Even when the compact Gremlin bowed in 1970, AMC knew it would not be enough to stem the tide of imported subcompact cars. By the beginning of 1971, the company was already at work on a follow-up. When it finally appeared in 1975, it was hailed as a revolution. When it died four and a half years later, it was already becoming the butt of jokes. We’re referring, of course, to the unmistakable 1975-1980 AMC Pacer.
When AMC’s futuristic Pacer debuted in early 1975, Motor Trend‘s introductory headline proclaimed, “Suddenly it’s 1980,” recalling the memorable advertising tagline of Plymouth’s groundbreaking 1957 “Forward Look” cars. Enthusiastic American critics called the Pacer the most revolutionary American car in 15 years.
Certainly, the Pacer looked like nothing else. Stubby but wide with massive glass area, asymmetric doors, and compound curves, it more resembled a shuttle craft from Star Trek than any contemporary American automobile. But the Pacer was designed for a future that never came and the failure of the real world to match up with the vision of its original design proved the Pacer’s undoing.
The Pacer was conceived in early 1971 by Gerald (Gerry) Meyers, then AMC’s VP of product development. It was not originally a production project, but rather a speculative venture, assigned to AMC’s Advanced Styling director, Chuck Mashigan. The goal of the project was to take a hard look at the future of the automobile — which in 1971 was very much an open question — and decide what kinds of vehicles that future would demand. It was perhaps the most far-reaching development program the company had undertaken since Meade Moore conceived the original Rambler back in the forties.
This car of the future was based on several basic parameters. One was mounting federal safety regulations, the latest proposals for which presented standards for 1980 and beyond so draconian that some Detroit automakers insisted they were simply impossible to meet, including 50 mph (80 km/h) frontal impact protection and stringent new rollover, roof crush, and side impact requirements. There were also ever-stiffer emissions standards to consider.
Another factor was the changing nature of traffic conditions. Gridlock was already a way of life in major metropolitan areas and promised to get worse as populations increased and urban dwellers retreated farther into the suburbs. In that environment, Meyers concluded, traditional notions of handling and performance were largely obsolete. More important were wieldy outside dimensions, good visibility, and tight-quarters maneuverability — not having to pass up a parking space because you couldn’t get into it or your car didn’t fit.
The goal of AMC’s future car, which was eventually codified as Project Amigo, was to meet these challenges while still providing the accommodation, utility, and comfort to which American buyers were accustomed. Many of these issues were international ones and automakers in other markets had concocted their own solutions, but these were built to fit tax categories and narrow roads and streets that didn’t really exist in the U.S., resulting in cars that were too light, too cramped, or too underpowered to suit American conditions. Project Amigo was to be basically an urban car, but it needed to be a car for American cities, American roads, and American regulations.
With all this in mind, the peculiar design of the Pacer becomes easier to understand. Designed for crowded urban freeways, it was only 171.5 inches (4,356 mm) long, 4.5 inches (114 mm) shorter than the original 1950 Nash Rambler on an identical 100-inch (2,540mm) wheelbase, and less than an inch (about 18mm) longer than a mid-seventies Ford Pinto. However, the Pacer’s overall width was a whopping 77 inches (1,956 mm), greater than any imported compact and actually about an inch (26 mm) wider than GM’s downsized 1977 B-body full-size cars. AMC officials showed off the Pacer’s width by parking Chevrolet Vega inside a specially prepared Pacer model.
Overall proportions were only one of the Pacer’s distinguishing characteristics. It had a very low beltline and massive windows for better visibility, abetted by 39 square feet (3.6 square meters) of glass area, about 50% more than the typical compact car of that era. The gently sloping curves served to reduce aerodynamic drag, giving a claimed drag coefficient of 0.32, a reasonably credible figure even today and night and day better than most of the Pacer’s contemporaries could boast. Unlike the existing AMC Gremlin, which made do with a flip-up rear window, the Pacer was a proper three-door hatchback with fold-down rear seats to expand its luggage capacity. AMC claimed a maximum of 29.6 cu. ft. (838 liters) of cargo space with the seat down as well as passenger space rivaling some intermediates of the time. A further novelty was asymmetrical doors; the passenger door was longer than the driver’s door to facility entry and exit of rear-seat occupants.
