AMC Spirit

AMC Spirit

Infobox Automobile

name=AMC Spirit
manufacturer=American Motors (AMC)
production=1979 – 1983
assembly =flagicon|USA Kenosha, Wisconsin
flagicon|Canada Brampton, Ontario, Canada
flagicon|Mexico Mexico City, Mexico (VAM)
predecessor=AMC Gremlin
engine= Auto CID|122 Audi/VW "EA827" I4
Auto CID|151 GM "Iron Duke" I4
Auto CID|232 I6
Auto CID|258 I6
Auto CID|304 V8
transmission = 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic
4-speed manual
5-speed manual
layout=front-engine, rear wheel drive
wheelbase = convert|96|in|0|
related=AMC Gremlin
AMC Concord
AMC Eagle
body_style=2-door sedan
3-door liftback
wheelbase = convert|96|in|0
platform=AMC’s “junior cars”
designer=Richard A. Teague

The AMC Spirit is a subcompact automobile produced by the American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1979 to replace the Gremlin on which it was based. The AMC Spirit was produced until 1983. AMC Spirits were also assembled under license by Vehículos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) with modifications for the Mexican market.


The 1979 Spirit continued where the aging 1970-1978 Gremlin left off, but added fresh styling and a sporty liftback model to the existing sedan body style. Riding the Gremlin's convert|96|in|0|adj=on wheelbase, the changeover from Gremlin to Spirit sedan included larger rear quarter windows whose trailing edges now paralleled the slope of the Kammback tail. This effect drastically improved outward visibility, especially from the backseat, and gave the car a more modern, if less distinctive look. At the front, a new combination of grille, headlights, and parking lights was surrounded by a slim chrome loop effect. Quad rectangular headlamps were side-by-side and sat atop slim, horizontal amber rectangular parking lights. A new rectangular grille with widely-spaced horizontal bars revealed the AMC logo set in a circle in the grille center. New aluminum bumpers with black end caps debuted to effect lighter weight and a more crisp appearance in vogue with the times. At the side, the Spirit sedan added red circular rear marker lights that featured the AMC logo outline in foil "chrome" in its center. The B-pillar was now covered by a blackout beauty panel that featured vertical ribbing. Many of the suspension upgrades seen on the 1978 Concord were transferred to the Spirit to give it a more civilized driving experience. New door trim panels were introduced: along with base, DL, and leather-lined Limited trim lines that heaped more equipment and features into AMC's subcompact than ever before. The 1978 Gremlin instrument panel was carried over, but with a wood grain overlay seen on DL and Limited models.

The new liftback model, however, was the center of attention for 1979. The slick new hatchback coupe had a particularly graceful superstructure for such a short car. [ [ "AMC Spirit, AMC Concord, AMC Eagle" by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, not dated] , retrieved on: 10 February 2008.] Riding the same wheelbase as the sedan model, the liftback was identical to the sedan from the doors forward, but instead of a chopped Kammback tail, it featured a sloping fastback look. Quarter windows stretched back to meet slim C-pillars, and kicked up slightly from the belt line at the rear. The liftback featured a proper rear hatch "door", with a large glass window inset. The rear fascia had a recessed look, with wide rectangular taillights that featured loop-type foil chrome overlays. The rear license plate stood upright and hid the fuel filler cap behind it. The sloping roof, while attractive and effective in transforming the familiar Gremlin shape into something new, fresh, and sporty, sacrificed some headroom in the car's already vestigial rear compartment. A "GT" option package with aluminum wheels, blackout trim, an optional rear spoiler, and other sporty features that offered AMC to have a competitor in design, style, price, size, and performance to Ford's new-for-1979 Fox-based Mustang.

The standard engine on both models was AMC's trusty 3.8 L inline-6, with the thrifty and advanced 2.0 L I4, and 4.2 L I6 optional, while the 5.0 L V8 was offered as an option only on the liftback. 1979 would mark a (one-year) reprisal for 5.0 L V8 availability in the short convert|96|in|0|adj=on wheelbase AMC chassis. The last time the two were available together was in the 1976 Gremlin. The four, sixes, and V8 could be mated to either a standard 4-speed manual transmission or an optional 3-speed automatic with either floor or column shift, depending on trim and options. A 3-speed manual transmission was only available as a delete option on the sixes.

