The Sporting American: The AMC Javelin

THE 1971 SEASON

The AMC Javelin received its only major redesign for 1971. Proposals for a second-generation car had begun around the time the 1968 Javelin went on sale, but many of the design studies were beyond AMC’s limited budget. As a result, the ’71 was essentially a major facelift, the work of stylists Jack Kenitz and Keith Goodnough. Its most dramatic feature was a stretched nose with bulged fenders and a flush grille; the latter was added at the request of Mark Donohue, looking for better aerodynamics on the track. The new Javelin’s flared fenders gave it a distinctly wasp-waisted shape, which helped to make look more different than it really was.

1973 AMC Javelin AMX front 3q
The second-generation AMC AMX had a 110-inch (2,794mm) wheelbase and stretched 192.3 inches (4,884 mm) overall, 3.1 inches (78 mm) longer than before. It was somewhat heavier, too, and the extra weight and added emissions controls took their toll on performance.

1972 AMC Javelin AMX 401 engine
The second-generation Javelin’s long nose is mostly empty space — the radiator sits well behind the grille. AMC revised its V8 engines for 1971 to provide a taller deck height (allowing a longer stroke) and added new heads with better breathing. The V8 was now offered in 304 cu. in. (4,977 cc), 360 cu. in. (5,892 cc), 390 cu. in. (6,384 cc), and 401 cu. in. (6,573 cc) forms with up to 330 gross horsepower (246 kW). This 1972 Javelin AMX has the 401, now rated at 255 net horsepower (190 kW).

The new car and its new tall-deck engine fared much better on the racetrack. A major reason was a new dry sump lubrication system; although nothing like that was offered on production Javelins, SCCA officials decided to permit Penske to install it on the Trans Am cars. The dry sump system eliminated the oil starvation problems that had been the Javelin’s albatross in 1970 and Mark Donohue soon started winning races with a vengeance. He ultimately won seven of the 12 Trans Am events for 1971, earning him his fourth driver’s championship. Roy Woods Racing, using Penske’s old Javelins with new bodywork and the same dry sump oil system, won the final event at Riverside and AMC easily won the 1971 Manufacturer’s Championship. That victory was slightly hollow, because Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, and Pontiac had all withdrawn their support for the series, but it was a victory nonetheless.

THE FINISH LINE

For 1972, Penske and Donohue moved from Trans Am to NASCAR, where AMC had decided to run its midsize Matador hardtop. However, AMC did not abandon Trans Am; Roy Woods continued to run his re-bodied Javelins, now with factory backing, in the 1972 season, winning AMC’s second and final Manufacturer’s Championship.

There would not be a third. For 1973, the SCCA adopted FIA Group 4 rules for Trans Am, which meant two-seat sports cars rather than pony cars. AMC marked the end of the era with a special “Trans Am Victory Package” for production 1973 Javelins and then sold the Roy Woods cars to two racers in Mexico City, Roberto Arnstein Rada (later president of the Mexican motorsport federation, FEMADAC) and Rubén Novoa González. Sponsored by Pepsi, Arnstein and Novoa campaigned the cars in Mexico with great success throughout 1973.

1973_AMC_JavelinAMX_AMXbadge
There was still an AMC AMX on the order form from 1971 to 1974, but it was now just the top Javelin trim series. Dick Teague argued strenuously that AMC should continue the two-seater as an image booster, but Bill Luneburg decided that the cut-down AMX’s sales didn’t justify the production hang-ups it created.

By then, time was also running out for the production Javelin. Sales of the second-generation model were still hovering under 30,000 units a year. The Baby Boomers had largely fled the pony car segment for cheaper, easier-to-insure compacts like the Ford Maverick and AMC’s own Gremlin and Hornet. With even more stringent safety and emissions standards on the horizon, the racy Javelin suddenly seemed like an anachronism. It finally expired in 1974 because AMC needed its production capacity for a new model that promised to be the car of the future: the AMC Pacer.

LAST RITES

The AMX name popped up again as a trim package for the Hornet, Concord, and Spirit later in the decade, but AMC never built another pony car. By the late seventies, the sportiest model in the AM lineup was the hatchback Spirit, which was essentially a restyled Gremlin.

Roy Chapin and Bill Luneburg continued to run American Motors until 1977, steering the company through many difficult moments. Bill McNealy eventually rose to become AMC’s vice chairman and for a time was a leading candidate to replace Roy Chapin, although McNealy departed the company in 1977.

Dick Teague remained VP of styling until 1984, retiring at the age of 61. His successor was Bob Nixon, who had overseen the design of the Javelin. Teague died in 1991.

Mary Wells took WRG public in 1968, becoming the first female CEO of a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. She was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1999.

Robert Evans remained a major American Motors stockholder for several years after stepping down as chairman, although he no longer played a major role in AMC’s corporate decision-making. He went on to a variety of other investment ventures with considerable success. He died in 1998.

