|1979 to 1983|
|Manufacturer||American Motors Corporation (AMC)|
|Designer||Richard A. Teague|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door sedan
|Platform||AMC's "junior cars"|
|Engine||122 cu in (2.0 L) Audi/VW EA827 I4
151 cu in (2.5 L) GM Iron Duke I4
232 cu in (3.8 L) I6
258 cu in (4.2 L) I6
282 cu in (4.6 L) I6 (Mexico)
304 cu in (5.0 L) V8
|Transmission||3-speed TorqueFlite automatic
|Wheelbase||96 in (2,438 mm)|
|Length||167 in (4,242 mm)|
|Width||72 in (1,829 mm)|
|Height||51 in (1,295 mm)|
|Curb weight||2,521 lb (1,144 kg) base sedan|
The AMC Spirit was a subcompact marketed by American Motors Corporation (AMC) from 1979 to 1983 as a restyled replacement for the Gremlin. The Spirit shared the Gremlin's platform and was offered in two hatchback variations, each with two doors — marketed as sedan and liftback. Manufactured by AMC in Wisconsin and Ontario, as well as under license in Mexico, the Spirit was also marketed from 1981 to 1983 as the Eagle SX/4 with four-wheel drive. It was a fairly economical car by 1980s U.S. domestic vehicle standards.
Performance versions of the AMC Spirit competed in road racing. The B.F. Goodrich tire company sponsored a two-car team of Spirit AMXs in the 24 Hours Nürburgring race track. The AMXs were the first American entries and they finished #1 and #2 in their class out of a 120-car field in this grueling 14.1 mile (22.7 km), 176 turn road race. AMC Spirits were also privately campaigned in International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Champion Spark Plug Challenge and Racing Stock Class events, as well as in drag racing.
The new AMC Spirit was largely a restyled Gremlin that had been manufactured from 1970 to 1978. Many engineering and equipment upgrades introduced on the 1978 Concord were now transferred to the sub-compact Spirit. The suspension system was revised with "soft-ride" mountings for the coil springs over A-arms in the front and the rear live-axle with leaf springs to improve ride and handling. Attention was also focused on sound-deadening, corrosion protection, and other engineering features included among others, lightweight aluminum bumpers, lock-up automatic transmission converter, and higher-compression six-cylinder camshaft and pistons for economy, performance, and emissions.
The body received new styling and a liftback model was added to the previous two-door sedan. Richard A. Teague's "more-conventional" design of the new liftback coupe "had a particularly graceful superstructure for such a short car". A road test by Popular Science described the transition as AMC having the "cleverest engineers in Detroit" cementing their reputation of "getting $200 worth of looks for $100".
Using the Gremlin's 96 in (2,438 mm) wheelbase, the restyling from Gremlin two-door to Spirit sedan included larger rear quarter windows with improved outward visibility. The instrument panel introduced on the 1978 Gremlin was retained, with a wood grain overlay on DL and Limited models.
Riding the same wheelbase as the sedan, the liftback was identical to the sedan from the A-pillar forward and featured a sloping roof (compromising rear headroom) and a hatchback with a more shallow Kammback tail. The rear license plate hid the fuel filler cap. The Spirit offered a generous cruising range with its "fuel tank capacity of 21 gallons and probable fuel mileage of 25 mpg or more ... enabling the car's driver to travel over 500 miles between fill ups".
Standard equipment levels and convenience features were increased on the new Spirit compared to previous AMC Gremlins. The DL models featured upgraded trim inside and out, including color-keyed wheel covers, custom bucket seats in corduroy fabric or "sport" vinyl upholstery, wood accents on the dashboard, steering wheel, and floor gearshift knob, and fluorescent-display digital clock. The Limited model included leather seats and trim, air conditioning, AM/FM radio, adjustable steering wheel, dual remote outside mirrors, full length center console with armrest, and many more features.
