Next-Gen Gems – Bob Stahl’s 1978 AMC Pacer – Excellent!
Bob Stahl’s 1978 AMC Pacer would make Wayne and Garth party so hard. Or at least get them to the street hockey game a lot faster. As a regular reader of Fuel Curve, you guys know that we like unique and different vehicles. Bob’s Pacer fits that criteria better than most.
When Bob rolled through the Goodguys PPG Nationals awards ceremony in July, his hot rodded Pacer received a standing ovation. While some Pacer’s have made appearances at Goodguys events before, never have we seen one quite like this and we believe it’s the first Pacer in Goodguys event history to win an award (it was selected as the Speedway Motors’ Homebuilt Heaven pick).
If we look back on its history, AMC’s Pacer has always been slighted. It was an ugly duckling but it was ahead of its time. Did you know it was the first-ever mass produced American car with today’s popular “Cab Forward” design? It was also wider than most production vehicles of the era with good road stability. It’s triangular shape was a bit odd and the bubble glass was pure 70s disco but like all distinctive makes and models, the Pacer carved a niche for some creative, collector types.
If AMC’s chief designer Richard Teague was still around to see how Pennsylvania’s Bob Stahl modified his 1978 AMC Pacer, he would surely be impressed.
Bob’s Pacer isn’t overdone either. It’s subtle yet stylish and has plenty of power. Working on the car at his shop, Stahl’s Auto Service in Altoona, PA, he did a full build on this AMC. Stance, engine, paint and upholstery are all refined and fabulous. Having a solid starting point was helpful. “I bought the car off a 93-year old woman. It only had 10k miles on it and she was the original owner. She parked it in 1980 where it sat until I got it. It was darn near perfect so I started with a great template,” Bob said.
That all starts with the engine. Instead of a small block or the all-too-common LS swap, Bob pulled the original six banger and swapped in an AMC 304c.i. V8. This works well as the 304c.i. V8 was a rare option for the ’78 model year. Bob rebuilt it using a hot cam, forged internals, polished and ported cylinder heads and slightly more compression thanks to the .030 over bore giving it somewhere in the neighborhood of 350hp – just right for a driver. And it does get driven! Since completion, Bob has driven it to all the major Midwestern and Eastern shows with countless trouble free road miles. A Tremec 5-speed replaces the mushy, factory automatic. The engine is painted to perfection with contrasting black and tan hues.
The car’s stance is pure DIY ingenuity. Bob made his own dropped spindles. They required some engineering to get everything to fit properly then his friend and neighbor Dan Baker of Alumicraft shaved a healthy amount off the inner wheel mount surfaces as well as the brake rotors tucking the 18×7 and 18×9-inch polished American Racing wheels back into the fender wells. For the Pacer’s large derrière, Bob flattened and de-arched the leaf springs then reversed the eyes giving the car a 4-inch drop all around. It sits just right.
The interior vibe was kept somewhat 1970s with much of the stock layout being retained yet completely freshened in tan vinyl by Kevin Smith of Smith’s Custom Seats. The rear bench seat was deleted but under the custom cover resides a handy space for hiding the radio, and other electronics while still big enough to store car show and cleaning supplies.
The sound is pleasing to the eardrums. With the headers and 2.5-inch exhaust mocked up, Bob rerouted it underneath the rear end housing then married the dual exhaust for a center exit underneath the bumper. He then bought some small “Cherry Bomb” style Thrush mufflers but it was too loud for road trips. Bob got creative and inserted motorcycle header baffles due to the restricted muffler space. With much adjusting and tweaking, he eventually got the sound he wanted, ending up with two baffles in each pipe – throaty enough yet subtle without the dreaded highway droning.
The car was buttoned up in the spring then hit the road this summer for some road time and show time. By now, you must be as curious as we are as to why Bob built a hot rod Pacer. “I don’t know! Just because! I’ve had ’32 Fords, ’69 Camaros and for a period in the 90s, I built several of those Gibbon Fiberglass ‘37 Fords. So I have been there done that with hot rods and muscle cars. I wanted to challenge myself to take an odd, ugly car and build a car the hot rod world would look at and not laugh. I wanted to hot rod it and street rod it with stance and good finish work and I think it turned out great. When building it, I told my wife Dee ‘We need to have thick skin! But so far, the car has been well received and draws a crowd when at the big shows.”
Like a lot of DIY builds, Bob needed support during the process. “When I needed a hand, Bryan McMullen, Terry Imler, and Joe Cover were there for me.
“I couldn’t have done this without them,” Bob said. Bob Stahl and friends have gone where no man has gone before with this build. Wayne and Garth are undoubtedly cheering in Wayne’s mom’s basement. Party on Bob!