Our on again, off again search for a potential ride for our teenage boys has run the gamut from "inexpensive" new cars (is there really such a thing?) to old beaters. Sports cars to station wagons. SUV's to CRV's. And, he says with tongue in cheek, to this.
This...is a 1978 AMC Pacer, wagon. My 16 year old was pretty blunt with his dismissal of this well worn but mostly rust free example of AMC's desperate attempt at mid '70s market share. "No", he said. "No...WAY". The look of terror on his face when my wife and kidded about how much we liked the thing and thought about getting it for ourselves was priceless.
He found no charm in this thirty-five-year-old little bomb. That's telling because he does appreciate some of the old stuff just like his old man does. Bless his heart. But he draws the line at certain cars much like I do. The AMC Pacer being one of them. Despite this being the more fetching of the now legendary (thanks, Wayne's World) body styles that were once available.
This car is different from the regular Pacer in that the cargo space out back is extended. A whole 5 inches of extension, y'all! Which gives the car significantly more storage capacity and makes the entire car, at least to my eyes, a whole more attractive (or is that less ugly?) than the non wagon version.
The wagon was available beginning in 1977. The Pacer was built by the late, mostly not so great American Motors Corporation from 1975-1980.
What's not to love about a Pacer? Well, plenty. As a wee little nipper growing up in the vast concrete and asphalt jungle of suburban NYC, I thought Pacers the ugliest car on earth. So, what's with this thing that makes it so ugly in the first place?
Well, it's the proportions of it, mostly. The Pacer started life as a mid size car that was literally sawzalled front and back. Note how wide this thing is. See? Sawzall. Then they stretched a funky two door body over what was left over and, oversimplifying things, there ya have it, kids.
There was discussion of a Wankel Rotary engine going under the hood but that never happened. That's why the hood is so low. That helped make the cockpit very airy and open. Most Pacers were powered by large in line sixes that had ample torque but modest horsepower. That meant they could scoot around town fairly well but would not go anywhere fast when you really needed it too. Not that it mattered. Most cars from the time these were new didn't go fast either.
Still, I wonder what this Pacer DL wagon would be like if I firmed up the suspension and put a small block Chevy in her.
Then I come to my senses, much like my son did in less than a split second, and came to the realization that there are some things even a small block Chevy can't fix.
photos and words by Charles Connolly