SEMA 2019: “Mogwai” The Dragster Gremlin From Hell

AMC must have been out of their corporate minds when they debuted a car named after a “ghost in the machine.” The Gremlin was AMC’s answer to the Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto — clean-sheet designs with everything the Big Two could muster.  Instead of starting from scratch, AMC took a run-of-the-mill Hornet two-door sedan, chopped off the back, and presto!  They had an entry in the red-hot subcompact market in the early ’70’s.

Fast forward to SEMA 2019 and our discovery of this crazy Gremlin custom that’s one part AMC, one part dragster with a dash of rat rod deluxe.

Craftsman Jacob Griffin built this 1975 Gremlin in roughly 120 days at his shop, Griffin Design in Valley Center, California, and brought this malaise-era golden chariot to SEMA and caught everyone off guard.

Nicknamed “Mogwai,” after a character in the movie “Gremlins,” Griffin has expertly stitched together two eras of pop culture.

To start, he ash-canned the front clip, snipped out 18-inches of width in the front and 12-inches in the rear of the body, and then essentially wedged and welded the two halves back together. Then he custom built a frame 2-feet longer than stock, dropped the svelte new body on, and fabricated a coffin-style front end showcasing a narrowed stock grille. Sprayed out in sparkling gold, striper Mike Donnor finished off the look, adding custom pinstriping to the vehicle.

Running a blown 304 V8 and a Tremec five-speed, it sits on 24x20s US Mags up front with 18x8s in the rear. The power is channeled to a Ford 9-inch rear end with 4:11 gears. He wired the thing up with a Ron Francis wiring kit and gushed about the ease of installation and quality of the product.

Inside the dash is out of a late-’50s Ford, with an ididit steering column, metal bomber seats topped with Levis jean cushions in a nod to the old-school option offered by AMC back in the day. Jacob trusts Dakota Digital gauges for their accuracy and ease of calibration.

Holding court at the Heatshield Products booth, “Mogwai” caused quite a commotion for the thousands of event attendees. The radical ride has also caught the eye of the SEMA Battle of the Builders Young Gun judges, who have selected Jake as a Top 40 builder of the year and Top 10 young gun builder of the year!

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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