When it comes to the cutthroat world of automotive manufacturing and sales, everyone knows that nothing succeeds like success.
The problem becomes how to build on success when you DON’T have it. Generating success in the early, ever-downwardly-spiraling vortex of hopelessness and frustration that characterized the onset of the Automotive Dark Ages was difficult, especially if you were AMC. They had tried, to be sure, but things were always coming up a day late and a dollar short, so to speak. While many cars of the era were less stylish than their forebears (due to oversized 5mph bumpers, largely), there weren’t a lot that were really UGLY. Well, that’s because it seemed like AMC had the market cornered on that front.
In an effort to hold on to market share, AMC tried some truly interesting concepts. They were largely well-ahead of their time, so far ahead that many of their cars weren’t recognized as desirable even though more than a decade later some of their ideas would be the bread and butter of automotive sales. Don’t forget, the Eagle was a compact 4WD wagon/car hybrid; sound like any crossovers you know?
Before that, though, came the Pacer. This was a compact car (at least in length), but it had the width and thus nominal comfort of a much larger car. The idea was that North Americans wanted to have their big car room, but not pay the gas-sucking price of large, heavy cars with big engines. No one wanted to be stuffed like a sardine into one of these weird little Japanese imports, right? Well, they might have been right: see how large the modern Civic is compared to a CVCC from the Pacer’s time and you’ll see what I mean. However, there were several problems.
One of the key problems was that the Pacer was unorthodoxly styled. It was a bulbous, wallowing shape, and it looked like some nightmarish vision of a Portugese Man-o-War washed up on a beach somewhere. It was all glass and weird curves, and it had disconcertingly bug-eyed headlights. It also had two differently-sized doors. The idea was to give a lot of vision to the driver and to make it easier for passengers to get into the car from the curb (hence the bigger door on the passenger side). Of course, you had to make people WANT to get into the car for it to be effective, and the styling department totally botched the job.
The shortness and squatness of the Pacer hatchback was at great odds with its rivals that were styled more like larger cars. Vegas and Pintos were much more stylish, even if they weren’t as roomy. The Pacer was also very heavy and somewhat underpowered. Despite this, the sales in the first two years were actually pretty decent, and thus the folks at AMC decided to expand upon their relative success. The natural extension of the Pacer was the Pacer Wagon, which debuted in 1977. This was actually a much more practical and aesthetically pleasing design.
The “fishbowl” of the coupe was replaced with an elongated roof, conventional side windows and much more vertical rear gate.The new roofline helped the Pacer immensely, giving it a more conventional look while improving access and cargo room. It also got rid of some of the heating problem by removing some of the glass. The car kept the bug-eyed look and the assymetric doors of the coupe, but these didn’t seem quite as out of place on the wagon.
As far as modelling goes, the Pacer was actually very well served by the industry. Since 1976 the good folks at MPC had been kitting the Pacer’s “sporty” version, the “Pacer X”,as an annual. Thus, if you wanted nearly any year of Pacer X, you could have it. However, these were all coupes, and when the wagon came out in 1977, it was up to AMT to do the honours. While the coupe version, at least in 1978 form, has been available from Round 2 for a while, the wagon remained elusive. Those of us who love the weird and not-so-wonderful subjects wondered if we’d ever get a chance to have both versions of the lovably lame bugeye from Kenosha.
Well, wait no more! Once again, Round 2 has stepped up to the plate to resurrect the unlikely and do the impossible: they have re-released the ’77 Pacer Wagon kit! Now, though, MPC and AMT are competing against themselves! Who will win? We will! Now, for the first time in almost 40 years, we can experience the joy of duelling Pacers in our hobby shops. Will life ever be the same? Likely not.
So, without further ado, let’s check out this latest repop from Round 2, and see just what all the fuss is about!
If it’s one thing I have to say, it’s that by the mid ‘70s, a lot of model boxes were kind of bland. They wouldn’t really pick up again until the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, and the MPC Pacer kit proves it. However, AMT was never one for wild box art to begin with. Thus, the box on the Pacer Wagon is not quite what we’ve gotten used to on such kits as Fuzz Duster or even the ’75 Corvette. What we get is a very “yellow-themed” box. There’s a somewhat oddly-perspectived yellow Pacer wagon on the box, an a pale yellow background. It’s not fancy, exciting or even that imaginative. The angle at which the Pacer is drawn is a bit “in your face”, but since no one really wants even a scale Pacer in the face, it’s not too aggressive. The car does have mags, though, and the AMC logo is across the box from the AMT one.
