- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

“I love my orphans,” Nick Marinaccio says. Among other cars he has owned are a Nash, an Edsel, a Rambler and a DeSoto, all of which have ceased production.

In October 2005 he wasn’t actively searching for a car but was merely browsing in cyberspace when information about a 1979 AMC Pacer arrested his attention. It was a car very much like one he had seen advertised when he was a student in Syracuse, N.Y. The difference was that the car was new then and as a student he had no money and the car was selling for about $5,000.

AMC advertised the Pacer as “the first wide small car.” Indeed, it was as wide as the full-sized car offered by AMC, yet it rode a 100-inch wheelbase. It came close to being a square car. With its enormous area of glass, occupants often had the feeling they were motoring in a giant fish bowl. Still there was — for some — an irresistible attraction, much like the proverbial puppy in the pet shop window.

Information gathered by Mr. Marinaccio indicates the original owner of the Pacer in 1956 had purchased a Ford that was lost to rust in only three years of negotiating the roads in and around Madawaska, Maine.

He determined to never allow such a thing to happen to any of his cars again. Thereafter all of his cars were extensively rust proofed and then each trim piece was removed and the back side was coated with a rust protectant. As a further measure he drove old pickup trucks during the winter months when his cars were garaged.

The Pacer received the same treatment after it was purchased new at Valley Motors Inc. in Fort Kent, Maine. To this day there are several plugs visible where the rust-proofing people left their trail. They must have done a remarkably thorough job of rust proofing aided by the fact that the car was never driven during the winter months when salt and chemicals were on the road because to this day the car shows not the first hint of rust.

After gathering additional information about the Pacer, on Oct. 17, 2005 Mr. Marinaccio took the plunge and purchased the car, sight unseen. “I love that big little car,” Mr. Marinaccio says. When new, the 3,133-pound Pacer had a base price of $5,039.

When the sable brown/alpaca brown car arrived at his Silver Spring home on the back of a truck, Mr. Marinaccio was ecstatic to hear the 258-cubic-inch in-line six-cylinder engine spring to life with no hesitation and purr rhythmically.

“All the seals are nice and snug,” Mr. Marinaccio says. “There’s absolutely no wind whistle.” True to his word, the previous owner acknowledged that the headliner was starting to sag a bit. Mr. Marinaccio solved the problem by replacing the entire headliner. He also replaced the two gas-filled struts that support the hatchback when it is open.

The courteous previous owner sent along the original window sticker, which indicates the base price for the 1979 AMC Pacer DL hatchback was $4,874. To that price, according to the window sticker, was added:

• Automatic gearbox….$323.

• Power steering………153.

• Inner coating………..100.

• Rear defroster………..89.

• AM push-button radio…84.

• Power disc brakes …….70.

• Tinted glass………….66.

• Two-tone paint………..65.

• Protection group……..55.

• Visibility group……….50.

• White wall radial tires..48.

• Light group…………..39.

• Cold climate group……38.

• Seat fabric trim……….25.

The manufacturer politely explained that there was no charge for the 2.53 rear-axle gear ratio.

With all these extra cost options in addition to the $304 transportation change, the total came to $6,383.

The manufacturer thoughtfully included the estimated annual fuel cost of $617 based on 17 miles per gallon for 15,000 miles per year with gasoline selling for 70 cents per gallon. That’s still just an estimate.

Standard equipment at no extra charge included:

• Dual horns.

• Electric clock.

• DL medallions.

• Front sway bar.

• Courtesy lights.

• Bumper guards.

• Hood ornament.

• Rocker moldings.

• Day/night mirror.

• Folding rear seat.

• 21-gallon fuel tank.

• Color-keyed carpet.

• Electronic ignition.

• Wheel lip moldings.

• Side scuff moldings.

• Wind split moldings.

• Custom interior trim.

• Extra-quiet insulation.

• Wood-grain dashboard.

• Color-keyed wheel covers.

• 259-cid six-cylinder engine.

• Custom steering wheel with wood-grain overlay.

Five-mile-per-hour bumpers were all the rage in 1979 and most manufacturers attempted to blend them into the body of the car. Designers at AMC couldn’t be bothered with such aesthetics. The bumpers on the Pacer are free-standing, for which the designers make no apologies.

When the previous owner advertised the car as all original, he was being totally accurate. Even the P19575R14 tires are the ones put on in the Kenosha, Wis., factory in 1979. While Mr. Marinaccio is happy to have the original 27-year-old tires, he is going to replace them in the interest of safety.

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