With this entry, I would like to introduce what will be a semi-regular feature. The "What were they thinking?" series will be about cars that are, let's just say, not universally appreciated but still very unique and interesting. Your suggestions for entries are welcome.
In the mid-‘70's, AMC was America's last true independent automaker. Even though they were producing over 300,000 cars per year, their size paled in comparison to the big three. As a result, they didn't have the development dollars of the other manufacturers and their product mix consisted of Gremlins, Hornets and Matadors. All solid but basic cars. They needed some new technology to spice up their image.
At the time, GM engineers were working on a rotary engine project, which was relatively novel technology. AMC was their first customer, contracting to buy rotary engines for a new model they were introducing. At the time, Mazda was the only significant producer of rotary engine vehicles and they were a relatively small player in the U.S. market. The new AMC model would also have the benefit of front wheel drive, making it totally unique in that respet.
AMC's design team, under Richard Teague, came up with the novel Pacer design which was as groundbreaking as the mechanical technology it would carry. The extremely spacious cabin had a large greenhouse for amazing visibility and a passenger door that was substantially larger than the driver's door for easier rear passenger access. The glass hatchback provide easy loading into the extremely large cargo area. All in all, the Pacer was going to be a pioneering automobile on all fronts.
Unfortunately, just a few months before introduction, GM pulled the plug on its rotary engine program and AMC was left holding the bag. They had designed the Pacer around this compact mechanical platform which was suddenly no longer available. They scrambled and figured out a way to make a traditional front engine/ rear drive set up with their standby six cylinder engine work and introduced the car with that configuration. It took them a couple years and a front redesign to fit a V8 engine but, without the novelty of the rotary/front drive unit, the Pacer soon lost its luster and was discontinued only after five years in production.
And now you know what they were thinking.