[Editor’s Note: When we disabled comments on Finds of the Day, some readers were vocal about losing a forum to discuss past ownership experience with a particular automobile. To fix that, we’re introducing a new series entitled “Year, Make and Model,” where readers are free to discuss cars with as much enthusiasm as they’d like, as long as comments remain family-friendly, non-political and on topic. Year, Make and Model posts will be pulled from our back catalog of printed content, and will cover a broad range of vehicles. Enjoy, and let us know what you think of the idea. – Kurt]
Spend time thumbing through our domestic automotive history and you will note that small cars have always peppered the industry. American Bantam and Crosley are some of the earliest notables, along with King Midget. Rambler, Falcon and the Chevy II were the next wave of economy cars, long before oil embargoes made front-page headlines. By the mid-Sixties, market demand meant they were here to stay. Among those produced during the late Seventies, the AMC Pacer was an economical giant, in a manner of speaking.
Gracing this page is a 1977 edition, assembled with a standard-issue 232-cu.in. straight-six, the Pacer’s base engine since its 1975 introduction. Featuring a 3.75 x 3.50-inch bore and stroke, 8.0:1 compression ratio and a single-barrel carburetor, it was rated for a fuel-sipping 88hp. The downside to this engine was that it was essentially overtaxed, in part due to the Pacer’s 3,000-plus pounds, without options. By all accounts, however, the optional 258, which offered a better combination of power and economy, was the popular choice among customers. This engine had a longer 3.90-inch stroke that, along with a single-barrel carburetor, was rated for 98hp. By 1977, AMC had made available the two-barrel version that resulted in a horsepower rating of 114.
Backing the engine was a standard column or floor-shifted three-speed manual; overdrive was offered, but it was limited to column-shifted Pacers and those without the 114hp 258. If one preferred not to manipulate a clutch pedal and shifter simultaneously, a three-speed automatic was also optional. Although not offered initially, by 1977 the Pacer could have been equipped with a four-speed manual.
The Pacer’s 100-inch wheelbase unit-body chassis continued to utilize an independent front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering system. A heavy-duty suspension upgrade was available (stiffer springs and shocks), as well as power steering, power front disc brakes and a Twin-Grip positive traction differential; the standard final drive ratio was 3.08:1 across the engine/transmission selection board, which aided fuel economy.
What made the Pacer a giant in the field of compacts was not its height, a wind-cheating 52.7 inches, but rather its width: a full 77 inches that provided more hip room for passengers. There was also ample front and rear leg room at 42 and 34.9 inches, respectively. This was achieved, thanks to Dick Teague’s then-unique foresight to design the car from the inside out. An enlarged right-hand door enabled easier rear seat ingress/egress, while all that glass permitted better all-around vision. Bucket seats were common, and a Levi’s interior package, along with the Pacer X appearance package were both available.
When 1977 Pacer production came to a close, a total of 58,264 copies found new homes, a sharp drop from the previous year’s 117,244 production run. In spite of the addition of a V-8 in 1978, output continued to decline until the model was cancelled at the conclusion of the 1980 model year.
This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue of Hemmings Motor News.