The GT package was available on the Spirit liftback and included among other features, blacked out exterior trim, radial tires with styled wheels, black leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and console, tachometer and "Rallye" gauges, as well as a special "deep-tone" exhaust system. The package also had a rear spoiler, and other sporty features that offered AMC to have a competitor in design, style, price, size, and performance to the new-for-1979 Fox-based Ford Mustang. A separate GT "rally-tuned" suspension option included tuned front and rear sway bars, "Hi-Control" rear leaf springs with "iso-clamp" pads, special strut rod bushings, adjustable Gabriel "Strider" shock absorbers, as well as heavy-duty brakes and a quick ratio steering box.
1979 AMC Spirit side view design factory artwork
The 3.8 L I6 was dropped from the lineup, as was the 5.0 L V8 to meet the 20 mpg-US (12 L/100 km; 24 mpg-imp) average corporate fleet fuel economy standard for the 1980 model year. The VW-based I4 was replaced with a Pontiac-built 2.5-liter I4 that was "better suited to the cars' size and weight specs." The 4.2 L I6 remained most popular, and the only engine available in the AMX model. To deal with 1980's much tougher emissions, computer-controlled carburetors were designed for better economy and operation. No major exterior changes were seen, except on the AMX, as its grille emblem moved to the center.
All AMCs, including the Spirit, received a new rust-proofing process called Ziebart Factory Rust Protection. This included aluminized trim screws, plastic inner fender liners, galvanized steel in every exterior body panel, and a deep-dip (up to the window line) bath in epoxy-based primer. AMC backed up the rust protection program with a 5-year "No Rust Thru" component to its comprehensive "Buyer Protection Plan".
The 1981 model year AMC Spirits received a new crosshatch grille with a single crosshair element. New optional "Noryl" wheelcovers were added. The leather-clad Limited models were canceled, leaving the DL as the top-rung model. The liftback still featured a GT package, available on both base and DL trims, with both engines. New options included power windows, rear window wiper and washer, power antenna, as well as tricolored "rally" stripes. The AMX version did not return for 1981.
The 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 was redesigned and made 90 pounds (41 kg) lighter, as well as smoother, higher low-end torque, more economical, and requiring less maintenance. The numerous engineering improvements and the substitution of aluminum for iron and steel made the venerable AMC engine "the lightest in-line Six in the domestic industry", at 445 lb (202 kg).
Changes to the Spirit for 1982 were mostly mechanical. A new 5-speed manual transmission was offered as an option, thus the "Spirit GT became America's first pony car available with a 5-speed gearbox." New low-drag front disc brakes were standard. Together, they allowed the 2.5 L Spirit to achieve 37 mpg-US (6.4 L/100 km; 44 mpg-imp) on the highway, according to 1982 EPA estimates. For automatic transmission equipped cars, the Chrysler sourced three-speed TorqueFlite ratios were more widely spaced to afford better mileage.
American Motors Company was always a company that took chances in the name of innovation and promoted the 1982 Spirit in an unusual television ad campaign. Trying to differentiate their cars from the competition, and to make a point that the "Tough Americans" come with Ziebart rust proofing and a 5-year rust warranty, the ads show a new Spirit dropped into 30 feet (9 m) of salt water.
The Spirit sedan was deleted from the line in 1983, along with the 2.5 L I4 and the base model liftback. All 1983 Spirits were 4.2 L-equipped liftbacks in either DL or new GT trim. The Spirit GT's performance was described "neck-snapping quickness" compared to competing sporty cars with 4-cylinder engines.
The GT package became its own model separate from the DL for the Spirit's last year. Advertisements stressed the higher level of standard equipment in both Spirit DL and Spirit GT, which sold for US$5,995 and US$6,495, respectively. The Spirit GT version was compared to the liftback version of Ford's Mustang.
An AMX version of the Spirit liftback was offered for 1979 and 1980.
