American Motors officially deleted their AMC Gremlin models after the 1978 model year in favor of the updated fastback and notch-back AMC Spirit models, but it is a little known fact among automobile historians that Gremlins were still produced in Mexico ending only after the 1983 model year. VAM(Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos) continued to operate under the partial ownership of AMC(a 38% stake in the company), but the majority Mexican owned company made many of it’s own business decisions. And the VAM Gremlin proved to be a popular enough model that the company yearly produced a version of the Gremlin until 1983.
The powerplants in most Mexican VAM automobiles were a 282cubic inch version of the AMC six, but in the Gremlin models, the 258 six, just like the U.S. version, was the only standard engine. During the 1970′s, AMC Gremlins became a popular choice among a few hot rodders because of their big engines compared to other subcompacts. About 5% of U.S. produced Gremlins had a 304V8, however a few 401V8 Gremlins were produced by Randall American in Mesa, Arizona that had performance even better than some Javelin AMX models of the 1970′s because of the much lighter body weight.
Even with the 258 six, either AMC or VAM Gremlin models were some of the fastest subcompacts of the 1970′s and early 80′s. Compared to the four cylinder models from other brands, Gremlins were quick on their feet, although the chopped-off body styling was controversial with the public. But, the controversial styling actually made the cars an acquired taste and desired with many fans of the car who loved the pint-sized little cars that were only two inches longer than a VW bug, but had a lot more power and were often little hot rods disguised as a subcompact economy car.
Both the AMC and VAM Gremlins tended to be underrated good cars by the public. But, they were sturdy cars that had a long service life in most cases, and still remain a collector’s item car today, commanding pretty good prices on Ebay for hot rod V8 versions of the car featuring souped up Javelin and AMX 390 and 401 cubic inch V8s.
Even with the 258 six, most Gremlins could actually spin the back tires. With the 304V8 or better, you could burn rubber. That’s something your 1970′s era VWs sure couldn’t do.
AMC Gremlins still sometimes pop up on the drag racing circuits today as one of the popular 1970′s cars to built up to the nuts and race. But, the last small cars based off the Gremlin to feature the 304V8 was the Spirit-bodied 1979 AMX. But, pollution controls of that era ruined that engine’s horsepower output and brought the engine down to a lowly 120 net horsepower that year. It was the last V8 powered subcompact ever produced by AMC, where even their sturdy six was on the way out, replaced first by a VW-Porsche 121 four, then the Pontiac 151 “Iron Duke” four, and finally a rebalanced and shortened version of the AMC six machined into a four. The early 80′s sucked when it came to performance, where even cars by Cadillac and Corvettes were real dogs in that era, and the Chrysler Hemi-powered supercars of only a few years earlier seemed like a distant memory.
AMC and VAM Gremlins were great fun when they lasted, and many satisfied owners still fondly remember how good these old cars were.