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

Design Notes: 1975 AMC PacerYes, I’m writing about the Pacer. And yes, that was one of its 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 others that see a reason to bring up the Pacer.

I suppose a fourth category of Pacer appreciators might be folks that are attracted to the odder things in life. I personally happen to fit into the first category of my aforementioned list; I love automotive history. And while the Pacer is mostly considered a blemish on the face of auto antiquity, it is a defining mark nonetheless.

Sometimes studying abandoned avenues from a vehicle’s design process can help auto buffs unravel mysterious traits that made it to production. Unfortunately, the following revelations did little to rationalize this car’s appearance in my head.

Personal Pacer experience
Even though cars from the 1970s have really begun to grow on me including to an extent the Pacer, I wanted to take another moment to share a childhood experience that may explain some of my personal distaste for the big compact–apart from the obvious.

While yet at an age that numbered in the single-digits, there were some wild (i.e., undesirable) neighbors that lived in the house next-door for a short time. Around 1980 or 1981, they bought a used yellow Pacer that needed work (seems like some cars could wear out within half a decade back then).

Anyway, I used to suffer from horrible migraines that, if bad enough, could actually make me sick. During an episode late one night, the neighbor decided it was a good time to hit the bottle and work on his Pacer. I remember his bright shop light flooding through my bedroom blinds, exacerbating the barely-tolerable misery. Making things worse, whatever he was doing required him to crank the ignition for long periods of time in an apparent effort at starting the motor.

Video arcades were huge at the time with Pac-Man leading the frenzy. Between the bulbous shape of his yellow Pacer and the waka-waka-waka noise from his relentless cranking of the (likely flooded) engine, I had pain-riddled nightmares of Pac-Man chasing me throughout the night, and that association was engrained in my head for years.

Okay, now that I’ve offloaded that childhood baggage, I feel I can move on with this.

A little background
AMC has a background that’s about as intriguing as this post’s subject vehicle. So as not to spend too much time on the manufacturer’s tumultuous and seemingly perpetually-troubled history, I’ll give a drastically abridged version leading to the Pacer.

American Motors Company was officially formed in 1954 with the merging of two struggling but recognizable companies from America’s automotive lexicon: Nash and Hudson. Every model made by the two brands was on the less-than-desirable end of the sales performance spectrum, except for Nash’s Rambler. To afford Hudson with a popular model, the Rambler was sold by both brands by 1955. By 1958, the Nash and Hudson names were dropped and replaced by Rambler’s.

Henceforth, things got a little muddled with regard to nomenclature. After a miss-mash of Rambler and AMC label usage through the early 1960s, AMC became a distinct make for 1966 with the phasing out of Ramblers by the end of the 1960s.

I’m sure I could have done a better job explaining those events but, again, I didn’t want to get bogged down researching the history of AMC for this post. So, with all that under our belt, on to the Pacer.

[For this post, there is no gallery section; each of the following photos can be clicked to see a larger version. Big hat tip to Johnny D for contributing the following material.]

It usually begins with a sketch
1975 AMC Pacer sketch from 1971-06 by Dick TeagueIf there is one person’s name to associate with the advent of the Pacer, it would be Dick Teague. Mr. Teague’s resume notably included work for GM (1950 Oldsmobile Rocket), Packard and, if I’ve done my research correctly, briefly Chrysler.

I can’t say I know what was going through his head when he came up with this idea called Town Car, shown above right, but there was a strange assortment of desires for the proposal.

Besides having the engine located midship with rear seating facing backward, there were five criteria: 1) large people package; 2) very low belt, for good outward vision; 3) lots of glass, on all four sides; 4) center rollover pillar; and 5) no hood profile, or at least a fast slope.

Anecdotally, I read in one resource that his inspiration for the shape was the aerodynamic profile of a football he’d seen spiraling on a TV screen; hence the ramped lower front and rear approaches giving it a pinched look at both ends.


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