Fact 851: Forget about the 1968 AMX, Rambler beat Corvette to the hot post–World War II two-seat sports car market by more than two years. The car was the 1951–1954 Nash-Healey, a European designed and built sportster with the heart of a 140-hp twin-carb Nash Statesman OHV six-cylinder.
First introduced on February 16, 1951, by the time the first Corvette emerged from GM’s makeshift Flint, Michigan, assembly plant on June 30, 1953, nearly 300 Nash-Healeys had been built— 134 in 1951, 150 in 1952, 162 in 1953, and 90 in 1954. The NashHealey’s primary downfall was price. At just under $6,000 it cost twice as much as a Corvette.
The 1951–1954 Nash-Healey sports car heavily influenced the 1955 Thunderbird and demonstrated to Carroll Shelby the efficiency of teaming a lightweight European chassis and potent American drivetrain.
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Fact 852: Had the midsize Marlin of 1965–1966 (112-inch wheelbase) been built on the compact Rambler American platform (106- inch wheelbase)—as was AMC styling chief Dick Teague’s original intent—it likely would have appealed to Mustang (and Barracuda) buyers and sold in far greater numbers. In fact, the production Marlin’s fastback roof line was borrowed directly from the Tarpon, a one-off 1964 Rambler American show car.
Teague left his studio for a family vacation in Europe. While gone, AMC president Roy Abernethy mandated the roof treatment be transferred to the larger Classic platform, with awkward results. In its first year, the oddly proportioned Marlin sold 10,327 units compared to 77,079 Mustang 2+2 fast backs. Marlin sales tumbled 56 percent in 1966 to 4,547 (versus 35,698 Mustang 2+2s).
Hoping to reverse the slide, a misguided decision was made to transfer the Marlin to the full-size Ambassador chassis (118-inch wheelbase), which further highlighted the controversial styling. Sales dropped to 2,545 units before the plug was pulled. It makes you wonder how things would have gone had Teague stayed home.
Fact 853: AMC fans watching the 1968–1975 Adam-12 TV cop show initially endured the sight of officers Malloy and Reed tooling the streets of Los Angeles in a series of 383-powered Plymouth Belvedere and Satellite squad cars. But with the 1972 season, a 401 Matador arrived and was used through the end of the series.
My then-eight-year-old eyes were attracted to the bright-red 401 fender emblems and down-jutting twin tailpipes like magnets. The switch mirrored the LAPD’s real-life use of 401 Matador squad cars from 1972 through 1975.
Fact 854: An odd scene from the 1979 ABC made-for-television movie Hot Rod (see Fact #718) shows the theft of an AMC Matador police car. The aim was to yank its high-performance engine for use in the hero’s Willys gasser drag machine. The big surprise is that the scene depicts a Mopar 426 Hemi being extracted from the Matador’s engine bay. What, a 401 wasn’t good enough?
Fact 855: Rumors persist that every 1968–1970 AMX started life as a full-size Javelin body shell. Once assembled, a 12-inch chunk was sliced from behind the front seats on a specialized modification line. This is not true. Though AMC worked with a much smaller budget than its Detroit competitors, this level of hand fabrication would have been far too costly.
The fact is, AMC body engineers designed a specific body shell for the two-seat AMX. Thus, two-seat AMXs (97-inch wheelbase) and five-seat Javelins (109-inch wheelbase) employed dedicated body shells that traveled down the same Kenosha, Wisconsin, assembly line on their way toward completion as finished automobiles.
Fact 856: Did Chevrolet secretly make engines for Rambler or AMC passenger cars? This bit of confusion stems from the fact that both manufacturers used the same 327-cubic-inch displacement. But that’s all they have in common.
The Chevy 327 (1962–1969) was the product of a 4.00-inch bore and 3.25-inch stroke. The AMC 327 (1956–1966) shared the same 4.00×3.25 internal dimensions, but is of much heftier construction and no parts interchange.
Fact 857: Similarly, rumors hold that AMC purchased the obsolete first-generation Buick Nailhead V-8 tooling and used it to construct the 1971 401. Again, the Buick 401 (1959–1966) was an entirely different design and nothing interchanges except for oil, coolant, and gasoline.
Helping to fuel the confusion is the fact Kaiser sourced Buickbuilt second-generation 350 V-8s for use in Jeep Wagoneers from 1968–1971. When AMC bought Kaiser in 1970, a top priority was replacing the Buick 350 with the AMC 360. But again, since both engine families (coincidentally) share a front-mounted distributor, conspiracy theorists assume collusion where there is none.
Fact 858: The Pacer arrived in 1975 with a choice of 232 or 258 sixcylinder power. In 1978, the 130-hp 304 2-barrel was added to the option sheet. If you happen to see a V-8 Pacer, remember, only 3,528 of the 279,094 made was V-8 equipped. That’s about 1 in 80. Verification is as easy as spotting an H in the seventh digit of the VIN. The V-8 necessitated a restyled grille and bulged hood, details also applied to six-cylinder cars.
Randall Rambler in Mesa, Arizona, saw enough potential to stuff 401s under the Pacer’s pancake hood, thus creating a small fleet of Pacer 401-XR muscle machines, which followed on the heels of the Randall Rambler Gremlin 401-XR of 1972–1974. About 20 Gremlins got the 401 swap, but the quantity of Pacer installations is unknown.
Fact 859: Did AMC president George Romney really say that? In an unfortunate confirmation of just how out of touch Romney’s management team was with predominant market trends, in 1964 the dignified executive proclaimed “The only race Rambler cares about is the human race.”
Further proof of Kenosha’s stubborn anti-performance stance was displayed in a full-page 1964 magazine ad depicting blurred images of (non-AMC) stock cars running in close formation on a NASCAR track. The ad copy read “Out of its proper place, racing is deadly. Yet there are those who are glamorizing and advertising race-track speeds in order to sell cars. This is not in the public interest and Rambler will have no part in it.”
Romney (father of politician Mitt Romney) might as well have posted armed guards at Rambler dealerships excluding access to thrill-seeking baby boomers.
Fact 860: After watching the youth market run in the opposite direction for three years, Rambler embraced high performance and coughed up a cool million bucks to fund the 1967 Grant Rebel SST fuel funny car. Built by Michigan racers Dave Jeffers and “Banzai” Bill Hayes with assistance from piston ring giant Grant Industries and AMC, the state-of-the-art flip-top fueler was based on a Logghe Brothers–style tube frame. It was covered by a fiberglass replica of the restyled 1967 Rebel body shell, which was made using a pilotproduction Rebel hardtop borrowed from an AMC executive.
Best of all, power came from an AMC V-8. Its 438-inch 6-71 supercharged mill was based on a 343 with stroke increased from 3.28 to 3.75 inches and topped by ported 343 heads. With 1,200 hp, it ran a best of 8.11 at 180.85 mph with Hayden Proffitt at the wheel.
Fact 861: Other high-profile AMC drag cars of the 1960s included Preston Honea’s altered-wheelbase 1965 Bill Kraft Rambler Marlin match racer and Doug Thorley’s fiberglass 1968 Javelin fuel funny car. Though appealing, both cars annoyed hardcore AMC stalwarts with their Chrysler Hemi powerplants. Honea’s 9.57/139-mph Marlin was motivated by a Hilborn injected 426 Hemi, while Thorley’s innovative Javelin 1 flip-top funny car (the body hinged at the front instead of the rear) employed a GMC-huffed Chrysler 392. Honea’s Marlin confused newbies with its cast-aluminum rocker covers, which were engraved with “Rambler Marlin.”
