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Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1979 AMC Pacer

Car Culture / Comments

Some things are so terrible they're actually great.

If you feel you must buy an old AMC Pacer, do the following: 1. Promise yourself to get one with air conditioning 2. Be prepared to be laughed at by complete strangers as well as some close friends, and 3. Have your head examined. Assuming you're ready for the incoming ridicule storm, enjoy the ride. I guess. And no, the AMC Pacer never came with a licorice dispenser, made famous by the Pacer from "Wayne's World." In short, the Pacer was truly a terrible car. So terrible it may have actually been great. What does that even mean, automotive speaking?

The word 'great' doesn't necessarily have to refer to something magnificent, but rather a unique vehicle that at least made an attempt to be revolutionary for its time. That was the AMC Pacer, in a nutshell. Launched for 1975, the Pacer was a two-door compact hatchback or wagon that instantly stood out due to its aerodynamic jellybean design. Generally speaking, American vehicles of the mid-70s were not known for aerodynamics.

The Pacer's body surface also consisted of 37 percent glass. Without ponying up for air conditioning, you were likely to cook yourself to death on a hot summer's day. And partly because of all of that heavy glass (16 percent more than the typical passenger car at the time), the Pacer's weight ballooned up to over 3,000 pounds. But the Pacer also held the title of being the first modern day, mass-produced US vehicle with a cab-forward design. Car and Driver described the Pacer as "The Flying Fishbowl."

However, AMC was always a forward-thinking automaker. It did things differently than the rest of Detroit, to varying degrees of success. It was ultimately purchased by Chrysler in 1987 who gained much of AMC's knowledge in not just cab-forward styling, but also one highly lucrative brand: Jeep. It was AMC who developed and launched the Cherokee and laid much of the groundwork for the Grand Cherokee. But the Pacer was not one of its best creations.

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Dating back to 1971, AMC's executives believed demand for smaller vehicles in the US would increase over the coming decade due, in part, to high gasoline prices. Designers intended to deliver a state-of-the-art vehicle with large interior proportions while keeping the exterior relatively small. As such, the Pacer was designed from the inside out with comfort and safety for four passengers as priorities. The automaker knew in advance the Pacer's styling would not be for everyone. They were right. It was a love it or hate it design.

Under the hood were straight-six engines, none of which were particularly efficient or powerful. Power, meanwhile, was sent to the rear wheels through either a three- or four-speed manual or an optional three-speed automatic. AMC also offered a Pacer wagon which, like the coupe, looked pretty ridiculous, perhaps more so. The wagon didn't arrive until 1977 and it stuck around until the Pacer's demise in 1979. Few were sad to see the Pacer go because, well, it was never a hit to begin with.

It has since earned its place in American automotive history as a good-hearted attempt by a company that didn't like to play by the rules. AMC did its own thing but, sadly, the investment spent on the Pacer became a financial burden. However, if you feel like investing your own cash on a funky Pacer, you're in luck.

This 1978 Pacer DL Wagon has just 27,333 original miles, an original six-cylinder engine with a measly 120 hp, and "flawless green metallic paint with woodgrain trim." The light wood trim was even professionally replaced with real wood from a wood boat restorer. Yep, someone actually spent money to have that done. Its tan interior also looks to be in remarkably good shape.

Stored in the garage of its owners for the past 20 years, this '78 AMC Pacer Wagon has an asking price of $14,950 on Craigslist Orange County, California. Only a seriously quirky collector would pony up that kind of cash for this.