We’ve spent some time recently talking about how the American Motors Pacer never got a fair shake from an unimaginative public. At the same time, the story of how the designers of the Porsche 928 and Pacer might have been from the same point of inspiration (Bertone Testudo) was also revisited. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m guessing not, because if so you’d be considered a very troubled person, but here’s what’s going through my twisted mind now.
So what if the Pacer got a second chance, and came back to life as not only something acceptable, but actually cool? What if the spirit of the Pacer had returned in, of all things, an AMC sports car?
Welcome back to AMC What If?, a semi regular series where we look at alternate realities for American’s last independent automaker.
With American Motors always struggling to be profitable in the domestic market, the last thing they should have done was to make a competitor for the Fiero, a car that General Motors killed after a few years due to disappointed sales. Naturally, AMC would throw logic to the wind and build just that. Here’s how it might happen. In the early eighties, Renault not only had a partnership with AMC but also with the automotive division of the legendary Matra conglomerate. This partnership resulted in the Renault Espace, arguably the front drive minivan that beat the Dodge Caravan to market (and was unarguably much cooler).
However, Matra was known also as a maker of aircraft, sports cars and even competition machines, having created Formula 1 cars and built winners of the 24 Hours of LeMans for three years straight.
source: wikipedia and wikimedia
Matra must have been begging Renault for the chance to make a new version of one of their classic sports cars of the sixties like the mid-engined Matra Djet or 530.
source: Bohhams and Petrolicious
Of course, Renault already had Alpine as its official sports car division, so that avenue for Matra was likely closed in France. Still, the concurrent Alpine (which had windshield wipers that tried to fight each other) was not really suited to American sales and likely never stood a chance at being federalized. However, there was nothing to stop Matra from helping AMC/Renault create a new car just for America.
Presenting the 1984 AMC AMX, a revival of the name of the Javelin-based sixties pony car. Similar in size to the Fiero, with this new car Matra would have pushed the wheelbase slightly longer to allow for a miniscule back seat area. The entire FWD Renault Fuego engine (the later 2.2 but with a turbo), transaxle and suspension would be moved to the rear wheels, as the Fiero did with a Chevy Citation drivetrain. Up front, Matra would have grabbed the front suspension components from the R5 Turbo to complete the chassis.
But what about the bodywork to cover this creation of former race car engineers? Here is where the Pacer gets its revenge. AMC design master Dick Teague would look at his team and give one nod. Suddenly Eye of the Tiger begins to play, and the comeback montage begins.
First, a dried-up old scale model from the early stages of the Pacer development would appear on a studio table. Clay chunks fly though the air as the modelers shave about 30 percent off of the old car model’s height, keeping the aircraft-style doors and glass back area and creating a surprisingly close replica of the Porsche that Tom Cruise dumped into Lake Michigan. The width would be accentuated with slightly flared fenders, and the wraparound taillights and signals would remain to pay tribute to Wayne and Garth’s car. The 928 stole much of the Pacer so to be fair the AMX would steal Porsche’s side windows and phone-dial style wheel design for themselves (but those aren’t Porsche wheels I used, as you Parts Bin Puzzlers can let me know in the comments below).
Up front, the clay modelers chop off the protruding ‘bug eyed’ Pacer headlights on the nose, replacing them with partially exposed rectangular units and a thin grille. However, hitting the light switch would make the sealed beams rise up and create a reasonable approximation of the old Pacer’s nose. Teague would have looked at this detail and smiled like George Peppard at the end of an A-Team build sequence- all was good.
The nose is actually slightly taller than that on the Fiero which allows for a useable frunk. There is also a cargo area behind the engine, below the glass hatch:
The ‘rear seat’ of the AMX would obviously have been a joke if you were a human with actual legs (similar to the one in the Lotus Evora or Maserati Merak), but it would have provided ample room to dump your briefcase or backpack and some grocery bags. Combined with the trunk AND frunk, the AMX would easily surpass the cargo capacity of a Fiero and a Toyota Mister Two combined. One bizarre detail; the mid mounted engine would need to get air, but instead of obvious intakes the trailing edge of the side windows would feature slots that allow air into intakes in the upper rear door jambs. The left and right doors are the same length (unlike the Pacer), but they are still rather long to help with access to the rear ‘seat’.
