Tangent – the Gremlin

Continuing on about cars, because, this is strangely fun.

When I was 14 my family moved from the suburbs to the big city — Providence — and it was time for another new car. This time, a Gremlin. Dad had had a Rambler in the 50’s which he loved, and since Ramblers were no longer available he decided to buy a car from the same company, AMC. The Gremlin has often been referred to as one of the ugliest, dorkiest, and weirdest cars in history. Also, one of the worst. In Automobile Magazine, Aaron Gold wrote this:
“It was named for the mythical creatures said to be responsible for crashing airplanes and breaking machinery. It was introduced to the public on April Fool’s Day. And as for the styling, AMC design chief Dick Teague made his first sketch of the car on the back of an … airline barf bag.” 

OUR Gremlin, was a lovely silver blue color. It was a two-door and had a back, hatch window. It was great on gas mileage. And the gas cap, centered on the back of the car, was emblazoned with an ADORABLE gremlin critter.

The car also had a new safety feature … the driver’s seat belt had to be fastened before the car could be started. And, there was a weight sensor in the front passenger seat, so if anyone was seated there, their belt also had to be clicked before the ignition would work. Unfortunately both seat belt sensors did not work for very long. We drivers would have to lift our bum up off the seat and hover while turning the car key. NO PROBLEM, we all got used to doing this! The only embarrassing part was when giving someone a ride … if they managed to pop themselves into the passenger seat before you could start the engine, you had to say, Hey would you mind lifting your butt up off the seat so I can start the car? Thanks so much.

The rear view mirror was another early casualty. It was glued onto the windshield, but AMC must’ve used Elmer’s. The mirror fell off the first time the sun shone on it. NO PROBLEM! … Dad installed a box of tissues on the dash, which was the perfect height! … the mirror was propped on top of the Kleenex, and each of us could easily adjust the angle.

The window cranks didn’t last long either. But hey, who needs air? (Yeah no, air conditioning was NOT a feature of OUR Gremlin.) Rather quickly we all came to view the Gremlin as, well, an evil gremlin. The ONLY thing lovable was the adorable gas cap! … which was stolen by the end of year one.

When I was 20, driving the Gremlin on Thayer Street, I saw a friend who was walking, and offered him a ride! (Thought to myself, thank god the car is already started so I don’t have to explain the lift-your-butt-up stuff.) He opened the door, thanked me for the ride, popped in, and CRASH. The back of the seat SNAPPED off — completely! He was lying flat, legs in the front seat, head in the back. I was mortified — he was apologetic.
I’m SOOO sorry I broke your car.
Yeah, REALLY not your fault.

The seat back was CLEARLY never going to be repaired.

During my last two years of college I borrowed the Gremlin weekly to do errands. Dad would drive the car to wherever I was, then I’d drive him to his office, which was the part he LOVED. He sat in the back seat (the only available option), put his feet on the front seat like it was an ottoman, and smiled. He thought it was terrific fun, me chauffeuring him in the Gremlin, with his feet up! He mentioned more than once, Well there’s no reason I can think of to put the seat back back.

I have a dear friend who’s a writer. An actual published writer. Many years ago in one of his books he recalled how in his youth his father drove a Jaguar, and how embarrassed he was by the ostentatiousness. When I read that, I thought, Oh come on … give me a break. I would’ve killed just for a new gas cap!

Adorable (aka, collectable) gas cap.


Spotted in a parking lot earlier this year.  ALMOST ours.

8 Replies to “Tangent – the Gremlin”

  1. My older sister Pat bought a new tan Gremlin with a stick shift because it was “cute.” My Dad and I referred to it as a turd on wheels which was a cruel, but unfortunately apt description. It lasted about two years and then even my sister threw in the towel.
    I think it ranks second only to the Yugo as being the worst production car ever sold in the US.

  2. Love your tales from autos past! We, too, had a Rambler for the cross-country trip when I was 10. Push button transmission!

  3. Being a few years older than Kaki I was in college at the time of the Gremlin but every visit home had a new very entertaining story about this silver blue booby trap. It was a source of hilarity for our family for years and I still laugh when I think about it. Our parents’ thrift added to the humor, obviously. But clearly any fix it money put into the Gremlin would have been money thrown out the window so in this case it was wise and prescient thrift !

  4. PS The Rambler was a 60’s car. Kaki, you were too young to remember the timing. Dad LOVED that car and talked about it so much it was not a car any of us forgot.

  5. OMG.
    That was hilarious and your writing was riveting. That could make the beginnings of an excellent short story.

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