AMC AMX (1968-1970)
Article by Mark Trotta
In the mid sixties, American Motors Corporation was best known for producing safe and economic cars. However, safe and economic cars were not selling, so newly-appointed chairman Roy Chapin Jr. proposed getting the struggling company back on its feet by entering the performance ring. With high performance, sharp handling, and unique styling, the two-seat AMX would become the crown jewel of AMC's performance years.
The AMX (American Motors eXperimental) concept began in 1965, under the guidance of designer Charles Mashigan. A year later, a steel-bodied working prototype, built by Italian coach builder Vignale, started appearing at car shows. The long hood/short tail car stirred interest, and AMC executives agreed it should be put into production.
Designers and engineers approximated the styling and proportions of the show car by sectioning nearly two feet from the unibody of the Javelin pony car. While the latter was designed to compete with pony cars like the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang, the AMX's closest competitor was the Chevy Corvette. In 1968, the base price of a Corvette was $4,275. The AMX base price was under $3,300.
AMC's new line of V8's featured large displacements with minimal external dimensions and a moderate weight of about 550 pounds. The base motor of the AMX was a four-barrel 290ci V-8, which produced 225-horsepower.
Above the 290 motor, there was an optional four-barrel 343ci engine, making 280-horsepower. The big news was an optional 390ci V8, complete with forged-steel crankshaft, forged-steel connecting rods, 10.2:1 compression, and a 4-barrel Carter-AFB carburetor. Power output was 315-horsepower, with a tire-shredding 415 lb/ft of torque.
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Backing up all this power was a Borg-Warner 4-speed transmission and a limited-slip rear axle. The rear suspension had a pair of rear trailing arms which acted like traction bars, eliminating rear wheel hop and getting power to the pavement.
A short 97" wheelbase and standard heavy-duty suspension helped make the AMX one of the best-handling American-made cars of its day. 11-inch disc brakes were fitted up front, with 10-inch drum brakes in the rear. Steering was power-assist recirculating-ball system.
The interior featured fully reclining adjustable bucket seats. Carpeted panels ran up the back and to the bottom of the rear window. The driver's side dash-pad housed both a round, large-face speedometer and tachometer. Optional "Go-Pack" gauges were mounted in the center section of the dash.
At 3,000 pounds, a 390-equipped AMX in stock trim was capable of 0-to-60 MPH in under 7 seconds, with quarter-mile times under 15 seconds. Optional twin racing stripes down the hood, roof, and trunk made the AMX look as fast as it went.
The second-year AMX received only minor changes. Interior upgrades included standard headrests, optional leather seats, and revised door panels. The speedometer now read 0-140 mph. Starting mid-year, manual transmissions had closer gear ratios - cars so equipped came with a Hurst shifter. The 1969 AMX was named "Best Engineered Car of the Year" by the American Society of Automotive Engineers.
Big Bad AMX
Also offered mid-year was the special-edition "Big Bad AMX" option. Cars were painted bumper to bumper in either Big Bad Orange, Big Bad Green, or Big Bad Blue, with optional white or black stripes. A Big Bad-colored AMX could be ordered with any engine and transmission option. (Production numbers for this option are Big Bad Blue- 195, Big Bad Green- 283, Big Bad Orange- 284.)
1969 S/S AMX
In the fall of 1969, AMC and Hurst teamed up to build specially-equipped AMX models to compete in NHRA Super Stock racing. Rules required a minimum of fifty examples to be available to the public, so fifty-two 390-equipped 4-speed cars were taken from the Kenosha assembly line and sent to Hurst facilities in Michigan. Once there, they received 12.3:1 compression-ratio cylinder heads, an Edelbrock cross-ram intake, two four-barrel Holley carburetors, aftermarket headers and exhaust system.
Although the official rating was 340, the real horsepower figure of the S/S AMX was closer to 420. Most models were painted in vertical bands of red, white, and blue, while some were simply plain white. All had a large, forward-facing scoop mounted on the hood. The S/S AMX's best recorded quarter-mile time was 10.73 seconds at 128 mph.
The third and final year of the two-seat AMX saw a minor restyle, including new front grille, longer hood with functional ram-air induction system, and revised tail lamps.
The base engine was now a 360ci V-8. Better-breathing exhaust ports and a switch from Carter to Motorcraft four-barrel carburetor improved performance on both the 360 and optional 390-cid motor. Front suspension was also upgraded. Inside, a wood-grained dashboard, center console, and two-spoke steering wheel were new, as were taller bucket seats with integrated headrests.
After disappointing sales, American Motors discontinued the two-seat AMX after just three model years. Production totals were 6,725 for 1968, 8,293 for 1969, and 4,116 for 1970.
Dick Teague, vice-president of AMC from 1964 to 1983, said this in an interview after the original AMX was canceled:
"I feel very strongly that the AMX could have kept going as a two-passenger car. It just needed a little bit more development. As it was, it gave the Corvettes a really hard time in some of the local races! If it had just had a little more development time, and had been kept in the picture for another year or two, I think sales would have started back up and it could have hung in there. Because the Corvette didn't do so well the first couple, three years, either. It takes time to develop these things. It's like a business. It may not do too well at first, but you've got to stay with it."
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Always to have identity issues with its stable-mate, the AMX nameplate was used on 1971 through 1974 Javelins, but every two-seat AMX owner will quickly correct you if you call their car a Javelin. Although the two shared similarities, it was the two-seat version that was the unique blend of muscle car and sports car.