The results were inevitably odd-looking, although exterior design chief Bob Nixon, who led Project Amigo’s development from concept to production car, said the early design studies were far less roly-poly than the final product was. However, Gerry Meyers and product planning director Dale Dawkins insisted on increasing overall width, both for more passenger space and to accommodate the side and roof bracing that would be necessary to meet the proposed 1980 roof crush standards. Those much higher standards never actually materialized, but the fact that the structure was designed to accommodate them made the car bulkier (and dumpier) than it would otherwise have been. (Had the Pacer’s width been less exaggerated, it probably would have looked more like the later Mitsubishi Colt sold in the U.S. by Dodge dealers.)
Considering the emphasis on packaging, it would have been logical for the “Urban Concept,” as Project Amigo was later called internally, to have front-wheel-drive like the latest European small cars. Meyers and Dawkins said they considered that possibility, but rejected it because marketing research found that buyers would either be indifferent to FWD or consider it too new or risky. That may have been true — the Mini had never been a big seller in the U.S. and the Volkswagen Golf was still in the future when the AMC Pacer was conceived — but we suspect the real reason AMC rejected FWD was that they didn’t have the money for it. Even without front-wheel drive, the Pacer project cost AMC about $60 million, a lot of money for a cash-strapped company.
As a result, the Urban Concept had a conventional RWD layout with double wishbones and coil springs in front and Hotchkiss drive — a live axle (borrowed from the intermediate Matador) suspended on and located by semi-elliptical springs — in back. The main novelties were the use of rack and pinion steering rather than the Detroit-customary recirculating ball and the fact that AMC had finally abandoned the high-mounted front coil springs the company had used since the original Rambler. The otherwise familiar hardware saved money, but the driveshaft tunnel and differential hump cut into rear seat room and comfort and added to the car’s already ponderous mass.
THE WANKEL THAT WASN’T
As planned, the Pacer was intended to have at least one headline-worthy technical feature: The car was planned not around a conventional reciprocating engine, but rather a Wankel rotary engine.
The rotary engine was a cause célèbre in the late sixties and early seventies, when it briefly seemed like it would eventually replace the Otto-cycle (four-stroke, spark-fired) engine. Named for Dr. Felix Wankel, who had been developing the concept since the 1920s, the rotary engine uses roughly triangular-shaped pistons spinning in a fixed housing. The rotation of the piston completes the same cycle (intake, compression, ignition, and exhaust) as an Otto-cycle engine. A Wankel engine is lighter and more compact than a piston engine of the same output with fewer parts and smoother operation. [Author’s note: You can read more about the background and function of rotary engines in the articles on the NSU Ro 80 and Mazda’s early rotary cars.]
Unfortunately, the surface area and shape of the Wankel’s combustion chambers are inherently thermally inefficient, making a rotary engine thirstier than a comparable piston engine. Worse, although the rotary engine produces fewer oxides of nitrogen than a reciprocating engine, its hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions are higher. Moreover, the rotor seals take a real pounding in high-mileage operation and finding sealing materials both durable enough and cheap enough for passenger-car use was a problem. All of these factors eventually limited the rotary’s real-world automotive application, although that wasn’t yet obvious in the early seventies.
AMC did not really have the money to develop a rotary engine of its own, but as most of Detroit was well aware, in November 1970, General Motors president Ed Cole had negotiated a five-year license of Wankel GmbH’s rotary engine patents for the harrowing sum of $50 million. GM then set to work developing its own rotary, known as the General Motors Rotary Combustion Engine or GMRCE. A two-rotor version of that engine, the RC2-206, with a nominal displacement of 206 cu. in. (3,380 cc, although actual geometric displacement was precisely half that), was to be produced by the Hydra-Matic Division for use in the 1975 H-body cars (the Chevrolet Monza and its Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac siblings).