It wasn’t the first case of tricky wordplay; the cast-aluminum rocker covers on the GMC-supercharged Chrysler 392 Hemi in Lew Arrington’s Brutus altered-wheelbase 1965 Pontiac GTO were engraved with “Hemi Pontiac.” I’m guessing nobody was fooled.
Fact 862: AMC engine fans were dealt a sweet reward in the 1970s thanks to a string of highly competitive Gremlin and Hornet machines raced in NHRA Pro Stock action. Spearheaded by the efforts of Wally Booth, the second-generation 290-401–based engine architecture proved itself a valid threat to anything appearing in the opposite lane, including the small-block Chevy, Cleveland-head Ford smallblock, and even the Hemi (in destroked form).
Booth’s Hornet set numerous national records and was no underdog. But it didn’t end there. Records were also set in NASCAR and Trans-Am competition, establishing the second-generation 290-401 engine as a potent design with lots of potential.
Fact 863: The limited-production 1957 Rambler Rebel (1,500 built) may stand as the fi rst muscle car—at least when the 1964 Pontiac GTO’s big-engine-in-compact-car recipe is the guiding light. Remember, the 1955 Chrysler C-300 was a full-size car.
By contrast the Rebel’s 108-inch wheelbase, 191-inch overall length (without optional externally-mounted spare tire) and 3,353-pound shipping weight were decidedly of the compact class. Throw in a standard, solid-cammed, dual-exhaust, 4-barrel 327 V-8, heavy-duty suspension and brakes, exclusive platinum-andgold body markings, and you’ve got a precursor to the mighty Goat—if you can ignore the four-door body shell. A key element in the Rebel’s performance was the standard 4.10:1 rear axle ratio when fitted with the 3-speed/OD stick. Hydramatic-equipped Rebels were fitted with a less thrilling 3.15:1 gear set.
Fact 864: Like Chevrolet’s strategy of creating fanfare by restricting availability of the new 350 small-block exclusively to the Camaro SS350 for the 1967 model year, the image-changing 290 and 390 engines made their respective debuts aboard limitedproduction showcase models. The 290 was exclusive to the 19661 ⁄2 Rambler American Rogue (8,718 built) before going mainstream for the 1967 model year.
Two years later, the exciting 390 V-8 was only available as the top engine option aboard the two-seat 19681 ⁄2 AMX (6,725 built). American Motors so wanted to capitalize on the ground-breaking AMX, when the production embargo was lifted in 1969, the 390 was still referred to as the AMX 390, whether it was installed in an Ambassador station wagon or SC/Rambler.
Fact 865: 1968 Javelin buyers were not given access to the 390 until after the February introduction of the AMX. The most potent engine offering for pre-AMX Javelins was the 280-hp 343 4-barrel. When the door finally opened, Javelin buyers paid an extra $273.40 for the 390’s 315 hp and 425 ft-lbs of torque. Since it looked the same as a 290, sneaky Javelin street racers were known to swap the metal 390 quarter-panel badges for 290 units for stoplight fun and games.
Fact 866: The 390-powered 1969 SC/Rambler stands as AMC’s most brutal creation, from a power-to-weight standpoint. But few are aware Rambler prepared a dress rehearsal of sorts with the 19671 ⁄2 Super-American. Motivated by the 280-hp Typhoon 343 V-8, every Super-American was equipped with a Carter AFB 4-barrel, Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed manual transmission, TwinGrip differential, power front disc-brakes, and red-line bias-ply tires mounted on 14×5.5-inch steel rims. Best of all, the engine and transmission package was offered in any American body style except station wagons.
I get chills imagining a gloss-black, four-door, radio-delete sedan with rubber fl oor mats spinning its red-line tires in front of shocked Chevelle SS396 drivers.
Fact 867: As cool as the Super-American was, it kept an ugly, performance-choking secret—single exhaust. That’s right, like the 19661 ⁄2 American Rogue with its 225-hp 290 4-barrel V-8, the revhappy 343 V-8 in the Super-American was forced to exhale through a single-exhaust system. Speculation abounds that AMC intentionally sought to dull performance since the package was much more potent than anything that had come before.
Fact 868: Long before the 1979 arrival of Camaro Z/28 CHP police cars and the 1982 Mustang Special Service Package (SSP), AMC answered law-enforcement pleas for a fast highway interceptor with the 1971 fleet service Javelin.
Unlike the 1979 CHP Camaro Z/28 program with a mere twelve evaluation cars (see Fact #14), large volumes of 401-powered Javelins (not AMXs) were produced in 1971–1972. The Alabama Department of Public Safety alone bought 132 cars (plus a non- fleet 401 AMX test car). Other agencies using 401 Javelins included the town of Muskego, Wisconsin, and the Georgia state police, which evaluated two units.
About sixteen Alabama state police 401 Javelins are known to survive, one is on display at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum on the grounds of the Talladega, Alabama, superspeedway.
Fact 869: When the restyled 1968 Corvette was introduced, AMC styling chief Dick Teague wasted no time buying one from a local Chevrolet dealership in Detroit. Its first visit was to the Advanced Styling Studio on Plymouth Road, where AMC body design teams swarmed over its many compound curves.
One look at the second-generation (1971–1974) Javelin’s arched front and rear fender lines proves they studied well. Such acts of plagiarism are not uncommon. The twin hood blisters on the 1957 Corvette were lifted directly off the Mercedes 300SL, and it’s no secret the 1970 Dodge Challenger’s lines aped those of the 1969 Camaro. After all, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
Fact 870: Like Area 51 and Studio 54, AMC’s Group 19 performance parts section has been clouded in mystery. Group 19 was simply the 19th of the AMC Master Parts Catalog’s 28 sections and is where dealer-installed high-performance equipment was offered.
Similar to competing programs such as Muscle Parts (Ford), Hustle Stuff (Dodge), and others, goodies included Edelbrock intake manifolds, Crane cams and valvetrain parts, Mallory dual-point distributors, Trendsetter faux side pipes, low (highnumeric) gear sets, and more. Though assigned offi cial AMC part numbers, most items were manufactured by outside vendors.
Fact 871: When AMC restyled the Javelin in 1971, it retained the rear bumper used on the 1968–1970 Javelin/AMX to save cost. When viewing the entire car, the shared bumper is rarely noticed.
Fact 872: A subtle change made to the 1973 Javelin body was the elimination of the simulated T-top shapes pressed into the roof panels of 1971–1972 models. Though never offered, a Corvette-style T-top roof would have been a nice way to appease Javelin shoppers looking for open-air motoring. Javelin (and AMX) was never offered as a convertible. However, each of its pony car competitors (except for the Mercury Cougar) listed a ragtop on the menu.
Fact 873: The 1970 Mark Donohue Signature Edition Javelin was released to homologate not only the four-bolt V-8 engine block (see Fact #901) but also the trunk-mounted fi berglass ducktail spoiler. The spoiler was designed by Donohue and Roger Penske at the Plymouth Road design studios in Detroit and executed in clay by AMC employees Keith Goodnough and Len Croskey. Though rarely seen on 1970 Javelins, an identical spoiler became standard equipment on every 1971–1974 AMX. All 1967–1974 Javelins and AMXs share the same trunk lid, so swapping the ducktail unit onto non-spoiler cars is easy.
