Photos by Matthew Litwin.
More than a mere shortened Javelin, the original two-seater AMX was a true sports car in its own right, and for its 50th anniversary next year, AMC enthusiasts are planning both a museum exhibit and a full celebration of both the AMX and its pony car sibling.
AMC first hinted to the public that it had something sportier than the Marlin in the pipeline as early as January 1966, when it debuted its first AMX concept at the Chicago Auto Show. The company then followed that show car with its group of four concept cars collectively known as Project IV, which debuted in June 1966 and included the Vignale-built AMX show car as well as the AMX II.
But as some AMC historians, including author Chris Zinn, have pointed out, those show cars were merely eye candy for the public and for financiers. By early 1966, AMC’s design studios were already hard at work transforming a sketch by Eric Kugler into production-ready versions of both the 97-inch-wheelbase AMX and the 109-inch-wheelbase Javelin.
The latter, which initially wore the name Rogue, would essentially replace the Marlin and compete directly with the Mustang. However, the former would occupy a less defined niche: It would become the first steel-bodied two-seater American car since the first-generation Thunderbird and the only two-seat sports car on the market aside from the Corvette. (Its steel body, lack of a convertible body style, and lower price didn’t put it into direct competition with the Corvette even though some within AMC pushed for just that.)
While the AMX didn’t make it to market with the Rambleseat or the cantilevered roof touted by the early show cars, thanks largely to the first automobile safety regulations, it did introduce the 390-cu.in. AMC V-8, the larger and more powerful version of the 290- and 343-cu.in. V-8s, when it made its official debut in February 1968, about five months after the official public debut of the Javelin, both as 1968 model year vehicles.
The Javelin largely became a one-motorsport model, excelling in Trans-Am racing. The AMX, on the other hand, cut its teeth in a number of motorsports: In SCCA racing, campaigned primarily by the AMC employee racing team; in land-speed racing, campaigned most famously by Craig and Lee Breedlove; and in drag racing, made possible by AMC’s partnership with Hurst, which produced a limited run of 50-plus SS/AMXes in 1969 and 1970. For customer versions of both the Javelin and AMX, AMC heavily promoted its Group 19 line of performance products, including an adjustable rear wing, forged crankshafts, and an Edelbrock cross-ram dual-quad intake manifold.
Ultimately, however, AMC brass decided just a few months into the AMX’s run that they could no longer produce it and the Javelin on separate wheelbases (even though AMC leaned heavily on the concept of extending or shortening a chassis into multiple wheelbases, for instance with the Classic/Rebel/Matador midsize cars and the Ambassador full-size cars or, later, with the Hornet compact cars and the Gremlin sub-compact cars), and decided in mid-1968 that the second-generation AMX and Javelin would share the same basic four-seater body and chassis. AMC styling chief Dick Teague objected and created a hybrid of second-generation AMX front sheetmetal and first-generation AMX body to try to prove that the shorter two-seater body would remain viable, but to no avail.
From then on, any production AMX shared another production AMC car’s body, from the Javelin of 1971-1974 through the Hornet of 1977, the Concord of 1978, and the Spirit of 1979-1980. That is, except for the AMX/3, Teague’s vision of the ultimate AMX. With a mid-engine layout and engineering by Bizzarrini, the AMX/3 would have suddenly and incongruously placed AMX in league with DeTomaso and a number of other Italian supercar builders, had AMC not decided to pull the plug early on the project. Of the six built, all still exist, including one that recently won its class at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a first for an AMC product.
To celebrate 50 years of the AMX, the Kenosha History Center has opened a new exhibit, “AMX: A New and Bold Direction,” which includes the aforementioned Teague hybrid AMX, a one-off Jim Jefford-built AMX-R Rambleseat version of the AMX, and at least a couple original-owner AMXs. The exhibit will run through September 30, 2018.
In addition, the American Motors Owners Association has chosen the 50th anniversary of both the AMX and Javelin as its theme for the club’s 2018 convention, which will take place June 27-30 in Auburn, Indiana.