Small Car Saturday 2

One commercial that sticks in my head from my youth was for the AMC Gremlin. How many of you remember this dialogue?


[Attractive young woman pulls into a gas station in her Gremlin]

Attendant: Where’s the rest of your car, Toots?

Woman: Can I have a dollar’s worth?

Attendant: [Sarcastically] Ooh, a whole dollar.

Woman: On second thought, I think I’ll just have a gallon. (In the days when gas was less than $1.00 a gallon.)


I couldn’t find a link to the actual commercial on the minion of the Evil Empire, YouTube. Without further ado:


See the source image


From a picture of a 1970 AMC Gremlin. Sometimes even I forget that not everyone wants a high-performance car or a big car. American car manufacturers think that the current market will not support a small car, as opposed to a small SUV, which they call a CUV.

The Gremlin was introduced very late in the 1970 model year, April of 1970. From the doors forward the Gremlin was identical to another new AMC car, the Hornet. The Gremlin’s wheelbase was cut to just 96 inches (the Hornet’s wheelbase was 108 inches) to match a truncated rear body with a lift-up rear window. The styling was controversial. AMC chief designer Richard Teague defended the styling, “Nobody would have paid it any attention if it had looked like one of the Big Three.” For the first three model years, the Gremlin was just 161 inches long.

American Motors beat the Big Three in delivering America’s first sub-compact car to market by about six months. When the Arab oil embargo was imposed in October, 1973–the beginning of the 1974 model year–the Gremlin was well-positioned to meet US demand for a small, fuel-efficient car. AMC sold more than 171,000 Gremlins in 1974, an increase of almost 40% compared to 1973 and 177% more than in 1972.

The US economy suffered two years of recession in 1974 and 1975, which hurt demand for all automobiles. Combined with the end of the Arab oil embargo in early 1974 and AMC’s introduction of the Pacer in early 1975, sales of the Gremlin declined markedly. By 1976 only about 53,000 were sold, a decline of about 70% from the 1974 peak. The last year for the Gremlin was 1978 after which it was replaced by basically the same car, but with more conventional styling, the Spirit. In all, about 671,000 Gremlins were built.

While some might argue that the Nash Metropolitan was really America’s first sub-compact, remember that it was built in the UK with significant design input from there as well. Of course, Nash and Hudson merged in 1954 to form American Motors, the company that made the Gremlin.

Have any of you ever owned a Gremlin? If so, I would like to read about your experiences.






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4 thoughts on “Small Car Saturday 2

    1. Yes, that seems to be a common thought even if not expressed as explicitly as you have. I give AMC credit for trying something different. By this time, they simply could not go head-to-head with the Big Three.

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  1. I’m reading that the Gremlin was heavier, stronger made, faster, and more reliable (despite its name) than the other subcompacts it competed with. Also, that it was offered with one of the widest engine ranges of all time. I’m surprised you didn’t even mention the Gremlin X where you could get a 360 V8 and 4 speed. My local mechanic is a fan of Gremlins, has had several, most recently an X set up for drag racing, 360, slicks, etc. I doubt I cared much for it back in the day, but, somehow, the looks are somewhat appealing to me now… in my old age..


    1. I don’t think it’s an ugly car, unlike the Pacer that cannibalized Gremlin sales when the former was introduced in 1975. I thought mentioning the X version would not be consistent with the theme of Small Car Saturday, but small cars with big engines were hardly new even in the 1970s.

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