It’s a stereotype to assume that a French designed sports car would possess an unusual interior, but not surprisingly the AMX would have just that. As a tribute to Matra’s aeronautic experience, the dashboard is styled to look like two aircraft wings. The edges of the ‘wings’ would have ‘aileron’ style flippers on the driver’s side to control turn signals and wipers, adjacent to little gumdrop style controls for secondary functions.
source: aviation stack exchange
One interesting feature that SAAB offered was called Night Panel, whereby you could extinguish all of the instrument panel lights except for the speedometer for distraction free night driving.
However, how could such a concept work for daytime use? Matra would have developed F1Focus, a system that puts speed and tach readouts dead center and ancillary gauges flanking it. Don’t want to be distracted by that extra information? The side pods can retract into the dash together if you press down on them; any message that requires the driver’s attention (i.e low fuel) would release a catch and pop the side gauge pods back up again. A flip down door over the clock would darken that feature if you chose to, plus make a tiny storage compartment.
The new AMX likely wouldn’t have beat the MR2’s Toyota-level quality, but it would have edged that car out for usability, comfort, and performance. Matra must have had the skills to make those chassis components into an at least somewhat competent sports car. Compared to an early four-cylinder Fiero, the AMX would likely have been a revelation and taken much of that market share. Sadly, that wasn’t much market share to begin with.
Exciting halo car that it might have been, there is no way that this could have helped to save AMC, and it is likely that it would have hastened its demise. Still, somewhere the Pacer would have been smiling down if the design language it was so derided for came back from the dead, bearing the name of one of the coolest AMC products ever.
1984 AMC AMX
Base Price: $13,100
As Shown: $14,850
Options Shown on Photo Car:
Convenience Pack (power windows, locks, and mirrors)
Leather seating surfaces
‘Vortex’ alloy wheels and Eagle GT tires
Cassette player with premium sound upgrade
2200cc SOHC 4 cylinder, turbocharged (Fuego) 148HP
5 speed manual transaxle
Double wishbone independent front suspension
MacPherson strut independent rear suspension
4 wheel disc brakes
Rack and pinion steering
Performance (US model):
0-60: 7.8 seconds
Top speed: 138MPH
all illustrations by The Bishop
I loved my Fuego Turbo. Even though it was certainly smaller and lighter than this would be, the Renault took 8.9 seconds 0-60, so I don’t see any way this would do a sub 8 second run.
Love the design proposals, but you’ve got some technical details to explain.
Also, the Fuego did not sell nearly as well as hoped. I think this would have done similarly in the market. It addresses a segment that didn’t pick up until later, and didn’t last very long.
PaysOutAllNight- if you look at the specs, you’ll see that it has an engine that was never made. As you know, the Fuego Turbo had the 1.6, while the 2.2 also offered was normally aspirated. I was proposing to turbocharge the 2.2 for some real power.
Even with the added displacement, you’d be getting closer, but you can still call me a disbeliever.
But if it was anything like the Fuego Turbo, it would be a total riot to drive. I can’t tell you how many parking brake J turns I did or how many passengers I terrified while doing them with that little red monster.
Of the cars I’ve owned, the Fuego is very high on the favorites list.
Dammit. I meant “parking brake 180s and J-turns”. They’re not the same thing.
This is great – I love the 928 influence! That’s always been my favorite Porsche, although the 1st gen Panamera does give it a run for its money (control your gag reflexes people). In fact, this would look spectacular parked between the 928 and the Jensen Interceptor out in my dream garage.
I have been a negative reviewer of a lot of the Bishops designs. Hey different tastes. But this looks so much better than the original Pacer. Now would it sell back then? I have to see the interior space. The original Pacer was a 4 seater with some creative design to increase storage. The Bishop design looks like a better version of the Porsche 928. Not exactly cross shopping.
