1977 AMC Gremlin X: They’ve gone stark raving plaid!

Thomas Klockau

Gremlin. For those of a certain age, the name will bring back lots of memories. The plucky little car that was built by a plucky little car company, the last of the independents, AMC. It was introduced on April 1, 1970. You can’t help but admire a company with a sense of humor.

1977 Gremlin - full passenger side
Thomas Klockau

Naturally, thrift was played up heavily in advertising. The inaugural ’70 model had an overall length of 161 inches, seated four, and had a base price of $1959 (about $15,031 today). There was even a cheapskate-special two-seater model for only $1879 ($14,418), touted as the lowest-priced car in America.

Thomas Klockau

For comparison’s sake, a ’71 Pinto based at $1919 ($14,724), and the ’71 Vega was $2090 ($16,036). But upon its introduction, the Gremlin’s primary competitors were the Ford Maverick (no, not the pickup for you young guns, the compact car that replaced the Falcon), Volkswagen Beetle, Toyota Corolla, and Datsun 510.

Thomas Klockau

For you numbers folks, 1971 Gremlin production was 76,908, Vega was 269,900, Maverick was 271,897, and Pinto was a whopping 352,402. Granted, Ford and GM had vastly superior cash reserves; in addition, a four-door was added to the Maverick line; and, as you may recall, the Vega came in sedan, hatchback, wagon, and even a panel truck. Ditto the Pinto with a wagon version.

Thomas Klockau

But as the Gremlin was heavily based on the Hornet compact, I’ll bet the tooling was miniscule compared to the clean-sheet Ford and Chevy subcompacts. Plus, that pair had four-cylinder engines, while the Gremlin came standard with a 199-cubic-inch, inline six-cylinder engine, but that was 1970 only. Starting in ’71, the 232-cu-in version became standard. The 258 six was optional.

Thomas Klockau

Not much changed on the Gremlin through the years, though the addition of the 304 V-8 in 1972 made for a pretty compelling mini-muscle car. The ’73s got away with a somewhat enlarged front bumper, but only for a year. The ’74s got the awkward, giant Federal bumpers front and rear, which did not improve things aesthetically.

Thomas Klockau

The 1974–76 Gremlins had only minor changes to the grilles, colors, and the available stripes on the sporty X model. By 1976, the Gremlin was in its seventh model year, and other than the bumpers, not much had changed. But a refresh was in the works.


My friend Drew Beck, of the greater Madison, Wisconsin, area, had three Gremlins back then, a 1974 X, plus a ’77 and ’78, both of which had the Custom Trim package, which included extra trim and standard features. I asked him if he had any Gremlin memories. He said “about a zillion,” so I asked him to pick one.

Thomas Klockau

“Saturday night racing … a 1974 Gremlin X with the 258 six will easily outrun a Porsche 914 in a straight line, but once things get curvy, the Porsche pulls away quickly. Very front-heavy cars, though that means burnouts are as easy as finding mosquitos in Wisconsin.” And yes, he’d love to find another one.

Thomas Klockau

The 1977 Gremlins presented a fresh face to the world. The long, front overhang was no more, replaced with a brand new front clip that was much tidier, with an attractive eggcrate grille. The new front end would be shared with the facelifted Hornet in 1978, redubbed Concord and given a more aspirational-luxury look. But the Gremlin got it first.

Thomas Klockau

One item touted for all 1977 AMCs was the “Buyer Protection Plan II,” which added a full 24-month, 24K-mile engine and drive train warranty. It also covered the entire car, except tires, for 12 months or 12K miles from the date of delivery. Now that doesn’t seem like much today, but at the time it was rather comprehensive. After doing very well, sales-wise, in the early 1970s, by ’76–77 AMC wasn’t doing so hot and was trying everything in its power to bump sales.

Thomas Klockau

But we were talking about the Gremlin, weren’t we? In addition to the new nose, Gremlins got a facelifted back end as well, including new, repositioned taillights and a “shadow box” recess for the rear license plate. The rear hatchback glass was also enlarged for better visibility. Standard features included front disc brakes, AMC’s famous Weather Eye heater/defroster, color-keyed carpeting, carpeted cargo area, a parking brake warning light, two-speed wipers, and a “Luster-Guard” acrylic baked enamel paint job.

