Hatchback and Sportabout: AMC’s Stylish, Sporty Seventies Compacts

American Motors offered two of the more stylish and capable American compacts of the seventies with the Hornet Hatchback coupe and Sportabout station wagon.

This story of the American Motors Hatchback and Sportabout rightly begins with the introduction of the 1970 Hornet, AMC’s replacement for the trusty but aged Rambler American.  Hornet’s exterior design, loosely based on the AMC Project IV Cavalier concept of 1966 and performed under the direction of design vice president Richard A. Teague and studio chief Bob Nixon, was fresh and crisp, if maybe a little boxy.  And with a 108-inch wheelbase, rear-wheel drive, and the usual range of six-cylinder and small V8 engines, the Hornet was a fairly typical Detroit compact of the period.

The tale suddenly gets more interesting in 1971 with the introduction of the Sportabout, a stylish wagon based on the Hornet platform. (1972 shown above.) Its tidy greenhouse appeared to take some cues from AMC’s 1967 AMX III concept. And unlike most American wagons, the Sportabout was modest in overall size and featured a simple one-piece, lift-up tailgate. Reviewers called the design “Euro-style” and really, there wasn’t anything else quite like it from Detroit at that moment.

Once again, AMC had carved out its own modest market segment with its inventive hit-em-where-they-ain’t product strategy. Sales were brisk from the start as the Sportabout became the best-selling body style in the Hornet lineup, actually outselling the coupes and sedans combined for the first several model years. For 1972, a Gucci-themed and licensed interior package became available, featuring a dramatically striped cabin and Gucci fender badges.

American Motors followed up in 1973 with the Hornet Hatchback, an early example of what would eventually become the classic three-door coupe. WIth its fastback roofline, coupled to the product line’s new front doghouse for 1973 with softer, smoother lines, the Hatchback took on an entirely different look—boxy no more. The editors at Car and Driver magazine described the Hatchback as “the styling coup of 1973.”

Buyer choices included the Levi’s interior package—which didn’t use real denim but standard automotive nylon dyed and woven to resemble the blue-jean fabric—and the sporty Hornet X trim option that included slotted wheels and rally stripes. Possibly the Hornet Hatchback’s most famous moment came in the 1974 Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun, in which Agent 007 (actually, Hollywood stuntman Bumps Willert) used one to perform the stupendous corkscrew ramp jump.

The Hatchback was a strong seller as well, nearly matching the Sportabout in annual volume. In 1977 there was an even an AMX model, but it was mostly show and little go, offering mainly fiberglass body add-ons. The Hornet badge was discontinued in 1977 (’77 Sportabout shown below) but the Hornet platform lived on for many more years at AMC as the Concord and the all-wheel drive Eagle.

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