Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer

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Thread: Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer

  1. #1
    2.8 Liter Turbocharged V6 Syclone478's Avatar
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    Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer

    I know the Pacer is not a GM product but it's a rather unique American product, so I thought I'd share this post I wrote about its styling process.

    “You only ride like a Pacer if you’re wide like a Pacer”

    Yes, I’m writing about the Pacer. And yes, that was one of it’s original ad slogans.

    Apart from automotive history buffs, AMC aficionados and those that grew up with one in the family, there probably aren’t too many people that see any good reason to bring this car up.
    Story continued at the link... Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer
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  3. #2
    6.0 Liter L76 V8 autoplaybook's Avatar
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    Re: Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer

    I'm a HUGE American Motors fan. And I like the Pacer a lot, even though it was a compromised design.

    I never understood why AMC placed so much emphasis on marketing the car as "wide", though. Yes, it was wide. As wide as a '70s standard midsize car, actually. But why would a buyer care about width in a small car? Buyers care about ride comfort, interior spaciousness, and handling. The width of the car gave it those attributes. But none of those were marketed like its width, itself, was.

    Buyers of small cars also cared about maneuverability, fuel economy, and ease-of-maintenance. The Pacer's width also made the car harder to park, more expensive to build (which hurt profits), less aerodynamic due to increased frontal area, and heavier relative to its competition (which hurt fuel economy and acceleration). And the Pacer was a porker...170" long (Pinto length), 77" wide (Ford Torino width), and with 37% of its surface area being glass, the Pacer wound up at 3,300lbs. The narrower Gremlin, which was the same length and used the same straight-six engines, was 600lbs lighter.

    Because of that, the Pacer's fuel economy wasn't so hot. Teague designed the Pacer to be the perfect car for midsize buyers to step down to. He conceived it as a comfortable, passenger-centric car. The best-selling Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme of the day had narrow windows and lousy backseat leg room. And AMC's marketing should have capitalized on that. But they didn't. They pitched the Pacer as "the first wide small car" instead. A small car that was slow and didn't have good fuel economy to show for it.

    From what I've read, the Pacer was initially designed to be a transverse FWD vehicle using GM's rotary. Plans to use their own straight sixes to drive the rear wheels didn't materialize until the Energy Crisis, when GM canceled their rotary engine product plan. Because of this, AMC had to push the Pacer's launch back six months (it debuted on 2/28/1975 as a '75) and throw tons of money into a crash program to widen it to accommodate the transmission tunnel. And because the Pacer's hood line was so low, the long six had to be shoved up against the cowl, burying the sixth spark plug, and making the transmission tunnel intrude much further into the cabin than it did on the Gremlin or Hornet. A drive shaft tunnel and redesigned live axle/leaf spring rear suspension also gobbled up most of the remaining space/packaging gains from widening the car, ensuring a reduced cargo hold.

    I've always wondered what it would have been like if AMC developed their own four-cylinder to debut in '74/75 instead of '83/84. That could still have fit transversely under the Pacer's low hood. And with the Pacer being narrower, it would have been light enough to not overtax the four. If AMC wanted an optional upgrade engine, they could look no further than the Buick V6 they'd sold back to GM in '73. Since GM was stiffing AMC on a rotary, the Buick V6 (in improved 3.8L form) would have been a great fallback plan.

    Had these plans gone through, AMC would have been the first American car maker to offer a transverse front-drive car, beating Chrysler's L-cars (i.e., Omni/Horizon) to market by three years, GM's X-Cars by five, and the Escort/Lynx by six.

    As it was, the Pacer was a hot seller - at first. 72k were sold in its first six months, and another 117k were sold for '76. But by 1977, word of the Pacer's shortcomings had spread, and newer competitors like the VW Rabbit and a raft of new product from Japan spelled only 57k units sold for '77...half the '76 number despite the launch of the Pacer's second body style...the much more useful Pacer Wagon.

    For 1978, with gas prices stabilizing, AMC tried to correct the Pacer's lack of acceleration by adding a 304 V8 option. The V8 fit better, lengthwise, under the Pacer's short hood than the standard 232 and optional 258 I6s, but it was too tall to clear the low hood line. So AMC raised the center section of the hood and redesigned the grille. This was also done to counter some customer complaints surrounding the perception (not the reality...the Pacer was quite strong and safe) of there not being enough metal ahead of the passenger compartment to provide safety in an accident. But a V8 wasn't what customers wanted, and sales fell to only 21k for '78...less than 4,000 of those being V8 models. AMC added a leather-and-equipment clad "Limited" trim line for 1979, which gave the Pacer a level of luxury seen only in high-end Buicks and Chryslers of the day. But sales fell by half again, to only 10k units. AMC threw in the towel after a short 1980 model year, with only 1,700 '80 Pacers (down 98.5% from its sales peak just four years prior) being built before they shut the line down in December of '79.

    It's worth noting that those one-piece aircraft-style doors were incredibly heavy, especially the longer passenger door and were hinged to open out and up at an angle. And because the belt line of the car was so low, the door glass was enormous, which added to the weight of those doors. The glass was also too tall to roll down completely into the doors (see above). So they had to design door trim panels to rise above the belt line at the rear for elbows to rest on.

    These clay design studies are fascinating, though. The ones with pronounced fender flares remind me of the '74 Matador Coupe. And that last styling buck, with the mail-slot grille, hidden headlights, and reverse-angle rear fascia is the best-looking of them all.
    Last edited by autoplaybook; 01-28-2013 at 12:50 PM.


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    6.0 Liter L76 V8 70AARCUDA's Avatar
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    Re: Design Notes: 1975 AMC Pacer

    ...predated by the "wide-track" Pontiacs!
    2011 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ 1.4LT 6A
    2009 Pontiac Vibe 1.8L/SFI 4A
    2004 Pontiac Vibe 1.8L/MFI 4A

    1971 Dodge Charger 318 3A
    1970½ Plymouth AAR 'Cuda 340/6BBL 4M
    1968 Dodge Charger 383 3A
    1967 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S 383 4M
    1965 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S 273 4M

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