Now this one I like. In fact, I love it! Nice work B.
I definitely see some Celica in there, but looks-wise, definitely in my wheelhouse. I’d probably be plotting to buy one if it existed.
This is a Mitsubishi Starion with Countach wheels.
I love it! I’d be first in line to buy one. But then, I’m eccentric enough to have owned not one, but two, AMC Pacers back in the early 1980s.
People like to poke fun at the Pacer. It was even a ‘Wayne’s World’ car. But there was actually a great deal of ingenuity, vision, cleverness, and creativity to the design and execution. You have to admire AMC’s pluck, for having the guts to do something different, to take the kind of risks the Big Three would never dare to.
Much has been written about the Pacer. Here’s one interesting story:
Funny story about the Pacer. Yes it was a goofy looking car. Back when I was going to UCLA, my fiancé’s father was a very, very wealthy guy. He had this beach house in Malibu, which had a small apartment in back, he was rarely at the beach house. He took pity on me, as I was a very, very poor guy. Like subsisting on crackers and catsup filched from Wendy’s by the end of the month. Nice! Free place to crash, that freed up some money. On to the story. Turns out my neighbors where people of note, one side was Jack LaLane, the exercise guru (kind of a jerk) and the other, Johnathan Winters, the comedian (incredibly cool guy). Winters had several cars, but the one he drove mostly was…an AMC Pacer. “Why?” I asked him once, “do you drive that?” He told me the Pacer was so homely that people would not even look at him in the car. They were embarrassed for whoever was driving it. Otherwise people would always be pointing at him when stopped at lights and asking for his autograph and so on. So the Pacer was a “stealth” car long before airplanes got the technology.
Bishop: you are a bad, bad man. To wit: an evil tempter. Here is a car based on a chassis that wouldn’t have been modern in 1957, using an engine that gained fame in America because of its propensity to live up to the name of the vehicle we most often saw it in, the infamous Fuego (Spanish for FIRE! and now turbocharged just to make sure it does, built by a company whose engineering skills included making engine-vacuum powered windshield wipers work; all with the help of The French?
And, yet, it is….beautiful, and I want one….
Lokki, Lokki, hold the phone! I said it LOOKS like a Pacer, but the chassis would have nothing to do with the old Rambler bits that underpinned that car! It’s got R5 Turbo II front suspension and the Fuego FWD drivetrain in back. Sure, it’s French so it ain’t gonna be a Corolla, but GM did the same thing with Shove-It front suspension and Citation drivetrain in the Fiero, so this couldn’t be worse, could it?
It’s got an AMC protection plan on it, and you like the looks, I say buy it….can you see my plaid sportcoat as I try to sell you this thing? What will it take for you to drive this thing off of the lot today?
How much trade-in will you give me on my Vega ? And (recalling it’s 1984) can you get me financed for less than 14%?
Lokki- I can give you $1500 for the Vega (as I secretly add the $1500 to the selling price of the car, which you’ll pay 14 percent interest on for the next four years…not that car dealers would really do that….right?). But AMC is offering $1000 Instant Bonus Cash that you can use as a down payment! I mean, sir, it really doesn’t make any sense NOT to buy this car today. But if you aren’t interested, I fully understand, and I have someone else interested in this one that’ll be here in an hour, so…
Back in the 1980’s I use to look at pacers (not intentionally but my sister owned one) and thought they looked like someone’s glass-blowing attempt that went badly. Like someone stuck a straw into some molten block and blew a bubble in it and made the pacer’s greenhouse.
I like this a lot, but not because it looks like a Pacer — I like it because it looks a lot like a mid-80 Japanese sport hatchback. I see Isuzu Impulse designed by the same person who designed the Starion in there, and that is not a bad thing.
And I would love…LOVE for some company to do an 80s interior like the one the Bishop designed here with modern materials and features.
So it’s a Fiero-Fuego-Matra-Alpine-Celica?