Early on, American Motors negotiated an agreement with GM to purchase the RC2-206, when it was ready, for use in AMC’s own cars. The GM rotary promised to be a lightweight, compact engine with power comparable to AMC’s smaller V8 and the ability to pass future emissions standards, all of which sounded great for the Urban Concept. AMC also spent about $1.5 million licensing the rights to eventually manufacture its own rotary engines and began discussions with fellow licensees Curtiss-Wright and Toyo Kogyo (Mazda) about the finer points of rotary engine design, an area in which GM was less than forthcoming.
In retrospect, GM would have been wiser to share information with other licensees, some of whom had already found solutions to the many problems that beset the GMRCE program. As it was, the GM rotary engine’s development was alternately fast-tracked and delayed, leaving AMC increasingly uneasy about when — or if — it would be available. Recognizing that there was a good chance the RC2-206 wouldn’t be ready in time for the Pacer’s launch, AMC went shopping for rotary alternatives, talking with Audi-NSU, Toyo Kogyo, and Comotor (a joint venture founded in 1967 by NSU and Citroën). AMC engineers built a few test mules with various non-GM rotary engines, but was unable to find one that was both suitable and affordable.
By the fall of 1974, the troubled GMRCE program had been postponed indefinitely (meaning it was effectively dead, except perhaps as a research project) and it was clear the Pacer would have to launch with a conventional piston engine, although Gerry Meyers still hoped — in vain, as things turned out — that it would be possible to add a rotary engine later.
In the meantime, AMC had to substitute its well-tried inline six, which dated back to mid-1964. Despite Meyers’ insistence that the Pacer had always had provision for AMC’s existing engines, the six was not an easy fit. Not only did it weigh at least 70 lb (32 kg) more than the stillborn RC2-206, the six was significantly taller and significantly longer than the rotary. The firewall had to be modified to make room and the two rear cylinders were buried so far back that the engine looked at a glance like an inline four.
THE AMC PACER
Although the Urban Concept’s initial styling was done by early 1972, consumer clinics were held through 1972 and 1973, and road testing began around the beginning of the 1974 model year, the delays in the engine department meant that full production didn’t begin until January 1975. Along the way, the project acquired an official name: AMC Pacer.
The first Pacer went on sale on February 28, 1975. The base model’s list prices started at $3,299, $149 more than AMC’s early projections, $200 more than a 1975 Ford Maverick, and a substantial $500 more than a Ford Pinto. There were also two plusher trim packages: the D/L ($289 more than the base car), which added wheel covers, upgraded trim, woodgrain trim, and individual front seats; and the sporty X ($339 above the base car), which added bucket seats, a sport steering wheel, a floor shifter, and different trim and badges.
None of these packages gave you front disc brakes, a front anti-roll bar, radial tires, vented windows, or tinted windows, all of which cost extra. (Considering the enormous glass area, the latter two options were particularly worthwhile, especially if you couldn’t spare another $400 for air conditioning.) Adding those options plus power steering, automatic transmission, a radio, and other minor accessories would quickly push the tab above $4,000, as much as a typical intermediate of the time. A fully loaded example might top $5,500, in the same realm as some contemporary full-size cars.
The Pacer’s standard engine was AMC’s familiar 232 cu. in. (3,801 cc) six, initially rated at 100 net horsepower (75 kW) and 185 lb-ft (250 N-m) of torque. The optional 258 cu. in. (4,235 cc) six initially had the same horsepower rating with 195 lb-ft (263 N-m), but shortly after introduction, AMC re-rated both engines at 90 hp (67 kW) and 95 hp (71 kW) respectively. No four-speed manual transmission was available, so your choices were a three-speed stick or Torque Command automatic (actually a Chrysler TorqueFlite). Manually shifted cars could also have a Laycock de Normanville overdrive, usable only in top gear, an unusual option for a seventies American car.
