The death rattle of American Motors Corp. came in the early 1980s, with the “alliance” between the tubercular American automaker and French automaker Renault. Renault, a big player in Europe, hoped to gain access to AMC’s U.S. dealer network; AMC for its part simply needed cash — fast. There was no money on hand to invest in new models, and without them, AMC was doomed. This marriage based on need rather than love produced the expected dysfunctional offspring — one of which was the “high-performance” GTA.
It’s a measure of just how desperate times were for performance-car enthusiasts in the early1980s that a loathsome little shitbox equipped with a 2-liter, 95-horsepower four-cylinder engine could be marketed as “high-performance” and not incur a massive fine for false advertising or even criminal prosecution for fraud. But then again, by the skid-row low standards of the period, the GTA was in some respects better-than-average. The dulled masses were actually impressed by its Prius-like 0 to 60 in 10 seconds —and its lazy 17.5-second quarter miles. Today, such a car would be considered on the borderline of dangerously slow.
Lance Armstrong could outpedal it.
To be fair, the 1987 GTA actually handled well, generating skid pad numbers about as good as the Chevy Corvette that year. The problem was getting the car moving quickly enough to notice it could, in fact, corner decently. After all, even a Ferrari is not much fun if you disconnect 10 of its 12 cylinders and force it to putter and wheeze through a 35-miles-per-hour decreasing radius turn at 30 miles per hour.
At a fast walk, even a shopping cart “handles” pretty well, too, even with one of those wobbly wheels.
As fortune would have it, the GTA was one of the last vehicles to be produced under the weird AMC-Renault partnership before The End mercifully came in 1987. As if to call attention to the impending divorce, in its final year the GTA was stripped of all AMC badges and sold simply as the “Renault GTA.”
After Renault abandoned ship, Chrysler Corp. took over what was left of AMC — mainly to acquire rights to the still-viable Jeep nameplate, which continues on to this day. AMC, on the other hand, has long since left the scene. Occasionally you’ll see a rotting GTA sitting in the back row of a seedy used car lot — or serving as a makeshift chicken coop outside a trailer park. Appallingly poor quality control and susceptibility to rust have ensured that the few remaining operable GTAs won’t be around much longer.
Five Fast Facts
Usually, front-wheel-drive cars do better in winter conditions, but Consumer Reports described the GTA as “one of the worst cars they’d ever driven” in the snow. It handled just slightly better than one of those plastic flying saucers that propel kids backwards into trees.
All GTAs were factory-equipped with Ronal 15×6 alloy rims and Michelin XGT tires.
The 1987 GTA’s base price was $9,000.
A few 1988 models may have been built, even though the AMC/Renault partnership had ended by then. (AMC often forgot to pick up the cars when it had weekend custody.)
The car’s name, “GTA,” is derived from Renault’s factory-sponsored racing cars. (Extensive investigations have not determined who they thought they were fooling.)
Excerpted from “Automotive Atrocities” (MBI, 2004) http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Automotive+Atrocities&x=0&y=0