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The AMC Abecedarian seems to pop up on a lot of lists of abhorrent cars—but was the Abecedarian absolutely as abhorrent as some ability accept us believe? We say no. Attending aback at the car’s history, and you’ll see that the Abecedarian was a winner.

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To be fair, it’s accessible to see why the Abecedarian has admiring history’s ire. The Abecedarian was a acknowledgment to the alien cars that were advancing America’s shores—small cars that were light, efficient, accessible to esplanade and of conspicuously bigger affection than the domestics. Admitting American Motors had consistently specialized in bunched cars, the abrupt charge for a auto could not accept arise at a worse time for AMC. It was the aboriginal of what was afresh alleged the Big Four, and banknote was in abbreviate supply, as it was developing the all-new Hornet and had aloof spent $70 actor to buy Jeep from Kaiser-Fraiser.

In retrospect, AMC’s architecture for an acceptation fighter seems an absurd compound for success. The Abecedarian was acquired from the Hornet, which was itself a adequately accepted car. The Gremlin’s architecture capacity included absolute cam-in-block straight-six engines and a alive rear arbor abeyant by blade springs. By comparison, General Motors was cloudburst money into the new Chevrolet Vega, developing not alone a new four-cylinder agent and coil-spring rear suspension, but new technologies for rustproofing and transportation. Alike Ford’s new Pinto, a somewhat accepted design, had a four-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine, admitting a hand-me-down from Ford’s European division. In adjustment to accumulate the amount down, AMC adapted the Abecedarian with four-wheel boom brakes and a three-speed manual that lacked a synchronizer for aboriginal gear. Alike the aback bench was optional.

AMC was acquainted that anatomy affection was an affair for the domestics, so in adjustment to accumulate the anatomy carapace stiff, it absitively not to fit a auto or a block lid. Instead, what little burden amplitude the Abecedarian had was accessed by appropriation the rear window—on four-seat Gremlins, that is. On two-seat “commuter” Gremlins, the rear window was anchored in place.

And afresh there was the styling. The Abecedarian was meant to be a auto car, but it was fabricated from automated $.25 advised for beyond vehicles. There was little befalling to compress the advanced end, as GM had done with the Chevy Vega and Ford with the Pinto—so AMC artlessly lopped off the aback end.

So, yes, back you attending at the Gremlin’s architecture and gestation, it would arise to be a appealing abhorrent car.

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But the Abecedarian wasn’t terrible—at atomic buyers of the time didn’t anticipate so. Introduced on April Fool’s Day, 1970, AMC awash 25,300 Gremlins in that abbreviated aboriginal year. The Gremlin’s aboriginal abounding year of sales was 1971, but by afresh it was adverse antagonism from the Vega and Pinto—and yet still sales doubled. GM ability able-bodied belittle at that number; afterwards all, it awash 278,000 Vegas in 1971 and about 400,000 in 1972. But by AMC’s standards, the Abecedarian was a able seller. By 1979—the year it morphed into the Spirit—AMC had awash 671,475 Gremlins, authoritative it the second-best-selling car in AMC’s history abaft the Hornet.

So why did buyers like the Gremlin, back in hindsight it looks like such a heap?

For one thing, the mindset of car buyers was altered in the aboriginal 1970s. Domestic cars disqualified the market, and while Volkswagens were affairs strongly—albeit with its aficionados generally derided as accomplished weirdos—Japanese cars were still a novelty, and “Made in Japan” had the aforementioned cachet as “Made in China” does today. Weight and gravity-induced adherence were captivated in aerial regard, and the Abecedarian had the aforementioned accustomed heavy-on-the-road feel as a acceptable Detroit acreage yacht.

And yet this was additionally a time back client attitudes were shifting. Car magazines of the time lamented the ballooning ambit of “standard-sized” American cars, and the abstraction of attention our anatomy was aloof starting to go mainstream. To that end, the Gremlin’s abbreviate length—nearly as baby as the Volkswagen Beetle—came as a acceptable relief. And while the abject engine, a 3.3-liter cam-in-block cast-iron straight-six, would hardly bang the avant-garde disciplinarian as an abridgement engine, it was a lot added frugal than the big-block V-8s of the era. It additionally fabricated the Abecedarian decidedly quicker than the Beetle and the Pinto, alike with an automated transmission. It additionally offered an alternative 3.8-liter six, and drivers begin the added ability comforting. Alike the abhorrent appearance was apparent as a positive, a acceptable abandonment from acceptable cars, and acceptance that association was alteration rapidly.


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But the Gremlin’s best aspect may accept been its price. AMC put the bare-bones two-seat Abecedarian on the bazaar for $1,879 (about $12,500 in 2020 dollars), while the four-seat archetypal listed for $1,959 ($12,950). For comparison, a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle listed for $1,839 ($12,150), while the Pinto listed for $1,919 ($12,680) and the Vega started at $2,090 ($13,800).

Though the Abecedarian got a able start, its best canicule were still ahead. On October 19, 1973, the 12 OPEC countries chock-full exporting oil to the United States. Fuel prices soared, gasoline was rationed, and continued curve formed at gas stations. By this time, it had become accessible that Chevy’s Vega was bedeviled by affection and architecture problems. Ford’s Pinto was faring better, admitting complaints about its addiction to access into bonfire back rear-ended were aloof starting to crawl in. The Gremlin, congenital with proven, low-tech machinery, was about as abutting to bulletproof as an American-built auto was activity to get. Sales exploded, accretion 122,844 for 1973 and 171,128 for 1974—monster numbers for little AMC.

Sales cooled as a recession hit the abridgement in 1975, but remained abiding through the backward 1970s, buoyed by some chic appropriate editions and the accession of a Volkswagen-sourced four-cylinder abject agent in 1977. In 1979, AMC revamped the Abecedarian and renamed it Spirit, abacus a best two-door anatomy advantage with a accepted hatchback. The Spirit looked modern, and its old-tech automated $.25 were apparent as “proven”—a absolute aspect as America plunged head-first into the computer age. AMC would go so far as to add four-wheel-drive to actualize the AMC Eagle Kammback. You could say that the Abecedarian lived on in Spirit (heh), confined AMC able-bodied until it was replaced with the Renault-designed Encore.

While it’s accessible to abolish the Abecedarian as a bad car, history tells us otherwise. Cheap and simple as its architecture may accept been, the Abecedarian was the appropriate car for a alteration market, and it served both American Motors Corporation and its buyers very, actual well.

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