Fun Stuff

AutoTrader Find of the Week: 1974 AMC Gremlin V8 Deserves More Love

There are certain ways I can tell that you and I will never be friends, and if you don’t have an undeniable soft spot for the AMC Gremlin, we likely won’t get along.

Sure, the so-called intelligentsia have often hyperbolically pegged the Gremlin as one the worst cars of all time. It was infamously slow, unsafe, and unreliable. But it was also a roaring sales success, beating out the Ford Pinto and the Chevrolet Vega in sales figures and price. In truth, the only option in its class that was cheaper than the base model Gremlin was the Volkswagen Beetle. Introduced at almost the perfect moment to meet the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Gremlin was very much the right car at the right time.

But best of all, you could still have an AMC Gremlin with a V8. In many ways, the top-trim AMC Gremlin X introduced North Americans to the concept of a hot hatch more than a decade before the idea would really catch on. Even today, it seems unthinkable that a car little larger than its rival Beetle would be able to accommodate such a relatively big engine – a 304-cubic-inch V8, to be exact. But because the Gremlin shared its essential architecture with the larger Hornet, and because all AMC V8 engines were based on the same block, a 5.0-litre V8 was very doable, and so were the swaps to even larger displacement engines….

Here’s why the AMC Gremlin was truly great.

Dwight MacArthur of Whitby, Ont., was 16 years old and delivering pizzas part-time in 1974 when he walked into Donway Ford – the same dealership his brother had just purchased a second-hand 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. With a $3,000 bank loan, he drove out of the dealer with a black and gold 1973 AMC Gremlin X, you know, to make pizza runs in.

First, can we go back to 1974 car prices? Please. Like, what is this world? What have they done to us?

Second, stories like that endear the Gremlin to just stupid levels of charm. Upon driving his new V8 Gremlin off the lot, MacArthur recalls a police officer pulling up next to him at a stop light. A novice stick-shift driver, his foot slipped off the clutch, and he spun the tires. No ticket. Beginner’s luck.

Since that little black and gold Gremlin, MacArthur has spent his entire career working on cars and even manufacturing his own hot rod parts in the form of driveshafts. He’s also owned a rogue’s gallery of cool cars, mostly classic and modern Mopars – though he did meet his wife the same day he bought his Corvette in 1987. He still has the Corvette. And the wife.

But the Gremlin of his youth was apparently still something of a gremlin in his mind, so when the opportunity arose to purchase this 1974 AMC Gremlin restomod, MacArthur seized on it and had the vehicle shipped from Winnipeg to Oshawa.

This wasn’t just any AMC Gremlin. This ’74 had been restored and modified by Donny Soloman – something of an AMC evangelist and collector who has accumulated some press on the subject.

Solomon had originally restored the car in 2000 back to its factory specs – 304 V8 engine, three-speed automatic, air conditioning, power steering (it was kind of loaded for 1974). And indeed, the car was so nicely done that it won a few top awards at the American Motors Owners Association and even a President’s Choice Award at Spring Daytona in 2002. The praise is well earned, as MacArthur says that Solomon sacrificed as many as 20 other AMC Gremlins to restore this one.

But apparently stock just wasn’t enough for Solomon, who proceeded to swap in a 401, bored to 409-cubic-inch V8 engine, sporting two four-barrel carburetors, and mated to a Chrysler 727 automatic transmission. On top of a laundry list of go-fast modifications to the engine, the little Gremlin also sports a custom Ford nine-inch rear end, disc brakes, Moser 31 Spline axles and a “Detroit Locker.” In English? This little ’70s subcompact is a true drag race-ready sleeper.

This is perhaps why Solomon earned a good bit of press for this car, including write-ups in Hemmings Muscle Machines and CNN Money and even, apparently, a USA Today appearance.

A lot of Solomon’s press is pre-Web 2.0, but MacArthur has it all meticulously cataloged, along with service records, documentation of the restoration, and even the original window sticker and bill of sale.

This Gremlin went to its first owner on Jan. 10, 1974, in Grenada, Miss., for the out-the-door price of $3,475. Undercoating was $39. Dual exhaust was $106. Registration was $24. Wow, inflation is truly wild these days.

MacArthur says he’s ready to move on from the Gremlin. Itch scratched, there are other fast and fun cars he has yet to drive. But his loss could be your gain – and your opportunity to own a charming sleeper that’s sure to delight the neighbourhood and a genuinely significant entry in the pages of automotive history.