COTD: Don't feed them after midnight edition

Matt Jordan's exploration of how many ways his teenage self attempted self-murder through hooning spurred many great comments, including this one from Jude Butler about one man's respect for the AMC Gremlin:

I could tell similar stories about my 1976 AMC Gremlin Custom (very similar to the photo), which I picked up in August '99, at the age of 16 1/2. Sienna Orange, white hockey stick stripes up the sides, roof rack, turbine spoke aluminum wheels, and a tan plaid bench seat interior. Numb, overboosted power steering, but high-effort manual 4-wheel drum brakes. 258 I6. Column shift auto. It had 130,000 miles when I bought it, was in very, very good shape, and finally gave up the ghost two years later with 185k on the clock.

That thing was incredible. I miss it terribly. I miss crossing myself and yelling "Ready or not, here I come!" every time I had to merge or change lanes to the right, as it had no right side mirror and those C-pillars were enormous enough to hide a Chevy Astro.

I commuted 90-120 miles a day to high school, community college (where I was also taking classes), and work. One early morning (Dec 8, 1999), I was on I-5 in a construction zone, doing the speed limit (it was dark and rainy) in Van-tucky, WA, a woman in a Geo Prizm merged in front of me, then jammed on her brakes. I followed suit, but mine locked, sending me into the concrete barrier 4" from the white line at 25-30mph. I heard a "bang" and saw my hood crumple on the right side as I skidded 45 degrees to a stop. I caught my breath, got out of the Gremlin which was now blocking one of the two available lanes, and assessed the damage. The only mechanical problem was the now-dislodged plastic fan shroud obstructing the fan's free movement. So I pulled it off and the car fired right up. The police arrived, took my information and that of the two people who stopped behind of whom was rear-ended...both cars were totalled and towed away.

I drove the Gremlin away that day and wasn't even sore the next. As soon as the insurance claims adjuster saw the car, he chuckled and blurted out, "Yeah, it's totalled". The massive front bumper was twisted, the right front fender was crunched, the right headlight pointed ground-ward, and the hood (with no factory inside release) popped out of alignment. I was horribly depressed for weeks. I got my settlement, bought the car back, and drove it anyway for another 18 months and 45,000 silly commuting miles.

In the two years I had the Gremlin, I learned how to change a thermostat, redo 4 drum brakes (twice...and I use the word "brakes" only in an ironic sense), universal joints, and a starter solenoid. That's it.

I'd managed to fit 6 people in it at one point, drove it across Oregon limit over endless mountain passes for two summers, and made it my personal mission every time I saw a contemporary-to-my-Gremlin Beetle, Pinto, Vega, Chevette, Corolla, or Colt - of which there were still a few on unsalted Oregon roads back then - to use all six of my Gremlin's cylinders to pass them, head held high, on the freeway. Nerdy and silly, yes. Did I care? No.

The Gremlin got vandalized repeatedly in my high school parking lot. Bastards keyed it, stole the extremely cool original gas cap, and one asshole nailed a hole in my fuel tank next to the exhaust pipe. My younger brother - after I graduated - found out who was doing all of it and why: The repressed closet case hick fucks responsible owned up to harrassing me because they assumed I was gay, since I didn't play for my rural high school's football team, but was in band and choir. Campus "security" (this was in the Paducah-Littleton school shooting era) didn't give a rat's ass.

Anyway, a buff and wax reduced the effect of the keyed paint. I bought an NOS locking cap with a swivel-away Gremlin emblem that revealed the lock on eBay (which I still have) to replace the cap they stole. And an epoxy patch kit fixed my fuel tank.

What finally did the Gremlin in was a timing chain and ring-and-pinion gears that were losing their wills to live simultaneously. And I just couldn't justify spending all that money and time finding the right parts for my orphaned, wrecked Gremlin with 185k on the clock to fix it. I was the only one in the house with a job and I and had to go to school, too. So I bid a tearful goodbye to the Gremlin and then bought an '84 Pontiac Parisienne Brougham 5.0L V8 sedan. And another 7 cars in the 10 years since I had the Gremlin.

I still miss her. But it was the right time to let her go. Had I not wrecked her on that wintry day back in December of '99, I could've justified fixing her ills later in life. But wrecked or not, I grew up in that Gremlin. She got me through hard times, protected me brilliantly in an accident, and was one hell of a lot of fun most of the time.

Thanks for your story. And the memories they evoke.


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I've never understood all the hate those cars get. The Gremlin was the only American subcompact of its time that 1) didn't explode in a rear impact 2) didn't self-destruct its own engine after 20,000 miles 3) didn't turn to dust after 2 winters 4) could actually pass a contemporary frontal crash test, and 5) didn't have a totally gutless powerplant. It was also the exact same length as a VW Beetle, but much bigger and more versatile inside as well as being comparatively loaded.

If you lived in the United States in 1971, and were in the market for a subcompact, and DIDN'T buy a Gremlin, you were an idiot. OK, I'll give you the Datsun 510 and Toyota Corona, but the Gremlin was seriously the only decent domestic offering.

AMC deserved a lot better than they got.