Early reviews had many nice things to say about the Pacer’s conceptual novelty, ample room for four adults, and airy ambiance. The Pacer also rode reasonably well, although at highway speeds, the engines reminded you of their proximity to the firewall, providing more reason to investigate the optional sound insulation package. Considered in any dynamic aspect, the verdict was less cheerful. The Pacer’s principal problem was weight; despite AMC’s talk of curb weights under 3,000 lb (1,360 kg), a well-equipped Pacer with air conditioning (presumably the heaviest single option) was more than 3,400 lb (1,550 kg), of which about 55% was on the nose.
The first ramification of that mass was the steering. Without power assistance, keeping steering effort to a manageable level meant almost six turns lock to lock, enough to make parallel parking an involved process. The optional power steering was much quicker, but added an additional $139 and more weight on the front wheels. A second problem was braking. Even with radial tires and front discs, forward weight transfer and the soft, rubber-isolated rear springs made panic stops a handful, marked by nose dive, axle hop, and abrupt rear wheel lockup. As for handling, cornering in the traditional pre-gridlock sense had never really been an AMC strong point, but nothing about the Pacer encouraged the sort of con brio hustling at which the better European small cars were adept.
Predictably, the hefty curb weight also took its toll on the Pacer’s straight-line performance. With the big six and automatic, probably the most common and sensible combination, the 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) sprint — if one could call it that — took around 16 seconds and top speed was in the 84–88 mph (135–140 km/h) range. Fuel economy ran to around 16 mpg (14.7 L/100 km), which was typical for six-cylinder American sedans in the era of 5 mph (8 km/h) bumpers and early emissions controls, but a disheartening result for anyone expecting that a small car should also be an economical one.
Despite its drawbacks, the Pacer’s novelty made for good initial sales: about 72,000 for the first partial model year and more than 117,000 for 1976. As with the Gremlin before it, the Pacer’s unusual appearance probably helped it more than it hurt. However, AMC lost more Gremlin and Hornet sales than they gained in Pacer business and ended both fiscal years with sizeable net losses.
ONWARD AND DOWNWARD
For 1976, AMC addressed at least one of the Pacer’s problems by adding a new version of the 258 cu. in. (4,235 cc) six, this one using a two-barrel carburetor and offering 120 hp (90 kW) and 200 lb-ft (270 N-m) of torque. The more powerful engine did nothing for fuel economy, but cut about 2 seconds from the Pacer’s 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) times and in a lightly optioned car could almost qualify as sprightly.
Nonetheless, by then, the bloom was off the rose so far as the critics were concerned. This is a customary phenomenon among the automotive press — the further reviewers get from perfectly tuned preview cars on a smooth test track (and the memory of the associated wining and dining), the more sharply a model’s foibles come into focus. In this case, however, there were quite a few flaws to note. Once you got used to the Pacer’s outside-the-box conception and quirky appearance, you were left with small but rather portly car that was neither particularly cheap nor very economical and wasn’t much fun to drive, particularly on a hot summer day without air conditioning or front vent windows.
The public’s enthusiasm seemed to be cooling at a similar rate, but AMC had one more trick up its sleeve: a new wagon body style (an estate, for our British readers), added for 1977. The wagon was 3.5 inches (89 mm) longer than the standard Pacer and had a reshaped roof and tail. It was only a little heavier than the three-door sedan, so performance was similar, but the wagon had a more useful cargo area and more conventional proportions. Buyers evidently found the wagon more palatable than the sedan, if only for its looks; wagons accounted for about 65% of Pacer sales in 1977 and 1978.