Mark Donohue was killed in August 1975 during a practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix. Roger Penske remains alive and well, still running both Penske Racing and his network of dealerships, trucking companies, and body shops, which has grown to a $14 billion enterprise.

Both the Javelin and AMX remain extremely popular with AMC fans and are among the most collectible American Motors vehicles. It’s easy to understand why: The original Javelin is still a crisp, tasteful design with sprightly performance. It’s not without its flaws, but most are minor and forgivable, and are certainly no worse than those of its contemporary rivals.

The Javelin was a valiant effort, a frontal assault on one of the most hotly contested market segments in the industry. While it was not a huge success, it acquitted itself with honor and the boost it gave AMC’s image helped to keep the company alive for at least a decade longer than it would otherwise have survived. It will never be as ubiquitous as the late-sixties Camaro or Mustang, but it remains a car worthy of respect.

FIN


NOTES ON SOURCES

Some of our information on AMC in this period came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); “Autos: $2,000,000 Vote of Confidence,” TIME 4 February 1966, www.time. com, accessed 2 February 2010); “Business: Quick Wash,” Time 20 January 1967, www.time. com, accessed 1 February 2010; Roy D. Chapin, Jr., “How I’m Going to Save American Motors,” Mechanix Illustrated July 1967; “Executives: American Motors’ New Gospel” Time 17 June 1966, www.time. com, accessed 1 February 2010; Patrick Foster, American Motors Corporation: The Rise and Fall of America’s Last Independent Automaker (Minneapolis, MN: MBI Publishing Company, 2013); Steve Greif, “Evans Products Company,” Oregon Encyclopedia Project, Portland State University, oregonencyclopedia. org/ articles/ evans_products_company/, accessed 2 February 2010; Bruce Horovitz, “Queen of advertising tells all,” USA Today 3 May 2002, www.usatoday. com, accessed 1 February 2010; Charles K. Hyde, Storied Independent Automakers: Nash, Hudson, and American Motors (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009); Donald MacDonald, “Wither AMC?” Motor Trend Vol. 18, No. 5 (May 1966), pp. 36-40, 70; Leon Mandel, “‘Let’s Hear It For Javelin!’ ‘Javelin Who?'” Car and Driver September 1968, reprinted in AMX & Javelin Muscle Portfolio 1968-1974, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1994); Wolfgang A. Mederle, “AMC History,” American Motors 1954-1987, 3 May 2009, www.american-motors. de/en/ history/60s/, accessed 1 February 2010; Todd Ruel’s interviews with designer Bob Nixon (“Torque-O Podcast #2: Interview with Bob Nixon, 6 October 2006, www.torq-o. com/ Podcasts/podcasts.html, accessed 9 December 2009); former AMC marketing VP Bill McNealy (“Torq-O Podcast #7: Interview with Bill McNealy,” 20 July 2008, Torq-O: The Cog Blog, www.torq-o. com/ Podcasts/podcasts.html, accessed 1 February 2010), product planning VP Gerald Meyers (“Torque-O Podcast #9: Interview with Gerald Meyers,” 12 October 2008, Torq-O: The Cog Blog, www.torq-o. com/ Podcasts/podcasts.html, accessed 7 December 2009); and designer Vince Geraci” (“Torq-O Podcast #1: Interview with Vince Geraci,” 22 September 2007, Torq-O: The Cog Blog, www.torq-o. com/ Podcasts/podcasts.html, accessed 1 February 2010); Daniel Strohl, “Trawling for Success,” Hemmings Classic Car #35 (August 2007), pp. 45–49; “U.S. Business: Irreverence at American,” TIME 22 September 1967, www.time. com, accessed 1 February 2010; and John S. Wright, “Mary Wells Lawrence,” The Journal of Marketing Vol. 36, No. 1 (January 1972), pp. 71-72.

Other sources on the origins and development of the Javelin included John A. Conde, “drive report: 1968 AMX: X meant exciting and exceptional,” Special Interest Autos #52 (August 1979), and Arch Brown, “1968 Javelin: AMC’s Ponycar Answer,” Special Interest Autos #94 (August 1986), reprinted in AMX & Javelin Muscle Portfolio 1968-1974, pp. 129-140; Patrick Foster, “Designing the Future at AMC: Part III: Bob Nixon and the Sizzling Sixties,” Special Interest Autos #161 (September-October 1997), pp. 46-53, and “Vivid Memories: The Story of AMC’s ‘Big Bad Colors’ Cars,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 2000), pp. 66-76; John Gunnell, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975, Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002); Guy Hadsall, Jr. and Patrick Foster, Mister Javelin: Guy Hadsall Jr. at American Motors (Milford, CT: The Olde Milford Press, LLC, 2007); Barbara Hillick, “Group 19: AMC high-performance parts were second to none,” Muscle Car Review July 1990; Dave Holls and Michael Lamm, A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design (Stockton, CA: Lamm-Morada Publishing Co. Inc., 1997); Joe Howard, “The 1964 Rambler Tarpon Concept Car,” Fish Tales Vol. 9, No. 2 (March 2008); John F. Katz, “Teague’s Terrific Two-Seater: 1969 AMX 390,” Special Interest Autos #139 (January-February 1994), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT, 2002), pp. 12-19; Richard M. Langworth, “1968-1974 Javelin: AMC’s Thrust Into the Ponycar Arena,” Collectible Automobile October 1987; “Project IV,” Auto Topics April 1966; John Rosa, The Javelin AMX Home Page, 29 May 2009, www.javelinamx. com, accessed 1 February 2010; Julian Schmidt, “What Hath Rambler Wrought?” Motor Trend Vol. 19, No. 9 (September 1967), pp. 30-33; Daniel Strohl, “Attack of the Welterweight: The 1971 Javelin AMX made good on its promise to take on the Big Three,” Hemmings Muscle Machines #22 (July 2005); “The AMX Story,” SoCalAMX.net, n.d., www.socalamx. net, accessed 4 February 2010; and Ray Thursby, “Horse Power: The Ponycars of 1970,” Collectible Automobile Vol. 20, No. 2 (August 2003), pp. 8–23.

