Weekend Junkyard Quiz (04/01): What Car Are We Looking At?

Maybe we made last week’s Junkyard Quiz too easy, but we thought you deserved an easy one. Most of you identified the Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus door “dimple” and if you clicked through, you could also watch the Wild Bunch Taurus Wagon from the 1980s in all its splendor. This week is kind of a toss-up; we’re curious if anybody will identify this Malaise Era stinger. Can you tell what it is from one cropped photo?

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Maybe an slightly-less-cropped version will help you note that it’s…

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…a 1977 AMC Hornet hatchback! As AMC downsized its lineup in the mid-1970s, the Hornet became the mid-size offering between the bigger Matador and compact Gremlin and Pacer.

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This one from the Hornet’s final year sports a red repaint over the original red with twin black racing stripes. That’s not a feature of any Hornet trims from Kenosha: The Hornet X was mostly an appearance package, the only stripe option was a tape stripe on the side, and the Hornet AMX would have had a floor shifter.

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As it is, this was a base-level Hornet trim with stripes applied after. Note the column-shifted automatic.

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The seats were the level of houndstooth you’d expect from AMC. No Levi’s Edition Hornet here, either. Among the options on the dealership order sheet was a hidden compartment in the trunk, however.

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Under the hood is AMC’s ubiquitous straight-six. The automatic was available with all three engines—232 or 258 straight-six, 304 cubic-inch V8—so this could be a 232 or 258.

The Hornet (and AMC in general) is perhaps most famous for its appearance in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun, during which Bond (Roger Moore) drives a Hornet X off the dealership floor to chase an AMC Matador through Bangkok, Thailand. The scene culminates with the Hornet making a spiraling jump off a wooden ramp in one of the most iconic automotive film stunts of all time.

Like most of AMC’s offerings, the Hornet enjoyed a number of racing and other competitive accolades. The Pro Stock Hornets in the NHRA were the highest profile of these. Wally Booth, Dave Kanners, and Rich Maskin won countless rounds with their Hornets while Booth famously took home the victory in the U.S. Nationals with his AMC.

Hornets competed in IMSA and SCCA racing throughout the 1970s, including years with the Highball Racing team that is so often identified with American Motors in road racing. Highball raced Gremlins, Hornets, and Spirits—including an excursion to the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 1979—and performed well in the production classes during endurance races with the “stock” straight sixes under the hood.

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Racing wasn’t the Hornet’s only endurance test. Lou Haratz drove a Hornet in 1970 from Ushuaia at Argentina’s southern tip to Fairbanks, Alaska in 30 days, 45 minutes to set that record as part of a promotion for Champion spark plugs. He followed up that 14,000-mile trip with a second promotional run going around the perimeter of the Americas—38,000 miles—in 143 days. Of course, John Fuchs and Clyde Baker of HOT ROD Magazine also famously entered a 401-powered Hornet in the original Cannonball Baker Seat-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in 1972. Fuchs and Baker finished 13th with a time of 41 hours, 15 minutes to average 70 miles per hour.

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Naturally, the 24 Hours of LeMons has included two AMC Hornets in the past. The first was the ’74 Hornet hatchback of Team Green Hornet, of course. This car was far from quick, but did manage to finish 44th place at the Thunderhill Raceway in 2008. It last appeared at the Sears Pointless race in 2011 before the team replaced it, sadly, with a Honda Civic.

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The second Hornet was run by Rally Baby Racing, who left the suspension completely stock on their four-door ’75 Hornet. The lean in the suspension was impressive; hard corners nearly scraped the bottom of the rocker panels on the racing surface.

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Under the hood, however, was a special surprise: a draw-through turbocharger setup that used an old ammunition box for the intake. The AMC 258 was only running a couple pounds of turbo boost to keep it alive and the whole setup survived well enough to earn an Index of Effluency at its first race at Monticello Motor Club in 2013. The team would leave the turbo setup in it but would replace the Malaise Era-brown with a proper AMC racing paint job.

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AMC discontinued the Hornet after the 1977 model year, replacing it with the Concord for 1978. Earlier years of the Hornet, those with the optional 360 cubic-inch V8, have a tiny collector niche, although later Hornets like this one enjoy none of those glories. Consequently, this one has a date with the Crusher.

Check back next weekend for another Junkyard Quiz.

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