Bob Charet's Pacer Memories
Bob Charet shared his Pacer memories in Janury 2001.
My first car was a beautiful Alpine White 1976 Pacer D/L, purchased at Manhattan American Sales, Inc.,located at 125 West End Avenue, in NYC. I was 16 years of age, and Dad bought it for Mom, whose 1971 Ford Maverick was totaled in an accident in October 1975.
I found the Pacer on the dealer's lot (actually underground garage). The salesman, a retired policeman, said it was special ordered, but not picked up. "This guy really knew how to order a car," he said. He also showed me a number of manual transmission Pacers that had been selected by a representative of the Shah, that, along with a group of Cadillacs purchased from Potemkin, were to be delivered to the JFK International Airport for air freight to Iran later that week.
Mom said the Pacer was "cute." It looked a little chubby (so was Mom at the time) so she said it reminded her of herself. We bought it! It was the first car purchase decision (other than to choose a paint color) that I'd ever influenced.
I remember the taxi ride into Manhattan, the rainy night that Mom and I went to the dealership to pick up the Pacer. The taxi driver couldn't stop extolling the virtues of what, to his mind, was the finest automobile in existence. He was speaking of the very car we were riding in: none other than the Checker Marathon!
Our Pacer looked like a concept car in pristine white. (Also during this era, the ground floor of the GM building in Manhattan was always filled with new models, always all painted white) When we arrived at the dealership to pick up our Pacer, the managing salesmen commented that it was the best looking Pacer he'd ever seen. Dad, a busy cardiologist, had no time to waste on nonsense like picking up a new car. Mom and I went to the dealership ourselves.
I remember that the Pacer's workmanship was lousy (the headliner fell down off the ceiling within weeks (fixed under warranty), and the console lid never fit properly. Trim pieces inside and out were ill fitting. In all fairness, though, the seventies was the nadir for American car quality. Four years earlier, paint had flaked off, and seat buttons and weather stripping had popped off Daddy's 1972 Cadillac Sedan Deville within two or three months after purchase.
However, the Pacer's 258 CID engine was very peppy, and the handling was excellent (we had a H.D. suspension package). It seemed like a sports car compared to Dad's 1972 Cadillac, and the 1971 Ford Maverick that was Mom's previous car. Also the visibility was in class by itself, as was the interior comfort (except for the hard plastic pieces) and the sense of space inside.
I drove the Pacer to college (from Brooklyn, through the Battery Tunnel, to New York University, in Greenwich Village) from the autumn of 1977 until the spring of 1981. During this time, the famous Firestone 500 tire recall occurred, and our Pacer was affected.
Our Pacer had a beige and cream Basketry print interior, which was stunning, the rally package, with the gauge cluster, the visibility group, A/C, AT, PS, PB, AM/FM stereo, roof rack,H.D. suspension, rear defogger, tinted glass, styled road wheels, and the hidden compartment. I still have the window sticker. Our pacer had the VIN # A6C667A215492. The total cost was $5,756.00.
I also still have the 1976 brochure.
The car suffered an electrical fire in 1984. By that time, Dad had two years earlier bought me a (then just redesigned) 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, as a present for getting accepted into a medical school in 1981, and Mom had been driving the Pacer again. The insurance company totaled the Pacer, and I remember looking from my bedroom window as they towed it away.
The appearance of the Pacer polarized people, but I still believe it looks futuristic. I think the Pacer's design is much more attractive then the oddly chiseled "new edge" shapes that are slowly appearing today, and replacing the more graceful (1986 Taurus-inspired) rounder forms. That the Pacer appeared in the midst of a horrid retro craze of landau roofs, opera windows, upright grills (with obligatory hood ornaments),and wire wheel covers, makes the Pacer even more special. In its way, it is courageous. Not odd, or funny looking, but heroic.
The first view of the Pacer I'd ever seen appeared in Playboy magazine. My Uncle, a dentist living in the NYC suburb of Monsey, New York, came across the article, excised the girls (as best he could), and presented it to me. I had subscriptions to all the major auto magazines since at least 1971 (I remember the Chevrolet Vega getting the MT COTY award in 1971), so I believe Playboy published the first photos of the Pacer.
I thought it would be interesting to see the article. I still remember one picture of a topless model, wearing a motorcycle helmet, posing next to a (probably preproduction) Pacer, shown in frontal view. I think the girl impressed the 16 year old boy (going to an all-male private school since the fifth grade) as much as the car did. Uncle Morty inadvertently let that one get by, I guess.
I enjoyed sharing my memories. I have pictures of myself, taken with the Pacer, in the summer of 1976. I look young and happy.
Robert Lance Charet, MD
Los Angeles, CA
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