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April Fool’s Day - It’s No Joke!

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In the quest for the perfect April 1 post, I discovered this incredible-but-true nugget of automotive nostalgia: on April 1, 1970, AMC released what was perhaps the greatest April Fool’s joke in car history, the AMC Gremlin.

Originally conceived of as a shortened, economy version of the Javelin, the Gremlin concept was originally called the AMC-GT and was designed by Richard Teague, the chief of design at AMC, and young engineer Bob Nixon. Believe it or not, Teague actually sketched the original idea for Gremlin on the back of a barf bag during a flight while discussing his plans with Nixon. Nixon did the final design sketches and unveiled the new prototype at the New York International Auto Show in April 1968.

The Javelin-based vehicle ultimately became the short-lived AMX Coupe when the company decided to use Nixon’s former on the subcompact Hornet instead. In 1970, the Gremlin was released as direct competition to the Volkswagen Beetle, the Ford Pinto, and the slate of Japanese subcompacts that were just beginning to hit domestic shores.


Unfortunately for AMC, the Gremlin would become something of a joke over the years thanks to being notoriously unreliable and featuring such a strange-looking rear end. However, there has always been a huge collector’s market for the oddball cars, and drag racers in particular loved the Gremlin for its large engine compartment in an otherwise tiny chassis. It became a favorite among performance enthusiasts for its cheap cost, the strength and rigidity of the body, and the ease with which it could be gutted and replaced with track-worthy engine swaps.

Still, the little AMC was never truly able to live down its namesake, and anyone who is familiar with the mythological lore behind John Lithgow’s segment in the Twilight Zone film or the mogwai from Joe Dante and Chris Columbus’ horror-comedy film series will understand why many people were naturally afraid of any machine called a “Gremlin.”

-Trey Fennell



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