Wow, that’s a lot of my favourite cars in one. I’ll take it!
Jakob- and it’s got Pacer in it too! You seem to be a man of taste so assuming you’re down with that as well.
While I really like the styling of the Pacer (fight me) and applying the ideas to a sports car (I think well executed in the 924/928), I can’t imagine it would have done well. Mostly because it would have invariably been built on the same ancient platform. By the late seventies nobody (except f-body mullet heads) wanted a ‘sports’ car that handled like it was 1960.
Now other variations could have been interesting. You touched on minivan. a Pacer styled minivan would be an interesting exercise. AMC was shoving Jeep tractor parts under Eagles, could have been, but would have been lazy. How about a 3 row seven seat Pacer SUV? They could have called it Sports Dome.
In the end I think this all ended up in the Renault Fuego. I’ll at least give that a slow clap.
First, the Testudo is fabulous. There’s photo evidence human models couldn’t stand still next to it. I’ve not seen nor heard of the Testudo before, so thank you for sharing the link to an informative article.
Second, I think Teague would have been proud of the AMX. I’ve always had a weak spot for the Pacer and AMC generally. Parts of my Jeep TJ were designed by AMC, and even though it says Chrysler on the manufacturer’s plate, I feel like I’m keeping a little piece of AMC alive every time I start the TJ.
“Of course, Renault already had Alpine as its official sports car division, so that avenue for Matra was likely closed in France. Still, the concurrent Alpine (which had windshield wipers that tried to fight each other) was not really suited to American sales and likely never stood a chance at being federalized.”
Not true. Around 1984, Renault figured they could likely sell around 2,500 Alpines a year in the US and did go through the process of federalizing it. The plan was to sell it in late 1987 as an ’88 model. It was to feature increased safety, emission controls, and pop up headlights. Unfortunately, Renault wound up giving up on the US market right at this time, and only 21 US market Alpine GTAs were made. Half were sold to French costumers while the rest were used as test mules for Alpine’s next car, the A610.
As far as your 80’s Pacer concept, I really like it! It would have made a quirky competitor to the Fiero and MR2. It has a pretty sleek design and the interior sounds pretty crazy, though I doubt it would have held up well, given the less than great plastics AMC/Renault tended to use at the time. And it wouldn’t even be that far fetched of an idea, seeing that AMC had produced a handful of mid-engined AMX/3s back in the early 70’s. It would have been a nice nod to the past.
Fuhrman- they did indeed intend to sell the next generation Alpine here- you can do a search and easily find images on ones with pop up lights and side markers. That generation was actually designed with the US market in mind, and sadly never made it. I was referring to the earlier model, which was likely not going to be easy to federalize.
Glad you like the concept! As I mentioned, I think the quality would have been better or equal to the Fiero. However, no contest with the Toyota- an MR2 that wasn’t thrashed and lived in the Southwest is probably still running today.
I love it. Interestingly, the Alpine GTA was federalized and Renault was all set to export it until Besse was assassinated. They even built a handful of U.S. spec cars.
Also, one of the original Pacer designs had pop-up headlights, but it didn’t survive the many focus groups AMC used when developing the car.
I think the wheelbase is just a bit too long for this less-tall body. Or perhaps it’s just the aggressively blocky door is a bit much with the low roof and concave rocker. I’m seeing Starion out back, Fiero in the middle, and some sort of weird Accord/Cirrus hybrid up front. Great wheels.
Now, how about a Pacer shooting brake?
TOSSABL-the wheelbase needs to be that way due to the mid-engined layout. As Andytheindividual said, AMC and Renault really didn’t have any valid RWD platforms to use at the time, and I just couldn’t go FWD with this thing.
The one view I did is not helping to show the way the wheel arches would flare out (particularly in back).
Did you intentionally make it look like a Plymouth Laser? The trapezoidal doors and bubble hatch immediately call up images of the FC RX-7 and the Laser/Daytona.
Sharp eyes – now I can’t unsee the door similarity.
