The Sporting American: The AMC Javelin

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.

1973 AMC Javelin AMX badge


By 1965, the American Motors Corporation, which had been riding high a few years earlier, was floundering. After the departure of CEO George Romney in 1962, new president Roy Abernethy sought to expand the company’s focus beyond compact economy cars, but ran headlong into tough new competition from GM’s A-body intermediates, which were sized and priced much like Rambler’s bread-and-butter Classic line. AMC’s market share began to slip and pundits in business and automotive press were already speculating that American Motors might be on its way out of the auto business.

That situation attracted the attention of a dashing 59-year-old socialite, sportsman, and venture capitalist named Robert Beverly Evans. Originally from Virginia, Evans was the son of wealthy lumberman Edward S. Evans, founder of the highly successful Evans Product Company. After the family lost control of the company in the early sixties (it closed for good in 1962), Evans had set out in search of new opportunities and new investments, generally with good results.

Evans had no background in the auto industry, but AMC fit the pattern of his past acquisitions: a depressed but basically solid business that could be salvaged with relatively little difficulty. AMC’s debts were manageable, it had modern factories, and it still had the capital to develop new products. All it needed, Evans thought, was to shake off its malaise.

In the fall of 1965, Evans began buying up AMC shares, which thanks to the gloomy financial forecasts were attractively cheap. In late January 1966, he announced that he had purchased more than 200,000 shares, which made him the company’s largest single stockholder and earned him a seat on the board of directors.

Evans, like the contemporary automotive press, concluded that American Motors’ 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.

1963 Rambler American 440 convertible front
In the early sixties, the Rambler American convertible was the sportiest model in AM’s lineup, but even with the hottest available powertrain (a 196 cu. in. (3,205 cc) six with the optional two-throat carburetor and Rambler’s “Twin-Stick” three-speed plus overdrive transmission) needed more than 16 seconds to reach 60 mph (97 km/h) and couldn’t even approach the 100 mph (161 km/h) mark. The American was comfortable and reasonably economical, with the overdrive providing relaxed highway cruising, but it was in no way exciting.


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. The Mustang 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 also 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 Robert Nixon and based on the compact Rambler American. Styling chief Dick Teague pushed AMC management 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 and Bob Nixon, by then the head of small car exterior design, had 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.

1965 Rambler Marlin rear 3q © 2008 CZmarlin/ChristopherZienowicz PD
The production Rambler Marlin was essentially a re-skinned Rambler Classic with a fastback roof. Sales were very slow: 10,327 in 1965, 4,547 in 1966, and a mere 2,545 for the restyled, slightly bigger 1967. (Photo: “1965 Marlin aqua white md-rr” © 2008 CZmarlin (Christopher Ziemnowicz); released to the public domain by the photographer)


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,” for 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, which toured 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 cute and clever four-door sedan called Cavalier with interchangeable doors and fenders; and a two-door coupe called Vixen that 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: 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. PR director Howard Hallis preferred the name “Cavalier,” but Dodge had already registered it with the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA). (Dodge never actually used it for a production car, so Chevrolet adopted it in the early eighties.) Special events manager Guy Hadsall, Jr., proposed “Javelin,” which was ultimately selected despite a lukewarm response from Hallis and Dick Teague.


Add a Comment
  1. Another childhood memory – I was 10 years old.

    Back in 1974, my mother had just gotten her license and wanted to buy a sporty car. Somehow, we ended up at the local AMC dealer and she ended up ordering a plum colored Javelin AMX with gold stripes, 360 V8, and who knows what other options. I was thrilled with the idea of finally having a powerful sports car in the family. Sitting in the showroom Javelin AMX was heaven while my parents did the paperwork.

    It never came to be. At that time we lived in a small apartment and rented a very small garage from the neighbor. My father measured the garage and realized the Javelin would not fit. We neded up going to the dealer and changed the order to a 1974 Hornet X hatchback with a 304 V8.

    To this day, I occasionally browse for sale ads looking for a decent 1974 Javelin AMX. Then again, I do the same for Porsche 928’s, 69 Dodge Chargers, and all sorts of other childhood and teenage draam cars…

  2. Great piece on the Javelin. Ikied the car when I was growing up, and I stgill like it now.

    Too bad you didn’t mention the Javelins the Alabama State Troopers used in the 1970’s. I can still remember when those cars patrolled the highways, especially in my hometown.

    There are two model that I know are still in existance: one at the Alabama Department of Public Safety in Montgomery, and the other at the Alabama Motorsports Museum in Talladega.

