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The AMC Pacer - How Not To Design a Car

The AMC Pacer was not a good looking car. Truth is, it was downright ugly. Likened by many unkind (but properly quite truthful) critics it was compared to a 'flying fish bowl'; and people staring at it in amazement and laughing out loud as it passed by was not an uncommon sight.

It was launchedin 1975 with the best of intentions however. AMC wanted a car designed for the future and they decided that it should have a huge glass area to increase visibility for the drivers and passengers. They overdid it. They also decided that it should be a wide car but short; there was a suspected fuel crisis on the way and they needed something which was more economical than the traditional Detroit gas guzzlers. It was indeed as wide as a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow; and it was just a little bit longer than a Ford Cortina. This gave it a high degree of stability but made it look just like a short fat glass dome, with the occupants on display.

Yes it was pretty spacious, which was one of the design aims, but making it shorter meant that there was very little room in the boot, which put off an awful lot of potential buyers, who had not already been appalled by the appearance of the car. However, even more seriously, when it'd been first designed it was assumed that it would be powered by a Wankel rotary engine, which at the time was being mooted as the future of engine design and which had a very compact design.

The fact was that although the internal combustion engine had had many decades of development, the Wankel unit hadn't, and as a result it wore out far too quickly and produce far too much toxic exhaust so General Motors, who were to have built it, decided not to proceed with it.

By this time AMC has spent so much time and money on this project that they didn't want to cancel it so the decision was made to squeeze in their existing straight six cylinder engine. This was already out of date though, and had a very high fuel consumption compared to other contemporary engines. The result was that the Pacer drank petrol at the rate of about 18-20 miles to a gallon. This completely cancelled out one of it's original major selling points.

This was also one very heavy car; the extra weight of the six cylinder engine and the modifications necessary to carry it didn't help; so performance was not really up to the standard that the American motorist expected. A larger engine upgrade from 3.8 litre to 4.2 litre helped; but this also increased fuel consumption.

In the meanwhile the fuel crisis was biting and American consumers were switching more and more to smaller and lighter cars. Sales of the Pacer nosedived and it was withdrawn completely in 1979.

The idea of producing a smaller American car was a sound one; but the Pacer was still too big, too fuel inefficient – and just too ugly.

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