Thomas Klockau

The Gremlin X remained the sporty version and added those amazing plaid bucket seats, full-length sport stripes with a matching rear deck stripe, “X” badging, sports steering wheel, Extra Quiet Insulation Package, and slotted, styled steel wheels with D70x14-inch blackwall tires. It was largely a decor package, though you could order the 258 six with a four-speed floor shift if you so desired, or floor- or column-mounted automatic transmission.

1977 Gremlin - full drivers side
Thomas Klockau

Our featured car was seen at the excellent Maple City Cruise Night in Monmouth, Illinois, earlier this year on August 5. I had only been at the show a few minutes when I came upon this immaculate example, resplendent in Alpine White with that oh-so-attention-getting blue plaid interior with bucket seats and center console. Believe it or not, the Gremlin came standard with a split-back bench seat, despite its small size! It was only the second car I photographed. But even though it was one of the first cars I saw, it remained among my top five favorite cars at the show.

And while the Gremlin nameplate only lasted one more model year, gaining the all-new Concord instrument panel in the process, the car itself became a Spirit in 1979, with the same basic body—albeit losing that oh-so-identifiable triangular rear quarter window for one with less of a blind spot.


And a much more boring name: the “Spirit Sedan.” But you could get a flossy Limited model with leather! Uptown Gremlin! Love it or hate it, the Gremlin had its fans, then and today. A quirky little car that was 3/5 Hornet—and more than the sum of its parts.

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    As I recall, early Gremlins had vaccuum windshield wipers as standard. Electric ones were optional. Just the thing to give you the feeling of a 50s car in the rain.

    Wow! I didn’t realize that the Gremlin beat the Pinto to market.
    I always liked their styling, and recall that they could be had in the most outrageous purple colour.

    I liked the Pinto too — after driving a friend’s a few times, I thought its handling was great, with rack-and-pinion steering and a good weight balance. Hers was also a stick-shift!

    That is SO cool; I’d be proud of that interior if it was mine. Kinda like those really unique 50s interior patterns too. I dig some oddball patterns

    My parents destroyed two rear windows before they discovered that you had to crack the door window before closing/slamming the door shut.

    a friend of mine in college had a Gremlin and absolutely loved it….easily seated 4 people, decent storage space, and very durable.

    Cool interior but the Levi interior was the real weird one for me. I was surprised the first time I saw a V8 Grem, I thought someone had done it themselves. How about a 401, that would be something to see/drive.

    I remember a Purple V8 Gremlin when I was growing up. I was always going the opposite direction, and I really wanted to race that thing. I loved the color of it. It was a different purple than the Mopars. Now a 401 Gremlin with a 4 speed, that would be fun.

    Yes, now an Illinois car but originally purchased in Texas. As I recall, this gremlin then found home in Arizona before the fine people at Vanguard Motors, Plymouth, Michigan acquired it. It never gets out unless it’s a very fine day😎

    My favorite car commercial of all time: A young lady pulls up to the gas pump in her Gremlin, and the grizzled attendant says “Where’s the rest of your car, toots?”

    My grandparents had a 1970 baby blue gremlin X when I was a young kid. Loved that cool little car and Grandma always looked proud to drive me around in it too !

    Amos Johnson drove an AMC Gremlin during the 1973 IMSA Goodrich Radial Challenge races. The Gremlins dominated those early Goodrich Radial Challenge races, regularly beating all the Nissans, Toyotas, BMWs, etc. John Bishop, the president of IMSA, imposed restrictions on the Gremlins, the only American manufacture, by way of carburetor restrictor plates. Immediately all the foreign cars began winning. I wrote Bishop telling him that I saw nothing wrong with a small American manufacture kicking the butts of those foreign manufacturers whose advertising budgets generally surpassed the annual income of AMC .… if there was one! I told him I really think what he did stinks. I also told him, “You know what John, I think you stink too.” He wrote me back saying, “it’s nice to hear from a fellow conservative.”

    I had one of the 1st 1970’s Gremlin as a high school grad present in BIG BAD ORANGE, I ordered it with every option except A/C and power brakes, MSRP $2,970. it had a 3 spd floor shift, after locking up 2 trans’es trying to power shift 1-2, THEN I got smart and had a Munice 4-spd installed Then headers and a 2 barrel carb, I could handle up to a 351 2brl mustang at the track Drove it 128k miles thru 38 states and sold it to a friend for $800 bucks in 1983 he drove it for a couple more years sold it and the last I saw it was drining down the 405 freeway in the late 80’s I loved that Gremlin

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