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

ROBERT EVANS AT AMC

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 had sought to expand the company’s focus beyond the economical Rambler, but ran headlong into tough new competition from GM’s A-body intermediates (the Chevrolet Chevellle/Malibu, Pontiac Tempest/Le Mans, Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass, and Buick Special/Skylark), which were sized and priced much like Rambler’s bread-and-butter Classic line. AMC’s market share began to slip, as did its share prices.

Although some pundits in the business and automotive press were already speculating that American Motors might be on its way out of the auto business, the company’s position did not yet seem unsalvageable. AMC’s debts were manageable, it had modern factories, and it still had the capital to develop new products. American could still be turned around, it seemed, if it could shake off its malaise.

That was the assessment of dashing 59-year-old socialite, sportsman, and venture capitalist Robert Beverly Evans, who made financial headlines in January 1966 by announcing that he had become AMC’s largest individual shareholder. His 200,000+ newly acquired shares earned him a seat on the AMC board of directors. He would become its chairman in June.

Originally from Virginia, Evans was the son of wealthy lumberman Edward S. Evans, founder of the highly successful Evans Products 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. Although none of his past ventures had been in the auto industry, AMC fit a similar pattern: an established but undervalued business in need of new energy and a new direction.

Evans was an investor, not an enthusiast, but he concurred with the contemporary automotive press 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 and economic uncertainty of the fifties, but now the Baby Boomers were reaching driving age and they had no interest 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.

TARGET: MUSTANG

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 — Christopher Ziemnowicz 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, resized by Aaron Severson)

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,” 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 the name 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.

ABERNETHY OUT, CHAPIN IN

Despite Evans’ continued public enthusiasm about AMC’s exciting plans and potential, 1966 was a bad year for the company financially. AMC posted a loss of more than $12 million for the fiscal year, which sent stock prices tumbling by about 25%. Evans, who had increased his personal stake to more than $3 million around the time he became chairman of the board, lost about three-quarters of a million dollars.

Months earlier, Evans had expressed confidence in Abernethy’s leadership, but as the year progressed, the two men butted heads more and more. By the end of the year, Evans was maneuvering to force Abernethy out.

At a contentious board meeting on January 9, 1967, Evans agreed to step down as chairman (although not from the board) in exchange for Abernethy’s taking early retirement. Roy D. Chapin, Jr., who had been appointed executive vice president and general manager in September 1966, succeeded Evans as chairman and CEO while AMC vice president William Luneburg replaced Abernethy as president.

Chapin had a long history with AMC. His father had been one of the founders of Hudson, which had merged with Nash to form American Motors in 1953. Chapin himself had worked for Hudson since the thirties, becoming treasurer after the AMC merger and spending several years in overseas operations after the departure of George Romney. In the short term, Chapin and Luneburg announced layoffs and other cost-cutting measures intended to bolster AMC’s financial position, but Chapin also announced that AMC would now pursue a new and more exciting direction.

ENTER MARY WELLS

The ascension of Chapin and Luneburg brought about a major change in atmosphere at American Motors. Abernethy had tended to manage the company from the top down; AMC employees followed orders from the CEO or the board. By contrast, Luneburg preferred to hire good people and give them enough room to do their best work.

Luneburg gave Teague’s styling department far more leeway than they’d ever had before and moved several executives to new roles that better suited their talents. Among those executives was purchasing director Bill McNealy, who had been an outspoken critic of AMC’s antiquated product and marketing strategies. Luneburg responded by making McNealy the company’s new vice president of marketing.

McNealy was well aware that even with the upcoming launch of the Javelin, making American Motors cars interesting to teenagers was going to be a challenge. American’s dealers knew nothing about the youth market and neither did AMC’s ad agency, the respectable, conservative, old-line New York firm of Benton & Bowles. McNealy decided that the best way to give the Javelin the credibility it needed with young buyers would be to take it racing.

This was a radical concept for American; George Romney had been one of the leading proponents of the 1957 AMA racing ban, a gentleman’s agreement prohibiting automakers from promoting competition or performance. Ford and Chrysler had repudiated the AMA ban years earlier and while GM still officially upheld it, its individual divisions had flaunted the ban repeatedly. American was the only domestic automaker who still assiduously observed it, a holdover from the Romney era.

Dick Teague was an enthusiastic supporter of the competition idea, as were many of the engineers, but management was dubious. Chapin had already made tentative noises to the press about supporting competition, so Luneburg didn’t say no, but he refused to authorize any additional money for a racing program. That was better than a flat “no,” but it was less than McNealy had hoped.

Fortunately, McNealy soon made a powerful new ally. In the spring of 1967, he met Mary Wells, the dynamic senior partner of the ad agency Wells, Rich, Greene, Inc. (WRG). Wells was a former vice president of Doyle Dane Bernbach who had founded her own agency in April 1966. In only a year, she had made WRG the talk of the ad world through her dramatic re-branding of Braniff Airlines and clever TV spots for clients like Alka-Seltzer. McNealy introduced Wells to Chapin and by June had convinced him to move the entire $12 million AMC account to WRG.

THE JAVELIN RACING TEAM

With Wells’ help, McNealy convinced Chapin and Luneburg to authorize a much larger competition budget. In September, AMC hired Victor Raviolo, a former Ford engineer who had led the development of Ford of England’s Lotus Cortina race cars, as group vice president in charge of engineering and styling. Part of his role would be overseeing the development of AMC performance cars and parts for both street and track use.