The Pacer got a facelift for 1978, featuring a genuinely hideous eggcrate grille. The sporty Pacer X package was dropped, the D/L trim package became standard, and the six-cylinder engines were supplemented by an optional V8. This was AMC’s familiar 304 cu. in. (4,977 cc) engine, with 130 net horsepower (97 kW) in 1978 and 125 hp (93 kW) for 1979. The V8 gave peppier performance than did the sixes, but added even more weight, the last thing the Pacer needed, and dragged fuel economy down even further. Unsurprisingly, V8s accounted for only about 10% of Pacer sales. (This was not the first time a V8 had been seen under Pacer hoods: Carl Green Enterprises built a number of V8 Pacer X models throughout the model run, usually using the 401 cu. in. (6,573 cc) AMC V8 also found in the Javelin and Matador. Like the V8 Gremlin, these V8 Pacers were real sleepers.)
Despite the wagon and the V8, Pacer sales dropped sharply after 1976 and never recovered. By 1979, it was down to around 10,000 units, more than 70% of which were wagons. Only 1,746 Pacers were sold in the final 1980 run, with production ending in December 1979. AMC had had tentative plans for a 1981 Pacer, but considering its precipitous sales decline in its final years, there didn’t seem much point. Total U.S. production was 280,858; AMC also sold an unknown number of Pacers in Mexico through Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos between 1976 to 1979, some of them with a 282 cu. in. (4,621 cc) version of the six, rated at 174 hp (130 kW).
CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)
However futuristic the AMC Pacer may have looked when it first appeared, its thunder was stolen by the arrival of the real car of the future: the Mk 1 Volkswagen Golf, known in America as the Rabbit. The Rabbit was a lightweight, monocoque hatchback with fashionably angular styling penned by Italy’s Giorgetto Giugiaro. With MacPherson strut front suspension, a transverse four-cylinder engine, and front-wheel drive, the Golf was vastly more space efficient than the Pacer, offering nearly as much useful interior room in a car 16 inches (406 mm) shorter and fully 1,200 pounds (545 kg) lighter. Despite having a much smaller engine than the Pacer, the Rabbit’s lighter weight gave it superior performance and significantly better fuel economy. The Volkswagen was also nimble and fun to drive in a way the clumsy AMC simply couldn’t be. The Pacer was quieter and rode better, but at a similar price — only about $30 cheaper than the Rabbit in 1975 — it came across as a poor second choice. AMC’s dilemma was made worse the following year with the debut of the Honda Accord, which matched the Rabbit for packaging efficiency and economy and would soon surpass it for build quality.
If the Pacer had followed its original plan, would it have done better? If AMC had been able to buy the aborted GM Wankel, the Pacer would have been lighter, certainly, but probably no more economical. Given the GMRCE program’s many development problems, a production version of the engine would likely have been troublesome; the AMC six may have been heavy and relatively anemic, but it was at least reasonably dependable. Moreover, even with the Wankel engine and the thinner, lighter glass styling VP Dick Teague had hoped to use, the Pacer would still have been nearly 800 pounds (360 kg) heavier and far clumsier than the Rabbit or Accord.
In a sense, all car designers are futurists, since they’re working on vehicles that will not see the light of day until at least two or three years after the fact. Styling and design a delicate balancing act: your designs must be advanced enough that they don’t quickly look dated, but not so radical as to scare away the public. Radically styled and engineered cars can sometimes succeed, but they have to work well; it’s not enough to be merely good enough. The Pacer was good enough in some areas, sadly deficient in others, and superb in none; that proved its undoing.
The same could be said of American Motors. Throughout its history, AMC had tried again and again to offer clever niche products to enable it to survive against the Big Three, but those products had also produced niche-market revenues, dooming each subsequent offering to be a little less than it promised. As Pacer production wound down, American Motors was embarking on an ill-starred relationship with the French automaker Renault, which ultimately did neither company any favors. Renault eventually sold AMC to Chrysler in 1987 at a considerable loss. Chrysler undoubtedly benefited from AMC’s engineering talent and some AMC-designed products (like the ZJ Grand Cherokee) proved to be very successful, but by the late 1990s, little remained of American Motors except the Jeep brand.