The big deal, though, is called out in a white-backed box on the left side. That’s right. This car features a CB Radio! That does explain the large antenna on the car’s rear quarter, I guess. This is the thing: AMT had a real thing for CB radios in the late ‘70s. Their Monza of the same age also makes a bit deal about the CB radio in the kit! CB’s were very popular at this time, due in no small part to films like Smokey and the Bandit, and everyone seemed to want to “get their ears on”. That included kids who were building model kits; you had to have a CB to be cool, I guess. Thus, AMT spared no expense in trumpeting this fact to the world.
On this rerelease, there is a sticker letting us know that this is one of the “Retro Deluxe” kits, and that it includes parts for stock or custom (more on that shortly), pad printed tires, many options and new decals. All of these things sound good. The tires, especially, sound good.
The one side of the box is, almost inevitably, in brown. It shows the back of a stock Pacer wagon, and lets us know you get a luggage rack, and other goodies. It also uses the term “power team” loosely, since the car comes with the six cylinder/auto trans combo. The side also mentions “realistic hollow Goodyear tires”; this gives me pause, and makes me see visions of those damnable and ungluable ½ tires AMT seemed so fond of! The rear-view of the Pacer in a heavy, artists’ oil-style is interesting, and adds a dark feeling to an otherwise clownish vehicle.
The other side, though, is where the money is at, and the magic happens. And man, it happens HARD. This side panel, also backed in brown, shows the custom version. That’s right, this kit contains all the parts you need to make a wild Pacer panel wagon! However, this custom isn’t happy being JUST a panel, like a Pinto Cruising Wagon. Ooooh no. This custom is out of control! It has wide tires and deep, baby moon-ish wheels, closed sides and a completely new kind of rear gate treatment. You can see it on the left, rear-end illustration. Instead of the dorky plain glass window, there are two windows separated by a thick frame. This makes the custom look like it has vertically split doors, like the Street Vans that were starting to take over at the time.
However, that’s nothing compared to the front end view. This wild and crazy creation looks nothing like a Pacer from the front. Ti has a very aerodynamic, pointy front end, with a small grille and square, quad headlights (of course!) set in pods that are almost as long as the hood itself. A slim bumper, faired-in turn signal/driving lights and a small air dam finish off this beast. I have to admit, as far as paint jobs go, the plain green of the Pacer Panel is rather uninspiring, and it does make the car rather resemble a bloated frog.
It needs some of MPC’s wild-and-crazy stripes/graphics, but all things considered, it’s actually not a bad looking custom. The new front end helps immensely, and the faired in windows make the vehicle look like a credible street cruiser, a mini shagging-wagon,if you will. With the right (non-dull green) paint, I think this custom will look cool, and I applaud AMT for going to this extreme. Of course, it also has a vaguely electric look. There were a number of electric Pacer conversions, and the extreme pointiness and “semi-futuristic” front end do convey the impression that maybe the erstwhile “power team” might be replaced by batteries, at least in the near future! (Interestingly, the general layout of the front end shape is also reminiscient of that on Ford’s EXP, so that does seem to bear out that this is the direction in which automotive styling was thought to be heading.)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the box is what’s NOT on there. “What’s that?” you ask, wondering what could be missing, since we know we get the 6-cylinder and the CB. The answer, simply, is the scale. Nowhere does the box tell us the scale. This is pretty basic info for a model kit box, but apparently AMT figured you’d buy it no matter what scale it was. They appear to have been right.
Like almost all of Round 2’s reissues, the Pacer wagon comes moulded in white. That means that there are a lot of white bits in the box; in this colour, and with this roundness, they tend to look like so many bits of shortening! There’s more than just some plastic Crisco in the box, though.
There are also two chrome racks, one with the “stock” components and one with the custom ones, including the dome wheels and various grill bits. The chrome is nicely applied and looks very good, better than I’m used to seeing, actually. The domed wheels look very good, and it was hard to take a picture of the chrome racks, they were so bright! Sadly, the wheels do have their sprue gates at the outer face of the wheel rim, rather than at the back as on Japanese cars. This is going to make cleaning them up a touchy, and annoying, process. There’s a good chance that some chrome will be lost, too. I really wish the Americans had gotten on board with the Japanese way of doing wheels… I will admit that I’m rather impressed that there are no inappropriately chromed engine accessories in this kit. That’s actually something of a first, I think, and for that, the original designers at AMT deserve praise. One thing I learned was that the mirrors on real ’77 Pacer wagons are indeed chrome! So, even that is right!
