History of AMC Pacer
History of AMC Pacer, After World War two America had over 10 different car companies but as the economy grew so did competition between them the three largest General Motors Ford and Chrysler dominated the business. These so called big three could afford to sell cars for less because they built so many smaller companies were soon joining forces in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
In 1954 the Nash-Kelvinator corporation merged with Hudson motor car company to form American Motors Corporation or AMC. It managed to stay in business by offering small economical cars that were good on gas, something America didn’t have a lot of despite bad management and a few near-death experiences. AMC survived the 1960 in 1970 it bought the famous Jeep brand from kaiser corporation making American Motors the fourth and last automaker in the United States.
At the start of the 1970 AMC tiny Wisconsin factory produced a very thorough line-up hornet a thoughtful compact car and one of the company’s best sellers sport about a popular wagon version. Gremlin a tiny car based on the Hornet this was America’s first subcompact. It debuted April Fool’s Day 1970.
Javelin a big bad muscle car whose days were numbered by high gasoline and insurance prices. Matador the somewhat dowdy family car that made up for its looks by providing a good value and ambassador an affordable luxury car and the first American vehicle with air-conditioning as standard equipment.
Coming off this success AMC management began work on a new car in 1971. Under vice president of design Dick Teague the styling department presented over 20 different ideas. AMC decided on a radical looking compact.
Pacer the design came within two and a half inches of a Cadillac Eldorado. Yet it measured nearly four and a half feet shorter, however it did have more glass than the Eldorado. A whopping 16% more in fact it had more glass than about anything on the road at 5615 square inches. To ease access to the backseat designers made the passenger door four inches longer than the drivers to improve handling the Pacer had advanced rack and pinion steering. This provided very responsive and precise steering and only a handful of other American cars had it. Not every great idea made it into the final car however.
To keep the Pacer fast and light AMC plan to give it a Wankel rotary engine named after German engineer Felix Wankel the rotary engine has no cylinders, instead the combustion cycle is carried out inside of an oblong housing by a triangular rotor. Wankel engines provides smooth high revving power and usually way a lot less than conventional ones. This design would keep the Pacer light and athletic, engineers also considered making the car front-wheel drive as well. Rather than produce the engine itself EMC arranged to purchase it from General Motors. Unfortunately General Motors canceled the program at the last minute citing concerns with poor fuel economy and trouble meeting pollution regulations .
Japanese automaker Mazda was encountering similar issues with its own rotary engine cars. For AMC the timing couldn’t have been worse. AMC spent nearly 60 million dollars developing the Pacer the company couldn’t afford to cancel it now. The old engine added a lot of weight to the new car but AMC didn’t really have a choice. The tine company had a lot of hopes riding on the Pacer. 1974 auto sales were down 23% from the previous year.1973 fuel crisis hurt the industry and rising inflation wasn’t helping. With the engine problem finally solved AMC fired up production and prepared for an uphill battle.The Pacer took the automotive world by strom. Suddenly all eyes were on American Motors for 1975.
AMC now faced a new problem, the factory couldn’t build Pacers fast enough to meet demand. Original predictions of 80,000 car for 1975 now seemed modest by year’s end AMC made a whopping 145000 and 528 Pacers. Beating the odds the Pacer became the little car that could.
1975 was record-setting year for American Motors but going into the Pacers second year AMC employees began to notice something. The public’s initial love started to wear off. In the past AMC’s quality often surpassed that of the big three but since they were the underdog the public found it easy to pick on them now. Owners also began complaining about the Pacers fuel economy. AMC should have fixed these problems during the design phase but some of them were beyond the company’s control the government and the public both pressured car makers to improve their fuel economy in the 1970. Ironically the government also made it very hard to do. With the 70s came automobile emissions regulations. Manufacturers struggled with new equipment to clean up their cars filthy exhaust. The government also began looking into safety regulations for cars, sending legal departments into a panic.
Big bumpers and heavier body panels added extra weight to the Pacer further hurting gas mileage. Now that the excitement had cooled the Pacers weight problem became obvious but those unfortunate enough to crash a pacer found out it was pretty safe.
