Monday, June 13, 2016
The Mighty AMC Gremlin -- "The First American Import"
The early 1970s was replete with strange sights, including the AMC Gremlin. In an age of Cold War conformity, the Gremlin was one car that stated that "this owner is different." Recovered hippies wearing thick plastic glasses and young women with long flowing hair were seen behind the wheel of this vehicle that was of those coming from outer space. Blow isa draft of a short description of the car that I'll revise before inserting in the 2nd edition of The Automobile and American Life:
Three subcompact cars represented the hope of the American automobile industry in confronting the first wave of Japanese imports at the beginning of the 1970s. The stories of AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Ford Pinto are reflective of the times and the frailty of an industry asleep at the wheel.
Beginning in the late 1950s under the leadership of George Romney, the American Motors Corporation, the so-called “last of the Independents,” became profitable by making economy cars. Starting with its compact Hornet, designer Richard Teague, while on an airliner, used an air sickness bag to sketch a longer-hood, swept back vehicle that AMC would subsequently call the Gremlin, “the first American Import.” The Gremlin was a controversial car from its beginnings, starting with a name that connoted a tiny gnome responsible for technical failures. AMC preferred to think of a gremlin a “a pal to its friends and an ogre to its enemies,” and certainly the car served well to future presidents as young adults: Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.
AMC marketing executives maintained that its unconventional design was “perfect for the free thinking early 1970s,” and the Gremlin sold well. More than 650,000 Gremlins were made between 1970 and 1978, as the car competed with Vegas, Pintos Toyotas, Datsuns, and the VW Beetle. In tis list of the 50 worst cars of all time, Time Magazine included the Gremlin citing that “Cheap and incredibly deprived – with vacuum-operated windshield wipers, no less- the Gremlin was also awful to drive, with a heavy six-cylinder motor and choppy, unhappy handling due to the loss of suspension travel in the back. The Gremlin was quicker than other subcompacts, but, alas, that only meant you heard jeers and laughter that much sooner.”
The shape of the Gremlin fit well as a symbol or signifier used in numerous films, especially decades removed from its time. Titles including “7 Things to do Before I am 30,” “10 Items of Less” (2006), “Cars 2” (2011) and “In True Blood” (2007-2014) featured the stubby little vehicle while convening themes of eccentricity and unconventionality.