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Why a Pacer?

Matt Crawford shared this essay with the AMC Pacer mailing list on 29 January 2003.

The following is a document I created to respond to the question: "Why a Pacer"? Copies of this will be kept with my car in case people ask.


The short answer is: why not?! But that doesn't suffice for an answer. The long answer has many reasons and things to consider.


Most people really, really like the Pacer or really, really don't like it. There isn't much middle ground. Whether it is liked or disliked, it's hard to dispute how different it is. It starts with appearance. For a car designed in the mid-1970s, it was way ahead of its time. Cars with rounded curves didn't really catch on until the next decade. Although the Pacer was very popular in its first couple years of existence, it began to lose its novelty quickly with auto buyers and was completely phased out by 1980. It lasted for a total run of six model years.

I have really, really liked these cars since I was 16 and in the market to buy my first used car. This was years before the movie "Wayne's World" made Pacers popular to a new audience. Although the opportunity to buy one never really presented itself back then, I never stopped liking them and I never gave up on owning one.


In the AMC hobby, AMXs and Javelins often dominate the field of AMC vehicles that still remain. While Pacers haven't been forgotten, they certainly haven't been preserved in the number that AMXs and Javelins have. Pacers were driven daily and driven hard by their owners, and were somewhat problematic, too. They had areas that predictably rusted, as well as issues with their leaf springs sagging and electrical systems failing. So many of them do not exist anymore.


A car this rare might be highly priced in today's classic car market. Not so with the Pacer. It isn't a highly desirable car, and therefore does not command a high price like other collectible classic automobiles.


If appearance is what draws you to a Pacer, its features can keep you interested. AMC head designer Richard Teague designed the Pacer as one of the first cars to truly have a cab-forward design. In other words, it was designed around the driver and passengers, with comfort and convenience higher on the priority list. With all the glass surrounding the car, visibility is at a premium. With its wide stance on its 100" wheelbase, it handles very well for a compact car.


The Pacer is one of the most recognizable automotive icons of the 1970s. It cannot easily be confused with another make or model because of its unique looks. It may be a little heavy-set, not as fast as a muscle car nor as attractive, but it's happy that way and should be accepted for what it is. Nevertheless, the Pacer reminds us of a time when 8-tracks, disco music, and CB radios were supremely popular, as well as the fashions of that era.


Driving a Pacer brings plenty of smiles from people, thumbs- up, waves, and comments that make it worthwhile. Negative attention is part of the deal, too, as people ask things like: "You paid money for that?". For those with an open mind, the Pacer can be viewed as a unique and pleasurable driving experience for anyone involved.

So there you have it. The Pacer is an acquired taste among automotive enthusiasts young and old. I became interested in them many years ago, and I still am to this day. Their uniqueness and odd charm drew me in, and after learning more about them I was hooked. Actually, I enjoy all of the AMC cars, not just the Pacer. But the Pacer is my favorite.

Aren't you glad you asked?!

Matt Crawford also wrote this account of how he acquired his Pacer in the fall of 2002. He shared it with the AMC Pacer mailing list on 16 October 2002.

Matt Crawford and his Pacer on Halloween

Matt Crawford's Pacer Matt Crawford's Pacer Matt Crawford's Pacer Matt Crawford's Pacer

I e-mailed a letter to Eddie Stakes Planet Houston AMX about a Pacer I looked at from one of his "Shut Up and Drive" lists over the weekend, and to make a long story short, it's now sitting in my garage. Here's the story:

The vehicle is the 1976 Pacer D/L with 12K original miles from Part I of his January 2002 list. The ONLY reason I called about the car back in January was because it was in the same area code as me, and judging by the 3-digit prefix, in the next small village to where we live! To good to be true? Almost. The guy at the other end of the line belonged to my local AMC chapter, Glass City AMC (Toledo, OH area). I didn't even know there was a local chapter until I spoke with him. He was representing the car for someone that was not into computers and such. The car was physically located in Kalamazoo, MI, which is a little more than 150 miles from where I live. The asking price was $6900/obo which we all know is too much money for even a showroom condition car, but nevertheless I asked for pictures of the car, which he gladly mailed to my house. I took them to Kinko's, color copied them, and promptly mailed the originals back. I expressed interest, but explained I wasn't ready to buy yet. I wrote a note that I wanted to see what was at the upcoming Kenosha show, feast my eyes on some cars there, learn more about the market, etc., and re-evaluate it in the fall. I thought with that price, the car is going nowhere fast. Besides, I didn't have the $$ to be super-serious.

In the meantime, I studied those pictures, and continued doing my homework on AMC vehicles, especially Pacers. I joined the Pacer list group here on Yahoo in late March or early April and read a lot of the archives. I scoured the online ads and checked the SUAD lists every month. I referred to Jeni's website a lot, and read Wolfgang Mederle's AMC Pacer buyer's guide word for word. I got a '76 and '77 AMC sales brochure off of eBay and read them. I learned my codes, rust areas, weak spots, strong points, and options.

