Not their finest hour: AMC Gremlin

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at the AMC Gremlin
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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July 04, 2016
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The late Sixties and the Seventies represented a major shift in the American automobile market. With oil and fuel prices on the rise, buyers started favouring smaller, more affordable cars. And most such models available in the US market then were either European or Japanese. Seeing the huge demand for such vehicles, and recognising the potentially lucrative returns, all major American brands started work on small cars.

For American Motors Corporation, or AMC, which was not in the best of financial health at the time, it was imperative to beat the likes of GM and Ford to building a smaller vehicle in order to stay afloat and get an early entrant advantage. However, the need to hastily come out with a new model, plus the lack of funds, left the designers and engineers with not much choice but to work with existing resources. Thus design head Richard Teague, whose notable works include the AMX and the Jeep Cherokee XJ, got his team to essentially chop the rear off the AMC Hornet and convert it into a compact hatchback.

The resultant car, launched fittingly on April Fool’s Day in 1970, was bizarrely named after the gremlin, a mythical gnome that disrupts machinery. It was one of the most oddly proportioned cars ever, sporting a front end that is long and low, and a flat, truncated tail, and soon found itself on almost every ‘ugliest cars’ list. If the clumsy looks weren’t bad enough, the car also gained notoriety for being rust-prone, with terrible fuel economy figures, and appalling handling dynamics.

Production ended in 1978, although today the Gremlin is considered a collectible by a section of car lovers who somehow find beauty in its gawkiness. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the worst designs of all time.