The AMC Pacer lives in a weird space. Interesting and popular in its time, the car now suffers as the butt of many jokes. Finally, Pacers are starting to get love again—just as they quickly become scarce. The latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage takes a look at one that was saved and is hiding something powerful—a GM Performance Parts E-Rod LS3.
You can’t tell as the video opens, though. The Sand Tan AMC wagon sits in the middle of Jay’s garage—in front of a Bugatti, of all things—and hides its secrets well. All the exterior, from wheels to trim, is faithful to how the car left the AMC plant—with one concession. Phil Carey eliminated the vinyl roof during his work on the vehicle, a move Jay seems to support, since he admits a vinyl roof plus the wagon body style would be a bit too much.
Underneath the skin of the wagon is the really special part. Carey wanted a Pacer, and found this 1978 model quite attractive until California overturned the rolling 30-year emissions testing legislation. Carey got stuck with a car he had to continue to smog test… a car that wasn’t particularly good at passing smog tests. A plan to rebuild the factory 304 V-8 was ditched when Carey’s son found the GM Performance Parts E-Rod LS3. This would give the Pacer an emissions-compliant 430 horsepower at the cost of originality. Carey was okay with that.
Now, the Pacer exists to surprise the car next to you. Whether it is a Porsche or a Mustang, this gold wagon with differently sized doors can probably hang on in a straight line. We like that. This AMC Pacer looks like a fun car to drive, and has all the right types of time warp going on. Vintage feel with modern power. Nice.