Fact 874: Before the 1970 arrival of the race proven Donohue/Penske ducktail, AMC stylists sought to reduce lift with a novel roofmounted spoiler. A simple, streamlined fiberglass airfoil affixed above the backlite with four bolts. Testing performed in the June 1969 issue of Car Life magazine failed to show any effect whatsoever at speeds below 115 mph (the test didn’t go any higher).
Spoiler swappers hoping to add the Javelin’s sleek, bodycolored wing to a 1968–1970 two-seat AMX are frustrated to learn the unit is not interchangeable. The AMX has different surface contours that prohibit the swap.
Fact 875: The 1968 AMX shared numerous body panels with the Javelin including doors, front fenders, front and rear bumpers, taillights, headlight surrounds, back glass, and trunk lid. Items exclusive to the AMX include the quarter panels, side glass, roof panel, grille, and hood skin.
By all accounts, Dick Teague’s styling staff did a great job of giving each car a distinctive look despite the high number of shared components.
Fact 876: Body-colored bumpers were a major styling trend in the late 1960s and could be found on muscle and pony cars such as the GTO, Firebird, Camaro, ’Cuda, and Challenger. But while competing carmakers utilized urethane-coated steel bumpers with hidden fasteners, AMC’s limited budget forced a more basic approach.
Introduced in 1969, Javelins and AMXs ordered in Big Bad Orange (paint code 3A), Green (paint code 4A), or Blue (paint code 2A) came with standard steel-bumper pressings that were simply painted body color. Specially formulated paints resisted fl aking but it was a far cry from the rubber-like surface textures used by the competition. To emphasize the grille opening, a thin strip of bright aluminum molding was added to Big Bad front bumpers (this bit of trim is extremely rare today).
Fact 877: The Big Bad body color option continued for the 1970 model year, but AMC dropped the painted bumpers and reverted to the standard chrome guards used on regular models. Any engine/ transmission combination could be had with the Big Bad package, though most were high-performance units with the 343, 360, or 390 powerplants.
By 1971, the visual narcotics were eliminated from the option sheet. Dick Teague lobbied for the inclusion of Big Bad Yellow in 1969 but it didn’t make the cut. Nonetheless, Teague had his personal AMX/3 sports car painted that shade.
Fact 878: After the 1971 Javelin body restyle, the only way to get the Mark Donohue–inspired trunk spoiler was to buy an AMX. Lesser Javelins made due with the standard, fl at, trunk panel. The lone exception (aside from post-retail over-the-counter installations) was the fleet of 401 Javelins built for the Alabama state police. Each was factory fitted with an AMX trunk spoiler. Surprisingly, the goal wasn’t enhanced aerodynamics, but rather the large ducktail’s surface area was an ideal location for “State Trooper” markings.
Fact 879: A feature unique to the 1971–1972 Alabama state police Javelins was the substitution of the metal AMX emblem (normally affixed to the passenger side of the trunk spoiler) with a 401 badge. In addition to gently discouraging would-be evaders, the emblem served to cover the empty mounting pin holes left in the absence of the AMX badge.
Fact 880: Though dealers and retail buyers alike pleaded for it, the 1968– 1970 Javelins and AMXs built with 4-speed transmissions were never offered with a console surrounding the shift handle, which was a popular Mustang and Camaro feature. Buyers had to wait until 1971 when an extra $58 finally put a sleek console between the buckets.
Automatic-equipped cars were offered with a console.
Fact 881: A new, low-gloss black paint treatment called Shadow Mask arrived for 1970 Javelins and AMXs. Applied to the tops of the hood and front fenders then around the side windows, the $52 effect was first seen on the 1968 AMX GT show car (a non-running push-mobile combining an AMX nose with what later became the 1970 Gremlin’s Kamm back).
The Shadow Mask treatment was applied to 982 of the 4,116 1970 AMXs built (along with some late-production Rebel Machines), and though attractive, it was highly prone to stains.
AMC applied Shadow Mask paint to the body prior to engine installation and it covered the entire engine bay. A correctly restored Shadow Mask car must not have a body-colored engine bay
Fact 882: Spotting a 1968–1969 Go-Pack Javelin or AMX was made easy due to the inclusion of twin racing stripes applied over the top of the car (deleted upon request). The Go-Pack added heavy-duty suspension, a Twin-Grip differential, power disc brakes, extra-duty cooling with a 7-blade fan, and E70-14 red-line tires. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the door tag or VIN plate that verifies the presence of Go-Pack equipment. That’s all found on paper documents such as the window sticker, dealer order form, and build sheet. The Go-Pack was not available on any sixcylinder Javelin, 304 Javelin, or 290 AMX in 1968–1970.
Fact 883: 1968 was the only year for antiquated column-shifter 3-speed manual transmission controls on first-generation six-cylinder base Javelins. The shift handle was sportingly relocated to the fl oor in 1969 and 1970. However, grandpa’s three-on-the-tree returned inside the restyled 1971 Javelin but only on cars equipped with the base 232 inline six-cylinder. All others featured floor-mounted, manual-shift levers, including the optional 258-cube inline sixcylinder and all V-8s.
Fact 884: The 1969 SC/Rambler was only produced as a two-door hardtop (model 6909). There were no pillar coupes (model 6906) produced and certainly no convertibles. All legitimate SC/Ramblers carry transmission code M (4-speed, floor-shift manual) in the VIN’s third position, and engine code X (390 4-barrel) in the seventh place of the VIN.
Fact 885: The SC/Rambler was sold in two paint schemes. The first 500 were painted white with bold red side panels and a blue central racing stripe. These are known as “A paint scheme” cars. A second production run of 512 were painted white with more subtle blue and red graphics on the lower door and rocker lines. These are referred to as “B paint scheme” cars. As a final hurrah, a third run of 500 “A paint scheme” cars were built, bringing the total 1969 SC/Rambler output to 1,512 units. All were fitted with a standard fiberglass hood scoop, the first factory-installed, external cold-air induction system in AMC history.
Fact 886: To cut costs, the 1970 AMX lost its exclusive fender and rear quarter panel extensions for revised parts that were shared with the Javelin. The money saved allowed for an exciting new domed metal hood (also optional on Javelin), which was only functional if the Go-Pack was ordered. Not counting the quasistreetable fleet of 53 Hurst-modified 1969 S/S AMXs, this marked the first application of ram air for the Javelin and AMX.
Fact 887: Each of the 53 Hurst-modified 1969 S/S AMXs was originally painted Frost White and was specially constructed without a heater, radio, sound deadener, rocker panel trim, or dual horns. The sticker price of $5,994 was almost $2,300 more than a loaded AMX. The extra coin helped pay for the fully race-prepped 390, but AMC still took a loss on each unit.
Fact 888: With its abbreviated trunk compartment, each 1968–1970 AMX was shipped with a standard BFGoodrich Space Saver collapsible spare tire. Javelin buyers wanting a little extra cargo capacity could also opt for the inflate-on-demand spare for an extra $20.80. These mini-spares were mounted on steel wheels that were painted orange to discourage prolonged use.
Fact 889: AMC changed the gas pedal design from a floor-hinged mount to a suspended pivot on all 1969 models. The driver got better modulation (“pedal feel”) but the greater benefit for hot rodders was on the other side of the firewall. The previous mechanical carburetor linkage gave way to a simple push-pull cable, which simpli- fied carburetor and intake manifold swaps.
