1970 AMC Gremlin- America's first "sub" compact car.

2007-12-03T12:30:00Z 1970 AMC Gremlin- America's first "sub" compact car.Bruce Kunz stltoday.com
December 03, 2007 12:30 pm  • 

In-line Six Trivia Question of the Week: 1. Name the movie (and the year of release) in which a Gremlin is destroyed in a fiery rear end crash with a eighteen wheeler. 2. This group of four English musicians, which include Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Terence “Geezer” Butler and Bill Ward, is considered the pioneer of “heavy metal” rock music. Name their album, released Friday, February 13, 1970, which bears the same name as the group itself AND the title song. 3. This government agency began operation on December 2, 1970 and is responsible, among other things, for making a coordinated attack on pollutants which harm human health. Name this agency. 4. This popular music group from the seventies was formed in 1970. Their original name was “Pud,” its members included Tom Johnston, Patrick Simmons, John Hartman and Dave Shogren. Name this group. (Need a hint? Find one at the very end of this column.) 5. What team tromped the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings by a score of 23-7 in Super Bowl IV on January 11, 1970? 6. Prior to October 9, 1970, divorce was illegal in this European country. Name this country.

For the answers to this week’s trivia questions, plus more photos of the AMC Gremlin, visit the FIN MAN’s web site at http://www.thefinman.com.

“What looks like a sports car, loads like a wagon, turns on a dime and drives like fun?” That was the question posed in a magazine ad for the 1970 AMC Gremlin– the independent auto maker’s bid for the new “sub-compact” market.

Many have called the Gremlin “America’s first sub-compact”, but I think somehow they managed to overlook the Metropolitan and Crosley. Introduced April 1, 1970, (was that coincidence or the act of some sick-o marketing manager?) the Gremlin was a popular little car in its day and a big success for America’s most prominent independent auto maker. It was the type of car that many bought as a second or third car for short hops to the the grocery store and back, or in many cases it was a teen’s first car or college runabout.

Based on AMC’s Hornet, the Gremlin’s wheelbase was shortened by 12 inches and the body was lopped off at the tail... a style referred to as a “Kammback”. Fitted with a 3.3 liter, six cylinder engine producing 128 brake horsepower, it was a worthy performer in its class when compared to its direct competitors, Pinto and Vega introduced by Ford and Chevy the following year. Paired with a three speed manual transmission with column mounted shift lever, Gremlin delivered overall mpg figures in the 28-30 range while providing zero-to-sixty times of under 12 seconds... about half the time it took Ford’s Pinto to reach the same mile-a-minute target. In a Mechanic’s Illustrated test report, Tom McCahill pushed the diminutive little car’s top speed right up to the century mark. (That must be what the ad guys had in mind when they said it “drives like fun!”) Two years later, those funsters at AMC added a 5.0 liter V-8 to the options list. Talk about FUN!!

The base, “commuter” model Gremlin, with a factory price of $1,879.00 ($10,118.00 in ‘07 dollars), was fitted with seating for just driver and one passenger and a fixed, non opening rear deck. The four passenger model, which sold for eighty dollars more, included a rear seat with fold down, split backs and a rear window “liftgate” (only the rear window glass was hinged) providing convenient rear seat/cargo area loading access.

Finding anything inspiring on the standard equipment list was, as one might expect, a difficult task. Copywriters for magazine ads and sales brochures had to reach way down into the “bottom of the barrel” grasping for straws in listing items such as heater/defroster; rubber floor mats; ashtray; dome light and front door armrests. Gremlin buyers with slightly deeper pockets could choose from a list of 30 factory installed options and accessories– the same offered to Hornet buyers. Among the power train options were a 145 bhp, 232 cubic inch (that’s 3.8 liters for the generation X’ers) in-line six with single barrel carburetor or a 2-barrel version producing 155 ponies, for those who wanted to further distance themselves from Pinto/Vega drivers. Gremlins equipped with these optional engines were also fitted with a floor mounted shift for the 3-speed manual gearbox.

Gremlin convenience and appearance options included “Shift-Command” automatic transmission with column mounted shifter ($195.00); power steering ($96.00); power brakes ($43.00); air conditioning ($381.00); am push-button radio ($62.00); electric windshield washers/wipers ($20.00); rooftop luggage rack ($39.00); tinted glass ($34.00); black, white or red Rally side stripes ($25.00); full wheel covers ($25.00); front and rear bumper guards ($25.00); locking gas cap ($6.00) and a custom steering wheel for twelve extra bucks.