1969 AMC Javelin front 3q © 2009 CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz PD
The first-generation AMC Javelin looks shorter than a contemporary Mustang, but the Javelin is actually 5.6 inches (142 mm) longer, with an overall length of 189.2 inches (4,806 mm) and a wheelbase of 109 inches (2,769 mm). V8 cars weigh about 3,350 lb (1,520 kg). This is actually a 1969 Javelin SST; the SST trim series included different wheel colors and reclining seats. (Photo: “1969 Javelin SST red w white C-stripe fr” © 2009 CZmarlin — Christopher Ziemnowicz; released to the public domain by the photographer, resized by Aaron Severson)

The first question was what avenues of competition American Motors should pursue. Chapin had already said AMC was not going to pursue stock car racing (although he would later change his mind) and at least in the short term, it was obvious that AMC would be hopelessly outgunned by the well-entrenched NASCAR competition, particularly Chrysler and Ford. As an alternative, Dick Teague’s assistant, Jim Alexander, suggested SCCA Group 2 sedan racing, more commonly known as Trans Am. The Mustang and Camaro were already fighting it out on the Trans Am circuit. If the Javelin could make a good showing there, it would put AMC’s newest car on the map.

AMC began soliciting proposals from established racing managers, including Bob Tullius of Group 44, Ray Caldwell, and Roy Winkelmann, but none fit the bill. Finally, styling consultant Brooks Stevens, a friend of Chapin’s, recommended Jim Jeffords, a former SCCA champion who was then working for an ad agency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Stevens personally flew Jeffords to Detroit to meet with Chapin, who quickly hired him.

Effective October 1, Jeffords and engineer Ron Kaplan became president and vice president of a new AMC subsidiary called Javelin Racing Team (JRT). Their mission was to make a name for the Javelin in Trans Am competition.

THE AMC JAVELIN DEBUTS

AMC introduced the Javelin to dealers via a closed-circuit television broadcast on August 31, 1967. The car made its public debut on September 26, just as the ink was drying on Jeffords’ and Kaplan’s JRT contracts.

To anyone who had seen the Project IV cars, the Javelin’s styling was familiar; the AMX and AMX II show cars had foreshadowed many of its design themes. It was nonetheless a pleasant-looking car, not as extroverted as a Pontiac Firebird, but sleek and nicely proportioned.

1969 AMC Javelin SST rear 3q
The Javelin’s engineering was orthodox pony car stuff. Front suspension was double wishbones with high-mounted coil springs (like the Rambler American or, for that matter, the Ford Mustang) while the rear was a live axle with leaf springs. This 1969 SST has the $34 “Big Bad Orange” paint option, which included body-colored bumpers and bumper overriders. Alternate choices were Big Bad Blue and Big Bad Green.

Mechanically, the Javelin had a great deal in common with the contemporary Rambler American sedan, although the Javelin had a unique body shell, not shared with any existing car. Standard power was a 232 cu. in. (3,801 cc) six with 145 gross horsepower (108 kW). AMC’s recently introduced small V8 was optional with a choice of 290 or 343 cu. in. (4,751 or 5,624 cc) and up to 280 gross horsepower (209 kW). The options list also offered front disc brakes, four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission, heavy-duty suspension, and the usual assortment of convenience options. Helpfully, the Javelin was priced a little bit below the Mustang; a basic Javelin started at under $2,500, undercutting the six-cylinder Camaro and Mustang by more than $100.

Having gone more than three years without an answer to the Mustang, you’d think that AMC’s sales organization and dealers would be ecstatic about the Javelin. Some were excited, but others were nervous about or even baffled by the new car; the Javelin represented new territory for AMC and AMC salesmen. Roy Chapin’s sales projections were similarly cautious. Recognizing that the Javelin was arriving late to a crowded market segment, he announced that AMC’s sales target was a modest 35,000 to 40,000 units. By comparison, Ford had sold nearly 12 times that many Mustangs in 1967 while 1967 Camaro sales totaled more than 220,000.

1969 AMC Javelin SST front
The body-colored bumpers on the 1969 “Big Bad” AMC Javelins were still novel at the time; Plymouth adopted a similar scheme for the 1970 E-body Barracuda and Dodge Challenger. This car has the 390 (6,384 cc) V8 with 315 gross horsepower (209 kW). There was a “Group 19” high-performance camshaft kit for both the 390 and the 343, increasing horsepower to a claimed 343 hp (256 kW) and 308 hp (230 kW), respectively. Unfortunately, AMC’s elderly Borg-Warner automatic was not really up to the task; in 1972, American finally replaced it with Chrysler’s vastly superior three-speed TorqueFlite.

Press response to the Javelin was generally positive. Even British reviewers liked the AMC pony car’s styling, although some critics were none too fond of its molded-plastic dashboard. The Javelin’s handling and performance won praise, but its brakes were mediocre and its optional handling suspension made for a choppy ride. The Javelin also shared many of the failings of its peers, including limited trunk space, poor rear visibility, and so-so composure over rough pavement. In all, it was a thoroughly competent but not groundbreaking example of the pony car breed.

Early sales were encouraging, leading AMC to increase Javelin production by more than 10%, aided by a series of irreverent print and TV ads courtesy of WRG, which even dared to violate an unspoken Detroit taboo by directly comparing the Javelin to its competitors.

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.

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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  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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