It featured special color-matched fender flares and front air dam, 'Rally-Tuned' suspension with 1.06 in (27 mm) front and0.75 in (19 mm) rear sway bars, high-effort power steering gears, adjustable Gabriel (brand name) 'Strider' shock absorbers, heavy-duty semi-metallic 10.8 in (274 mm) front disk brakes with ribbed 10x1.2-inch (254x30.5 mm) rear drum brakes, unique AMX grille, "Turbocast II" 14x7-inch aluminum road wheels with ER60x14 Goodyear "Flexten" GT radial RWL (raised white letter) tires, rear spoiler, special striping package, hood and door decals, console shifted automatic or manual transmission with 'Rallye Gauge' package (total of eight dials including an intake-manifold vacuum gauge), as well as simulated aluminum dash overlays with AMX badge on the glove compartment door.
Changes in standard AMX equipment for 1980 were black flares and air dam, standard 14x6-inch "Magnum 500" styled road wheels with the wider aluminum wheels now made optional, and no simulated aluminum dash overlays.
The biggest powerplant on the 1979 AMX was AMC's 304 cu.in 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8 and it was the last AMC passenger car to have a factory installed V-8 powerplant. For 1980, the only engine was the 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6.
The Spirit AMX was an innovative concept and was well executed from an engineering standpoint, highlighting the creative thinking and skilled engineering on a low budget that characterized AMC's efforts. The Spirit was markedly improved and performed well, but AMC was unable to overcome perception that its products were outdated. Moreover, the Spirit AMX was introduced the same year as the similar but new Fox Platform Ford Mustang. The Spirit AMX cancelled after a brief two model years, with the similar Eagle SX/4, a sporty four-wheel-drive successor. The Spirit AMX was the last car to wear the AMX name and has achieved popularity with AMC enthusiasts.
The 1983 AMC Spirit GT front view
Mexican government-owned automaker Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) assembled sedan and liftback Spirits under license with AMC from 1979 (sedan) and 1980 (liftback) through 1983. To meet government regulations, VAM vehicles had to have at least 60% locally sourced parts. Mexican built "AMC's" came with different exterior and interior trim, as well as model names than their counterparts in the United States and Canada. For example, the Spirit 2-door sedan was called "Gremlin". The Spirit liftback models were called "Rally". This meant that the two Spirit body styles in Mexico were two separate lines within VAM's product mix with the sedan targeted at the economy market segment while the liftback was almost exclusively focused towards performance. The Rally-based Spirit was the successor to VAM's American Rally AMX top-of-the-line performance model that was based on the 1978 U.S. domestic market AMC Concord AMX while the Gremlin-based Spirit can be described as a generation change within an already existing model.
The VAM-based Spirit sedan was available in the same model configuration as the AMC Gremlin in the first half of the 1970s, including the equivalent sporty model still called the Gremlin X, which in Mexico was a higher trim level instead of an optional package. US versions such as the sedan-based Spirit DL and Spirit Limited models were never available, as also weren't the previous generation's AMC Gremlin GT and AMC Gremlin Custom models. Also, there was no availability of a four cylinder engine and column-mounted shifters, plus several accessories because of the economy focus of the line.
Both VAM versions incorporated manual front disk brakes, front sway bar, floor-mounted three-speed manual transmissions, a 3.31:1 rear differential gear ratio, and the 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 engine with a Carter YF one-barrel carburetor, 266 degree camshaft and 8.0:1 compression ratio rated at 121 hp (90 kW; 123 PS) at 3900 rpm. Both versions were equipped with a 140 km/h / 90 mph speedometer, individual fold-down front seats, three-point seat belts, parcel shelf, front and rear ashtrays, cigarette lighter, locking glove-box, padded sun visors, carpeting, round dome light, inside hood release, rear spoiler, AM radio and antenna.
The 1980 models gained a higher appointment of safety in the form of a locking gas cap, fold-down high-back individual seats with adjustable headrests, and the heater was made standard even on the most economical versions. New features included a split rear seat back, a 180 km/h / 110 mph speedometer, new seat patterns, a seven-blade flexible fan for the 258 six, new steering wheel designs for each trim level, and a new VAM grille design shared between the two versions. The X model included a new side decal design and blacked out hubcaps. The optional equipment list for the Gremlin X included a new AM FM stereo radio, electric antenna, and intermittent wipers.