And funny how I always forget the Laser, instead remembering only the Daytona; I chalk it up to the Daytona’s longer life and Dee Dee McCall driving one on Hunter.
She didn’t drive it that often. It was usually at the dealer for repairs.
Iwannadrive637- remember, as Darth Vader said in the Laser commercial, ‘the competition was good…we had to be better”. Oh, there are lasers in this commercial…
Slow Joe Crow- no, in intentionally copied the 928, which was almost certainly an influence on all the cars you just mentioned, as well as the aforementioned Starion.
Slow Joe- meant to say “I intentionally copied” of course. Actually, I first drew door handles similar to the 928 until I realized every AMC made HAD to have those same side-pull handles.
Okay Bishop the rest of us are PUI posting under the influence. (That should be a thing). But you are a Journalist you are not allowed to make mistakes. At least not any we catch.lol
So are they Lamborghini Jalpa wheels?
First thought Countach, but those were more recessed IIRC.
Jack- VERY CLOSE! Actually they’re from the Jalpa’s short-lived predecessor, the Silhouette. I think they only made a couple dozen before they ran into cash issues.
I don’t remember ever seeing the Testudo before, but it’s cool! I can see where the 928 influences come from, but there’s also more than a bit of XKE in there as well. I particularly like the interior.
MATTinMKE- apparently AMC’s Dick Teague and Porsche’s Tony Lapine (928) were friends and quite possibly saw the Testudo at the same time. Hard to say, but both were obviously impressed with the design. How could you not be?
When the Testudo premiered, everyone thought it was the future of automobile design, so it was quite logical that Teague and Lapine would look to it for inspiration when they were designing cars that were supposed bring their respective companies into the future. It was convergent evolution. Both the Pacer and 928 were under development at the same time, so it would have been hard for one to rip off the other.
Testudo? Is that a marketing combination of testostorone and Menudo? The androgenous Latin boy band? Talk about an oxymoron. Lol
This would have required Renault to recognize/believe that there was any equity left in the AMC nameplate – there might well have been, but they were all too eager to take the results of some cursory, unscientific market research in 1979 and completely scrap it
Ranwhenparked- it’s a very, very long story but Renault did see mutual benefits to collaborating (don’t forget that the Alliance sold quite well) until one of their biggest champions (Georges Besse) was assassinated, paving the way for the Chrysler deal.
Well, I’m specifically talking about the nameplate and corporate identity. They did some focus groups that should almost 50-50 customer preference for AMC and Renault, with a slightly edge for Renault, which was good enough for the folks at Boulogne Billancourt. AMC would be phased out, all passenger cars would carry the Renault name, and TV advertising would focus heavily on its status as a French “import” (even if built in Kenosha or Brampton).
Ranwhenparked- indeed the Alliance and later Medallion and Premier were sold as Renaults. I do think if they had brought in the Espace (there are pictures of it with sealed beams and side markers) it could have at least helped AMC to gain more market share. Renault, like Chrysler, saw the value in Jeep and helped with cash infusions to fund the SUVs of the eighties that fill David Tracy’s back yard- the difference was that Renault wanted a car division to succeed as well.
I also think they would have sold, not *well*, exactly, but at least better than they did, if they had carried the familiar red, white, and blue A-mark on the grille, AMC was always stronger in Middle America than on the coasts, and I really doubt pitching their Spirit and Concord replacements under some furren badge was really the way to go in retrospect. AMC could have been a friendly, familiar, domestic-seeming way to sell French cars to skeptical Midwesterners, but they cocked it up
Gosh damn, you nailed the 1984 look! In particular I love the doors and dashboard. It looks so French I’m surprised there’s not a cigarette dangling from the grill. As for the price, it’s like you were there. In 1984 I was cross shopping a Z28 and Daytona Turbo Z. Both listed for about $13,000. I made the horrendous choice.
I feel like both the Z28 and the Daytona were the horrendous choice. Which poison did you pick?
