The cars we loved.
Pocket Rockets come in many varieties. The term was popular well after cars like the Vega Cosworth got the ball rolling. In retrospect, it was wildly regarded as the first American “pocket rocket”. Even before the Vega, a car company American flirted with the ideal of dropping a big engine in a small car. The muscle car era started with big engines stuffed into intermediates, but American Motors Corporation would go a step further and stuff a V8 into a sub-compact car. AMC was trying to shrug off its image as a maker of stodgy cars for old people during the late 60’s, so what better way to market to young people than the big engine/small car formula?
Often innovative and creative in its product line up, AMC sought to broaden the appeal of the Muscle car even as the market for them was contracting. The answer was the Richard Teague designed Gremlin. Not all that fast by today’s standards, the Gremlin was not what came to mind when you thought of a muscle car. By the standards of early 70’s era American cars, it was diminutive and seemed just right for the transfusion. Based on the compact Hornet, the Gremlin was AMC’s answer to the coming wave of small imports from Europe and Japan. The Gremlin lasted for one generation and was rear wheel drive.
By chopping off the back of the Hornet and giving it a Kammback style tail, the Gremlin became America’s first real homegrown modern “small car”. Yeah, it is not an easy shape to fall in love with, some might say ugly, but somehow it sold well with over 671,000 built over its eight year life span. The unusual form factor offered big car room (something AMC would do again with the Pacer), in a small car package. The Gremlin sold well despite its name. To name a car after a mischievous creature who breaks things might seem odd, but AMC made it work, even going so far as to design a cartoon mascot for marketing (car makers loved cartoon mascots back then).
The Muscle car era was dying, but not before AMC decided that a special Gremlin was needed to spruce up the car’s performance image. By passing the simple stripe and wheel formula that had become commonplace, AMC would drop the V8 from the AMX sports car into the homely Gremlin. The result called the Gremlin X in 1971 might have sounded good on paper, but it would be years before it was anything worthy of a stoplight battles. Before the VX got the 5.0L in 1975, it’s 0 to 60 times were in the double digits. With the 5.0 V8 the X had 150hp at its peak in 1975, but was lighter than many emasculated muscle cars that weighed much more.
What had been another decal and stripe package became a certified performance car by the sad standards of the Seventies for at least one year. It was impressive for the time, able to make a 0 to 60 run in 8.5 seconds. With that kind of straight line performance, the X was right up there with the 75′ Camaro Z28 (8.0) and 75′ Mustang II (8.5). The 75 Gremlin X was actually quicker than the 74’ Javelin to 60. Aside from the decals and stripes a Gremlin X typically had a beefed up suspension and performance wheels to set it apart from the typical inline six and later four-cylinder versions. Although the X could be had with any number of available engines, the V8 was exclusive to the X.
The X model, like the rest of the Gremlin line would undergo wild swings in power output due to attempts to keep up with emissions rules. Most Gremlin X models had either 3-speed automatic or 4 speed manual transmissions mated most likely to 3.3 or 3.8 litre in-line sixes.
Modernization arrived in a big way after 1975, about the time the V8’s power output leveled off and began to dive. Blackout trim, revised grille and headlights rounded out many of the changes as the Gremlin reached the end of its production in 1978. There was even a short spell (77-78) where Porsche/Audi built 2.0 liter four-cylinder engines were being used. By that time the X model had pretty much run out of decal and stripe variations, transitioning to a large lower body strip. In its last few years, the Gremlin had been borrowing parts from the new Concord, including its modern dash and gauge cluster. There was even a rare GT package that added an integrated front spoiler, similar to that would appear on the AMX Eagle later on. The Gremlin would later set the stage of other innovative small cars from AMC like the Eagle SX/4.