HomeCar CultureCan an AMC Gremlin become a cool hot rod?

Can an AMC Gremlin become a cool hot rod?


Now 24 years old, third-generation hot-rodder Jacob Griffin made his debut at the SEMA Show a year ago with a hot rod that had a 1927 Ford T-bucket front end linked to the modified rear section of a de-roofed 1950 Shoebox Ford.

The result was a very cool-looking if imaginative hot rod.

What did Griffin do for an encore this year? Showcased in the Heatshield Products booth at the 2019 SEMA Show was Griffin’s 1975 AMC Gremlin, though it no longer looks like the ugly duckling that rolled off the defunct automaker’s assembly line.

Griffin retained as much of the car and its parts as he could repurpose

“The Gremlin was one of the ugliest cars ever and I thought I could make it sexy,” said the confident proprietor of Griffin Design in Valley Center, California.

Sexy might be too strong a term for anything based on an angular car named for a trouble-making creature that by definition is the cause of things to malfunction. But Griffin’s Gremlin — which also serves as his daily driver! — certainly draws a lot of attention.

Griffin’s car is nicknamed “Mogwi,” after the character in the 1984 move, Gremlins, and like the mythical creature for which it is named, Griffin’s build has had its challenges.

For example, it took him a month of searching just to find a Gremlin, and when he did, he had to travel halfway across the country to get it (in Omaha), and having lived in snowy weather for all those years, it was “rusted and rotten.”

Supercharged Jeep V8 provide power

Griffin ended up cutting the car in half, taking 18 inches out of the rear section and 12 inches out of the front. But that also provided him with enough extra sheetmetal to extend the car’s hood over an elongated frame.

That frame carries a supercharged V8 engine, a 308cid unit originally used in AMC’s Jeep products, and in a few Gremlins. Griffin retained as many part of the original Gremlin as he could, though some were repurposed, for example, he turned the original turn signal lamps into headlights.

The result not only is a new daily driver for the builder, but a spot in SEMA’s Young Guns Battle of the Builders competition.

Griffin plans to return in a year for the 2020 SEMA Show, and with two vehicle projects — a 1950 Studebaker C-Cab pickup truck and the “Hemi Down Under,” a 1965 right-hand-driven Chrysler Valiant ute.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. People have been making hot rods out of Gremlins since 1970. They’re not rare, they’re not hard to find and that AMC engine size is 304. Very imaginative ride, butt ugly but at least it’s different and not a SBC like everything else. Wally Booth was the first Pro Stock driver to get into the 8s. In a Gremlin.

  2. My answer to this question is usually a resounding "Yes!" but if asked if this car qualifies for that description, it’s "Absolutely not!" (Although the builder has succeeded in answering a question many Gremlin-haters might ask, "Could a Gremlin possibly be any uglier?" Again, a resounding "Yes!")

    It’s obvious Larry Edsall is one of those Gremlin haters. He couldn’t even be bothered to get the engine’s displacement (304 CID) and original applications (AMC’s entire passenger car line and most Jeeps) right.

    It is worth studying the pictures, though, as they exemplify how far a skilled tin man can take a concept. There’s no questioning the quality of Jacob’s work, impressive since he’s only 24-years-old.

    Unfortunately, the result also exemplifies the old saying, "There’s no accounting for taste." I think that’s where his youth betrays him, but I can easily see more experience and maturity taking him to the top of his field. I’d like to see what Jacob could do with the concept of removing the roof to make an open T-bucket style roadster out of this.

    At least he gets credit for not dropping a small block Chevy in there.

  3. 18 inches off the rear??? Gremlins left the factory missing 18 inches of trunk!! Look at the pic–there’s nothing taken off back there!!


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