to hack off the back of their compact "Hornet" and create the subcompact "Gremlin", styling aside, makes sense. It's what they did with the gaping hole created by sawing the rear end of the Hornet off that we have so much of an issue with.
While it might be an oversimplification to say that's all they did to the Hornet to make the Gremlin, the reality was, yeah - that's all they did. Said hacking also came with the reduction of the Hornet's wheelbase and revisions to the rear suspension. Revisions that made the Gremlin's performance as bad if not worse than the way the car looked.
Performance issues stemmed from the Gremlin's horrendous front to rear weight bias. The damn thing even looks like it's going to fall on its front bumper and in reality, that's what starts to happens in anything other than a short jaunt to Sunday services. What's more, the rear leaf springs had to be shortened making for a rear axle that would hop up an down under heavy braking.
AMC bragged that the Gremlin had more powerful engines than VW did but their use of their heavy in lines sixes, and a V-8 if you can imagine, made the homely, ill-performing Gremlin a relative gas guzzler. If the Gremlin had a four-cylinder, which, again, AMC did not have, and it was good on gas, you could almost understand why someone would look past goofy styling in the interest of mileage. After all, why buy an economy car if it's not going to be good on gas? Certainly one as unusual looking as the Gremlin was.
Much like the Pacer and the 1974-1978 Matador, we've always wondered if the styling of the Gremlin was deliberately offbeat. If it wasn't, then the Gremlin and other AMC oddities were deeper into the woods than anyone could imagine. Then again, why would they deliberately draw up a car that was this unusual looking? One that quickly became the butt of so many jokes and adored by only who wanted to be perceived as off beat and outside the norm. To make matters worse, AMC launched the Gremlin on April Fool's Day, 1970. Har-dee-har-har.
A gremlin is a folkloric mischievous creature that causes malfunctions in aircraft and other machinery.