Gremlins are common punchlines in jokes involving cars and they regularly show up on lists of bad cars. They are quirky, odd, and, to some, ugly little cars that never sold in huge numbers of cars like the Pinto. They never had the reliable reputation of Civics or Corollas and many of the design choices were questionable if not downright suspect. But they probably are not as bad as their reputation would have you believe.
AMC was never a sales giant like Chevrolet or Chrysler, but its little Gremlin cars sold extremely well despite the shortcomings of the manufacturer and remained in production for nearly a decade. History is replete with dozens of car models that last only a few years. Motor Trend explains that its quirks stem from being a small car based on a midsize platform, a result of small budgets. It lacked a rear hatch – it only had an opening rear glass – to preserve stiffness and, instead of being built as a subcompact, it was essentially a chopped-up midsize car.
But it sold well. The driving and handling characteristics of the Gremlin are definitely sub-par, but in the ’70s, this applied to a lot of cars. The Beetle is no autocross champion and the Pinto drives like a pile of mashed potatoes. Furthermore, while AMC was never known for winning awards for build quality, contemporary Chevy Vegas were suffering from warped cylinder heads and rust while Ford Pintos were reportedly overheating on the highway primarily due to exploding fuel tanks. Gremlins are not so bad after all.