Fact 890: AMC’s first mass utilization of fiberglass body panels came with the bulged cowl-induction hood featured on the 1971– 1974 AMX. The same compression-molded fiberglass outer skin was offered in functional and non-functional modes with a shared steel under-brace. Functional cowl-inducted hoods included a triangular metal insert with a round opening to feed the top of the air cleaner housing and a metal mesh screen to prevent debris entry. Nonfunctional variants were blocked. Cowl induction was optional with the 360 and 401 through 1973 but was terminated for the 1974 model year.
With cancellation of the Javelin/AMX looming for 1975, supplies of fiberglass hoods ran out and were not replenished. As a result, some late-build 1974 AMXs were delivered to customers with standard, flat, steel Javelin hoods. All but a handful of the 15,470 1971–1974 AMX hoods made were fiberglass. In retrospect, AMC might have saved money had it tooled the AMX hood in steel versus resorting to labor-intensive fiberglass construction.
Fact 891: Rambler Rebels equipped with Bendix Electrojector that campaigned at the 1957 NASCAR Daytona speed weeks were pre-production pilot cars. Though none were sold to private individuals, AMC was clearly optimistic its $395 EFI system would catch on. Every 1957 Rambler Rebel owner’s manual contains a description of the Electrojector’s features and benefits, though none were sold to John Q. Public. In the end, Chrysler adopted a variant of the Bendix system and offered it in 1958, with similarly underwhelming results (see Fact #820).
Fact 892: Through the 1971 model year, automatic-transmission AMC cars were penalized by heavy cast-iron Borg-Warner units of limited strength and efficiency. For 1972 and beyond, AMC inked a deal with Chrysler to use its superior aluminumcase 904 and 727 Torqueflite automatic transmissions. The AMC cases were specifically cast with bellhousings configured to match AMC engine blocks and are non-interchangeable with Chrysler units.
It’s too bad these improved automatic transmissions arrived too late for installation in 1960s AMC muscle cars, though they’re a popular modern upgrade among restorers and racers. With the equipment switch came a change in nomenclature. The BorgWarner ’box was called the Shift-Command, while AMC sold the Chrysler-sourced units under the Torque-Command name.
Fact 893: The second-generation AMC V-8 arrived in 1966, but was only available in the compact American platform, displacing 290 cubic inches. Buyers specifying a V-8 in larger 1966 AMC models (Classics, Marlins, and Ambassadors) soldiered on with the hefty first-generation 287 or 327 V-8. 1966 is the only year both engine families were produced simultaneously. At 620 pounds, the first-generation V-8 was too heavy for use in the compact American platform, an issue that the thin-wall 475-pound 290 easily addressed.
Fact 894: The 287-cube variant of the first-generation AMC V-8 arrived halfway through the 1963 model year. It was the result of persistent dealer complaints stemming from the discontinuation of the base 250-cube V-8 after the 1960 model year; it was a move that left Rambler dealers without an optional V-8 for the popular Classic midsize line (which accounted for 58 percent of total sales volume).
The 19631 ⁄2 287 provided an alternative to the straight-6 and was purely an economy engine. It stands as the only AMC V-8 engine never offered with a 4-barrel carburetor. All 287s were fitted with economical 2-barrel induction and single exhaust. By contrast, the 1956–1960 250 V-8 was available with an optional Holley 4-barrel.
Fact 895: I have personally inspected an all-aluminum first-generation Rambler 327 V-8 block and heads. The property of noted Rambler historian Larry Daum, the prototype sand-cast aluminum components were made by Alcoa in the late 1950s and were part of an interest-building campaign meant to attract business from Detroit automakers (Alcoa also rendered other popular engines in aluminum at the time). No fruits of this project ever reached the showroom floor.
Fact 896: American Motors lead engine designer Dave Potter endowed the 1966-up second-generation V-8 with generous 4.75-inch bore centers (the measured distance between the centerlines of adjoining cylinder bores). The greater the bore center, the more displacement potential exists. This detail enabled the same basic engine block to yield between 290 and 390 cubic inches (with minor revisions).
The bore-center measurement of competing V-8 engine blocks is generally smaller: Buick 350: 4.24; Ford 221 to 351 Windsor small-block: 4.38; Chevy 265 to 400 small-block: 4.40; Mopar 273 to 360 small-block: 4.46; Oldsmobile 330 to 455: 4.625; Pontiac 287 to 455: 4.62; and Ford 332 to 428 FE: 4.63.
Only a handful of popular Detroit V-8s employed a larger bore center: Buick 400 to 455: 4.75 (same as AMC); Mopar 350 to 440 big-block: 4.80; Chevy 396 to 454 big-block: 4.84; and Cadillac 472 to 500: 5.00.
Fact 897: The 1966-up second-generation 290-, 343-, and 360-cube production V-8 engines utilized inexpensive cast-iron connecting rods and crankshafts. But AMC knew buyers of 390 and 401 engines pushed them harder, so stronger forged-steel rods and crankshafts were specified for these top-tier engines.
Fact 898: For the 1970 model year, AMC increased the deck height of the V-8 engine block by .16 inch to allow extra stroke and more displacement. These blocks are visually similar to the secondgeneration 290, 343, and 390, but the extra block height is different enough that AMC engine builders refer to them as third-generation engines.
The 1970-up tall-deck V-8 blocks increase the distance between the cylinder heads, which bars the use of earlier, 1966– 1969 (low deck) intake manifolds and pushrods. To prevent confusion, AMC altered the intake manifold fastener pattern on 1970-up heads to prevent mixing parts, which causes intake tract misalignment.
Fact 899: The 1970 tall-deck block spurred displacement growth. The 290 grew into the 304, and the 343 grew into the 360. Curiously, the 390 engine remained at 390 cubes for 1970, despite the added deck height. Knowing an all-new Javelin was slated for 1971, AMC elected to postpone growing the 390 into the 401 for a year.
To retain the 390-cubic-inch displacement (and defeat the effect of the extra .16 inch of cylinder height), AMC juggled connecting rod length and piston pin location to maintain the 4.16×3.68 recipe. As such, 1970 390 pistons and rods are specialized and cannot be used in 1968–1969 390 applications.
Fact 900: The .16-inch-taller deck V-8 block introduced for 1970 uses larger 1/2-inch-diameter head bolts versus the smaller 7/16 fasteners used in 1966–1969.
Fact 901: AMC never deployed four-bolt main bearing caps in any of its many production V-8 engine block castings. The closest it came was the limited-edition 1970 Mark Donohue Javelin (2,501 built).
When equipped with the standard 360 4-barrel V-8 (P code in the seventh spot of the VIN), Donohue Javelins were equipped with a specially cast block with thicker main journal webs. The added heft was included so engine builders (namely SCCA race teams) could install four-bolt caps on their own.
Chrysler played a similar game in 1970 with the thick-web 340 T/A blocks installed in every Challenger T/A and AAR ’Cuda. Ironically, Donohue Javelins ordered with the optional (X-code) 390 engine were not fitted with the extra-thick block. Frustratingly, these special thick-web 360 blocks carry no specific markings and require disassembly and inspection for verification.
Fact 902: Working with a restricted budget, AMC standardized many castings for use across the entire line. In the case of pre-1970 exhaust manifolds, the same log-style castings installed on 290 2-barrel station wagons were also used on Go-Pack 390 AMXs. Headers solved this problem. The frugality worked well for 1970 and beyond when all head castings received a new “dog leg” exhaust port shape.