Additional information on the Javelin’s racing career came from “Autopista…” Pitlane, 13 August 2015, www.pitlane. mx, accessed 17 August 2015; David Bean, “Professionals at Work: Watch the Penske Team build a Trans Am winner, step by legal, painstaking step,” Car Life January 1970, reprinted in Camaro Muscle Portfolio 1967-1973, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1992); Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, “Appendix ‘J’ to the International Sporting Code: Classification, Definitions, and Specifications of Cars,” 1971, www.fia. com, accessed 16 August 2015; “Tom G.,” “1971 AMC Javelin History,” TransAm Cars, n.d., www.transamcars. com, accessed 1 February 2010; John Pearley Huffman, “Trans Am – The Early Years of American Sedan Racing,” Car Craft February 2009, www.carcraft. com, accessed 1 February 2010; John Phillips, “The Lightweight,” Car and Driver Vol. 39, No. 10 (April 1994), pp. 164-172; Daniel Strohl, “The Racy One,” Hemmings Muscle Machines #36 (September 2006); Francisco Truijillo Teherán, “Descanse en paz, Roberto Arnstein Rada,” Pitlane, 13 June 2014, www.pitlane. mx, accessed 17 August 2015; “Trans Am Racing 1968-1972,” AMX-perience, 2006, www.amx-perience. com, accessed 1 February 2010; and Trans Am Racing, “History,” n.d., gotransam. com/ history/, accessed 16 August 2015.

We also consulted the following period road tests: Wayne Thoms, “MT Road Test: American Motors’ original compact still rolls strong,” Motor Trend February 1963, reprinted in AMC Rambler Limited Edition Extra 1956-1969, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2004); “Engineering the Javelin,” Car Craft January 1968; “Car Life Road Test: 1968 Javelin,” Car Life January 1968; “Road Test: AMX 390,” Car and Driver March 1968; “Autocar Road test Number 2182: Rambler Javelin Hardtop SST,” Autocar 25 April 1968; Bud Lang, “American Motors,” Hot Rod October 1968; “The AMX – Its First Year,” Road Test November 1968; Chris de Fraga, “Javelin SST,” Australian Motor Manual December 1968; “How the Pros Compete with Javelins, AMXs,” Car Life January 1969; “AMX: $3446 Los Angeles,” Road Test February 1969; “Road Test: Javelin SST: American Motors has a new supertransporter,” Motorcade June 1969; “Motor Brief Test: Rambler Javelin 343: Performance with handling,” Motor 27 September 1969; “Giant Test: Javelin [vs.] Mustang,” CAR September 1969; “The AMX…A Matter of Detail,” Motor Trend December 1969; “AMX – the Scene Stealer,” Australian Motor Manual January 1970; “Javelin is changed and all for the better: Same good looks, lots more comfort,” Road Test January 1970; “AM Javelin,” Car and Driver October 1970; “Javelin 360 SST,” Road Test April 1971; “Javelin AMX: Every Little Old Lady in Pasadena needs one,” Sports Car Graphic April 1971; “The Walter Mitty Javelin,” Wheels April 1973; Mel Nichols, “Javelin 401,” Sports Car World May 1973; “Power to the People,” Road Test June 1973; and Jean Calvin, “Economy Test: Javelin 304,” Road Test June 1974, all of which are reprinted in AMX & Javelin Muscle Portfolio 1968-1974; and “The Sporty Cars: Javelin SST vs. Camaro SS396 vs. Firebird 400 HO vs. Mustang 2+2 GT vs. Barracuda Formula S vs. Cougar XR-7,” Car and Driver March 1968, and “Five Car Stud: Camaro RS/SS 350 vs. Mustang Mach 1 vs. Cougar XR-7 351 vs. Firebird 350 vs. Javelin SST 343,” Motor Trend March 1969, both of which are reprinted in The Great Classic Muscle Cars Compared (Muscle Portfolio), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1999).


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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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