AMC Gremlin 401-XR by Randall

Car of the Day #103: AMC Gremlin 401-XR by Randall

AMC Gremlin 401-XR by Randall
Portion of a Vintage AMC Gremlin 401-XR by Randall advertisement (see below) • source unknown

I don't write about nearly enough muscle cars here, mostly because I've never found their looks, sound, or straight-line performance all that compelling.

And it's probably too late. Now that muscle cars have morphed into sports cars that won’t flail at the sight of a bend, it’s tough to imagine a world in which an AMC Gremlin was more desirable solely because of a 6.6-litre V8 engine and few additional modifications. 

Yes, that's a 401 cu in engine inside the nose of a car that resembles the box my neighbor's clown shoes came in. No, before you ask: the Gremlin 401-XR's handling was not tuned on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. 

It's all thanks to Randall AMC in Mesa, Arizona. At their facility, this compact 1/4 mile econobox was converted from a 304 V8-equipped model to the hilariously fast 401-XR.

The 20 conversions carried out from 1972-'74 started at $2,995 Usd., which is about $22,500 today on top of the Gremlin’s base price of $1,879; this is now ~$14,000 Usd.

How expensive could the car get? It all depended on how many new parts you wanted to fit: Randall AMC had access to all parts catalogues relevant to the car and could build you a more luxurious example or a 401-XR fast enough to…well…wait…how fast is it?

At a weight of 1,270 kg (2,800 lbs) and with a “standard” 255 horsepower quoted by the AMC factory for its 401 engine, 401-XR buyers could expect a 1/4 mile time of 13.90 at around 105 mph (169 km/h) — on par with what a Porsche 928 S is capable of.

Equipped with a few more dealer-fit modifications, however, and the 401-XR recorded a 1/4 mile time of 12.22 seconds at 115 mph (185 km/h). To match that in a more modern car, you'd need to roll up to the tree in a Porsche 911 (997) GT3, KTM X-Bow, Ferrari 612 Scaglietti, or a Mercedes GT AMG Roadster.

Fast? Yes. Insane? Definitely. Now imagine it on modern rubber, with a freshly tuned engine and an alert librarian at the wheel. (Knock 0.5 second off if they're also a libertarian.)

Most importantly, though, in the context of 2024, a tire-shredding, rear wheel drive, all-American hatchback with enough speed in a straight line to slay most Aston Martins is pretty weird, isn't it? 

“These are awesome! So what if it looks like a chode!” is how I’ll supportively greet the owner, if I ever see one in the wild.

They do come up for sale; in 2015, Car and Driver profiled this refrigerator white example listed on eBay for $60,000 — in the grand scheme of they-made-only-20-of-them cars, this is probably a fair price.

In 2018, however, Bring a Trailer user Rockwreck positively stole a no reserve 401-XR for $26,550 Usd. — you’ll note this is close to, if not less than, the car would have originally cost to build. 

What's it like to drive? Autoweek drove a 401-XR tribute car from the Lingenfelter Collection that, crucially, lacked brake and suspension upgrades. What it didn’t lack was a AMC 6.6-liter V8 with 255 horsepower.

“…the 401-XR feels like a real muscle car. I’ve driven old Pontiacs, old Camaros and old Fords, and they sound the part, but with so much weight to lug around, all of that sound and fury is often for naught. This 2,600-pounder, on the other hand, moves, at least when you can get the gas pedal down.” – Jake Lingeman, Autoweek

Investor’s car? Not so much.

Collector’s car? If you can look at it.

Driver’s car? Fuck around and find out.

Wait a second…am…am I starting to like muscle cars?


Thank you to my supporting members: Ben B., Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Damian S., Daniel P., Drew M., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam G., Sam L., Wiley H.