Far more efficient than pre-1970 heads, the same basic dogleg-port head castings (with adjusted valve and chamber sizes) were installed on everything from the 304 to the 401. The iron exhaust manifolds were also vastly improved to match the 1970-up dogleg heads. These heads and manifolds are popular performance upgrades for earlier engines.
Fact 903: 390-powered AMC muscle cars (regardless of body type) used an improved version of the Borg-Warner M-11 3-speed automatic transmission teamed with less potent 290 and 343 V-8s. To keep pace with the extra torque, stronger input, and output shafts plus a larger clutch pack were adopted.
The resulting extra-duty transmission for 390 cars was designated the M-12. The M-12 pan held a different volume of transmission fluid so M-11 and M-12 dip sticks must not be switched. Doing so yields inaccurate fluid level readings and possible damage. The M-12 was also used behind the 401 in 1971 before the 1972 arrival of Chrysler-sourced Torque-Command automatic transmissions across the board.
Fact 904:AMC’s most aggressive high-performance powerplant was the 1969 Super Stock 390. As delivered to 53 lucky retail customers, these engines featured Jahns 12.3:1 forged pistons, an Edelbrock cross-ram intake manifold packing dual Holley double-pumpers, Doug Thorley headers, and blueprinted cylinder heads.
To ease shipment, the engines were capable of running, but like Chrysler’s 1968 Hurst Hemi A-Body program, a stock AMX camshaft was wisely installed. The goal was to ensure a complete engine teardown prior to race duty. The S/S AMX package was a potent bundle of raw material. It was up to the racer and the engine builder to maximize it for victory.
Fact 905: Even though the 1971 Hornet SC/360 engine came with a standard 2-barrel carburetor and single exhaust, it arrived just in time to take advantage of the new-for-1970 dog-leg cylinder heads and free-fl owing tuned exhaust manifolds incorporated into every AMC V-8 regardless of displacement. AMC priced the 245-hp base model at just $2,663 and anticipated sales in excess of 10,000.
A (costly) full-page color magazine ad was placed in the major enthusiast publications to get the ball rolling, and Kenosha even assigned a specific Body Class code in the sixth spot of the VIN (1). Unfortunately, only 784 customers took the bait.
Fact 906: Hornet SC/360 buyers could step up to the Go Pack for $199 and get a 4-barrel, dual exhaust, heavy-duty suspension, tachometer, and 285 hp. 578 of the 784 SC/360s were built with the P-code 360 4-barrel; the other 206 got the N-code 360 2-barrel (which could not be ordered with a 4-speed). Many—but not all—Go Packs came with a functional Ram Air hood scoop system made by Rockwell Industries. Dual exhaust was also optional for $31 on the base 2-barrel 360. Often overlooked is the fact the 360 2-and 4-barrel engine was available in any Hornet model and body type in 1971, not just the SC/360.
Fact 907: As this is written, my office sits less than 1,000 feet from a rural Massachusetts street intersection where I spotted my first Hornet SC/360. The year was 1978 and it was likely sold new by J.C. Lane AMC (North Brookfield, Massachusetts) or Guzik Jeep/AMC (Ware, Massachusetts). By the time I saw it, rust had taken the quarter panels but the B7 Brilliant Green original paint and faded, white side stripes caught my eye as did the fact it lacked the optional Ram Air hood scoop. I recall hearing the driver manipulate a clutch from the stop sign so I knew it wasn’t an automatic car. The non-Ram Air hood suggests the possibility it was a 2-barrel car. And since the 4-speed wasn’t offered with the 2-barrel mill, research shows it was likely one of the nineteen 3-speed cars made (the other 187 2-barrel cars carried the Borg-Warner automatic). I lost track of the car by 1980 and sadly have no idea where it is today.
Fact 908: Excluding the limited run of hand-built, dual-Holley 1969 S/S AMX engines, Kenosha used Carter AFB carburetors on all second-generation 290-390 4-barrel engines built from 1966 through 1969. With between 400 and 625 cfm (depending on throttle bores), the AFB was a decent performance carb, as proven by its (tandem) use atop the Mopar 413/426 Max Wedge and 426 Street Hemi. Things took a turn in 1970 with the phase-in of Motorcraft 4300-series 4-barrel (and 2-barrel) carburetors. These carbs (also used extensively on Ford vehicles) were better suited to reducing emissions than making power. Their arrival in 1970 partially dulled the improvements brought by the dog-leg heads and free-fl ow exhaust manifolds.
Fact 909: Junkyard shoppers might be surprised to see desirable 401 engines lurking in some odd places. We all know they can be found in certain 1971–1979 full-size Jeeps (Wagoneer, Cherokee, J-10, and J-20), but other hiding places include 1973–1974 International Harvester pickups and Travelalls and a large number of pre- 1980 AM General delivery vans. Recently, I spotted a lineup of five 401-powered former U.S. Post Office AM General vans languishing in a Los Angeles self-serve wrecking yard. It all makes sense. Remember, AM General was formed after AMC’s 1970 purchase of Jeep from Kaiser Industries. The former General Products Division of Jeep was renamed AM General in 1971 and access to AMC engines was a forklift ride away
Fact 910: With their one-size-fits-all external appearance, identifying 290 to 401 AMC engines might seem a challenge. Fear not. Every block (except for certain service replacement items and the elusive 1970 thick-web Mark Donohue 360 casting) bears its displacement in 1-inch-tall numerals positioned on both sides of the external face of the crankcase. You can find them on the surface between the oil pan rail and cylinder head. If the engine is in the car, a mirror may be needed. No other Detroit V-8 engine block is this easy to verify.
Fact 911: The 1967 Marlin was the only member of the 1965–1967 Marlin model run equipped with an open driveshaft. Earlier 1965– 1966 cars relied on the enclosed torque-tube driveline employed under most Rambler and AMC cars since the 1940s. The enclosed driveshaft complicated gear swaps and hampered hot rodders intent on improving performance, none of which helped Marlin sales in the booming youth market of the 1960s. All 1967-up AMC mid- and full-size cars shared the second-generation Marlin’s modern open drive and four-link coil spring rear suspension.
Fact 912: Fortunately, AMC didn’t even consider the torque tube for the new-for-1968 Javelin/AMX pony car. Its parallel rear leaf springs and open driveshaft were better suited to high-performance applications and helped spur a trend toward owner-modified, grassroots AMC drag racing
Fact 913: Since its introduction in 1950, the compact Rambler (which went on to become the American in 1958) used an open driveshaft and parallel rear leaf springs instead of the problematic torque tube and coil springs fitted to larger AMC platforms. This architecture was ideally suited to the high-performance Rogue, SuperAmerican, and SC/Rambler V-8 models of the muscle car era. The 1970 Hornet and Gremlin retained the American’s leaf springs and open driveshaft, again with excellent performance potential.
Fact 914: To keep pace with its 390-hp V-8, the lightweight 1969 SC/Rambler was fitted with the AMX suspension, which included heavy-duty springs and shocks, 14×6-inch Magnum 500-style rims, the heavy-duty Model 20 rear axle, over-rider traction bars, and standard Bendix power front disc brakes. To keep parasitic drag to a minimum, power steering was not offered. The thin-wall 390 weighed within a few pounds of the 290 so steering effort was light, though some buyers complained about the slow 20:1 steering ratio.