Daytona. A worthless pile of dreck cobbled together by a bunch of inbred apes who think dog fighting is the sport of kings. But I’m not bitter.
In 1984 or 1985, I was working in Atlanta as a junior, apprentice, trainee manager type in a big company… I even had people who worked for me. One of those was a clerk who liked to be called ‘Beckie’. She was a hard-working young woman determined to make a future for herself and her boyfriend who was going to get a job as soon as he got off parole. Anyhow boyfriend got the fever for a new Turbo Daytona. HAD to have one. So, Beckie approached me about co-signing for a loan on one. Fortunately, I was able to honestly say that at least one loan officer was still in the hospital after suffering a coughing fit while laughing at my credit score, so I ducked that bullet. The situation did give me an opening to suggest that their plan was not perhaps the wisest possible idea, but “them Daytonas are gonna be collector’s cars”. Visualize wild-eyed fevered look from Beckie here.
Though a series of mechanizations that surely involved drug dealing, boyfriend managed to get a friend to buy the car, keeping the title in his name while Beckie and boyfriend (heh) made weekly payments. This worked for at least a couple of months until boyfriend wrecked the car and got arrested for possession at the same time, this breaking his parole. Apparently, according to Beckie anyhow, car-owning friend suddenly became an asshole over the whole deal to the point Beckie quit and gave nobody (in the office anyhow) a forwarding address.
Now none of this reflects directly on the Daytona as a car, but it has always flavored my impression of it.
That was one heck of a story, very enjoyable. Beckie, where ever you are, you’re lucky the car was wrecked.
“Anyhow boyfriend got the fever for a new Turbo Daytona. HAD to have one. So, Beckie approached me about co-signing for a loan on one.”
WTF?! Why on earth would Beckie even think you would co-sign on a loan for her boyfriends car? Did she really think you were such a gullible fool?
I was selling Dodges at the time. I wondered who it was that actually bought that one Daytona that was sold. No i actually liked the Daytona looks but access to back seats sucked and the car was the one you wanted your wife/girlfriend was driving when they found out about each other. A dozen donut a day cop could outrun it. But could not look for marijuana in the back seat. Hey new idea for drug dealers buy cars that are impossible to access the backseat. Sure if determined they will find it with K9 but you know the fat cop isnt going to wedge his fatass back there.
File this under why didnt someone already think of this?
@MATTinMKE: The Z28 isn’t such a horrendous choice, it’s choosing the mullet hair style after buying a Z28 that is truly the horrendous choice.
I thought it was a voodoo spell, the moment you sign on the bottom line the full and luxuriant Mullet appeared !
that’s a Mitsubishi Starion
amoore- actually when I inked in the drawing with the headlights fully popped up I felt like I had just drawn a 1986 Celica, at least in the nose
I can’t get over what I perceive as ’80s Mitsubishi styling cues—slant nose, wraparound plastic-strip grille, prominent body-color B-pillar, angular wraparound fastback glass, 2nd-gen Mirage rear end…no offense as that’s not what you were aiming for, but this could totally be a second gen Starion
amore- no offense at all. I would love to have seen a second generation Starion. Depending on who you ask, that car was ostensibly replaced by two cars, neither of which captured the spirit of the original (the FWD/AWD Eclipse/Laser and sort-of-too-big Stealth/3000GT)
technically there was the FTO 🙂 FWD, but similar size and niche.
I was about to say, this looks like the unholy love child of a 1985/86 Celica, a Pacer, a Porsche 928, and an 80s Dodge Daytona/Plymouth Laser (those vaguely hexagonal doors).
I love it. Shut up and take my 14 grand.
Why fight just the Ford RS200 OR the Dodge Daytona OR the Mazda RX-7 OR the Mitsubishi Starrion? Have at all of them at once!
I can imagine, Matra and Jeep team up for a Group B all-wheel drive version, which eventually becomes homologated just in time for one season. Then that version is inherited by EAGLE and kept in production after the AMX itself gets phased out. The styling facelift would be sort of like what Lotus did to freshen the Esprit when it went V8.