partly based on an article by Chad Quella
In the mid-1960s, AMC was hard at work on a new compact car, with development spurred by the success of the 1964 Ford Mustang. In 1966, the sporty two-seat AMX concept car was ready; spectators loved the car and AMC’s chairman, Robert Evans, pushed to have a production version. His argument may have been bolstered by a new AMC V8 engine, launched in 1967, which reached 280 horsepower in its 343 cubic inch version.
Launched in 1967 to critical acclaim, the 1968 AMC Javelin shared the Mustang’s basic long-hood and short rear deck. It avoided Ford’s “design clutter,” with clean and smooth sheet metal. Inside, the Javelin had a recessed, functional gauge cluster, with front bucket seats. The dashboard was (in an industry first) injection molded in a single piece; that was one of the reasons the AMX was named the Best Engineered Car of the Year in both 1969 and 1970 by the American Society of Automotive Engineers.
Available from launch, the “Go” package included power front disc brakes, wider tires, a performance suspension with a front anti-sway bar, and three V-8 engine choices. The biggest 1968 engine, the 343 (soon to be eclipsed by the 390), enabled drivers to do 0-60 in under eight seconds, without atrocious gas mileage. The front suspensions used coil springs and unequal-length wishbones, while the rear had the inevitable semi-elliptic leaf springs and solid axle. The standard transmission was a Borg-Warner four speed manual.
Six months later, the two-seat 1968 AMC AMX was released. It was based closely on the Javelin, but around a foot shorter, bumper to bumper. Legendary racer Craig Breedlove piloted the new two-seater to one hundred land speed records before it was even on sale. Buyers could get leather seats, a 140 mph speedometer, “tic-tac” gauge package, and “Go Pak,” which included either a four barrel 290 or the new 390 (315 hp at 4,600 rpm and a Hemi-level 425 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm).
12,390 Javelins were sold in calendar-year 1967 — more than double the number of Marlins sold in calendar-year 1966.
The Javelin was a major success on the SCCA Trans-Am circuit, finishing every race it entered (unlike any other factory team of the time); powered by the 232 six or the new 290 and 343 V8s, it was a formidable car on the street and strip. Stylistically, the Javelin’s main unique features were the “no-trunk-look” rear, and the flush-mount paddle door handle, which was used on all AMCs but the Rambler American. Javelin was a hit in sales, too, with 56,444 produced in 1968 (just a blip for GM, but a good seller for AMC), along with 6,725 AMXs.
In 1969, Javelin SST and AMX could be purchased with eye-catching “Big Bad” colors: BBOrange, BBGreen, and BBBlue. AMC, like Chrysler, worked with Hurst to develop new models, the dragstrip-terror SS/AMX and the ram-air 390-powered Hurst SC/Rambler.
For 1969, AMC sold 33,990 Javelins and 5,784 AMXs in the US, versus 42,215 and 7,333 in 1968. Production was 43,099 for Javelin, 8,317 for AMX; sales of the two went from being “midpack” at AMC to low, with Rambler American hitting nearly a hundred thousand units, Rebel coming in with over 50,000, and even the big Ambassador clearing 75,000.
In 1970, Mark Donohue and the Sunoco Racing Team dumped their Camaros to race Javelins. AMXs and Javelins (along with Rambler Americans) had the dealer “Group 19” heavy-duty performance option. The V-8 heads were refined, boosting the 390 to 340 hp and 430ft/lb torque.
In 1970, AMC produced 31,090 Javelins and 2,110 AMXs, despite the opportunity provided by a two-month-long GM strike. The new AMC Hornet was a much bigger hit; nearly 80,000 flew off the assembly lines, nearly replacing the popular but departed Rambler American. The new AMC Gremlin started up with just under 50,000 made in the latter half of calendar-year 1970.
George Barris had an ongoing deal with AMC to produce an AMX bolt-on customizing kit, sold by AMC dealers. The AMX-400 included a 4.5 inch lower top, revised pillars, an extended nose and tail, hidden headlights, and other changes. The full-width tail light lit up green during acceleration, amber when coasting, and red when braking. Each side of the car got a fake race-style gas cap; the real gas cap was under the license plate. The interior and engine were stock. The car, sold by Barris, was filmed in TV’s Banacek in 1972.
For 1970, AMC officially adopted the A-mark logo, dropping the “AM” script. AMX and Javelin received a mild styling update, and added an optional “Power Blister” ram air hood that boosted the 390’s horsepower to 345.
