My 1975 AMC Levi's Gremlin X

(23 Aug 2004 -- photos added.)

I bought this in October 1998, from a small car lot in San Jose Calif. I found it on an ad on the net. I was searching for a new project/daily driver, was considering SC-360's, but they're too pricey and hard to find. I also really like small cars, and I'd never owned a Gremlin, so...

I was replacing a 1996 Honda Accord with VTEC engine; nice car, but boring, and an asshole-magnet; it was broken into once, hit in a parking lot, then stolen (I got it back, the thieves were stupider than a bag of hammers). So I decided to cash in the car and build something better. Since I was replacing a rather cush ride (A/C, power everything, VTEC, etc) I wanted the same, hence I held out for a loaded Gremlin, though it ended up being far away (I live in Tucson Ariz.).

Needless to say, I was a little wary about buying a car from so far away, seeing how I had to fly 1000 miles just to see it. But Don, the guy with the car lot, was incredibly helpful -- he sent me digital pictures, and told me honestly about the FLAWS! Sometimes you talk to someone and you know you can trust 'em -- this was Don.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Don Davis, of D & G Davis Auto Repair, 408-287-6499, is at 55 N. Bascom Ave., San Jose CA 99128. Email: [email protected].

Anyhoo, I had to go to Los Angeles for one thing or another, so I bought a one-way to San Jose. The car was as Don described; 65,000 miles, decent shape, used but intact. Fully loaded, for AMC: V8, auto trans, power disk brakes, A/C (disassembled), tilt-o-whirl steering column, tinted glass, intermittent wipers, etc and so on. Leaked engine oil, but ran fine. After filling out paperwork (welcome to California) I go to drive off, turn the key -- NOTHING! We track it down to an intermittent starter solenoid; the stud for the +12V from the ignition switch needed wiggling (was the sole on-the-road repair the next morning.)

So I simply drove an unknown 25 year old car 1000 miles home. Of course I left on a Saturday night, and brought no tools except my yuppie switch blade (aka Swiss Army) and 4" vice-grips, which immediately became the Official AMC Hood Release (many AMCers have one of these).

Car ran just fine, got 15 mpg, arrived Sunday night with no problems. The "before" pictures taken in front of the house, with the original "turbo" wheels (I pitched them; they were badly curb-scraped and pitted. I saved the (two) volcano centers.

Since then it's been in various shops for the big work; unlike all of my previous car projects, I farmed out most of the work (the idea was to spend the Accord money to make the Gremlin). The Levi's interior was restored at Jamis Auto Restylers and Upholstery; they found NOS '75 AMC simulated-Levi's denim, and redyed the trim to match. The door panels were fine.

The engine was built by Ray's Engine Builders, described elsewhere. Being a '75 it has every crappy pollution-control device known to AMC at that time; I'm leaving it 100% intact (but not 100% stock) to pass AZ and CA smog, so the engine compartment isn't as pretty as say, my 1963 Classic. I was originally going to convert it to LPG (propane) but decided against it for various reasons. I had the front end screwed up by Maxwell Wheel Alignment; well to be fair, I handed them a box of parts (AMC stuff is rarely in stock!) and gave them the new two-piece strut bushings; the inner steel sleeve is too long, and prevents the bushing from grabbing, so the wheel moves front-and-back over an inch! How did they align this? It took me a few weeks to notice; it only happens when you hit the brakes in reverse and someone is watching. So I'll repair that myself.

I changed to a 2.53:1 axle from a '78 Concord, for mileage and high-speed cruising (this is the SouthWest after all, it's 500 miles to visit my friends in Santa Fe). Also saves at least 75 lbs. of un-sprung weight (a good cheat for you autocrossers). New springs and hard-to-find front spring pivots from ESPO Springs n' Things (I'll install before 1999 AMO meet in St. Louis). [I replaced it with the original 3.15 axle six months later, I hated the torque loss.]

I stripped the car of all it's externals and prepped for painting by Big Sky, who did a great job, 1999 Honda Taffeta White, a black stripe from Kennedy American (I installed it, nasty business); it looks pretty good, and you can't see the screwups in the sticker. I whited out the grille, and did flat black detailing with wrinkle-black for the factory "frenched" headlamps and taillights. I'll later white out the tail lights and front parking lights, with bead-blasted lexan lenses, and LED arrays to replace the lamps -- trick and reliable at once. New door seals and window sweeps from Peter Stathes (perfect fit, great guy, send him your money).

I ended up using Wheel Vintiques wheels; "smoothies", with bare centers, painted body color, with moon hubcaps. No more aluminum wheels for me! Too much work to keep clean! And no more open wheels, I'm sick of cleaning brake dust off the car. (The "cooling" thing is a non-issue for street cars.) Plus these look great, and are cheap $51 each).