American Motors had always survived on the philosophy of doing more with less but the high costs of the pacer program meant the company could barely afford to do anything with the rest of its cars. The javelin and ambassador both died off in 1974. Leaving the matador as the sole big car. The Hornet and gremlin lines now over five years old, both looked outdated next to the competition. What little money AMC had went into making cars more fuel-efficient. By now the Pacers futuristic styling no longer engrossed the public. Only so many people wanted to buy a two-door hatchback with sales down across the board.
AMC released a second Pacer model for 1977. The Pacer wagon offered more room and a more conventional look. It’s sold better than the hatchback but combined production still only reached 58,000 less than half compared to the year before but AMC employees had a habit of digging in their heels when the going got tough.
They made big plans for 1978. Under Dick Teague the styling department pulled off a miracle, turning the old Hornet into a new luxury car called the Concorde. Stylish also revised the Pacers front end for a more orthodox look the hood now had an odd bulge in the middle. With more room AMC engineers somehow managed to cram a bigger V8 motor into the car. This certainly solved some of the performance problems but the five leader mill did not provide anywhere near the fuel economy people wanted. However Japanese and German imports did have fuel-efficient cars and they continued to eat into American Motors market share. Slow Pacer sales made matters worse a lot of costly engineering work went into the V8 model as few parts could be shared between it and other AMC vehicles. American Motors could not afford any more expensive mistakes like this.
Fortunately sales of the Jeep division continued to grow but it wasn’t enough money to create a fresh new car design that AMC desperately needed help came from an unlikely source. American Motors announced a new partnership with French carmaker Renault. Renault would sell French cars through AMC dealerships and AMC would build a new Renault designed compact at its American Factory. As it turned out the French loved the Pacer. Perhaps it was this admiration that helped foster their partners. Either way no amount of love could rejuvenate the Pacers sales figures. Whether it was the awkward shape poor performance or mediocre gas mileage the public had spoken.
On 1979 brought a second fuel crisis to the United States. Rising inflation and the unstable economy caused national car sales to sink like a stone. The success of the Concorde helped paint a brighter picture it sold modestly well and designers tweaked the styling for a more modern look. It became the company’s senior car as the aging Matador was quietly put out to pasture. The team also cobbled together some existing designs to finally replace the gremlin called the spirit. The new subcompact looked nice but failed to catch on like the Concorde. The Pacer lineup persevered with few changes. By now it was obvious that sales would never recover.
As a result 1980 would be its last year on the market. Five years after it rocked the automotive world the Pacer disappeared. A total of 1746 Pacers were built for 1980. AMC stopped production in late 1979 to free up factory space.
American Motors used that space to build a whole new type of car by combining existing bodies with a four-wheel drive powertrain. It created the AMC Eagle. The Eagle took flight in 1980 as the first vehicle with car like comfort and SUV capability. It seems AMC once again was ahead of their time. By the mid 80s it looked as if the company’s luck might finally change. The US factory began churning out the appropriately named Renault AMC Alliance but like so many partnerships in the automobile business. It soon became obvious who was in charge.
New management came in and AMC tired old designs took a backseat. Despite Reno’s efforts the u.s failed to fall in love with French cars. Political trouble in France led to problems at Renault. The company needed to cut costs. So in 1987 management put American Motors on the chopping block. Coming off a wave of success. Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca eagerly bought up the tiny company. Mainly for the lucrative Jeep brand. He integrated AMC as Chrysler’s Jeep Eagle division and they sold equal wagons until the parts to build them ran out and with that American Motors Corporation disappeared for good.
In the end the Pacer program was just too expensive for the tiny company. It went against AMC tried-and-true strategy of shared designs and cost-cutting. But AMC also faced numerous problems outside its control. Between fuel shortages foreign competition government regulations and GMs cancelling of the rotary engine. The program may have been doomed from the start.
It’s a sad reminder that the underdog doesn’t always win. But even though the company died the Pacer lives on.