HomePick of the DayPick of the Day: One-off 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car

Pick of the Day: One-off 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car

This was one of the special pace cars parading ahead of the CART Indy car racers


A dealership in Pompano Beach, Florida, is advertising a piece of American racing history on ClassicCars.com, though it’s description of the vehicle is a single paragraph, a series of photos and the Vehicle Details listing in which we learn this car is a 1981 AMC Spirit, silver outside, black inside, with an automatic transmission and only 5,286 miles on its odometer.

Fortunately, the photos show and that single paragraph points out that this is a one-off vehicle, the only AMC PPG IndyCar World Series pace car. 

Back in the late 1970s, a group of team owners, unhappy with the way the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and U.S. Auto Club racing season were being managed, broke away and launched their own sanctioning body, Championship Auto Racing Teams. They gained support from several companies, including PPG, an automotive paint and glass supplier. 

One-off 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car
One-off 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car

As part of its sponsorship support, PPG created a fleet of one-off pace cars, among them the 1981 AMC Turbo, based on the AMC Spirit liftback coupe designed by Dick Teague. PPG contracted Autodynamics of Troy, Michigan, to convert the Spirit Turbo into the Indy-racing pace car. 

The Spirit, introduced by AMC in 1979 as successor to the chop-tailed Gremlin, was available with an 82 horsepower, 151cid 4-cylinder or a 110 horsepower, 258cid inline 6-cylinder engine. Drag racers took to the car and AMC also experimented with various engines under the Spirit’s hood, including a possible automotive application of the Stirling hot-air (steam) engine from the early 19th Century.

One-off 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car
Hot Rod magazine cover

For the pace car application, the output of the 6-banger was boosted by Turbo-Systems Inc. to provide a 450-horsepower track-ready pace car riding on low profile Goodyear Eagle GT tires on Gotti aluminum wheels. The car debuted as the pace car for the Milwaukee 150 in June 1981.

The dealer advertising the 1981 AMC Spirit PPG pace car is asking $69,988. To view this listing on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.

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. That is an interesting front end design. Pontiac Styling studios had an almost identical version on the drawing board for the 1970 Firebird debut

  2. Now if it was the Gremlin Bill Clinton or the Gremlin X George W Bush drove maybe this kinda cash. Who else drove a Gremlin….your’s truly Billy B! Unfortunate family situation caused us to along the way have an American 330, Rebel wagon, Ambassador, Orange Hornet, and a Pacer. Somehow we missed this one!

  3. I’m a AMC fanatic but I’m totally missing something here for sure after all AMC stopped being anything exciting after the gas crunch and the end of the 74 Javelin from being produced. I though they tried to do something different a inline 6 just isn’t going to smash any records. I think your better off buying $70,000 in scratch tickets and trying your luck .

  4. I had to check the date and make sure this wasn’t a joke !! I am a AMC fan but this car lacks everything to do with going fast and creating tire shredding burnouts in front of your buddies. I guess going out to Walmart would work with it’s convenient hatch back .

  5. I understand it’s a one-off modified AMC Spirit Pace Car; but at the end of the day it’s still just an AMC Spirit, albeit one with a more interesting past than your average AMC. As much as I like AMC’s I’d agree that close to $70 grand is a bit optimistic!

  6. I built the engine and turbo manifolds for this car. 930 turbo Porsche donated the injection and intercooler for it. It was the only pace car that could get out of the Indy cars without a 1/4 mile lead. 450hp was a very conservative statement. It had 38lbs of boost on 8.5 compression and was a mid range rocket. 80-120 in less than 3 seconds. The Rajay turbo spun up quickly and there was no wastegate, so it really roared. Several car mags also claimed it was closer to 650hp, but that was when we had water/alcohol injection on it too.


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