Photos by Jeff Koch.
Fiberglass or steel? For most cars headed for volume production, the answer is obvious: Steel is inexpensive, easy to work with, and long lasting. But for AMC’s two-seater AMX, the inevitable comparisons to the Corvette made that decision a little tougher and worth the time and expense to build at least a couple prototype fiberglass AMXs, the last of which will head to auction this fall.
In the mid-1960s, the Chevrolet Corvette dominated the domestic two-seat sports car field – easy to do considering it had been essentially the only game in town for almost a decade. And then came along American Motors with its AMX concept, first exhibited at car shows as a non-running mockup in early 1966 and then as a Vignale-bodied runner in the latter half of the year.
A steel-bodied runner, that is. And if, all else being equal, performance came down to weight, wouldn’t it make sense to explore bodying the AMX in fiberglass? As Chris Zinn, author of AMX Photo Archive: From Concept to Reality, wrote, AMC’s chairman of the board, Robert Evans, believed so. In fact, he believed in fiberglass so much he took his ideas to at least a couple companies already working with the material – Bradley Automotive and Borg-Warner’s plastics division – before tasking the construction of a couple prototypes to a third company at about the same time that Vignale was working on that steel-bodied AMX.
Most sources peg that third company as Smith Inland in Ionia, Michigan, though Leon Dixon, who is currently researching the history of Creative Industries of Detroit, said it is Creative which built the prototypes. Given that Ionian Don Mitchell sold his fiberglass business to Ionia-based A.O. Smith in 1964 and that he had partial ownership of Creative, it’s no stretch to see how the companies could be intertwined.
As to how many of the fiberglass prototypes Smith/Creative built, some sources, including Zinn and Dixon, claim two. However, the current owners of one of the prototypes, Austin and Lee Hagerty, suggest it was three. Everybody seems to agree that the prototypes were sent to AMC’s proving grounds in Burlington, Wisconsin, where one was crash tested rather spectacularly. “The car just flew apart on impact and Mr. Evans said, ‘We can’t build a car like that – it’s unsafe,'” Zinn wrote.
Everybody also seems to agree that only one of the fiberglass prototypes remains extant, one fitted with a 343-cu.in. V-8, four-speed transmission, and a version of the Vignale AMX’s Rambleseat. Slated for destruction, it survived thanks in part to Domenick Jiardine, who had worked at the Kenosha AMC plant since the 1950s and whose brother, Joe, worked at the proving grounds. Jiardine, a line worker and old car collector, asked AMC president Bill Luneburg if he could have the doomed prototype. Luneburg told him a week later he could have it for $50.
The prototype has remained in Jiardine’s family since then, passing on to Jiardine’s nephew-in-law, Lee Hagerty, and Lee’s son Austin after Jiardine’s death in 2012. The next year we featured the prototype in the pages of Hemmings Classic Car, and now the Hagerty family has consigned the prototype to Mecum’s Chicago auction. Mecum has yet to release a pre-auction estimate for the car.
Mecum’s Chicago auction will take place October 8-10 in the Schaumburg Convention Center. For more information, visit Mecum.com.