Fact 915: The optional Bendix disc brakes fitted to AMC performance cars built prior to 1970 are unique in their use of solid, nonvented rotors. Though lighter than the thick, vented rotors common to competing muscle cars, their solid construction was prone to overheating and warping but only under the most severe abuse. AMC adopted vented rotors in the early 1970s.
Fact 916: A sign that AMC had entered the muscle car age, the 1968 AMX carried the firm’s first traction bars. Also installed on Go-Pack–equipped Javelins, the system consisted of foot-long, solid-steel rods with rubber-bushed ends. The axle end of the links attached to a stamped-metal bracket secured to the axle tubes by the axle U-bolts. The leading end of each link was secured by a through-bolt to stamped brackets that bolted to the boxed frame section. The entire assembly was a bolt-in affair and mounted above the leaf springs.
Fact 917: Surprisingly, the Twin-Grip limited-slip differential was not standard equipment on 1968–1970 Javelins ordered with the 343 Go Package or 390 Go-Pack. An extra $44.05 was required to ensure rubber smoke from both rear tires. By contrast, when ordered for an AMX, the 343/390 Go-Pack did include a Twin Grip differential. The disparity is the result of carefully formulated profi t-margin calculations.
Fact 918: Even though the 1970 model year didn’t bring major external changes, the Javelin/AMX front suspension system was completely redesigned. The ancient upper spindle trunion was replaced by an upper A-arm and ball joint, and the shock absorbers were relocated within the front coil springs. The revised geometry contributed anti-dive characteristics on heavy braking. Components are non-interchangeable with pre-1970 vehicles. Interestingly, the revised geometry allowed the use of 15 percent softer spring rates versus the 1969 heavy-duty suspension package. Geeks (like me) can identify the revised 1970-up suspension at a glance by looking for shock absorber mounting brackets atop each spring tower. The tops of earlier trunion-style spring towers are fl at.
Fact 919: AMC couldn’t afford to develop its own transmissions, but that didn’t keep it from producing rear axles in-house. Muscle cars and most V-8 applications utilized the Model 20. With its 87 ⁄8-inch ring gear and Salisbury-type construction, the Model 20 is as durable as the Chevy 12-bolt. The only shortcoming is AMC’s persistent use of two-piece axle shafts, which generally require a pulling tool for service. The Model 20 was used under Jeep vehicles through the 1990s. A smaller Model 35 rear axle was used in sixcylinder applications and features a 7.56-inch ring gear and 10-bolt inspection cover. Fortunately, AMC never used this axle in performance applications.
Fact 920: The Model 20 uses a single rectangular Woodruff key and center nut/cotter pin to lock the wheel hub to the outer end of the axle shaft. Known to shear under high-traction/high-power loads, AMC devised an over-the-counter replacement for drag racing. This axle and hub assembly was machined for a second Woodruff key and was offered through the Group 19 high-performance parts system.
Fact 921: To achieve a nose-down, “West Coast rake,” the 1970 Rebel Machine was equipped with rear coil springs from the station wagon parts bin. With the same overall length as sedan/ hardtop coil springs, the wagon units incorporated thicker wire that added 1 inch to rear ride height. According to an actual AMC Rebel Machine advertisement, they gave “a raked, just mowed the lawn look.” Of interest to plastic model kit builders and collectors, the chassis pan of the 1/25-scale Jo-Han Rebel Machine kit includes an incorrect torque tube rear suspension. Jo-Han Models was of modest means and reused the (accurate) torque-tube chassis from its 1965 Marlin kit. This cut the expense of retooling the chassis pan to reflect the four-link rear suspension introduced in 1967 (and used under the Machine).
Fact 922: The 53 1969 AMXs destined for S/S conversion by Hurst left the Kenosha assembly plant without front roll bars and with nonpower front drum brakes. The roll bar elimination saved weight and expense while allowing less restricted front suspension lift during hard straight-line acceleration. Though front drum brakes were regularly seen on 290 and 343 cars in 1969, AMC records show that only 194 390 AMX 4-speed cars were built with front drum brakes that year (the Hurst cars being included in this number). Most 390 buyers paid an extra $102 for power disc brakes. While at Hurst, each S/S AMX was fitted with a removable front crossmember for improved oil pan access.
Fact 923: AMC conformed to the 1970 federal mandate for theftdeterring, locking steering columns by sourcing a new unit from GM’s Saginaw Gear division. Moving the key from the dash to the column was only half the story. Along with the column came access to GM’s excellent, variable-ratio, power-steering box. Unlike the fixed-ratio unit of 1969 and before, drivers of 1970-up AMC cars noticed an increasing amount of tire movement the closer they came to full lock.
Fact 924: The only independent rear suspension seen on a muscle era AMC vehicle appeared on the mid-engine AMX/3 concept cars of 1970. All other AMC passenger cars relied on a live rear axle, which was located either by parallel leaf springs (American, Javelin, Hornet, Gremlin, etc.) or coil springs and trailing arms (full-size models). To have been hand built in Livorno, Italy, by the Bizzarrini coach building fi rm, AMC announced plans to import 5,000 AMX/3s per year with a price tag of $12,000. In the end, six running cars were constructed and the program was canceled soon after Ford’s introduction of the similarly themed DeTomasso Pantera (see Fact #536).
Fact 925: Adjustable shock absorbers are common stuff today but did you know each of the 1,500 Rebel muscle Ramblers built in 1957 featured three-way adjustable Gabriel Adjustamatic shock absorbers? Rebel drivers seeking their benefits had to crawl under the car, remove the bottom fastener, and collapse the shock. Once compressed (remember, these oil-filled shocks stayed compressed and didn’t fight back as modern gas shocks do), the shock body was twisted to align the arrows for soft, medium, or firm settings. Once dialed-in, the shocks were reextended and bolted back in place. This stands as the first owner-tuned enthusiast suspension of the muscle era.
Fact 926: AMC drum brake hats destined for V-8 applications featured an extra band of flared metal. Added to the inboard side of the drum unit, the fl are was meant to act as a heat sink. Extended into the passing air stream these special drums were installed on all four corners and were effective at dissipating brake heat. The first of these special drums were seen on the 1957 Rebel, with a small, 9-inch diameter. By the days of the AMX, diameter had increased to 10 inches but the unique fl ares remained.
Fact 927: The next time you spot a 304 Gremlin at the boneyard, remember that its V-8 crossmember is needed to swap a V-8 into any American or Javelin. It’s a direct bolt-in swap and AMC guys pay good money for them. Also know there’s a strong chance that V-8 Gremlin is packing a Model 20 rear axle, which is another must-have for the popular American or Javelin 6-to-V-8 conversion.
Fact 928: In keeping with the industry-wide trend toward 15-inch rims and tires, the 1970 Rebel Machine came standard with 15×7 Motor Wheel five-slot, styled steel wheels. Oddly, these wheels were not standard issue on same-year Javelins and AMXs (not even with the Go Pack) but could be ordered as an option at extra cost (they were included in the 1970 Javelin SST package).
Fact 929: A review of AMC performance cars shows (as with most Detroit auto makers) the Kenosha carmaker relied on stock (non-styled) steel wheels on every performance offering through the 1967 model year. Snap-on, pressed-steel wheel covers with simulated Turbo Cast spokes and fins were state of the art, and standard on the SST. This changed in 1968 with the arrival of the optional Motor Wheel Magnum 500 wheel, which was installed right on the Kenosha assembly line. Also offered on Dodge and Plymouth muscle cars, the 1968 offering was the most attractive with its allchrome hoop and spider construction. In 1969 the chrome was replaced by paint and brushed stainless trim rings but the wheels were still attractive and were offered into the 1980s.
