Classic American cars being shipped overseas is nothing new. Mustangs, Camaros, Cadillacs, Mopars, Bel Airs, Impalas…you name it. Whatever American car you can think of, the odds are that someone in a foreign country went through a mountain of paperwork to see it sitting in their garage. However, a 1971 American Motors Gremlin with a straight six engine is probably one of the last cars you’d imagine taking a boat trip across the ocean.
Dario Sguinzi, 29, is a diehard car enthusiast and, as the current owner of a green ’71 AMC Gremlin, lives in a small village six miles outside of Milan, Italy. He purchased the Gremmie a few months back for a variety of reasons. Dario always wanted a classic American car, but couldn’t afford to spend big bucks on the go-to favorites like ‘60s or ‘70s-era muscle cars, or big-finned ‘50s chrome classics. Then one day he came across the Gremmie. He liked the car’s underdog cult status, a vehicle often overlooked by most collectors and enthusiasts. What really captured his attention was the fact that this Gremlin is a time capsule survivor, with less than 45,000 original miles and in near-mint condition.
With title in hand, he learned a bit of the car’s history – how it left the snowy winters of Wisconsin for the scenic views of Southern Italy. The story goes that the first owner was a U.S. Military officer stationed in Sicily, having had the car shipped overseas from New Jersey. It boggles my mind, trying to imagine what kind of character this owner must have been to import a Gremlin to Sicily as his personal vehicle. Talk about Mopar or No Car.
According to Dario, the Gremlin spent the majority of the 1970’s living the military life, until 1978. The car was then sold to the next local owner, and from then the car was never registered. It passed through several hands and rarely saw any drive time, which conserved its shape, apart from a few wear and tear scratches on the paint. The engine still wears all the original decals, no rust, no rips in the interior, and the 8-track (look it up – ed.) still works!
Dario is a huge fan of drag racing. He runs with a pretty serious group of torque bandits called Street Outlaws Italy Team. After seeing his friends pour their life savings into American muscle machines he decided to find a more frugal way to drive expressively. He wants to afford a family and family home, and everything that comes with it. Dario plans on keeping the Gremlin original, but debating on whether to keep the 258ci (150 horsepower) straight six or finding a V8 to shoehorn into it. He needs to be sure on this decision before he registers the vehicle, because once it’s done trying to register it again with a different engine will be a bureaucratic nightmare. However, Cragar wheels are definitely in the Gremmie future.
American Motors product is so often hidden in the shadow of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Now, seeing a mint condition Gremlin, Pacer, Rebel, or even an Eagle is a sight worthy of digital capture, a pic that warms the heart. Those in the know feel a sense of gratification, knowing someone is looking after these vehicles – like a no-kill shelter for cars that were once overlooked, forgotten, or mocked.
It’s endearing to know that one 1st-gen Gremlin has survived a trial by time – far away from home – and is being looked after by someone who appreciates it for what it is. I wish we could save them all.