The AMX model was transferred from the Concord hatchback to the Spirit liftback body for 1979 and came with either the 4.2 L I6 or 5.0 L V8. The AMX featured a flush blackout grille with an AMX emblem its lower driver's side corner, fiberglass wheel flares, rear spoiler, 14x7 "Turbocast II" aluminum wheels, blackout trim, "GT rally-tuned" suspension, floor shift transmission, an optional hood decal, and other sporty touches.


Minor changes greeted the Spirit line for 1980. The 2.0 L VW/Audi-sourced I4 was replaced by a GM-sourced 2.5 L Iron Duke I4. American Motors had incurred high costs and slow sales from its deal with VW/Audi and their 2.0 L I4. On the other hand, the Iron Duke afforded slightly more power at a lower price to AMC, allowing them to make it the Spirit's standard engine, rather than optional, as the 2.0 L was from 1977-79.

The 3.8 L I6 was dropped from the lineup, as was the 5.0 L V8, leaving the 4.2 L I6 as the only engine option, and the only engine available in the AMX. 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 comprehensive process 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 its new rust protection program by adding a 5-year "No Rust Thru" component to its successful Buyer Protection Plan.


Even fewer changes were made to the 1981 Spirit line. A new crosshatch grille with a single crosshair element completed the changes at the front of the Spirit. 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. The AMX did not return for 1981. All AMCs were marketed under a new "Tough Americans" ad campaign, which sought to highlight the warranty and rustproofing measures that AMC took with their cars.

1981 AMC EPA fuel economy figures for the 49 states were 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for the 4-cylinder 4-speed, 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the 4-cylinder automatic, 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the 6-cylinder 4-speed, and 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for the 6-cylinder automatic.

There were 4 kinds of wheel treatments this year, they were the "Custom Wheel Cover", "Full Styled wheel cover (noryl) which was standard on the Spirit DL, the "Spoke Styled Wheels" which were standard on the Spirit G.T. and the "Turbocast II Aluminum wheels which were optional on all models.Fifteen exterior paint colors were available in 1981. They were Olympic White, Classic Black, Quick Siver Metallic, Steel Gray Met, Med. Blue Met, Moonlight Blue, Autumn Gold, Sherwood Green Met, Cameo Tan, Copper Brown Met, Med. Brown Met, Dark Brown Met, Oriental Red, Vintage Red Met, and Deep Maroon Met. Interiors were available in Deluxe Grain vinyl in black, blue, beige, and nutmeg. Coventry Check fabric was available in black, blue, beige, and nutmeg.

For 1981, AMC introduced Eagle models (SX/4 liftback and Kammback sedan) based on both Spirit body styles.


Changes to the Spirit for 1982 were mostly mechanical. A new 5-speed manual transmission was offered as an option, and new low-drag front disc brakes were standard. Together, they allowed the 2.5 L Spirit to achieve convert|37|mpgus|L/100 km mpgimp|abbr=on on the highway, according to 1982 EPA estimates. For those who ordered automatics, the Chrysler sourced three-speed TorqueFlite ratios were more widely spaced to afford even automatic-equipped cars better mileage.


The Spirit's final year was more notable by what was missing from the line. The Spirit sedan, having sold poorly due to familiar styling and little marketing, was pruned from the line. So were the 2.5 L I4 and the base model liftback, making all 1983 Spirits 4.2 L-equipped liftbacks in either DL or new GT trim. The GT package became a full-fledged model separate from the DL for the Spirit's swan song. 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.

More notably, for 1983, AMC introduced the new Renault Alliance, which was a much more modern, space-efficient, fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive subcompact car than the rear-drive Spirit was, with its now 14 season-old platform. Next to the new 1983 Alliance, the Spirit seemed unnecessary, and after sales slowed to a trickle by the end of 1983, it was quietly canceled as AMC released the Alliance-based Encore hatchbacks for 1984.

=Spirit AMX=

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 convert|1.06|in|0|adj=on front and convert|0.75|in|0|adj=on rear sway bars, high-effort power steering gears, adjustable Gabriel (brand name) 'Strider' shock absorbers, heavy-duty semi-metallic convert|10.8|in|0|adj=on front disk brakes with ribbed 10x1.2-inch (254x30.5 mm) rear drum brakes, unique AMX grille, 'Turbocast II' 14x7 inch aluminum rims 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 styled road wheels with the aluminum rims optional , and no simulated aluminum dash overlays. See: [ 1979 and 1980 compared] and [ 1980 Data Book]

The biggest powerplant on the 1979 AMX was AMC's auto CID|304|1 V8 capable of reaching 0 to 60 mph in 13.4 seconds. For 1980, the only engine was the auto CID|258|1 I6. Still, it was the last car to wear the AMX name and has achieved popularity with AMC enthusiasts.