Fact 930: AMC’s final performance model was the 1979–1980 Spirit AMX. Though only the 1979 model offered an optional H-code 304 V-8 (all 1980s got the C-code 258 six), both featured adjustable Gabriel Strider shock absorbers. The fact that similar adjustable Gabriel shocks were standard on the limited-production 1957 Rebel—AMC’s first muscle car—brings things full circle.
Fact 931: If a Sting Ray was cool, then so was a Marlin, right? Affixed to Kenosha’s image-building fastback model, the final-year 1967 Marlin grew up a bunch compared to its 1966 predecessor. Here’s a comparison: wheelbase 118 inches (up 6 inches), length 201.5 inches (up 6.5 inches), width 78.4 inches (up 3.9 inches), height 53.8 inches (.4 inch lower), front leg room 41.6 inches (up .6 inch), rear legroom 36.5 inches (up .5 inch), front headroom 38.7 inches (.10 inch less), rear headroom 36.5 inches (unchanged), luggage capacity 11.7 cubic feet (unchanged), and base price $2,859 (up $258). Though Marlin grew in every possible way, sales shrank 44.03 percent (2,545 versus 4,547). Fortunately, the next model year brought the Javelin/AMX pony cars and a healthy turnaround in sales and image for AMC. The 1967 Marlin, with its midsize fastback styling, wasn’t a bad car, but as the also-disappointing 1966–1967 Dodge Charger proved, pony cars were where the action was.
Fact 932: Ten thousand units. That was the projected annual break-even point for the two-seat AMX. The 1968 model was at a disadvantage because it was introduced in March and only had a little more than four months to sell before arrival of the 1969s (the rest of the 1968 AMC line was introduced in September 1967). That helps explain why only 6,725 were sold in 1968. Fortunately, Javelin sales were strong at 55,124, which helped soften the disappointment. The 1969 AMX enjoyed a full year of showroom saturation but still failed to break the 10,000 mark with 8,293 sales. The 1970 did no better, selling a mere 4,116 units. Regardless, the AMX was an astonishing success in its role as an image changer for AMC.
Fact 933: According to data presented in Newsweek magazine, in 1968 the AMC marketing department gathered information about the first 1,000 Javelin buyers and learned their average age was 29 years. This was great news since the traditional median age of AMC customers was 39, a full ten years older. Clearly the fresh new Javelin was attracting strong interest from the youth market, a desperately needed development for corporate survival.
Fact 934: Only 19,134 two-seat AMX’s were produced in three model years (1968–1970), so when it was time to redesign the parent vehicle (Javelin), AMC faced the same dilemma as Ford in 1958 when it grew the two-seat Thunderbird into a four-seater. Insiders (particularly Dick Teague’s design staff) fought the expansion but the pony car market was shrinking and further involvement in such a niche vehicle was doomed. The numbers don’t lie. Subsequent AMX sales were 2,054 in 1971, 2,729 in 1972, 5,707 in 1973, and 4,980 in 1974. With a 10,000 unit annual break-even point, perpetuating the abbreviated two-seat platform would have been a catastrophic money drain.
Fact 935: If you own a 1969 AMX with a VIN between 213560 and 213612, congratulations! It’s one of the 53 cars sent from the Kenosha assembly plant to Hurst’s Michigan modification center for conversion into Super Stock drag machines. These cars bore serial numbers but were not intended for highway use. None were fitted with a door-mounted, riveted body-number plate. Rather, the area was covered by a yellow warranty disclaimer sticker.
Fact 936: Even though AMC published at least one magazine ad showing the two-seat AMX posed with a Corvette (America’s other two-seat sports car), the March 1968 issue of Car Life magazine reported: “American Motors’ executives are emphatic about the relationship of the AMX to Chevrolet’s Corvette. They state that the AMX is not, repeat not, in direct competition with the admittedly more sophisticated, higher performance Corvette. But, they are quick to point out that the AMX is priced about $1,500-$2,000 less than a comparably equipped Corvette.”
Fact 937: It may come as a surprise, but the sequential production numbers assigned to 1968–1970 AMXs were nothing more than a marketing ploy to imply exclusivity. Conjured by AMC ad agency Wells, Rich, and Greene, the engraved dash plaques were applied in a random fashion and do not contain any useful information nor do they correspond with the VIN sequence in any way. The first 50 1968 cars were fitted with cast metal plaques that simply read AMX and were installed above the radio. Subsequent plaques added five digits to suit AMC’s expressed plan to cap annual production at 10,000 (peak output hit 8,293 in 1969). Even though it was pure hokum, the scheme had its entertaining moments. The plaque in 1968 Playboy Playmate Angela Dorian’s pink AMX reads 36-24-35, a guide to her measurements. Unlike the dash plaques applied to cars such as the Cosworth Vega and Bricklin SV1 (which were sequential and carefully monitored), AMC was just having a little bit of fun
Fact 938: “If the (440 Six-Pack) Challenger’s (optional disc/drum) brakes get good marks—and they do—then the discs on the 1970 Javelin 390 Go Pack win two gold stars. Stopping distance on the first stop was just about even. And short. The Challenger faded with use, which isn’t that bad because the first stop is the important one. But the Javelin didn’t fade. On the 8th stop from 80 mph, the Javelin would still pull a high deceleration force, and stopped in 10 feet less than it did on the first stop.” Clearly road testers in the December 1969 issue of Car Life were pleased with the Javelin’s brakes, which offered 371 square inches of swept area versus the Challenger R/T’s 315. The Javelin’s 3,780-pound test weight also played a role in the superior braking; the convertible Challenger tipped the scales at 4,325 pounds.
Fact 939: The August 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine contains a full Rambler Rebel road test entitled “Rebel Breaks Ranks.” The test car was evaluated by Ray Brock who wrote; “The acceleration was very good, 9.4 seconds to a true 60 mph with our Hydra-Matic (3.15 rear end) equipped test car. The same car with standard transmission and a 4.10 rear end is reliably reported to better 8 seconds fl at.” In the same report, Brock managed a 17-second-flat quartermile run at 84 mph and mentioned; “the 3.54 ratio available in other Rambler series cars would make a world of difference . . . ”
Fact 940: By contrast, Motor Trend’s Joe Wherry got hold of a Rebel equipped with a 3-speed stick for the April 1957 issue and took full advantage of the standard-issue 4.10 axle ratio: “From scratch, the Rebel made 60 mph (true) in an average of 7.5 seconds the writer only on board (with three aboard, the best time was 7.8) . . . and that is high performance, believe me, when family cars are under discussion.” For sake of comparison, the 1970 390 Javelin SST tested in the December 1969 issue of Car Life did 0-60 in 7.6 seconds. But let’s remember it was an automatic-equipped car with 3.15 gears. The real secret of the early Rebel’s quick acceleration was its stiff axle ratio. Cram similar gears in the 390 Javelin and it’d be in the 6-second zone.
