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Project HMX – farewell, old friend

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Now that I’ve sold off the 1979 AMC AMX that some of you long-time readers know as Project HMX, I have no project car in my garage for the first time in more than 20 years.

While I’d kept the AMX registered and insured ever since putting it on the road in 2011, I hadn’t driven it much over the last five years. In fact, I don’t think I’d started it at all since sometime in 2015 or 2016. Time flies.

Other priorities beckoned over those years, most of them having nothing to do with cars. The few projects that had me wandering into the garage for a tool or some scrap of lumber I’d tucked away had me walking past the AMX every time, every time forcing me to tell myself that I’d get back to it someday and pick up right where I left off. The tires still held air, the stroked 4.0L straight-six that I built still roared right to life every time I remembered to put the battery on a trickle charger, and it still looked good, if in need of some finishing bodywork and paint.

Sometimes I felt like I owed the car something. I’d taken it this far, combining the best parts of at least four rusted-out cars and a few rusted-out Jeeps that had no business being anywhere near a road into one rip-snorter restomod capable of driving anywhere I pleased. I’d made it the subject of countless blog posts and tech articles and restored its interior as part of a tech book that I wrote. I’d defended the project against detractors who told me I’d only throw good money after bad with it. I’d kept it inside while our daily drivers suffered from the elements outside.

Sometimes I wondered if I was doing it right, taking so long to complete it. I kept finding myself writing articles about restorations – even from-scratch complete builds – that took far less time than I had spent on the AMX. Folks were out there enjoying their one-year restos in less time than it took me to select and source the right parts or put the AMX together just to pull it apart again to fix some niggling issue. Often their advice boiled down to simply making the time, taking whatever spare moment you had to get out in the garage to do something, anything, to keep the ball rolling, and I struggled with that, especially as life grew ever more complicated and rushed.

Still, even as I let it languish in the garage, the thought of getting rid of the AMX seemed verboten. Other project vehicles came and went, but the AMX was inviolate, permanent. Other vehicles I could let go with all the emotion of taking out the recycling, but the AMX had been such a large part of my adult life and seen me through so many ups and downs that I might as well have hung on to it forever, allowed it to become part of my identity as much as Sagrada Família became Gaudi’s – if I wasn’t going to finish it, I might as well be buried in it.

As the AMX sat, the battery died for good. The clutch master cylinder leaked down. Cobwebs built around it. Sawdust accumulated on the blankets that covered it. It would have taken me a good hour to put it back on the road at any time over those years, but I saw less and less of a point in it. The next big task was the body and paint, and I’m far less interested in that aspect of restoration (either doing it or paying for it) than in everything I’d done to that point.

And even though I wasn’t working on it, the AMX was still occupying my thoughts – cluttering them, really – with the low-level anxiety of a task set aside unfinished.

The decision to put it up for sale didn’t come easy. It wasn’t due to the big sale of another Spirit AMX at auction recently (though that sale did spur a few tirekickers to inquire about mine in some misguided hope they’d be able to flip mine for big bucks). It wasn’t because I have my sights set on another project (though something will eventually replace it). Instead, it came about as part of an effort to declutter more than anything.

Just as when I sold a treasured Chevrolet Nova not long before I embarked on the AMX project, I’ve told myself I won’t regret the decision. I’ve also had to tell myself that it’s okay to leave projects like this unfinished. After all, I’m not taking on projects like this for anybody but myself, for anybody’s benefit but my own, and the AMX was no longer benefiting me. It might sound like an overly rational decision to cut it loose, but dropping it from my priority list allows me to focus on other things that mean more to me now.

It has gone to an AMC enthusiast – somebody who appreciates the modifications done to the car, who knew about it many years before I made my decision to sell it, and who has promised to update me as he makes the car his own – so that at least soothes the part of me that I have to remind not to regret selling it. But I can also look back on my experience building the car, the satisfaction I had at getting it on the road, and the way it inspired others to take on similar projects as reasons aplenty to appreciate the time I had with the car rather than lament the fact that it no longer sits in my garage.