Like Warren Harding’s presidency or the KFC Double Down, the AMC Pacer was one of America’s great mistakes. Asymmetric doors; bulging plastic paneling; an interior doomed to bake in the fishbowl windows: The shag-huffing engineers apparently covered up each terrible design flaw with another, like a Ponzi scheme against good taste.
But the endearing miscues are exactly why Goodkind spent $2,000 and much of his free time buying and restoring his Pacer, which has an “Aztec copper” exterior, a “berry” interior and a death-defying 99,000 miles. “How could you not love it?” he asks. “It’s just so silly.”
Goodkind, 42, belongs to a nostalgia-gripped cult of collectors of ’70s-era “nerd cars.” They gobble up Pacers, Novas, Pintos, Gremlins — and the mack-mobile of every pimple-cratered lothario, the Dodge Dart Swinger Special. They are relics from dark, Foghat-addled days on the assembly lines of Detroit.
American Motors Corp. paid for its aesthetic crimes when Chrysler essentially ?euthanized it in the 1980s. But formerly bell-bottomed baby boomers, both male and ?female, have fueled the unlikely resale market. And because these cars are more than 30 years old, they’re officially antiques — much to the chagrin of stodgy old dudes waxing their Model Ts, pink Caddies and flame-painted hot rods.
Last year, Goodkind’s Pacer was named “Sweetest LeMon” by Hagerty Insurance, the ?go-to nerd-car coverage provider. Car and driver were transported to California’s Monterey Bay to lead a chugging parade of fellow Disco duds.
Goodkind remembers piling into the backseat of his dad’s Pacer as a kid. Now his daughter, Leah, loves riding in the cartoonish rig. (A Pacer was a villain in the Cars movies.) She’s nicknamed it, with un-ironic sweetness, “Amber.”
Until last year I was still driving my own first car: a supremely unexciting 1998 Toyota Corolla, which rolled off the line when I was 16. It was beige, but I called it “champagne.” I fed it any random De La Soul or Nirvana tapes I might find in discount bins, tapes which played for a few minutes before being destroyed. I kept Ohio plates in the front and Florida plates in the back, as souvenirs of relocation. Giant dents and shattered mirrors were remnants of my video game-trained early days of driving.