  3. Fond memories…I used to own a 1970 AMX. Seeing this stuff always makes me wish AMC could still, somehow be around. I worked at an AMC dealer back in the seventies. I miss them.
    Thanks for memories…

  4. After reading your production figures for 68-70, I guess it’s no wonder I haven’t seen a live Javelin of that vintage since about 1980. Bought my ’69 SST upon returning home from S.E. Asia in Oct., ’72. Met. charcoal w/290 V-8, 3-on-the-floor and power nothing. Quite reliable, decent mpg, handled upstate NY winters well w/snow tires on the back. Interior trim pieces began falling off after about 1-yr. but mechanicals were pretty robust. Traded it in for a ’71 Mustang in ’75 rather than pay for a brake job, but frankly, the Javelin was a better car.
    Thanks for the memories…

  5. The 1st generation Javelin is quite a feat.
    Consider the resources of the big three, in comparison a small company like AMC was very limited in there budget. The car they produced from concept to reality was beautiful and functional. Few cars look as timeless and balanced.

    The second generation evolved into a racier but
    still appealing look. That it was competitive and unique is uncontested.
    I wonder if a small company today could build a competitor to the new Camaro, Mustang or
    Challenger with a limited market in mind?
    Go Javelin!

  6. I do have one correction for you: The Spirit was available with a AMX package as well. The 1979 Spirit AMX was available with either the 258 2 bbl L6 or the 304 2bbl V8 while the 1980 Spirit AMX was available only with the six and marked the last use of the name on a production car ( The Turbo AMX was also a Spirit, but it was a one off used as a pace car and was based on the Spirit. I think it was used in 1982 or 83). The 1979 model year marked the last time an AMC car could be ordered with a V8. All in all, around 4,000 Spirit AMX’s were produced, but they were essentially just a flashier Spirit GT as they shared the suspension, drivetrain and most of the interior trim (AMX variants had silver dash trim in place of the wood grain of the GT).

    1. Thanks for the correction; I’ve amended the text accordingly.

  7. C. L. Zinn II’s “Javelin Photo Archive” has a number of interesting items. For example, he displays design proposals for a clever, Gremlin-based 1974 Javelin. AMC might have gotten a much better bang for its buck had it gone in this direction rather than betting on the ill-fated 1974 Matador coupe, which was a Javelin-style sporty coupe upsized to intermediate status.

    In addition, Zinn also shows mock ups of Javelin-based four-door sedans and sport wagons. These were considered for a 1969 introduction. Their existence reflects a crucial, but under-discussed, issue: Unlike the Big Three, AMC couldn’t really afford to offer a pony car on an exclusive body. The Javelin may be one of AMC’s most memorable designs, but I suspect that it was also a money loser.

  8. I purchased a 1968 model when I was in high school, and paid for it bagging groceries. It may have been the one of the first sold in Waco, TX. I have to admit I ran the crap out of that poor car, street racing every chance I got. It had the stock 290 with 2bbl carb & 3-speed on the column. I couldn’t afford headers, but discovered that the exhaust could easily be disconnected just behind the collector. It almost sounded like headers, and I loved it.

    I’ll bet the guys at the AMC dealership replaced 3-4 throwout bearings/clutches in that poor car and never complained about it once. But…it was eating up Mustangs around town, and that sold more Javelins and AMX’s.

  9. <blockquote>This week, we take a look at the 1968-1974 AMC Javelin and AMC, how they came to be, and why they disappeared.</blockquote>

    I think you mean “AMC Javelin and AMX”.

    1. Oops — that got garbled when I had to redo all the lead-ins during the migration. Thanks!

  10. Hindsight being 20/20, AMC would have been better off keeping the Javelin and AMX in production past 1974, as opposed to introducing the Pacer. Look how sales of the Firebird and Camaro took off in the late 70’s. An AMX equipped with a 360 or 401 would have been quite competitive with a Trans Am.
    Easy to say now, I know….

    1. Well, the Javelin was obviously for a very different purpose than was the Pacer, so I can’t imagine it would ever have been either or, but otherwise, yeah. It’s easy to see why they didn’t think so at the time, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click here to read our comment policy. You must be at least 18 to comment and PLEASE DON'T POST COPYRIGHTED CONTENT YOU DON'T OWN!
Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. All rights reserved. Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners and are used here for informational/nominative purposes; this is not an official or authorized website of any manufacturer or supplier.