The Sporting American: The AMC Javelin

THE PRODUCTION AMX

In early 1968, American Motors followed up the Javelin with the two-seat AMX that Bob Evans had requested two years earlier. The production AMX was essentially a Javelin with its wheelbase shortened by 12 inches (305 mm), fitted with a new hood, grille, roof, and sail panels. The AMX was mechanically similar to the Javelin, although it came standard with the 225-horsepower (168 kW), 290 cu. in. (4,751 cc) V8. A new option for both the Javelin and AMX was a bigger 390 cu. in. (6,384 cc) V8 rated at 315 gross horsepower (235 kW).

1968 AMC AMX front3q
From the front, the AMX looks much like the Javelin on which it’s based, although it has a unique hood and grille. The AMX was not offered with a six or the base 200 hp (149 kW) V8, but it could have any of the Javelin’s other engine options. This one has the 390 (6,384 cc) V8 with 315 gross horsepower; with this engine, 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) takes about seven seconds with a top speed of over 120 mph (193 km/h).

1968 AMC AMX rear 3q
The early AMX was 177.2 inches (4,501 mm) long on a 97-inch (2,464mm) wheelbase, making it exactly 12 inches (305 mm) shorter than the Javelin and 112 lb (51 kg) lighter. The AMX came standard with the Javelin’s optional heavy-duty rear springs and added radius rods to better locate the rear axle on hard acceleration.

AMC sold more than 55,000 1968 Javelins, around 40% more than Chapin’s target. The AMX, meanwhile, accounted for 6,725 sales in its shortened first year. Neither was a major player in the crowded sporty car market; the Javelin accounted for less than 6% pony car sales in 1968 and was not a big money-maker. Despite their modest sales, both cars played a useful role as image leaders, drawing young buyers into AMC showrooms for the first time.

TRANS AM

In the spring of 1968, shortly before the AMX appeared in showrooms, the Javelin embarked on its first Trans Am season. AMC had given JRT two Javelins, each painted with gaudy red, white, and blue stripes. The 343 cu. in. (5,624 cc) V8 was too big for Trans Am, so the racing team started with the smaller 290 cu. in. (4,751 cc) block and bored it to 3.84 inches (97.6 mm), giving a total displacement of 304.3 cu. in. (4,977 cc), safely under the 305 cu. in. (5,000 cc) limit. Naturally, the racing engines also got hotter cams and dual four-barrel Holley carburetors. Jim Jeffords and Ronnie Kaplan hired Peter Revson and George Follmer to drive the cars with John Martin as co-driver and crew chief.

Just before the beginning of the season, Victor Raviolo told reporters that AMC didn’t really expect to win, hoping instead for a solid third-place finish. It was a realistic assessment, but it may have been more candid than American management would have liked; Raviolo was fired not long afterward and Carl Chakmakian took over AMC’s performance efforts.

The Javelin made its Trans Am debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 23, 1968. One of the team’s two cars, driven by Follmer and Jerry Grant, was DNF (did not finish), but the other, driven by Revson and Skip Scott, managed fifth place. The Javelin team won no races in the 1968 season, but they managed second-place finishes in six of the 12 races. The Javelin also finished every race, itself a commendable achievement for an untried car. By mid-season, AMC was fighting it out with Ford for second place, to the considerable amazement of early scoffers. The Javelin finally ended up third overall, as Raviolo had predicted, but it was a credible effort.

1968 AMC Javelin Trans Am front 3q
Peter Revson’s 1968 Trans Am Javelin, photographed in 2007. Both 1968 cars were painted these colors, but the stripes on each car were angled in opposite directions. (Photo: “1968 AMX Javelin (Trans-Am Series)” © 2007 Todd Lappin/Telstar Logistics; used with permission)

Unfortunately, the Javelin’s second season was a disaster. At the end of the 1968 season, Ford hired away both Peter Revson and George Follmer; their replacements, John Martin, Ron Grable, Bob Tullius, and Lothar Motschenbacher, did not do nearly as well. The Javelin’s bored-out engines failed regularly; a more durable block with four-bolt rather than two-bolt main bearings was developed, but couldn’t be legally used because it wasn’t offered on production cars. The best the team managed all season was a fourth-place finish.

While the Javelin vied with the Camaro and Mustang in Trans Am, the AMX was setting speed records and tearing up the dragstrip. In February, Craig and Lynn Breedlove drove a pair of modified AMXs to 106 class records. Dave Kempton, meanwhile, campaigned an AMX in NHRA SS/FA drag racing. In 1969, Shirley Shahan, the “Drag-On Lady,” set several SS/D drag racing records. That year, American Motors product planning VP Gerry Meyers also organized a volunteer group called TEAM (Technical Employees of American Motors) to run the AMX in SCCA B/Production sports car racing. Ike Knupp, the supervisor of American’s electrical engineering lab, won the 1969 SCCA Central Division championship, scoring five victories over Alan Barker’s Chevrolet Corvette.