THE UNLIKELY ICON
American Motors still has a lot of fans, as does the AMC Pacer. Charlie and Debbie, the owners of the blue cars in the photos, are two such enthusiasts. Charlie has owned the Pastel Blue Gremlin since it was new. He told us, “This Gremlin was my first new car, purchased it at the age of 21 in 1975. I had gone to the local dealer to buy a Javelin, but was told that 74 was the last year they were made … On my way out, I saw this Gremlin on the show room floor and it was an immediate ‘had to have.'”
A few year ago, while scouring eBay for Gremlin parts, he discovered the Pastel Blue Pacer for sale. Debbie had wanted a Pacer for years, he said, and the fact that it was the same color as his Gremlin (and the same color as the Pacer in the movie Wayne’s World) was perfect. “The guy selling it lived less than two hours away from me,” he said. “He had bought it to restore, but was injured at work and was placed on disability. I got the sense the wife made him sell it. I figured if we were ever going to buy a Pacer, that would be the one! Well, we won the bid and my wife got her Pacer for Christmas. (I loved watching the expression on people’s faces when my wife told them what she got for Christmas.)”
Not a lot of Pacers survive intact, and unlike more popular cars like the Ford Mustang, no reproduction parts are available (although mechanical parts for its engine and driveline are easier to come by). The AMC Pacer has flirted with collectible status for years, but it remains decidedly a special-interest car, a symbol of a future that — perhaps fortunately — passed us by.
NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources for this article included “AMC gambles $60-million on a new compact,” Business Week 20 January 1975, pp. 76-78; “AMC Pacer Station Wagon is a Styling Coup!” Popular Mechanics Vol. 146, No. 4 (October 1976), pp. 96-97, 176-178; “AMC Pacer Wagon: Kenosha’s Small Car Grows Up,” Road & Track Vol. 28, No. 6 (February 1977), pp. 46-47; American Motors Corporation, “Pacer… The First Wide Small Car (Special Auto Show Edition)” [brochure], 1975; “American Motors Pacer: The world’s biggest small car?” Road & Track Vol. 26, No. 8 (April 1975), pp. 35-39; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); “Business: AMC’s Charge,” TIME 19 November 1979, www.time. com, accessed 7 December 2009; “Bye-Bye, Rotary Vega — Hello, V-8,” Motor Trend Vol. 26, No. 4 (April 1974), p. 24; Rich Ceppos, “AMC for ’78 — a V8 for the Pacer, and now there’s the Concord,” Popular Science Vol. 211, No. 4 (October 1977), p. 78; “Corporations: American Flits Ahead,” TIME 29 November 1971, www.time. com, accessed 7 December 2009; Marc Cranswick, The Cars of American Motors: An Illustrated History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2011); Jim Dunne, “Chevy’s new Vega-size, Wankel-powered car,” Popular Science Vol. 204, No. 4 (April 1974), p. 84-86, 172; “Detroit Report,” Popular Science Vol. 202, No. 4 (April 1973), p. 32; and “Detroit Report,” Popular Science Vol. 203, No. 3 (September 1973), p. 44; Barnaby J. Feder, “A.M.C.’s Long, Hard Struggle, The New York Times 10 March 1987, www.nytimes. com, accessed 9 December 2009; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Patrick R. Foster, “American Motors’ Pacer: A Piece of Tomorrow,” Hemmings Classic Car #6 (March 2005), pp. 64-67; “Bob Nixon: AMC’s Master of Design,” Hemmings Classic Car #55 (April 2009), pp. 48-51; The Story of Jeep (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998); and “Vince Geraci: Living in Style,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 22, No. 2 (August 2005), pp. 66–75; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Bill Hartford and Robert Lund, “Half-pints for higher