Meet the 1970 AMC Gremlin, America’s First Subcompact Car
The AMC Gremlin is a subcompact car that was made by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) for nine model years. During its manufacturing run from April 1970 through 1978, a total of 671,475 Gremlins were built in the United States and Canada.
The Gremlin was described at its introduction as the first domestic-built American subcompact car.
Responding to the introduction of competitors from Ford and Chevrolet, AMC advertised the car in its second model year as “America’s first subcompact.” The St. Louis-Post Dispatch states that to cite the Gremlin as “America’s first subcompact” is to overlook the Crosley and the Nash Metropolitan. The latter—a subcompact-sized “captive import,” American-conceived and American-designed for the American market, and built in the UK with a British engine—has a claim to be “Americas first subcompact.”
AMC’s designer Richard A. Teague may have come up with up the Gremlin’s name. AMC apparently felt confident enough to not worry about the word’s negative connotations. Time magazine noted two definitions for “gremlin”: Defined by Webster’s as “a small gnome held to be responsible for malfunction of equipment.” American Motors’ definition: “a pal to its friends and an ogre to its enemies.”
The car was introduced on April Fools’ Day 1970, six months ahead of subcompacts from Ford and GM. It was created to compete with imported cars from Japan and Germany; and although its appearance received some criticism, the Gremlin had an important advantage with its low price.
With AMC’s thriftiest six-cylinder engine and base prices below US$2,000, AMC’s ‘import-fighter’ initially sold well: over 26,000 in its abbreviated first season before the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto were introduced.