For 1981, the Spirit sedan-based VAM Gremlin saw the greatest changes since 1979. Both versions obtained a 55-amp alternator, coolant recovery tank and fan shroud regardless of trim level or the presence of the air conditioning system, as well as a new shared grille design with vertical bars and a single horizontal one in the bottom plus a shared new seat pattern design. For the first time, door panels completely covered all previously exposed metal parts. International symbols appeared in the instrument cluster warning lights and the light beam switch was integrated to the steering column marker light lever. The Gremlin X received numerous updates. All chromed items were deleted other than the front end and rear licence plate light housings while the rear spoiler passed on to the option list. Both bumpers changed to blacked out units. Side decals were almost gone, with only a small "Gremlin X" one at the bottom corner of each C-pillar. A new leather-wrapped sports steering wheel with six simulated hex socket bolts on the horn button was used. A four speed manual transmission with Hurst linkage and a 3.07:1 rear gear ratio became standard. Units with automatic transmission retained the 3.31:1 rear gear ratio of all previous years. The optional equipment list now included eight-spoke sports-style steel wheels using the same volcano hubcaps as the standard wheels.
The downturn of the Mexican economy early in 1982 and a government decree banning the importation of "luxury" automotive accessories hit the country's auto industry. The 1982 VAM Gremlin returned as a slightly consolidated model. Both trim levels incorporated amber front parking lights and the AMC square pattern grille design that was used in U.S. domestic Eagle models. The base model incorporated chromed headlight bezels with blacked out internal areas while the X model were completely blacked out as also was the hood trim molding. The 258 cu in (4.2 L) I6 was upgraded for the first time since 1976.
Early in 1983 VAM was taken over by Renault from the Mexican government and a fairly reduced VAM passenger car line appeared for the year, mainly to use up the highest possible amount of existing inventories and to fulfil the previous agreements with sourcing companies. The VAM Gremlin was carried over for 1983, becoming the last-ever AMC Spirit sedan model produced. This body style lasted one full year after AMC's dropped its equivalent from the U.S. lineup. The 1983 Gremlin was virtually restricted to the base model only. It was practically the same as in the prior year with the only exception of incorporating dual remote mirrors and bumper guards as standard equipment.
The VAM-based Spirit liftback became VAM's top-of-the-line performance product, the Rally AMX being focused to replace the previous Concord AMX-based American Rally AMX models and the Rally GT as the replacement of the limited edition Concord two-door sedan-based American 06/S. Unlike under AMC, in Mexico the top performance Spirit liftback was the GT instead of the AMX. The AMC Spirit liftback was available in a wide array of market segments for almost any buyer; an economy Spirit base model, a luxury Spirit DL or Limited and a performance Spirit GT or AMX. This didn't happen under VAM, only the performance models were available and partially the luxury ones. Due to accessories and focus, the VAM Rally AMX is relatively similar to an AMC Spirit DL with GT package and most performance options.
The Rally-based Spirit liftbacks were available in two sports versions, the standard "Rally AMX" and the high performance "Rally GT" in their first year. Both versions came standard with a Transmission Technologies Corporation (Tremec) 176-F four-speed manual transmission with Hurst linkage, power brakes with front disks and rear drums, power steering, front and rear sway bars, heavy-duty shock absorbers and springs, seven-bladed flexible cooling fan, tinted windshield, leather-wrapped three-arm sports steering wheel, tachometer, center console with armrest and "Rallye" gauges plus rear ashtray, reclining bucket seats with adjustable headrests, split-back rear seat, three-point retractable seatbelts, woodgrain panels on dashboard, full light group (hood, courtesy, ashtray, glove box) except reading dome light, blacked-out dual remote-controlled mirrors and VAM-designed aluminum grille with a central "Rally" emblem. The Rally AMX had the standard 132 hp (98 kW; 134 PS) 282 cu in (4.6 L) I6 using a 3.07:1 rear gear ratio, while the Rally GT came with the high-performance 172 hp (128 kW; 174 PS) version of this VAM engine and a 3.31:1 rear gear ratio.
