The AMC Javelin was American Motors’ only foray into the popular “pony car” market, and the model that almost single-handedly transformed American from a peddler of Scotsman-like economy to a two-time Trans-Am racing champion. This week, we take a look at the 1968-1974 AMC Javelin and AMX, how they came to be, and why they disappeared.
ROBERT EVANS AND AMC
In the fall of 1965, millionaire Robert Beverly Evans started buying up shares of the American Motors Corporation. By January 1966, he had acquired over 200,000 shares of AMC, making him the company’s largest shareholder and earning him a seat on the board of directors.
Bob Evans’ arrival at AMC made headlines in the financial world. A dashing 59-year-old socialite from Virginia, Evans was the son of wealthy lumberman Edward S. Evans, founder of the very successful Evans Products Company. Until 1960, Evans had been better known as a sportsman than a businessman. After his family lost control of Evans Products to an aggressive West Coast venture capitalist, however, the still-wealthy Evans went on an acquisitions spree, buying up struggling companies to make them profitable. By 1965, he owned a dozen companies with revenues totaling more than $20 million a year.
Evans’ investment in AMC was a vote of confidence in a company that had seen better days. Although AMC had risen to number three in U.S. auto sales earlier in the decade, it had floundered after the departure of CEO George Romney in 1962. Romney’s replacement, CEO and President Roy Abernethy, had tried to shift the company’s focus from compact economy cars to more mainstream products, but he had only succeeded in sacrificing the company’s main point of distinction. AMC’s market position began to slide and by early 1966, the automotive press was wondering gloomily if its days were numbered.
Evans had no background in the auto industry, but AMC was exactly the sort of company that attracted his interest. Despite its recent slump and depressed stock prices, AMC was far from unsalvageable: its debt load was reasonable, it had modern facilities, and it still had the resources to develop new products. If Evans could turn it around, he stood to make a handsome return on his investment.
Evans felt that American’s principal failing was its staid, fusty image. Six or seven years earlier, George Romney’s small-car evangelism had struck a chord with buyers reeling from the excesses of the fifties, but now the Baby Boomers were reaching driving age and they had no interest at all in AMC’s frugal Ramblers. The youth market was booming and Evans thought it was high time American Motors claimed its share.
If the mid-sixties youth market could be summarized in a single word, it would be Mustang. Introduced in April 1964, the Ford Mustang was an astutely targeted appeal to the hearts and minds of the Baby Boom generation. It was cheap, it was sporty, and it offered a full measure of mass-produced individuality with a wide assortment of options and accessories. The Mustang was a colossal success, selling more than a million units in its first two years. More seriously, it had outsold AMC’s entire 1965 line-up and was already inspiring a host of imitators.
A few months before the Mustang debuted, AMC had exhibited a cute fastback coupe called Tarpon, styled by Bob Nixon and based on the compact Rambler American. Dick Teague pushed to build the Tarpon as an answer to the Mustang, but Roy Abernethy ordered him to instead scale up the design for the midsize Rambler Classic platform. The result was the awkward Rambler Marlin, which was no threat at all to the Mustang, or even the Dodge Charger.
By the middle of 1965, even Abernethy admitted that the Marlin was not what AMC needed. Bob Nixon, by then the head of small car exterior design, started work on a replacement. This was initially known as Rogue, a name AMC was then using for the hardtop coupe version of the Rambler American. The new Rogue would be AMC’s entrée into the emerging “pony car” market.
PROJECT IV AND AMX
In October 1965, as the Rogue took shape, Chuck Mashigan’s advanced styling studio developed a design study for a sporty two-seat fastback coupe, also based on the Rambler American platform. Teague dubbed it “AMX,” American Motors Experimental. Although there were no specific plans for production, the AMX was an appealing design and had a strong influence on the development of the pony car project.
Because the pony car was a considerable departure from anything AMC had done before — the company’s only previous sports car, the 1951-1954 Nash-Healey, was neither designed nor engineered in house — Teague proposed exhibiting prototypes of the AMX and other advanced styling studies, to show the public that AMC was moving in a new direction.
Bob Evans became a strong supporter of that idea, which culminated in an extravagant traveling auto show called Project IV, shown in 10 North American cities in 1966. Project IV showcased four concept cars, including a non-running model of the AMX; a longer 2+2 coupe called AMX II, designed by freelance stylist Vince Gardner; a four-door sedan called Cavalier with interchangeable doors and fenders; and a two-door coupe called Vixen, which looked a great deal like the later AMC Hornet. Teague subsequently commissioned the Italian coachbuilder Vignale to build a full-size running prototype of the two-seat AMX, which replaced the fiberglass model in the later Project IV exhibitions.
Roy Abernethy teased visitors by implying that American might build something like the concept cars if response was strong enough. That was a little disingenuous because the pony car project — which bore a strong resemblance to the AMX and AMX II — was already well under way. The show did have one major influence on AMC product planning: Bob Evans was so taken with the Vignale-built AMX that he asked Teague to develop a production version in addition to the upcoming four-seater Mustang fighter.
Around that time, AMC’s Name Committee was debating what to call the new pony car. Special events manager Guy Hadsall, Jr. suggested “Javelin,” which neither Teague nor PR director Howard Hallis liked very much. Hallis preferred “Cavalier,” but Hadsall discovered that Dodge had already registered that name with the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA), so the pony car became the AMC Javelin.