How Low Can You Go? The $1879 Gremlin

Gremlin 2 seater

The car you’re looking at isn’t just another funky little Gremlin.  It’s the Gremlin model that you might not have heard of before:  the 2-seat base model.

The Gremlin actually has a fairly interesting design history.  The basic profile, including the Kammback rear and upswept side window treatment was intended for a sportier, more expensive car as previewed on the AMX GT concept car.  (When the production AMX came out it had the same 97 inch wheelbase as the concept car but the rear treatment was much closer to the Javelin’s.)

While AMC was working up plans for their 1970 replacement for the aging Rambler American they learned that Ford and GM were planning subcompact models to compete more directly with the VW Beetle and the Japanese models that were landing on our shores.   AMC execs decided that if they were to get in the subcompact game at all, they would have get there first and undercut everybody else’s base price.

With almost no time — and even less money — to spend on a new model, designer Dick Teague developed a design based on AMC’s upcoming compact, the Hornet, and the AMX GT concept.  Legend has it that he sketched it out on an airline barf bag, brought the sketch to the design studios and put fellow designer Bob Nixon in charge of making it happen.  Though we’re accustomed to it now, the Gremlin was radically different from prevailing auto design.  Sort of a Nissan Juke for the 1970s.

To hit the low price point, the Gremlin had to use as much existing tooling as possible.  Everything forward of the front seat back came straight off the 2-door Hornet with a few minor changes.  The two 6-cylinder engines as well as the transmission choices were the same, also.  With 12 inches removed from the Hornet’s wheelbase, however, rear seat room was practically nonexistent as was luggage space.

AMC was able to offer the Gremlin at a shockingly low base price of $1879 by creating the ultimate in strippers, the base 2-seater, a car that makes the $9,990 Nissan Versa seem positively luxurious.  The car had no power steering, power brakes or radio.  Upholstery was an unventilated vinyl and carpeting was . . . well, there was no carpeting, just wall-to-wall rubber mats.  Cigarette lighter and glove box door were optional.  You did get a heater but you didn’t get a back seat, you cheapskate.

gremlin interior

Base Gremlin interior

Now, the Gremlin’s rear seat was practically useless anyway and leaving it out meant you actually had some cargo space.  Problem was, the rear hatch was sealed shut so you had to load luggage through the front seat space, just like the 1950 Henry J.

The car pictured was being shown at the Milwaukee Masterpiece Concours d’Elegance.  Note the bare-bones interior trim and the sealed rear glass.  This one has the 3-speed floor shifter which means that it has the larger 232 cid 6-cylinder (the base 199 cid came with a column-mounted shifter).

The 2-seater was only offered for the first year and a half of Gremlin production, only about 3000 of them found buyers and very few of those have survived, making this one rare Gremlin, indeed.

To learn more than you ever wanted to know about the Gremlin, go to

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