The 1981 model year represented a radical upgrade for VAM's top performance line. An all-new "rally" emblem design in all-lower case letters and computer-like typography appeared on both front fenders. The Rally AMX obtained a new "waved" stripe design located on the front edge of the hood and fenders with an integrated "AMX" leyend on the right front corner. It was very descreet compared to the last year's decals while the "AMX over Rally" and "4.6 Litros" stickers were removed. The Rally GT got also discreet "GT" stickers for the front of the hood bulge and "GT 4.6/X" stickers for the right corner of the rear spoiler. The previous year's "American GT" side decals and "GT" central rear spoiler emblem were deleted. Both versions shared all-new impressive Recardo-type reclining bucket seats with adjustable headrests, all new door panels in vinyl with cloth and carpet inserts but that no longer had map pouches, AMC's barred grille design used in the Eagle models made in aluminum instead of plastic, international symbols on the instrument cluster warning lights, the high beams switch integrated to the steering column, a new leather-wrapped sports steering wheel design with six fake Allen bolts on the horn button forming a hexagon, AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers as standard equipment and higher quality dashboard woodgrain panels. Mechanically, the coolant recovery tank and fan shroud became present. The optional equipment list was vastly improved; the set of power doorlocks and windows that debuted the year before in the American (Concord) line became available in the Rally. The GT got the electric antenna while the AMX included the rear spoiler with electric trunk release, both as standard equipment. The full optional equipment list for the Rally AMX was air conditioning, automatic transmission, intermittent wipers, reading dome light, rear defroster, sports steel wheels, electric antenna, power door locks and power windows; the list of the Rally GT was restricted to the electric locks and windows only while the rest of the accessories were standard except for the unavailable automatic transmission and air conditioning.
Despite the Rally's outstanding performance on both the street and in the market, it was affected by a series of unexpected problems. Internally, VAM suffered problems with several customer's confusing the Rally SST and the three-door Lerma models and became undecided on which car to buy. Also, the Lerma's high price and relatively plain looks for a high-end luxury model (intended to become VAM's new flagship since the departure of the Matador-based Classic line) meant poor sales that ended way below VAM's expectations for the year. In terms of luxury, VAM gave priority to the Lerma and the high trim American (Concord) models over the Rally line. The Lerma for 1982 was changed from being a single version to two different versions to create a price difference. The final flagship of the company was available as the semi-equipped Lerma 610 and the fully equipped Lerma 620, both in three and five doors. Externally, a set of misguided moves from the Mexican government took their toll on the whole auto industry. First, the legal exemption of up to 500 automobile engines without emission certification was revoked, affecting directly the high performance 4.6/X engine of the Rally GT models. This was followed by a decree banning the importation of automotive luxury accessories affected the whole auto industry. The only way for the auto makers to keep on offering those accessories was to have them either produced or sourced locally, some found a replacement while others did not. In the VAM Rally's case, the list of accessories that were lost included the bullet-shaped sports remote mirrors, power door locks, power windows, electric trunk release, rear spoiler, analog tachometer, rear defroster, the Quartz digital clock, and the center console with armrest and rear ashtray.
The collapse of the Mexican economy in 1982 hit VAM along with all the local auto industry. In February 1983, the Mexican government sold its share of VAM to Renault. The new owner was focused more on the Jeep vehicles along with VAM's dealer network and production facilities. Renault reduced production VAM's passenger car line so it would not compete with its own products The remaining 1983 VAM cars existed mostly to use up the highest possible amount of existing inventories and to fullfill the previous agreements with sourcing companies.