1970-1978 AMC Gremlin

For an introduction to the 1970-1978 AMC Gremlin, consider this essential fact: The development of the original AMC Gremlin could not have come at a better time.

In the late 1960s, American Motors product planners realized the need for U.S.-built subcompact cars wasn't going to go unmet forever. They also knew that AMC was expected to be a leader in the economy-car field. And they understood the company lacked the resources of Chrysler, Ford, or General Motors. What to do?

Classic Cars Image Gallery

The 1970 AMC Gremlin was the first sub-compact car introduced in the U.S. market.
American Motors was determined to be the first U.S.
manufacturer to bring the subcompact car to the
market -- and it did with the 1970 AMC Gremlin.
See more classic car pictures.

The mid-1960s had been difficult for American Motors. Under President Roy Abernethy, sales had fallen from a peak of 428,346 units in 1963 to a mere 237,785 for 1967. Profits also disappeared, from $37.8 million earned in 1963 to a catastrophic $75.8 million loss in 1967.

Things began to turn up after Roy D. Chapin, Jr., formerly executive vice president, was elevated to chairman. The 1968 Javelin gave AMC a shot in the arm. A handsome new Ambassador for 1969 shored up the company's image in the full-size market, while a new compact Hornet scheduled for 1970 would replace the aging Rambler.

1970-1978 AMC Gremlin full view.
The 1970 AMC Gremlin debuted on April 1, 1970.

But Chapin's product planners felt the market was ready for something really new: an American-built subcompact to battle the rising tide of imports. They firmly believed the subcompact market was one in which AMC should be, that it was vital to the company's image to continue to pioneer new small-car segments.

A big consideration was the importance of being a trailblazer. Ford's success with the Mustang proved how critical it was to be first out the door with a new type of car. It was common knowledge that General Motors and Ford were working on subcompacts, and 1971 would likely see their debuts. If American Motors hoped to beat them to market, it had to move quickly.

The hard question was how to do it. The company had already committed $40 million for the Hornet program and was preparing to spend another $70 million to purchase Kaiser Jeep. There simply wasn't enough money left to develop an all-new car for an untested market niche.

AMC had a secret weapon, though, in Vice President of Styling Dick Teague. Former chief stylist for Packard, Teague would eventually become known as a wizard at spinning new products out of existing tooling. He'd already created the exciting two-seat AMX on a cut-down Javelin chassis.

The 1970 AMC Gremlin and 1970 AMC Hornet models.
The 1970 Hornet compact (background), on which
the Gremlin was based, had a 108-inch wheelbase.
Gremlin rode a 96-inch stretch.

Teague turned his attention to the problem of creating a new subcompact on a shoestring. He would base it on AMC's upcoming new Hornet, creating the new car much as he'd created the AMX by cutting the wheelbase and creating a new rear body section. It would take some doing; Hornet's wheelbase was 108 inches, whereas by definition (back then) a subcompact's would have to be less than 100 inches.

Teague's designers tore into the job, creating several rough concepts, including one with a vestigial trunk that looked much like a shrunken Hornet. They finally concluded a squared-off rear would optimize interior space and provide the best access to the storage area. More importantly, the unusual styling would make a bold product statement.

Wheelbase was set at 96 inches, a foot shorter than the Hornet's. Overall length was 161.25 inches compared to 179.3 for the Hornet, a greater difference since Gremlin lacked a conventional trunk.

To learn more about the development of the 1970 AMC Gremlin, continue on to the next page.

For more information on cars, see: