I think I have a candidate for the coolest street-parked car in Manhattan, and it’s not this AMC Gremlin still living on the Upper East Side. But I do think this Gremmie may be the city’s strongest, grimiest survivor.
Welcome back to Carspotting! It’s been a while but we’re back with The Worst Walking Tour of New York City, headed by me, a hack who is barely qualified to tell you which subway lines go uptown or downtown. We’re out to find the best cars of the Big Apple.
I mean, there are lots of other old American cars parked on the street here, beat up and patched and beat up and patched again, but they tend to be, like, classics. Muscle cars. Land yachts. Thunderbirds and things.
These are classically appreciated cars.
The Gremlin was a thrown-together economy car that wasn’t economical, often considered one of the ugliest cars of all time. I love the car for being the only car designed on a barf bag, as Ate Up With Motor’s loving history of the Gremlin recounts:
American Motors was already preparing a new compact, the AMC Hornet, to replace the aging Rambler American for 1970, but American management realized that, like the contemporary Ford Maverick, the Hornet was basically a new bottle for the same old wine. Despite new styling, a longer wheelbase, and the revival of the storied Hornet name (which had been dropped when AMC abandoned the Hudson nameplate in 1957), the new car was not that different from the Rambler American underneath. To compete with the imports, AMC needed something different, something smaller: a genuine subcompact to take on the Beetle and its foreign brethren.
The ever-resourceful Dick Teague, AMC styling VP, was already working on it. Back in 1966, Teague and stylist Bob Nixon had discussed the possibility of a shortened version of the Hornet, which was then in development. Its engineering would also be reminiscent of the production AMX: just as the AMX was a cut-down Javelin, the new subcompact would be a cut-down version of the Hornet. Nixon created a series of sketches along those lines, which Teague liked.
On an airline flight that fall, Teague presented the idea to Gerry Meyers, AMC’s VP of product development. Lacking any of Nixon’s design studies, Teague sketched the design on the only thing he had at hand — the back of an air-sickness bag. Meyers liked the idea, in large part because its tooling costs would be very low.
So it’s wonderful seeing this little imp, knowing that there’s an owner who still takes care of it, up in the naturally-occurring retirement community that is the Upper East Side.
Join us on the rest of the tour and let us know what you think.