FLAgrant Assumptions

Porsche begets Pacer, begets Porsche. Nice theory, if it held water…

1975 AMC Pacer. Image via oppositelock
1975 AMC Pacer. Image via oppositelock

Before going any further, I have to point out my experience of the American auto industry is scant, apart perhaps from some surface level intelligence any motor enthusiast worth his automotive archive would be privy to. But assumptions can make fools of us all, especially when knowledge is spread thinly.

First a confession. I’ve always maintained an affection for the 1975 AMC Pacer – a car that seems to have become a four wheeled punchline to some joke or other for decades now. Even a less than complementary UK road test many years ago did little to disabuse me of the Pacer’s (visual) appeal. It’s such a cheerful looking thing, with its four-square stance, tall glassy canopy and friendly demeanour. Looking at it forty years on, I’m inclined to view Car and Driver’s sobriquet of “the flying fishbowl” a little snide.

But back to assumptions. For some time, the car community has been of the view that elements of Porsche’s 928 was inspired by the Pacer’s styling; one I was happy to go along with for a time. But considering the matter further, the waters muddy a little when one considers Porsche’s own 1973 Forschungsprojekt Langzeit Auto concept (FLA) concept; that’s Long Life Car Research Project to you by the way.

To be honest, I had meant to bring up the FLA during our recent Economy theme, since its a rather interesting machine in its own right. But I didn’t get round to it then and it feels a little late in the day now, however there’s a reasonably informative piece on it here, which you may find of interest.

Porsche's 1973 FLA concept
Porsche’s 1973 FLA Long Life Car concept

Could Porsche’s concept have influenced AMC design director, Richard A Teague? The timeline is tantalizing. Work on project Amigo began in 1971, the finished car being revealed to the public as the Pacer in 1975. But given that the AMC design was finalised around 1972 and the FLA was first shown in 1973, it seems unlikely that AMC’s designers could have any idea of what Anatole Lapine’s stylists were up to almost simultaneously at Zuffenhausen.

Nevertheless, Lapine had previously spent years working for Harley Earl at GM’s secret design skunkworks in the US, before his stint with Opel and subsequent leading role at Porsche. While it’s probable as senior designers, (albeit for rival firms), both Lapine and Teague were acquainted, (to say nothing of AMC exterior design chief, Bob Nixon), whether this led to any intelligence being passed between them can only be speculated at, although not I hasten to add, by myself.

1977 Porsche 928. Image via Rennlist
1977 Porsche 928. Image via Rennlist

Returning to the 928, it’s been suggested that designer, Wolfgang Möbius was a fan of the Pacer, but considering the presence of FLA, it’s more likely he employed ideas pioneered closer to home, and given the 928 was designed virtually in parallel, the chronology simply doesn’t bear the assumption out.
So where does all this leave us? Not much wiser to be honest, but better minds than mine may provide further clarification, or quite possibly a stern correction. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, is also a bit of an assumption.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “FLAgrant Assumptions”

  1. Harris Mann’s sketches for Austin’s abortive AD074 at the turn of the 1970s looked very much like the FLA / Pacer, plus the three door Chevette: http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/concepts/concepts-and-prototypes/supermini-projects-ado74/

    Like any type of design, car styling does not exist in a vacuum. The design world is incestuous, with personnel jumping ship left, right and centre, regurgitating ad nauseam titbits they have seen on draughtsman’s tables and pinned on studio walls. This would also account for cases of simultaneous invention, such as the mark 1 Toyota RAV 4 and Landrover Freelander, two cars from entirely dissociated companies that appeared at the same time and in very similar forms.

    1. Whoa, that’s quite some sagging window lines in your link…

      Thanks for reminding us of two cars I like a lot. One of them I can see whenever I go down to our garage – but unfortunately it’s my neighbour’s, not mine.

  2. Anatole Lapine has admitted that his design of the 928 was influenced by the Pacer. “Influenced” leaves many possibilities open. It could have been by acquaintance with Teague or Nixon. He may have seen early drawings of the concept. He may have looked at the production model and thought it was a brilliant concept, poorly executed, and corrected the errors.

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