My research has determined that 1977 (or maybe 1964) was “Peak Wagon” in the United States, the year in which the largest number of distinct models of new station wagons were available for sale here. Why, Datsun alone sold three different wagon models here in 1977, while Dodge had four, and even Fiat offered a couple. The American Motors Corporation was a strong player in the wagon game that year with longroof versions of the Pacer, Matador and Hornet. The Hornet wagon was by far the best-selling wagon AMC sold for ’77, but that turned out to be the Hornet’s last hurrah. Here’s one of those final-year Hornet wagons, found in a San Francisco Bay Area car graveyard recently.
When AMC first began selling four-door Hornet wagons for the 1971 model year, they were given the Sportabout name. That’s what everyone still calls these cars today, though it appears that the final model year for official use of the Sportabout name was 1976. AMC’s 1977 brochures and my extensive library of period-issue buyer’s guides make no mention of the Sportabout name for 1977.
That said, I’m still going to use the Sportabout name for this car, because traditions are traditions.
The base engine in the 1977 Hornet was AMC’s 232-cubic-inch (3.8-liter) straight-six, but this car has the optional 258-cubic-inch (4.2-liter) version, which cost just 79 extra bucks (408 bucks after inflation). A 304-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) AMC V8 engine was available as well for $164 ($846 in today’s money). This extremely successful engine family stayed in production all the way through 2006, when Chrysler bolted the final 4.0s into Wranglers.
This car was built for sale in California, and its final parking space is located just about a mile from the middle school I was attending when this Sportabout rolled off the line in Kenosha. Perhaps its original owners lived in my neighborhood (or maybe they lived in Bard, Calif., which is as far from the San Francisco Bay as Chattanooga is from Chicago).
A three-on-the-floor manual transmission was base equipment in the 1977 Hornet, but this car came with the optional $279 column-shift automatic (that’s $1,440 in 2023 dollars). This car also has the $625 air conditioning package ($3,225 now). Those features we take for granted now were ex
The MSRP for this car was $3,699, or about $19,085 today. Unfortunately for AMC, Chrysler started selling wagon versions of the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volaré the year before, meaning the Sportabout was no longer the only game in town for American-made compact wagons. In 1977, a new Volaré station wagon could be had for as little as $3,941 ($20,334 in 2023 dollars), and that car didn’t look like it was built in 1971.
For 1978, the new Concord replaced the Hornet. There was a wagon version, of course, and we know it better today as the basis for the AMC Eagle wagon.
This car probably wasn’t worth fixing up (at least not in a state with draconian emissions-testing rules for cars built for the 1976 and later model years), so we can take comfort in the fact that many of its components will live on in other American Motors machines.
Still, it’s disappointing that it wasn’t turned into a race car with an AMC 360 swap out of a Grand Wagoneer.
Yes, all those hard-to-park LTD Country Squires and Caprice Estates sucked fuel like tanks next to the Sportabout! Unmentioned is the fact that plenty of manufacturers would sell you new wagons even smaller than the Sportabout at that time.