Skip to main content

What comes to mind when you think of ugly cars? The Pontiac Aztek? The Cadillac Cimarron? How about the AMC Gremlin? This stubby wagon gets a bad rap for its unusual shape and questionable design. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t deserve the flak. The Gremlin was a hot seller despite its flaws, including a hatchback design without a working hatchback.

AMC based the Gremlin on the Hornet 

1970 AMC Gremlin
1970 AMC Gremlin | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Produced from 1970 to 1978, the AMC Gremlin was a subcompact car designed to compete with other automakers’ similarly sized vehicles. But the Gremlin’s distinctive shape, with a truncated rear end, resulted from AMC’s decision to base the car on its existing Hornet. That allowed for a lower price point, one of the Gremlin’s biggest selling points. 

5 design decisions that cut costs but improved the AMC Gremlin

The not-so hatchback

A significant cost-saving measure was AMC’s use of a hatchback design without a functional hatch. That meant the Gremlin’s cargo area was accessible only through the back window, which lifted like a hatchback door. Though that might seem strange, it helped decrease production costs and gave the Gremlin a lower retail price.

A stiff body build

Another notable decision contributed to the Gremlin’s reliability: its stiff body build. AMC designed the body to minimize rattles and shakes on the road, creating a smooth, comfortable ride. 

Low-tech features

Designers created the Gremlin with simplicity in mind. It didn’t boast the latest and greatest technology, like power windows, air conditioning, and central locking. And fewer parts meant fewer repairs and straightforward maintenance.

Engine and transmission hand-me-downs

AMC used engines and transmissions from tried-and-tested models, ensuring the Gremlin was well-built and reliable. According to MotorTrend, it had a 3.3-liter cam-in-block cast-iron straight-six and offered a 3.8-liter six.

Lightweight design

Another significant decision that made the Gremlin reliable and affordable was its small stature and lightweight design. The car’s compact size made it easy to handle and navigate, even in tight spaces, ideal for urban environments. And the lightweight design meant it was fuel-efficient and could travel long distances without straining the engine. 

Was the AMC Gremlin a good car?

Like any car, the AMC Gremlin had flaws, but it was far from a disaster. Indeed, it was AMC’s second-bestselling model, MotorTrend reports. Plus, it’s hard to argue with the appeal of its quirky design and low price point (the 1970 model started at $1,879, per MT). 

So the next time you see a Gremlin, don’t dismiss it out of hand. Take a closer look and appreciate the story behind this unconventional hatchback.


AMC Enthusiast Needed to Have the Last Eagle Built and Tracked It to the Factory