Following our sighting of the Pacers and Gremlins in the Cars 2 trailer the other day, we heard from Ross Guistino of Rohnert Park, California, who informed us that it was his friend Nolan Dehner’s 1976 Pacer, Ross’s own 1973 Gremlin, and his other friend Richard DeCroff’s 1976 pacer DL that served as the models for the apparently villainous cars in the upcoming movie. We asked how that came about, and Ross replied with this story that he wrote for the NorCal AMC Club’s August 2010 newsletter:

In March 2009, Nolan was contacted by Bert Berry, an Art Director at Pixar Studios in Emeryville. Bert was interested in photographing some 70s-era cars for a film that was in development— Cars 2. In particular, Bert and his colleagues needed close-ups of paint and chrome, and the many interesting angles of our cars. And he was especially interested in Nolan’s Pacer. In Nolan’s reply, he casually mentioned that he was a member of the famous NorCal AMC Auto Group and had access to other AMC cars including Gremlins and Hornets.  Bert was excited about the possibility of seeing a Gremlin and so I took a day off of work to meet the Pixar folks at Nolan’s house in Windsor. Richard brought his Pacer as well so that we could give the gentlemen a good representation of paint and chrome to choose from.

On March 19, 2009, Bert, Jack Chang and Andrew Schmidt pulled up with amazement in their eyes and cameras in their hands. The photo shoot started immediately with Nolan’s almost pristine and all original Pacer. All around the car they went, bending and kneeling and getting every possible angle they could get. They even asked if there was a way that they could jack up the car so that they can get pictures of the undercarriage. So the always prepared Nolan pulled out his car ramps and drove the Pacer forward so that it was now at a good angle for viewing.

Photo by Nolan Dehner

Next the group descended on my Vivo, the ’73 orange 304 Gremlin. Again, the circling of the car took place, with close-up photos taken of the corner of the front fenders, back corners and yes, under the car when I was up on the ramps. The Pixar contingent seemed truly excited to see our cars up close and personal. The same chain of events took place with Richard’s Pacer, and again the enthusiastic trio of Directors snapped their photos and chatted us up for more and more information.

Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen that day was when Bert, Jack and Andrew took Nolan’s Pacer for a drive. Per Jack— “Driving it was a blast!” I think that says it all.


Out of the blue, Nolan gets an email from Bert asking him if he could bring his Pacer and my Gremlin to a car show being hosted by Pixar at their studios in Emeryville. Unfortunately for Nolan, he was out-of-town and would miss this once-in-a-lifetime event but he forwarded the message to Richard and I to see if we’d be interested in going to the car show. Well, DUH! Of course we would.

So once again I took a day off of work, met Richard and his grey Pacer at my house, and off we ventured into the traffic on the East Bay freeways, two 30+ year old cars among many (many many) fast and impatient new-fangled driving machines.

Bert mentioned that this show was one that is put on annually by Jay Ward, Art Department Manager at Pixar, and that it would be staffs’ personal cars, a catered lunch and a fun time. I then received an email from Jay himself, asking that I call him when I arrived on the lot as he had a “special area” for our cars. I should have known something was up when I drove through the big Pixar gates, Richard following close behind in Myrtle, when people started clapping, jumping up and down, laughing, and generally wide-eyed. I had to look around to see what all the fuss was about, and realized that all this excitement was for our funny old cars.

As directed, I called Jay who quickly appeared out of thin air and asked us to follow him as he began walking down the staff entrance sidewalk. Half way down said sidewalk, he veered off onto a beaten dirt path, no more than four feet wide with an expanse of green grass on either side. Down this dirt path we went, rounded a bend and before us was a rather large outdoor amphitheater built into the large berm that surrounding the Studio building. In the center of this amphitheater was a round brick staging area. Here, my friends, was our special parking spot for the duration of the day. Following soon after we parked, was an odd little car , even more odd than our little AMCs, a 1958 Zunndapp Janus. So there we were, three strange little cars that apparently are in the sequel to the original Cars movie, due to arrive at a theater near you sometime in mid-2011.

What an odd feeling it was, three strangelings among some very high dollar cars, including a one-off Cadillac, gullwing Mercedes, a couple Lambos and other exotic cars. We felt privileged and I for one was even a little embarrassed, what with all the attention we were getting. As the day went on, the entire group of animators working on Cars 2 stood around our cars for a photo-op.

Lots of staff and their family and friends were meandering around our cars on this eventful day, and everyone loved what they saw.

My only regret is that my good friend Nolan was not there to enjoy the day with us. He would have loved the cars, the lunch, the camaraderie, but he would especially have loved all of the genuine love and interest in his beloved Pacer. I would say that for the first time in a long time our AMCs were actually the star of the show, and not the brunt of some lame joke.

Thank you Nolan for getting the ball rolling with Pixar, and kudos to Pixar for recognizing what we AMC folks have always known…a great American car company that was just a little ahead of its time.

Ross also sent along a few photos from that day at Pixar. The “Minions,” eh?

Photo by Nolan Dehner
Photo by Nolan Dehner