The AMC Gremlin was one "sow's ear" that Teague made into the proverbial silk purse. In fact, it was generally AMC's number-two seller in the '70s, after Hornet. Special trim options appeared almost yearly to help keep interest alive. Among the most popular was the X package, which typically delivered tape stripes, black grille, slotted wheels, wider tires, custom bucket-seat interior, sports steering wheel, and similar dress-up items.
Prices were reasonable, about $300 at first. The "LEVI's®" edition, new for '73, sported seats and door panels done up in blue spun nylon with copper rivets to look just like the cotton denim of Levi Strauss & Company, which happily collaborated on the package, even allowing use of its distinctive red jeans label. This was probably the most winsome Gremlin, and it may well be the most collectible.
Gremlin vanished after 1978 but lived on in Spirit -- the same thing with smoother, more-conventional styling. Joining the familiar chopped-tail two-door was a slick new hatchback coupe with a particularly graceful superstructure for such a short car. Both body styles offered three trim levels, and the AMX tag was revived for a special "paint-on performance" coupe in 1980.
Spirits moved via a standard 2.5-liter (151-cid) four purchased from Pontiac or, at extra cost, the long-lived AMC six. A heavy emphasis on quality made Spirits generally better-built than Gremlins, if not Big Three rivals. But there was no escaping the aged '60s-style design, and while the four was fairly thrifty, it had very little power; the six was quicker but thirstier.
In a similar transformation, the compact Hornet became the Concord for 1978. Reflecting AMC's limited new-model development funds, it wasn't all that different structurally or mechanically, but it looked more "important" and, like its line-mates, benefited from an urgent stress on workmanship prompted by the growing success of Japanese imports. Concord was AMC's volume seller from the time it appeared. By 1980 it boasted a thriftier standard engine, cleaner looks, more comfort and convenience extras, and a broader antirust warranty.
Not to be overlooked are three early-'70s Hornet developments. One was the SC/360, a performance-oriented two-door offered only for 1971. As the name suggested, it packed AMC's 360-cid small-block V-8, rated at 245 bhp with standard two-barrel carb or 285 bhp with extra-cost four-pot induction.
Acceleration was quite vivid, and a large functional hood scoop, heavy-duty suspension, styled wheels, fat tires, tape stripes, and Hurst four-speed were either standard or available. But as had so often been the case, AMC was a day late and a dollar short: only 784 were built, making the SC/360 one of the '70s rarest production Detroiters and thus something of a collector's item.
A more sensible and successful innovation was the Hornet Sportabout, a graceful four-door wagon with a one-piece tailgate. Another '71 newcomer, it would prove uncommonly long-lived.
Even lovelier was the new-for-'73 Hornet hatchback coupe. Offering vast load space, it could be quite sporty with an optional X package. Needless styling gimmicks made some versions quite tacky by the time the Concord came in, and the hatchback was discontinued after '79. There was also a special AMX model with this bodyshell, a limited 1977-78 offering.
Concord spawned a novel offshoot for 1980, the four-wheel-drive Eagle, reviving a name that AMC owned via the Jeep takeover and, with it, the dregs of Willys-Overland. A natural for a firm with AMC's particular, but limited, resources, Eagle was essentially the Concord platform equipped with a new full-time 4WD system called Quadra-Trac, whose transfer case apportioned driving torque between front and rear wheels via a center differential with clutches running in a slip-limiting silicone compound.
Eagle arrived with Concord's three body styles and a nominal 1.3-inch-longer wheelbase. Its ride height was greater too, thanks to larger tires and the required extra ground clearance for the differentials. The drivetrain comprised the firm's well-known 258-cid six (a stroked 232, first offered for 1971) mated to three-speed Torque Command automatic transmission (actually Chrysler TorqueFlite). Power steering and brakes and all-season radial tires were standard. Eagles flew with prominent (and necessary) wheel-arch flares made of color-keyed Krayton plastic, and a Sport-package option offered black extensions and other trim, plus Goodyear Tiempo tires.
Predictably, the Eagle drove and felt much like any Concord. AMC didn't intend it for off-road use, stressing the safety advantages of 4WD traction for everyday driving, particularly in the snowbelt. A full range of luxury and convenience features was offered, but there was no V-8 option for the sake of fuel economy -- and the government's corporate average fuel-economy (CAFE) mandates. The Spirit/Concord Pontiac-built four became available for '81.