Junkyard Gem: 1974 AMC Gremlin Levi's Edition

Murilee Martin
·2-min read


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Famed designer Pierre Cardin died just as 2020 was coming to a close, and we in the automotive universe knew him best for one towering achievement: the wild interior of the 1972-1973 Pierre Cardin Edition AMC Javelin. While I've managed to find a discarded Oleg Cassini Edition AMC Matador and even a Matador Barcelona during my junkyard explorations, the Cardin Javelin has managed to elude my camera so far. Instead, we'll pour one out for M. Cardin by sharing a designer-edition cousin of that car: a 1974 AMC Gremlin Levi's Edition, found in an old-school Colorado yard located between Denver and Cheyenne.

I found this car at Speedway Auto Wrecking in Dacono, a family-owned yard with an impressive selection of Detroit (and Kenosha) iron from the 1950s through 1980s. I went there because I wanted to shoot some photographs with ancient film cameras while my artist friends Paul Heaston and Clyde Steadman sketched and painted. Those guys proceeded to freeze their fingers capturing some Willys hardware, while I wandered over to the American Motors section and found a pair of picked-over-but-still-recognizable classic Gremlins among the Ramblers and Eagles.

Levi's jeans were ultra-fashionable during the middle 1970s, along with golden-razor-blade medallions tangled in one's chest hair and cryptic references to the Pompatus of Love in pop music. If the sporty Javelin got the Cardin treatment and the stylish Matador an Oleg Cassini makeover, then it seemed to make sense — in Wisconsin, at any rate — to put jeans on the everyman Gremlin compact. Around this time, Volkswagen released a Jeans Edition Beetle for the European market, featuring upholstery in a blue color not too dissimilar to that of faded denim trousers.

The Jeans Beetle was pretty cut-rate next to the Levi's Edition Gremlin, however, and we're sure the shame over this contrast in quality lingers in Wolfsburg to this day. The Levi's Gremlin got upholstery made from synthetic materials that looked a lot like real denim (apparently cotton is too flammable for use in car interiors), complete with stitching, Levi's tags, and copper rivets.

The harsh High Plains climate and a windowless car have given this upholstery some rough handling, but you can still make out the denim-ness here.

Gremlin shoppers had the choice of the base 232-cubic-inch (3.8-liter) straight-six (the descendant of which went on to power Jeep Cherokees into our current century) or a 304-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) V8. This car has the six, as do most Gremlins of the post-Oil-Crisis period.

It has been picked over thoroughly, but a few bits remain for Colorado AMC enthusiasts to buy.

The car that wears the pants!