American Motors Company, or AMC, was formed in the mid-Fities with the merger of Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company. It came to fore in the next decade as the upstart that took on the financial might of Detroit’s Big Three with innovation and daring designs led by Richard Teague. However, by the late Sixties, the firm was finding it difficult to carry on as rising oil prices had buyers moving towards smaller, more affordable cars.
Seeing that the bizarrely named Gremlin wasn’t bringing in as many customers as it had hoped to, AMC knew it had to introduce a new model that could lure buyers looking to downsize into its fold. Its answer was the Pacer, positioned as the world’s first wide-body compact, a segment that promised to offer the cabin room of a big car in a relatively small package. This was AMC trying to put a positive spin on its weakness, which was the inability to develop and build a genuine compact car.
The design was daring, perhaps a bit too adventurous, with a bulbous rear with unusually large wraparound windows that made it look like a fishbowl. Adding to the many idiosyncrasies of the Pacer was its asymmetric doors, with the right door being longer than the left. Although this was supposedly aimed at making it easier for passengers to climb into the back, it became a problem when the car was to be converted to right-hand drive for other markets. Also, the Pacer was developed with a Wankel engine in mind as AMC had entered into a deal with GM for supply of the rotary mill it was developing. However, following the oil crisis, GM dropped the project leaving AMC in a quandary. It went ahead with inline six engines from its inventory but these heavy engines put more load on the car’s suspension than intended, leading to poor handling and mechanical problems. The generous use of heavy glass and tech features that complied with the latest safety regulations all added to the car’s bulk. It also didn’t help that Japanese cars like the front-wheel drive Honda Accord made their way into the US market around the same time.
Sales dwindled dramatically, and after just five years from its launch, the Pacer was withdrawn and AMC couldn’t recover from the financial loss it sustained from the development and marketing of the Pacer.