You Can Buy the AMC Pacer From Wayne’s World
Comb out your mullet, grab a red licorice rope, and cue up Bohemian Rhapsody, the 1976 American Motors Corp. (AMC) Pacer from Wayne’s World is for sale.
The bubble-shaped oddball, which was produced from 1975-1980, had its supporters prior to Dana Carvey’s “Garth” taking the wheel in the 1992 film and its 1993 sequel. Country star Conway Twitty owned one back in the day, as did former presidential candidate Mitt Romney (whose father once ran AMC). Iconoclastic fashion designer and stylist Patricia Field used to drive one around the streets of New York, and French bombshell Brigitte Bardot had one, likely given to her after she appeared in an advertisement for the curvaceous compact. There was even a family of animated Pacers in Pixar’s Cars film franchise.
But the sky blue 1976 Pacer with the graphic flame job, the killer stereo, and the mismatched chrome wheels is perhaps the most memorable iteration of this malaise-era compact, the one that comes to mind when the model is mentioned—like Burt Reynolds’s 1977 Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, or David Hasselhoff’s 1982 Pontiac Trans Am from Knight Rider. (What is it with Trans Ams?) It is a ’90s pop culture reference point, the answer to some irksome trivia question, in some divey bar, every night of the year.
Yet, when it comes to aesthetics and drivability … it’s still a Pacer. The innovative exterior design of this vehicle was intended to maximize interior space and visibility in a small car platform, but ended up just looking widely globular, standing out like a barnacle among the giant land yachts Detroit was producing in the era.
The Pacer did have a few advanced features in areas like aerodynamics, sound insulation, and packaging. But while AMC engineers wanted to incorporate lightweight materials and drivetrain componentry to enhance the car’s fuel economy and performance, the marque’s penny-pinched resources meant that off-the-shelf solutions had to be used—wheezy and outmoded engines and transmissions that resulted in a car that was heavier, slower, and less efficient than intended. What’s more, the disruptive styling never really caught on with contemporary consumers.
That has changed a bit in the 40 years since the Pacer went into production. As a symbol of the weird transitional nature of the automobile industry, and the greater American culture, in the ’70s, the Pacer has found its appreciators—its so-bad-it’s-good styling a differentiator and a standout.
The internet has allowed fans of oddball cars of all varieties to congregate, demonstrate their enthusiasm, and collect, raising values of even the most unloved vehicles. And this particular Pacer has a real celebrity provenance, which can often enhance the price of a car—if it’s the right car and the right provenance.
“With this car, I think the movie provenance is the only value to the car,” says collectible car expert, and Road & Track contributing editor, Colin Comer. “You have a very low value, kitschy, new collectible car. The movie is kind of a cult classic, but it’s not exactly going to be looked at as a turning point in cinematic history, and this Pacer isn’t exactly a Steve McQueen movie Porsche,” Comer warns. “The other thing about this car is that it’s been fully restored—they’ve redone the interior, they’ve repainted the car. So any direct connection to being able to say, This is where Mike Myers sat, or, This is the steering wheel he held on to, that’s all gone. It’s been prettied up and erased. I would think the car would be worth more if it was exactly as it was in the movie.”
As it stands, Pacer values have remained extremely flat over the past five years, even as the collectible car market as a whole has seen exponential growth. According to the vintage vehicle valuation experts at Hagerty, the best Pacer in the world—a perfect Concours Quality, Condition #1 vehicle—is worth about $15,000.
What does a somewhat celebrated celebrity connection add to the value? That depends on the buyer, the seller, and the venue. When the Volkswagen Van from That ’70s Show sold 11 years ago, toward the end of that program’s eight-season run, VW Buses were unappreciated and (according to Hagerty) worth around $12,000 to $18,000. The van went for over $28,000. The fact that this bulbous set piece is being sold in Las Vegas—the flashiest of the collector car auction locales—might mean that some high roller who just won big, and has a soft spot for ’90s nostalgia, might end up inflating the price.
“These cars have been the butt of jokes, but this one is a piece of pop culture,” says Craig Jackson, the auction company’s chief executive officer. With respect to the expected sale price, Jackson adds, “That’s always a wild card. The car is selling at no reserve, so we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve sold a Mayberry R.F.D. police car here [from the Andy Griffith Show] for $121,000 that was probably a $10,000 car. It just takes two people, two bidders, who remember the movie and want a piece of history.”