A Car Only Patriots Could Love ; CLASSIC CARS AMC PACER American Motors the Pacer Looked Horrible, Drove Badly and Ate Money. Martin Buckley Wonders Why Americans Loved It
Buckley, Martin, The Independent (London, England)
The AMC Pacer is really America's Austin Allegro, a Seventies car that was so uniformly inept in almost all respects that it has passed into folklore and become perversely "cool".
It makes any top 10 of all-time worst cars, its profile raised by appearances in the 1992 Mike Myers comedy Wayne's World and the Eminem video for "The Real Slim Shady".
Why was it so awful? It's hard to know where to begin, but its problems really stemmed from the fact that the Pacer was the issue of AMC (American Motors Corporation), by far the weakest of the Detroit producers. Here, funds to develop truly new models were limited in the early Seventies, yet it was felt that AMC needed to try something radically different to make its voice heard in the market-place.
The result was an American attempt at an "economy car", or, in the words of AMCs advertising blurb, "the first wide small car": the Pacer was 100 inches long but 77 inches wide -wider, in fact, than a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and about the same length as a Ford Granada.
AMC's styling supremo Dick Teague (who, tellingly, had a problem with one of his eyes after a childhood car crash and was unable to perceive depth) ignored the contemporary fashion for angular bodywork and instead fashioned a rounded, futuristic two-door hatchback that had a definite touch of the lunar vehicle about it, with massively deep goldfish-bowl windows.
It caught the American imagination at a time when other domestic "compacts" (including the infamous exploding Ford Pinto) merely looked like scaled-down full-size cars. In fact, the Pacer's "lemon" image is somewhat belied by the fact that sales in the first year were huge, with the domestic magazines saying polite things about it through gritted teeth in the name of patriotism.
The Pacer was born in the midst not only of a fuel crisis (suddenly gas mileage became an issue for Americans), but also increasing sales of foreign cars. The American buyer was beginning to be educated in the sophisticated ways of the European automobile, learning to love the thrift and reliability of Japanese cars in huge numbers.
The Pacer might have had more credibility as the all-American answer to the invading hordes had it not been powered by a 3.8- litre straight six engine that could barely push its quivering bulk to 90mph on an emissions-strangled 95bhp while averaging 18mpg or less.
Taken from the Jeep, this boat anchor of a power unit was so heavy that it broke the steering on early Pacers. In fact, the car was so heavily built (in anticipation of Federal crash safety legislation that never actually came into force) that AMC eventually abandoned all pretensions of economy and offered the Pacer with a five-litre V8.
The one fact that fascinates people about the Pacer is that the passenger door was 10cm longer than driver's door to make it easier to get shopping in the back. …