A “Mark Donohue Edition” Javelin had all the performance options, along with a Donohue-designed spoiler. The 343 V-8 was increased to 360 cid (Chrysler later caused some confusion with their own Mopar 360), and the 290 became the 304.
The 1970 AMX/3 was a hot concept car, with a hand-made fiberglass body and mid-mounted V-8 engine; according to some sources, seven were built, though the family of AMC styling VP Richard A. Teague wrote that only six were made.
The two-seat, mid-engine design was penned by AMC under Teague (the team included Bob Nixon, Chuck Mashigan, Vince Geraci, and Jack Kenitz), but the body was made in Italy. The car featured the 340-horsepower AMC 390 engine, with a four-speed manual gearbox; it was 171.5 inches long, 70 inches wide, and 43 inches tall.
The idea was to compete against the DeTomaso Pantera and a rumored mid-engine Corvette; mainly, it was designed to put AMC onto American customers’ shopping lists.
The car pictured here was at the Chicago Auto Show courtesy of DriveChicago.com; it was restored by Dave Draper/Time Machines Unlimited, and is owned by the Teague family.
For 1971, the beefed-up 390 from 1970 was bored to 401ci; it was rated at a respectable 330 hp, net, and given callouts on Javelin (first photo) and AMX (second photo).
The highlight for the American Motors 1971 lineup was the Javelin’s dramatic new styling, and moving the AMX to the Javelin line rather than selling it as a separate two-seat model. The AMC Javelin now had hump fenders, a twin canopy roof panel, and rear spoiler lip; inside, the Javelin was restyled with a “cockpit” feel and many upholstery options. The fiberglass/plastic hood was riased toward the windshield, and the cowl-air carburetor induction system was included with the optional “Go” package. A wire-mesh “full span” grille was standard, as was the functional rear deck “duck tail” spoiler and dual rearview mirrors. All Javelins were two door hardtops.
The Javelin had a one inch longer wheelbase and length, and was three inches wider (110” wheelbase, 192” length, 75” width). SST trim continued, and AMX was the top-of-the-line, complete with a unique dash appliqué and styled grille. The 232 straight six continued as standard on base and SST, with an optional new 258 cubic inch I-6 (1 barrel carb); AMX had a standard 360 V8, with a two-barrel carburetor (completely unrelated to the Chrysler 360). A new 401 cubic inch engine, with a four-barrel carburetor, was optional across the board, replacing the 390.
The curved cockpit dashboard increased visibility of controls, putting them within easy reach; the entire panel was padded, with the passenger side recessed for added knee room and safety. Four toggle switches at the base of the panel were used for headlights, panel lights, wipers, and washers, and four outlets were included for the air conditioner.
Javelin was the champion of SCCA Trans-Am racing, while Wally Booth’s Gremlin X tore up the drag strips.
Mike Sealey wrote: 1971 was the last year for the Borg-Warner Shift-Command automatic, which was replaced by Chrysler's Torqueflite (Torque-Command) automatic. Some late production 1971 rental cars got the Torqueflite a little bit ahead of the general market.
Javelin again killed the competition in the SCCA Trans-Am competition, and the 401 cubic inch V8 became popular in police-edition AMC Matadors. The Chrysler Torque-Command (TorqueFlite) fully replaced the Borg-Warner Flash-o-Matic.
Javelins got an optional Pierre Cardin interior package with silky black countoured seats, white, purple and red stripes flowing across them, continuing up the door panels and around the headliner.
Another 1973 Javelin option was the Trans-Am Victory Package celebrating their back-to-back SCCA championships; the Javelin also received new pod taillights. Despite the championships, sales were disappointing; AMC only managed to sell 26,311 Javelins (including AMX) in the US, barely any sales compared with 140,000 Hornets and 133,146 Gremlins. Javelin was the lowest-selling car in the AMC lineup in 1973; and the news in 1974 was worse, with just 17,555 sales.
1974 was the last year for the Javelin, still flaunting its 401 cubic inch V8. AMC was about to launch its new Pacer, which would see 96,769 sales in its first year, and had just started selling its revised Matador, which cleared 77,720 sales. The Hornet hit 118,519 and the Gremlin hit 104,871, while Jeep sales had doubled since the brand was acquired in 1970. Though the Javelin and AMX were both still young, they were dropped from lack of interest, along with the big Ambassador — and, for that matter, their counterparts at Chrysler, the Barracuda and Challenger.
As with the Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Charger Daytona, the name AMX was later applied as a trim level to other cars: the AMC Hornet in 1977, the AMC Concord in 1978, and the AMC Spirit in 1979-1980. These models are fairly rare.
The AMX remains a muscle car legend.
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