AMXs at the Nürburgring

In October 1979, the B.F. Goodrich tire company sponsored a pair of AMXs in the annual FIA Group One twenty-four hour race (for mildly modified production cars) held at Germany's legendary Nürburgring track. [ Mattar, George. "AMC Invades Germany" Hemmings Muscle Machines. February 1, 2005] , retrieved on February 10 2008.] (The 1979 auto CID|304|1 V8-powered Spirit AMX was already homologated for European FIA Group One Touring Car races.)

The cars were the first-ever American entries in this grueling race (the Nürburgring is a convert|14.1|mi|1|adj=on circuit with 176 turns). They would compete against smaller-engined but more agile BMWs, Fords, Opels, VW Golfs, Renault 5s and Audis.

Drivers Amos Johnson and his partner Dennis Shaw were the team principals in the North Carolina-based "Team Highball." Supporting drivers were factory Mazda driver Jim Downing (who would later co-develop the HANS device), actor James Brolin, Lyn St. James and automotive journalist Gary Witzenberg. Two street-stock cars (both with AMC 5.0 L V8 and four-speed transmission) were supplied to "Team Highball" for Group One race modifications less than three weeks before shipment to Europe. The #1 Johnson/Shaw/Brolin car was given the faster set-up, with the objective of winning the race.

With very little prior experience of the track, and race practice cut short by fog, the team qualified the cars 20th and 21st overall.

In the race the #1 car suffered broken front shock-absorbers and a slipping clutch, and the engine burned oil. Witzenberg reported the brakes and both front shocks "all but gone" in #2 - pumping the brakes dragged the front spoiler, but had little effect on speed. And since the AMXs were "rather crude" compared with the smaller, lighter cars they were racing against, they lost time in the turns. Nevertheless Witzenburg said the cars "ran great", especially on the straights where they reached about 140 mph.

They finished first and second in class, 25th and 43rd overall out of a field of 120. [* cite journal |last=Witzenburg |first=Gary |title=Race for a Day: An AMX Adventure at Nurburgring |journal=Automotive Quarterly Magazine |volume=19 |issue=1 |month=First Quarter |year=1981 |pages=30–39] They were also the fastest entrants using street tires - BFG T/A radials.

The preparation of the cars and the team's experience of the race itself were covered by a period documentary film, "The Ultimate Challenge".

Turbo pace car

An AMX Turbo Pace car was built to be one of four official safety cars in the PPG IndyCar World Series for the 1981 auto-racing season. Using the Spirit liftback body, the pace car was designed by Richard A. Teague, AMC's Vice President of Automotive Design. The car was constructed by Autodynamics of Troy, Michigan under contract from PPG Industries. The turbo-charged and fuel-injected auto CID|258|1 I6 was built by Turbo-Systems Inc. to produce Auto bhp|450|0. The car is equipped with Goodyear Eagle GT low profile 245x50x16 tires on 16x8 "Gotti" aluminum alloy wheels. [ [ (Source: 1980 AMC Press Release)] .]

This car was the final chapter in the AMC AMX story. The PPG AMX is currently in a private collection and appears at automobile shows.

VAM models

Mexican government-owned automaker Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos (VAM) assembled sedan and liftback Spirits under license with AMC. To meet government regulations, VAM vehicles had to have at least 50% 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, Spirit 2-door sedans were called "Rallys", which was the name used in Mexico for AMC Gremlins in the rest of North America. The VAM Rally liftback models came in AMX, GT, and SST versions.

A unique to Mexico was the vehicle called the VAM Lerma, which was based on the Concord's 4-door chassis with the Spirit's front and rear liftback body parts and unique rear quarter panels. All VAM engines were of AMC design, but built in at the Hidalgo engine assembly plant. They featured modifications to deal with low octane fuel and high altitudes. These included different head designs and exhaust porting. An indigenous VAM engine was the auto CID|282|1 version of the AMC Straight-6 engine with an enlarged bore and wider wider dished pistons (3.909" bore, 3.894" stroke).

Not to be confused with

The Spirit model name was used by Chrysler Corporation that took over AMC in 1987, for a four-door sedan called the Dodge Spirit from 1989 to 1995.


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