Saturday, November 28, 2009

1971: The AMC Pacer - Remembering the oddball


AMC's chief stylist Richard A. Teague began work on the Pacer in 1971, anticipating an increase in demand for smaller vehicles through the decade.

Car and Driver magazine noted that "AMC said it was the first car designed from the inside out. Four passengers were positioned with reasonable clearances and then the rest of the car was built around them as compactly as possible."
Designed to appear futuristic, the shape was highly rounded with a huge glass area, and was very unusual for its time. Road & Track magazine described it as "fresh, bold and functional-looking".

Development was under Product Group Vice President Gerald C. Meyers, whose goal was to develop a car that was truly unique: "...everything that we do must distinguish itself as being importantly different than what can be expected from the competition..."

Unique for a comparatively small car, the Pacer was as wide as a full-size American car of the era. Contrary to myth, it was not widened six inches (152.4 mm) to make room for the rear-wheel drive configuration. According to an AMC market study from the early 1970s, front-wheel drive was never considered,[citation needed] although the editor of Road & Track asserted that front-wheel drive, as well as a transverse mid-engined configuration, were among "various mechanical layouts...tossed around by the idea people at AMC", adding that "it's unlikely they ever had much hope of being able to produce anything other than their traditional front engine and rear drive, using components already in production." A rear-engined layout was also explored. 1975 AMC advertising literature proclaimed it as "the first wide small car".

The width was dictated partly by marketing strategy—U.S. drivers were accustomed to large vehicles, and the Pacer's occupants had the impression of being in a larger car—and partly by the fact that AMC's assembly lines were already set up for full-size cars.

Also unique at the time, the passenger door was four inches (101 mm) longer than the driver's. This made passenger loading easier, particularly from the rear seats; and they would also tend to use the safer curb side in countries that drive on the right. Ford used this design element in the 1990s Ford Windstar minivan.

Teague's low-drag design, which predated the fuel crisis and the flood of small foreign imports into the American market, was highly innovative. Its drag coefficient of 0.43 was remarkably low for that time. Teague even eliminated rain gutters, smoothly blending the tops of the doors into the roof—an aerodynamic detail which, although criticized at the time for allowing rain onto the front seat, has become the norm in today's designs.

The Pacer was also among the first production cars in the U.S. to feature rack-and-pinion steering. The body was designed with the aim that structural lines protected it from hit damages, AMC engineers claimed that they succeeded in more than 50% of the car surface.

In the mid-1970s the U.S. government mandated major safety improvements for the 1980 model year, to include 50-mile-per-hour (80 km/h) front-end crash testing, 25-mile-per-hour (40 km/h) side crash testing and 30-mile-per-hour (48 km/h) rollover testing, as well as installation of bumpers to resist 5-mile-per-hour (8 km/h) impact at the front and 10-mile-per-hour (16 km/h) at the rear. The Pacer was designed to these specifications, and also had laminated safety glass in the windshield.


During the Pacer's production and marketing, the car went from initially being promoted as an economy car, to becoming a small luxury car. The following information details some of the highlights.
The "X" Package: A "sporty" edition Pacer. The Pacer X was available from 1975-1978 on the coupe version of the car. The title changed to "Sport" in 1978 and was eliminated after that. The trim package consisted of vinyl bucket seats, sports steering wheel, custom trim, as well as a floor mounted gear shift and front sway bar. On the outside it received exterior chrome features, styled road wheels, and "Pacer X" decals on the doors and other package identification.
The "D/L" Package: A more upscale edition of Pacer, the D/L was available for the entire run of the car becoming the "base" model in 1978. This package was more "luxurious" including, originally, a "Navajo-design" seating fabric and a woodgrain instrument panel as well as a few interior features that were optional without it. The exterior received additional chrome accents, different wheelcovers, and identification badging.
The "Limited": Available in 1979-1980, the Limited model was an elegant farewell for Pacer. Inside, leather seating, extra sound proofing, and deeper-pile carpet (18-oz. vs. the standard 12-oz) was standard, as were many amenities that would have been options: AM radio, power door locks, power windows, and tilt steering wheel, to name a few. The exterior offered many chrome accents, styled road wheels, and exterior "Limited" identification badging.
The "Sundowner": In 1975 only, a Sundowner Pacer was available through AMC dealers in California. This marketing promotion consited of the basic Pacer with a $3,599 suggested retail price. This package included options listing for $300 at no extra cost In addition to the mandatory California engine emissions controls and state-required bumper guards, the Sundowner package included a "custom interior" featuring Basketry Weave fabric upholstery with coordinated trim on the door panels, remote control exterior mirror, rear window washer and wiper, styled road wheels with white wall tires, and a roof rack.
The "Levi's" Package: Attempting to capitalize on the popularity of the Levi's Gremlin and Hornet, AMC introduced a Levi's Pacer for 1977. This option added blue denim-like upholstery and door panel trim, with small "Levi's" tags on both front seats. Missing were the traditional copper buttons found on the other AMC Levi's seating. The package also included a "Levi's" logo sticker for each front fender. It could be combined with the Pacer "X" package. Not well promoted, the Levi's Pacer did not sell in large numbers and was gone for the 1978 model year.
Carl Green Enterprises (CGE) Pacers: Numerous Pacers were modified by Carl Green, automobile designer. These cars included 401 cu in (6.6 L) AMC V8 engines, as well as flares, air dams, and wings. The custom cars cars appeared in magazines such as Hot Rod,Popular Hot Rodding, and Car & Driver. Carl Green also built two AMC Pacer pace cars for B.F. Goodrich to campaign in the International Motor Sports Association circuit, as well as provided body kits for Amos Johnson's Team Highball racecars.

All Pacers without the optional vinyl roof trim could be finished in several unique two-tone paint combination that included front and rear body side scuff molding extensions. However, the top and bottom two-tone treatment was changed in 1977, to an "up and over the roof" accent paint scheme for the duration of production.
1979-1980 saw a hood ornament and center chrome strip down the hood. Power door locks were available in 1978; however it would be 1979 beforepower windows would join the option list.

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