While the AMC Gremlin may not have an interesting history like the DeLorean DMC-12, and its appearance may not be as appealing its contemporaries in the 1970s— the Ferarri (Pininfarina) 512 S Modulo or the Lancia (Bertone) Stratos HF Zero—it is still a fascinating car to look at.
OK, it's absolutely hideous, but that counts for something. The men responsible for this "special" appearance were Bob Nixon and Richard A. Teague. The latter actually made quite a name for himself as the man who shaped the Jeep Cherokee XJ.
Yet, before that, he helped make a car that CBS listed the Gremlin as the sixth least aesthetically pleasing vehicle on a list of the 15 ugliest cars in the world. To be fair, however, part of the Gremlin's looks should be blamed on the platform AMC used when designing this ride. This weird vehicle was based on the AMC Hornet, which came out one year before the Gremlin, and went out of production one year before its little sibling too.
The more full-sized compact car that the Gremlin was based on was arguably the more successful of the two models. It was driven in various motorsports, including NASCAR—where legend Bobby Allison was the AMC factory-backed drive, and even landed a role in a James Bond film— 1974's The Man With The Golden Gun, where it owns a corner of cinema history as it was driven by Roger Moore in one of the more interesting car chase sequences in cinematic history.
On the flipside, the Gremlin was as ugly as the little monsters of the 1984 movie that shares its namesake. The way the back end slants makes the car look uneven from any angle you look at it, and the color options— such as brown and gold— did little to improve the image of the car, and automotive reviewers blasted its strange body as it looked like the front and rear ends were designed for different cars. To make matters worse, parts broke easily, it was rusted easily, and the thing guzzled gas like it was competing with some of the boats of that era despite being a fraction of the size. To be fair, however, the Gremlin did have some notoriety for being easy to modify.
With that, this much-maligned sub-compact car's production eclipsed the half a million mark with 671,475 vehicles produced. AMC marketed this car at people who were flat out broke and designed it to compete with the likes of the Chevy Vega and the Ford Pinto. It was also up against the likes of the Volkswagen Beetle and the original Toyota Corolla, which still have strong driver retention to this day. For a brief time, it was even up against the Beetle's successor the Golf which was introduced in 1974. So, it wasn't really positioned to come out on top in that market.
Yet, the Gremlin managed to see multiple variants throughout the years, but that was thanks to university students and various companies or organizations utilizing it as a platform to conduct experiments. These included a hydrogen version, non-petroleum fuels, and an EV as well. Though the latter vehicle listed only managed to hit 50 mph.
Somehow, despite its reputation, one variant of this car carved out a reputation among collectors— the Gremlin X. Powered by a 6.6 L V8, this car produced 152hp, up from the 130 horses from the standard model.
It managed to live on for a few years as the AMC Spirit which ran from 1978 to 1983. Then, unfortunately, AMC stopped producing cars in 1988. Thankfully, we got this ugly, gross looking thing before that happened.
With all that in mind, the Gremlin may go down in history as a car that could have been cool if the company did not rush it to market while pinching every penny along the way. It was designed to get out as quickly as possible to compete with the foreign automobiles that were smaller and more fuel efficient during a time when automakers were shifting over to greener options. Still, it was a cheap car that, for whatever reason, collectors like now.