The little Gremlin’s truncated appearance has been the subject of many jokes and much sarcasm over the years, but it has also earned it a cult like following in today’s collectible car market. One big advantage Gremlin has as a collectible automobile is the fact that many of its parts are shared with other AMC models, making repair and restoration a fairly inexpensive task compared to many other historic cars.

My Aunt Dorothy, who was used to driving DeVilles and such, didn’t even give Gremlin a second glance, but 28,500 or so did fall for the natty little bob tailed car in just the first five months of sales. Gremlin’s fitting name, in all probability, contributed to its allure. Webster defines gremlin as a “small, imaginary creature humorously blamed for the faulty operation of airplanes or the disruption of any procedure.” The controversially styled Gremlin no doubt “disrupted” many a Pinto and Vega driver as it streaked away from them at the stoplight.

A prominent seventies automotive icon, the Gremlin played major roles in many a movie including Brewster McCloud (1970); The Case of the Baltimore Girls (1973); SuperVixens (1975); Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); Banzai (1883); The Terminator (1984); Tango & Cash (1989); Edward Scissorhands (1990); Point Break (1991); Dazed and Confused (1993); The Virgin Suicides (1999); Summer of Sam (1999); and Transformers (2007), to name but a few. Gremlins also appeared regularly in television series including The Simpsons; Starsky and Hutch; Chips; Knight Rider; The A-Team; Miami Vice; The X-Files; That 70’s Show; The Dukes of Hazard... and the list goes on.

Off to a good start in its first short year, Gremlin sales increased steadily and dramatically during its formative years with a peak production of 171,128 units being produced in the extended 1974 model year. (AMC decision makers extended 1974 model year production into November of 1974 in order to delay installation of federally mandated catalytic converters.) As is often the case when fickle consumers tire of any long running style, fascination with the Gremlin began to wane in the mid seventies. When the hammer finally came down on AMC’s popular little sub compact, a total of 671,475 units had been produced. Gremlin had done its part to postpone the inevitable demise of America’s last significant, independent auto manufacturer.

If you could get past the controversial, truncated styling, the Gremlin was basically a common sense automobile that owners loved. It cost little to purchase, was easy to park and was powered by a reliable, six cylinder engine that provided more than adequate performance. Love it or not, the quirky little Gremlin has left its mark in automotive history and in what better decade could it have come along but the seventies!

Just can’t get enough info on the Gremlin? For a much more in depth read on the Gremlin, check out Dave Beck’s article at http://www.allpar.com/amc/gremlin.html.

For answers to this week’s trivia questions plus more pictures and info on the 1970 Gremlin, visit The FIN MAN’s web site at http://www.thefinman.com. While there, check out the FIN MAN’s Nostalgia Store where you can purchase shirts and other car related items (coming soon). You can e-mail the FIN MAN at mailto:the_fin_man@msn.com.

Do you know the difference between antique, collectible and Classic Cars? The FIN MAN can explain this and much more about the interesting cars of the late twentieth century. Bruce Kunz is available for your group’s meeting or special event and is currently booking engagements through December, 2008. During his appearance, he presents an overview of the collector car hobby plus a detailed look at fifties, sixties and seventies American automobiles. His program includes a PowerPoint presentation with images of collectible automobiles and various associated nostalgia and Americana, particularly from the fifties and sixties. Guests also have the opportunity to play “FINS for FUNTM,” the video car trivia game he produced in 1987 which inspired his nickname “The FIN MAN.” The game involves identifying the year, make and model of fifties and sixties cars by viewing just a small section of the rear quarter. Contestants compete for auto related prizes donated by supporting Fin Man sponsors such as Fast Lane Classic Cars, Chuck-A-Burger, Gateway Classic Cars, Meguiars auto care products and Advance Auto Parts. For more information, click on this link: http://groups.msn.com/the-fin-man/seminaragenda.msnw.

Bruce Kunz is a member of the Society of Automotive Historians, the Gateway Chapter of the Buick Club of America and the Monte Carlo Owners Association of America. He welcomes your kudos, comments, complaints and suggestions. To e-mail him, click here > mailto:the_fin_man@msn.com.

TRIVIA QUESTION No. 4 HINT: One of this group’s most popular hit songs includes the following lyrics: “Well, the Illinois Central and the Southern Central Freight...”.

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