PENSKE AND DONOHUE

While the Javelin and AMX’s track performance brought considerable publicity, it did not translate into robust showroom traffic. For 1969, sales of the little-changed Javelin fell to 40,675 while the AMX managed 8,293 sales. Part of the problem was simply that the market had peaked in 1967 and declined steady from there. The Mustang fell 20% for 1969, while Camaro sank more than 30%.

1969 AMC Javelin SST spoiler
This peculiar roof-mounted spoiler, made of fiberglass, became optional in 1969.

The 1970 Javelin and AMX got a facelift with a new grille, new taillights, and a rather tacky new hood scoop, but it didn’t help. Sales declined to just over 30,000 Javelins and 4,116 AMXs. The competition wasn’t doing any better; Mustang sales were down an additional 40%.

Bill McNealy was not at all pleased with JRT’s mediocre showing in the 1969 Trans Am season, but he had not given up on the competition program. He decided that AMC needed to set its sights higher, so he fired Jeffords and Kaplan and went after the leading Trans Am team: Penske and Donohue.

Roger Penske had begun his racing career in 1958. He retired in the mid-sixties to focus on business, but he launched his own team, Penske Racing, in 1965. In 1967, he and driver/engineer Mark Donohue entered Trans Am with their infamous Sunoco Camaro. Donohue proceeded to dominate the series, winning three consecutive driver’s championships. They also competed in Can-Am, USRRC road racing, and the Indianapolis 500, where Mark Donohue won a Rookie of the Year award in 1969.

Despite his success in Trans Am, Penske was not actually being paid by Chevrolet and their official anti-racing stance meant that factory support came primarily through back channels. When Bill McNealy made him an offer switch to AMC, Penske was very receptive. He soon signed a three-year contract with American Motors, bring Mark Donohue with him.

Despite the skills of Mark Donohue and Peter Revson, whom Penske lured back from Ford, the Javelin had a difficult season in 1970. Its engine was not nearly as reliable as Penske’s previous Traco-built Chevrolet 302 cu. in. (4,942 cc) engine and oil starvation was an ongoing problem. Still, Donohue earned the Javelin’s first Trans Am victory at Bridgehampton on June 21 and the team managed second place overall.

Penske was not accustomed to coming in second and was determined to make good in 1971. He dismissed Peter Revson, arranged to sell the 1970 cars to Roy Woods Racing (RWR), and decided the team would focus its 1971 efforts on a single car that would be driven solely by Donohue.

21 Comments

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  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.

  11. I am an ORIGINAL owner of a 1970 AMX (glove box tag #21776). Fully documented, fully optioned, never in an accident, no rust – and, again, ONLY ONE owner-me! Showroom condition, 171K miles, car show award winner, – and thinking about finally selling! I have no idea of value but will look to NADA classic car values for market price. If you know of anyone with an interest to buy, we can work out a “finder’s fee”. Thank you, Aaron.
    Respectfully, Bob Schneider (H) 321-637-3774 (C) 631-924-8739

    1. Bob,
      I redacted your phone numbers — if you’re determined to publish them, I’ll put them back, although I take no responsibility for any consequences. I can’t help with buying or selling cars, but I’ll leave this here for anyone that’s interested.

      1. Aaron,
        Thank you for publishing message. Yes, please print the phone numbers. I will take full responsibility for any consequences. Thank you.
        Bob

        1. Okay, will do.

      2. I have a friend that came across a bunch of cars in a yard. He found a base model Javelin that he insists the door tag says 1966. He said it looks lime a javelin. He was hoping the guy had a Marlin. The guy has a pacer and a few matadors. What do you think he found?

        1. Telling a Javelin from a Matador doesn’t seem like it would be all that difficult, assuming the car was mostly intact and not buried in crap. I’m not up on AMC door tag formats, but assuming it was indeed a model year and not some other code, my observation is that it wouldn’t take a whole lot in the way of damage, incomplete stamping, or weird lighting to make an “8” look like a “6.”

        2. He was looking at the tag that says the car conforms to all requirements of the 1966 Highway Safety Act.

  12. There had to be some pretty talented people at AMC to pull off stamping those ’71-’74 Javelin front fenders and even then I imagine the scrap rate was pretty high! That’s a huge part with a lot of metal stretch. Count me as a fan of this era of AMC.

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