In the spring I got a follow-up call from the club member representing the car. He was just keeping tabs on my interest and staying in touch. I reiterated my interest and told him about my Kenosha plans and that I would call him in the summer to touch base. In the meantime I tried to decide how I was going to negotiate price. One of the classic car magazines was giving away a free issue with a classic car price guide for conditions #1 - #5 so I did that to obtain it as a negotiating tool. Next up was Kenosha. My wife and I enjoyed the show a lot (she likes AMXs and Javelins best) with a couple we know that live in South Milwaukee. We stayed with them and avoided the hotels! Kenosha had beautiful vehicles and some nice Pacers; the first time in a long time I had seen one up close.

After returning from that show, I applied for membership in my local AMC club. My membership came through just in time for their local event, a Labor Day weekend show which I attended with my dad. This was also an opportunity to meet the guy representing the car (his name is Chuck) that I called about in the winter. The show was just the right size to see just about every car presented. We met Chuck and my dad and him hit it off great. They're both in their early 70s! Chuck has a gorgeous '74 Javelin, lime green with green interior. Chuck said the car I was interested in has a new price of $5,000. That was good news. Overall it was a great AMC day, hot sun and hot cars! Chuck had plans to go the orphan show in Dayton later in Sept. to show his Javvie, and I said I would call him to see how that show went.

Well, it was Chuck who called me a couple weeks later saying there was another interested party in the car, Chuck went up to look at it with him, and this guy would have bought it had the AC and heat worked better than it did. A close call indeed, and time for me to move it or lose it! I scheduled a trip with Chuck, and my dad would be accompanying us as my "fine tooth comb". We left shortly after 8 AM Sat. morning, and headed toward Kalamazoo. We got there shortly before 11 AM, and met the owner of the Pacer. His name is Paul and he's 88 years young! But sharp as a tack! Paul went to get the car and pull it in to the driveway for us to look it over. And look it over we did! The first thing my dad went for was not under the hood or inside the car, but the spare tire! That was to check for rust and whatever else. Up with that liftgate, the lifters held it up perfect. While they were taking that apart, I opened up the driver door and began to write down the VIN and door tag info. I could read it as clear as you're reading this. As I was writing there was commotion where they were working. Here they had a found a mouse nest and it had a live mouse in it! And the 88-year-old is stepping on it! They cleared out the nest, verified it wasn't interior seat stuffing and the spare looked great, no rust there, and just very, very minor surface rust behind the right front wheel before the passenger door way down by the ground. Paul bought it for his wife and she went to the store with it and did other errands around town, but that's about it. It wasn't driven in the winter and was garage kept. New tires and newly working heat and A/C. My dad and I had our own homemade inspection checklists, and bumper to bumper it checked out great. Then we took it for a spin.

It hesitated a bit while it was cold, but once it warmed up, the 232 hummed and responded great. The 258 is a better fit for that heavier body, but this will do nicely. Automatic tranny shifted great. I hit the defrost, and we were treated to more stuffing flying out of the vents! But we know it works! Got it up to 60 mph, smooth sailing. Power steering is very nice! Manual brakes took a bit to get used to, I haven't driven a car with manual brakes since 1990, which was a much lighter '78 Plymouth Horizon, but they worked well. Drove it back to Paul's, parked it and confirmed price. Since I had no need for them to help store it through the winter, the final price was $4,800. "We'll take it." 12,680 original miles on the odometer. Now the treat: Paul has his own 300 gallon gas tank and pump in his yard, so he filled the Pacer up with gas before we headed for home! It was a big pipe with a crank and a gauge. We put the pump in the car's fuel tank and Paul turned the crank clockwise until it was almost full. Drove it home from Kalamazoo and up the driveway into my garage with just a few flaws. It has a cracked plastic deflector (under the grill near the ground), the left signal indicator inside the car stopped working on the way home, and it smells a little gamey inside from storage, and that small area of surface rust, but nothing some love from a good home won't cure.

I'm sure a case could be made stating that I paid too much, however this transaction was smooth from start to finish, I had a great feeling about it, and besides, if after I'm done with it, and I am able to sell it for $3500 or so, I had $1300 dollars worth of fun cleaning it up and working on it with my dad, cruising around and taking it to shows. It's a hobby, not Wall Street, right?! It won't be a daily driver, but nowhere near a trailer queen, either.

Here's the door tag info:

Body: L018835
Model: 7666-7
Trim: 626E
Paint: 6C
Work order #: E027442
VIN: A6A667E142309

Matt Crawford
Toledo, OH
1976 Pacer D/L

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