Bob Nixon Designer of the Pregnant Roller Skate Leaves His Legacy +VIDEO
SEE ALSO: Used AMC Gremlins For Sale
By Maureen McDonald
The Auto Channel
Some of my happiest memories of college came roaring back when I heard Bob Nixon, designer of the AMC Gremlin, had passed on. Rumor was that his colleague Dick Teague designed the Gremlin on an airplane barf bag but making a car for baby boomers that could capture their rebellious, anti-establishment, Laugh In-loving spirt took some real savvy. Gremlin
Bob Nxon had savvy. He died at age 86 on February 9, 2019
Hemmings.com saluted Nixon for his many assignments at the Detroit-based American Motors Corporation with the little firm started by the late CEO George Romney sought to compete with the Big Three Detroit automakers with sassy compact and subcompact production cars. The Gremlin outpaced the Ford Pinto, Dodge Dart and Chevy Vega in looks and attitude.
The car was a wedge with an ample sized hatchback that could load a month of laundry from college, a bunch of textbooks and flyers for the next Vietnam protest rally. Mine was a bright blue Gremlin X with a pitch fork racing stripe, a meaty six-cylinder engine, a Levis interior, which its advertising claimed would drive me by the seat of its pants.
Hemmings.com notes that Nixon, a former Chrysler designer who powered the Chrysler Turbine and went over to AMC to redesign reliable Nash Rambler as first the Marlin, then the Hornet. The story was that Teague was riding on a plane with then-AMC vice-president Gerry Meyers in 1966. He had no paper on hand, pulled a bag out of the seat and sketched away. Everyone liked and the task went to Nixon to make it possible.
His design held true to Romney’s edict: He was the one who coined the tail-finned, pastel-colored land yachts for sale as "gas guzzling dinosaurs." He set his tiny company apart from the mainstream by seeing small vehicles as the future of automobiles. This was long before the Japanese carmakers put a hammerlock on that market.
Nixon and Teague convinced the brass that the Gremlin had to be different to stand out from the crowd. They succeeded. For me, it embodied my idea of what Goldie Hawn or Flip Wilson would drive to Laugh-In rehearsals. This was a bold statement that a small, upstart company in Detroit could design a cheap, small vehicle that rewrote the rulebook.
For the first time in my life I fell head over heels for an automotive advertisement. In the early 1970s, the agency Osborn and Tramain released an ad with this peculiar vehicle equipped with super-powered steering and people with gleeful, mischievous grins as they drove.
The advertising announcer introduced the Gremlin was gaining popularity around the country with the Albuquerque Eight, riding through the desert doing figure eights. The Wichita Wiggle, with the car riding round and round the haystacks, the Tallahassee Two Step, with the Gremlin carrying the bridal party and the Boston Bounce, a man so happy with his Gremlin he bounced it up and down. There was also the Chicago Shuffle with a car riding round the order kiosks at the drive-in restaurant. I laughed my way into the dealership and pleaded with the salesman to sell me one in the middle of a snowstorm.
I simply loved the car. Every malfunctioning and functioning part of the car was mine. I’d show friends it’s bold orange Levi stitching, the gold buttons that burned your butt when you wore hot pants, and the most uncomplicated interior on the market. Put your foot on the gas, grip the wheel and you could circle haystacks if you could find them.
But the car gained a tragic reputation in 1976 the mid-Seventies. Someone had been snatching children in Oakland County. Four youth were captured and tortured weeks before their bodies turned up in alleys and parking lots. People were petrified to let their kids play outdoors. A rumor circulated that the suspect drove a blue Gremlin X with white racing stripes. Just like mine.
Wherever I went people peered into my windows, expecting to see children tied up and gagged in my backseat. If they found evidence, they would be the hero and turn me in. The reports faded, but it soured me. The bliss went to blues.
Come 1978, I got a job with a Chevrolet publication that sent me gallivanting across the USA. I bought Malibu and sold the Gremlin to another hippie who drove the wheels off it. The Malibu was fat and frumpy but more reliable. Yet I never stopped missing my crazy car with the Wichita Wiggle.
To dear Mr. Nixon, you might have penned a lot of vehicles, but the Gremlin X will stand out as your best in the Baby Boomer legacy. Whenever I see a Kia Soul, I think it is the Gremlin for this generation, a compact hatchback with sassiness. But I’d never see it doing the Boston Bounce.