mpg,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 143, No. 1 (January 1975), pp. 58–61, 129; John B. Hege, The Wankel Rotary Engine: A History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001); Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Roger Huntington, “1965 Engines,” Motor Trend Vol. 16, No. 12 (December 1964), pp. 36-47; Charles K. Hyde, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009); William Jeanes, “AMC Pacer: A small car for people who don’t think they like small cars,” Car and Driver Vol. 21, No. 1 (June 1975), pp. 71-76; Michael Lamm, “First-Hand Report: Driving AMC’s brand-new Pacer,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 143, No. 2 (February 1975), pp. 106, 148, and “1950 Nash Rambler: America’s First Successful Post-war Compact,” Special Interest Autos #24 (September-October 1974), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Nashes: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1979 (Pelham, New York: Herald Books, 1979); Karl Ludvigsen, “GM’s Wankel: The $700 Million Miscalculation,” Motor Trend Vol. 27, No. 3 (March 1975), p. 53, “How Big Are Wankel Engines?” Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car #32 (April 2008), and “Suddenly it’s 1980: American Motors’ new Pacer is the freshest, most creative, most people-oriented auto to be born in the U.S. in 15 years,” Motor Trend Vol. 27, No. 2 (February 1975), pp. 35-39, 97; Robert Lund, “Detroit Listening Post,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 139, No. 5 (May 1973), p. 26; “Detroit Listening Post,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 140, No. 2 (August 1973), pp. 32–34; “Detroit Listening Post,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 141, No. 5 (May 1974), pp. 52–54; and “Detroit Listening Post,” Popular Mechanics Vol. 142, No. 6 (December 1974), pp. 27–28; John Matras, Mazda RX-7 (Sports Car Color History) (Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1994); Wolfgang A. Mederle, “AMC Pacer History,” 1998, www.american-motors. de/ en/pacer/history/, accessed 11 October 2007; Jeni Panhorst’s The Pacer Page (May 2000, www.amcpacer. com, last accessed 6 August 2015; Todd Ruel’s interviews with former AMC marketing VP Bill McNealy (“Torq-O Podcast #7: Interview with Bill McNealy,” 20 July 2008, Torq-O: The Cog Blog, www.torq-o. com (audio recording), accessed 1 February 2010) and product planning VP Gerald Meyers (“Torque-O Podcast #9: Interview with Gerald Meyers,” 12 October 2008, Torq-O: The Cog Blog, www.torq-o. com (audio recording), accessed 7 December 2009); Don Sherman, “AMC Pacer,” Car and Driver Vol. 20, No. 8 (February 1975), pp. 22-25, 81, and “VW Rabbit, 1976-Style,” Car and Driver Vol. 21, No. 8 (February 1976): 34–35; ; Ron Wakefield, “American Motors PACER: Surprising new car from the smallest of the Big Four,” Road & Track Vol. 26, No. 6 (February 1975), pp. 39-44; “Two New Small Cars,” Consumer Reports June 1975, pp. 406-409; Bill Vance, “AMC Pacer,” Canadian Driver, 13 January 2004, autos. ca/ articles/ bv/ amc-pacer.htm, accessed 10 October 2007; Stephen Wilkinson, “Double Barrel Pacer: AMC finds more firepower,” Car and Driver Vol. 21, No. 11 (May 1976), pp. 72-74; and Wally Wyss, “Vega Rotary: Ford’s New Mustang II forces GM to debut its Wankel a year early,” Motor Trend Vol. 25, No. 7 (July 1973), pp. 50–52, 123.
This article’s title was suggested by the popular expression “high, wide, and handsome.” We weren’t able to uncover the origins of this phrase, but it dates back to at least the late 19th century. It was notably featured (but did not originate) in Ned Jordan’s 1923 ad for the Jordan Playboy, “Somewhere West of Laramie,” which is one of the most famous (and most influential) pieces of copy in advertising history.