I ran across one of those on-line “top ten” lists the other day. This was the top-ten worst automobiles, broken down by time periods. As scanned the list, sure enough, there it was, the 1970 AMC Gremlin.
In the fall of 1970, I was a freshman in college, and living at home. It was time to replace the family car, which up until this time had always been a full size station wagon. With two children driving (my brother and I) and a third coming up shortly, my parents decided rather than getting one large car, they would buy two small ones. I remember us walking into a Ford dealership, and when no one spoke to my father in what he considered a reasonable period of time, turning right around and walking back out the door.
My parents must have seen this ad. Note the back window on the nearest car -- no hinges or release handle. Why are these people so happy?
The next stop was the American Motors/AMC dealership. We had owned a number of “Ramblers” as I was growing up, so this was a brand we were familiar with. When my father told the salesman we were interested in looking at Gremlins, the salesman replied, “Oh, a Gremlin!” His jaw dropped when my father replied, “No, TWO Gremlins.”
We drove off with two Gremlins. The first was very “stripped down” by today’s standards. It had automatic transmission, but that was pretty much it. No radio, no AC, no carpet, no power anything, etc. However, that Gremlin looked like a luxury car compared to the second one. Painted metallic green, that baby was as spare as you can get. The salesman told us that AMC wanted to be able to advertise a Gremlin for less than $2,000 and so they had one model that was stripped to the bone. It had a black vinyl interior and a “three on the tree” standard transmission with a clutch that took about 50 pounds of force to depress. No radio. “Two-fifty air conditioning” – roll down two windows and go 50. Here is the real kicker – to cut cost, they eliminated the back seat. There was just this big empty well behind the front seat ands the rear hatch-window did not open.
Imagine it's dark metallic green, with a thin white "racing stripe."
This became my primary car for the rest of my freshman year and when I was home from college in Florida over the following three years. A couple of years later, when I was a senior at Florida and my brother and his girl friend were students at Penn State, the Nittany Lions were in the Orange Bowl. We talked my parents into letting the three of us drive the “stripped down” Gremlin from Pittsburgh to Miami for the game. The idea being they would drop me off at school in Gainesville after the game. That was an interesting trip. With no back seat, we piled our bags in the back. Either my brother or I would sit-lay-sleep on the stack of luggage.
About a year after I graduated, I was working in Jacksonville for a TV station that paid well in experience but almost nothing in wages. I was without a car and got around by bumming rides with friends and roommates, and doing a lot of walking. My parents offered me the stripped-down Gremlin. I jumped at the offer. Within a few months, I moved to a station in Mobile where they did not have news cars. We were expected to drive our own cars and were paid mileage. For more than three years, I drove that Gremlin all over South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle covering news. That black vinyl interior and “250 air conditioning” worked well in the Gulf Coast summers. (Not!)
Mrs. Poolman and I were married by this time and she drove a new Toyota Corolla hatchback. That was our “nice car.”
Just before we left Mobile, we came across another car and sold the Gremlin to a high school kid.
As I look back on it, that car was a cantankerous beast, but we did spend a lot of time and miles together. I’m glad to see she is now getting the recognition she justly deserves.