The moulding on the Pacer Wagon is pretty good, especially considering its age. There is, of course, some flash, but no more, I’m sure, than there would have been originally. Let’s face it, none of the American producers of model cars really worried about flash; they just injected the kits, and if you got some extra plastic, then that was your bonus to take to the bank. Considering that, though, the model looks quite good, although the usual scraping of all edges is going to be necessary to take off the production “burrs” one always finds on car kits.
The detail is also quite good. The interior looks nice, with a beautiful trunk floor free of injection marks! There is nice carpet texturing too; I honestly thought that I was looking at an MPC interior. Sadly, that extends to the injection “circles” in the main cabin flooring, something that all MPC builders are well aware of. It seems that no maker was immune to these moulding demons, so the Pacer wagon has that pitfall to work around. There’s good, but soft, detail on the door panels, including the manual window crank! Good thing to go with the manual windows, too; the Pacer needs all the weight savings it can get, and power windows are heavy! That’s thinking inside the post-fuel crisis box!
The engine is also nicely moulded with good “cast iron” texture. However, this is where the AMT-ness of it all comes to the fore. Unlike an MPC engine, where all the accessories andmanifolds are separate parts, the AMT Pacer engine has a lot of things moulded to it. It’s not a huge deal for someone with moderate painting skills, but it is a cop out, and I really think it reflects a sort of laziness on the part of the kit’s designers. That being said, this engine is a bit better than most of this era, especially from
AMT, because there are a number of accessories separate to the block pieces. So, I guess this thing gets a B for engine detail.
The chassis is passable, but there’s not a lot of detail on there. There’s some texture and reinforcing ribs moulded in, but they’re not very pronounced. The gas tank is moulded in, and you can see what appears to be the spare tire well moulded “above” it. The custom pieces are interesting, although no better moulded than the rest of the kit, they should add a lot of visual interest should you decide to go the custom route. I’m not saying I will, but then again, it would make a boffo companion for the Vette Van and my Pony Express, wouldn’t it?
As for glass, this kit brings it! There are two sets of windows, one clear, the other tinted a dark smokey grey. I assume the dark windows are for the custom, but then, why would you want to hide your custom interior work? Mind you, it could be because, were the car real, the owner would be too embarrassed to be seen in his creation. There aren’t any clear glass headlights; the lenses are moulded right into the bezels with the grille. However, there are clear red glass tail lights. These look very nice and have a good texture. However, there is a problem with my kit, at the very least. One of the the tail lights is short-shot. In other words, like Forest Gump, it’s not quite all there. One of the lenses is fine, but the other’s missing a bit of plastic. This is a big deal. If you want to build the car stock, then you’re going to need the tail lights. A short-shot light isn’t something that’s easily repaired. This is very disappointing, and it’s the first time I’ve seen a defect like this on a Round 2 kit. As an interesting note, my brother bought one of these kits at the same time and from the same place as I, but his lights were okay. This implies I got a lemon. I’m none-to-pleased, but I can make lemonade thanks to the fact that I’m leaning towards the custom version, and I will just obliterate the tail lights anyway. Still, if you can, I’d check yours before you buy it, in case this is a larger than once-in-a-run occurrence.
As if to make up for the tail light debacle, though, Round 2 has once again served up a delicious helping of tires! Just like the Pony Express, the tires on the Pacer Wagon are pad printed. Well,at least the stock tires are. There are custom tires,too. Some are so thick that they have to be glued together! This, and prompting by a friend who was eager to see what these “halfies” were all about, led me to open the tire bag and take a look. Unfortunately, it’s what I feared. MPC used to give pretty good tires, and if they wanted to give you bad tires, you got styrene halves. Fuzz Duster actually comes with such tires, as does the Bear Bait Chevette. However lame this sounds, at least styrene is easy to glue.
AMT, though, often provided “halfies” that were made out of some ungodly material that was completely non-stick. Sadly, the custom tires on this kit are made of that weird, shiny and hard, ungluable plastic. My Monza has these things, and literally no normal glue will hold them together. Tacky Glue kind of works, but not well. The only thing I’ve seen work is the Loctite Surface Activator and actual Loctite CA. Even then, you have to handle these tires carefully. They need to be sanded, but sanding will likely break them apart. The tread detail is uneven and overall, they just suck. Still, it is part of the retro experience, and it makes you appreciate those beautiful pad printed tires so much more. If only there was a set of white walls that were pad printed as well!
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions for the Pacer wagon are pretty small, all folded up. There’s not a lot to the kit, and the instructions unfold in halves and then into three panels. The illustrations are clearly old, but they are sufficient, and there really shouldn’t be a problem in figuring out what goes where. Paint callouts are a couple of steps below a Tamiya kit though. If you want to know what colours to paint what, then the internet is your friend, like I have found with many of my loser car kits. I don’t forsee any difficulty in even a newbie following the instructions. Sure, they’re not the latest colour-CAD models, but these old-style instructions always worked well for me!
The decals, however, are not what might have been expected. From what I’ve heard about the original version of this pacer wagon, the decals included markings for Tony Packo’s Café. This is a famous eatery in the Hungarian section of Toledo, and was made famous by Klinger on M.A.S.H.! Now, that sounds kind of interesting, I thought. It’s not often you get to see a delivery car model, especially for a place that actually exists! I am pretty certain that a lot of people with old kits were excited about this, since this would give them a nice, new set of Tony Packo’s decals for use on whatever they wanted.
Sadly, that is NOT what happened. I don’t know the reasons, and I haven’t delved into it, but for whatever reason, the Pacer wagon doesn’t have Tony Packo’s decals. I can only assume that there was some kind of licencing issue or some other legalese that lead to the loss of the Packo decals. However, it does have decals for a Hungarian restaurant, but it’s for a (from what I can tell, ficticious) place called “Eli Neni’s Hungarian Diner”. There are a lot of decals for this car. There are Hungarian coats-of-arms, flames, and lots of oddball phrases. Of course, everything is in green and red with white, as you’d expect from the Hungarian flag.
The decals are weird and pack a tonne of attitude. While some may seem to be a bit stereotyped, I think they are kind of charming in an oddly angry -’70s-stained-tshirt kind of way. I’m pretty sure they came from a place of good humour, and aren’t intended to offend anyone of Hungarian background. I can very easily see this kind of thing being on a REAL car back when the Pacer was current, or maybe about 5 years old. Heck, decals like this might have even helped to hold a real Pacer wagon together through the early ’80s!. Thus, I guess the best thing to say is while the decals aren’t original, they do embody the lack of political correctness and undercurrent of “screw you” that characterized the late ‘70s..
Now, it gets weirder that that.
Also on the decal sheet are two license plates. The best part, they are ONTARIO, Canada plates! I live in Ontario. I’ve never had a kit with Ontario plates I haven’t had to make myself! As a citizen of the once-great and currently-okay-ish province of Ontario, I take great pleasure in knowing that my province is represented by something as cool as a Pacer Wagon! Let all those guys with their NY- and Cali-plated musclecars take note: Ontario is the nexus of the Loser Car Revolution. SPEAK!
That the Pacer is an icon despite, or perhaps because of, its weirdness is a given fact. It was great that Round 2 resurrected the old MPC ’78 Pacer a few years ago, because that gave all of us who wanted one a chance to get one. However, there were a lot of people who wanted the earlier-style grille, and now, thanks again to Round 2, we can get just that. We live in good times, where we can once again take our choice in Pacer kits. The fields of Elysium never seemed so green.
I normally don’t think that highly of AMT kits. They’re often inferior on detail and fineness compared to MPCs, but better than Monograms and Revells. This kit, though, is pretty darn nice. The detailing is good and the finished product should really look the part of a Pacer Wagon. Even better, this kit includes all the awesomeness of the old Customizing Kit, so you can either go mild or wild!
The kit isn’t complicated, and even a novice modeller could likely build it with passable results. There will be issues, I’m sure, as there always are with older moulds, so I would say that you should have a few other models under your belt before you try this one. Still, I’ve seen a lot worse and more difficult car kits; the Pacer wagon treads a good middle ground between detail and pickiness.
For someone who wants a totally retro modelling experience, this is definitely a kit to get. With great, albeit boring, retro box art, you really feel you’re being sucked back 40 years. However, you also get the convenience of the nice new glass options and the pad-printed tires, so you can’t lose! It’s the best of the old and the best of the new. Is it wrong to say that a Pacer is the best of anything? Well, regardless, that’s how I see it.
I am pumped about this kit. To be honest, I think I’m more excited by it than I am by the MPC ’78. I am looking forward to seeing how the wild custom version plays out, and how the very odd and almost electric-looking result will stand out on my display shelves. Regardless of how you build it, though, you can bet you’ll get a lot of people commenting on the finished Pacer wagon. It’s hard not to.
If you want to get your retro swerver on, love oddball cars or feel the need to just go Car Craft something into oblivion, this kit is for you. Get it while and where you can. They don’t make them like this anymore! (Well, okay, they DO, but you know what I mean!)