Fact 941: “A Rambler that does the quarter mile in 14.3.” That was the performance claim made for the 1969 SC/Rambler 390 in a surprisingly brash, full-page color ad created by AMC’s ad agency, Wells, Rich, & Greene. Truly unimaginable one decade earlier, thenAMC president George Romney would have likely fi red the responsible parties. But when the SC/Rambler ad appeared, Romney was ending his 1963–1969 tenure as governor of the state of Michigan. He was also absent when the “Test Drag a Javelin” magazine ad touted the 343 Javelin’s 15.8 ET capability in early 1968. There’s no doubt the creative input of Wells, Rich, and Greene played a huge role in saving AMC from extinction.
Fact 942: Not all WR&G ad campaigns were direct hits. Take the 1970 Rebel Machine’s wacky, self-effacing promotion. Keyed to the student protest movement (which was anything but funny), various print ads depicted flower-power kids holding signs that read “Up With The Rebel Machine.” Ironic copy fl owed freely, such as “ . . . if you have delusions of entering the Daytona 500 with the Machine, or challenging people at random, the Machine is not that fast. You should know that. For instance, it is not as fast on the getaway as a 427 Corvette, or a Hemi, but it is faster on the getaway than a Volkswagen, a slow freight train, and your old man’s Cadillac.” A “slow freight train,” huh? Irony isn’t always compelling.
Fact 943: The fruits of AMC’s muscle-era makeover may not seem impressive in terms of annual total percentage of domestic market share. Here’s a review: 1960, 7.61 percent; 1961, 6.88 percent; 1962, 6.65 percent; 1963, 6.16 percent; 1964, 4.98 percent; 1965, 4.42 percent; 1966, 2.99 percent; 1967, 2.91 percent; 1968, 3.46 percent; 1969, 3.18 percent; 1970, 2.92 percent; 1971, 3.19 percent; and 1972, 2.76 percent. But remember, the highs of the early 1960s were based on compact cars. As the Big Three introduced their own compacts, AMC’s trump card was matched. The 1964 arrival of the Mustang and GTO sparked a further exodus that cut deeply by 1966. The 1968 rebound is clear evidence of the Javelin’s appeal to youth. Though subsequent annual market share didn’t blossom, it’s a sure thing AMC would have withered much sooner without its successful appeal to the youth market in 1968.
Fact 944: Dick Teague was vice president of automotive styling during the great design reformation of the 1960s and his love of fine automotive design extended into his personal life. According to a profile published in the November 1968 issue of Motor Trend magazine, Teague was an avid car collector. Among his holdings were a 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile, 1904 Pope-Toledo, 1904 Packard Model L, 1904 Fiat Gordon-Bennett race car (powered by a 650-cubic-inch inline four), 1932 Alfa 2.6, 1936 Mercedes 540K, 1955 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, and others; all by Teague’s 45th birthday in 1968.
Fact 945: In the November 1968 issue of Motor Trend, Dick Teague explained: “The average age—and I don’t mean the median or the mode—in the styling department, is 34.2 years, and they’re all car nuts. Some are wild about classics, some about sports cars, some about hot rods. And we hope to see our cars reflect this in the future. At least management is letting us show them things now, which wasn’t the case years ago.”
Fact 946: “All right, American Motors, this time you’ve gone too far . . . you can’t just take your Clark Kent model into George Hurst’s phone booth and walk out with a Super Car . . . when performance means only quarter-mile times it’s stupid and dangerous.” Criticism like that would never come from straight-line enthusiast publications such as Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, Hot Rod, or Car Craft, but isn’t much of a surprise from the writers of Car and Driver who have always been more about the overall driving experience. Still, in its May 1969 test of the SC/Rambler, Car and Driver scribes praised the SC/Rambler’s brakes, saying: “The car came to a very controlled stop from 80 mph on its second run in a distance of 244 feet. That places it in the same category as a higher priced hunk of exotica tested elsewhere in this issue.” The reference was to a Jaguar 4.2 XK-E, which took 256 feet to stop from 80 mph, and had fourwheel disc brakes.
Fact 947: Every carmaker has a halo model that’s meant to shine its majestic light onto the more practical (i.e., less exciting) offerings in the show room and open road. It’s the old bait-andswitch ploy. The 1965–1967 Marlin fastback took the job with mixed results. With a total output of 10,327 units, 1 in 38 American Motors passenger cars built in 1965 was a Marlin (total AMC passenger car output was 391,373). For 1966 the ratio was 1 in 59 (4,547 Marlins out of 267,719 total units) and in its final year, the upsized Marlin accounted for 1 in 88 new AMC products rolling off the Kenosha, Wisconsin, assembly line (2,545 out of 223,010 units). For 1968 AMC’s new “halo model” was the Javelin. In its first year, the five-seat pony car accounted for 1 in 5 AMC cars built (55,124 out of 296,415). For 1969 the ratio was 1 in 7 (40,675 in 282,809) and the 1970 tally was 1 in 8 (30,180 out of 242,821).
Fact 948: Magazine test cars are supposed to be on good behavior. The last thing a carmaker wants is a negative review. But the 401, 4-speed Javelin AMX tested in the August 1971 issue of Hi-Performance CARS magazine wasn’t having any of it. Managing Editor Al Root was at the controls when the right rear hub assembly, including the Goodyear Polyglas E60-15 tire and five-slot 15×6 Rebel Machine wheel, detached itself from the Model 20 axle unit and parted company with the car. Happily, the failure, which was likely due to a loosened axle nut, occurred at low speed. But in an act of fearless reporting, CARS told the story and published a damning photo of the bare brake assembly, complete with gouged pavement from where the sleek silver machine ground to a halt. The story triggered an irate call from AMC president Gerald Meyers and stands as one of the worst PR nightmares of the muscle car era.
Fact 949: The surprising performance of the new breed of AMC V-8 engines was summed up by this quote in Car Life magazine’s 1968 Pony Cars annual: “A Rambler dealer who attended our acceleration testing commented that he’d never use a Javelin 390 as a demonstrator. Customers, he said, tend to be frightened by so much brute torque. Instead, he considered his 290 4-barrel a much more sensible demo—the 290 has plenty of pep to sell the Javelin, with none of the disadvantages.” Remember, at the time, the average age of Rambler customers was 39. Repeat customers simply weren’t used to smoking the tires on demand. But as a conquest vehicle (industry-speak for grabbing first-time buyers away from competing brands) the 390 was the perfect tool.
Fact 950: 1969 Javelin buyers looking for maximum muscle paid an extra $360.40 for the 390 Go-Pack. The money replaced the standard 200-hp 290 2-barrel with the burly 315-hp 390 and also included power disc brakes, E70-14 wide-profile red-line tires, handling package, and dual (non-functional) fiberglass hood scoops. Same-year Camaro customers seeking more than 390 cubes forked over $359.15 ($295.95 for the mandatory SS disc brake and suspension upgrade plus $63.20 for the 325-hp L35 396 big-block). Displacement-focused Mustang shoppers seemingly got a deal as Ford charged $158.08 for the S-code 320-hp 390 option but quickly realized its standard drum brakes were marginal; power front disc brakes were an extra $64.77.
All three pony cars came with a standard 3-speed stick. Stepping up to a must-have 4-speed stick cost $192.50 (Javelin), $195.40 (Camaro SS396), and $253.92 (390 Mustang). Sure, the Camaro SS396 might have been $1.25 less expensive to super-size, and the 390 Mustang $106.48 less ($41.71 less with discs), but their bigblock engines created a seriously nose heavy car. By contrast, the AMC 390 weighed within 20 pounds of the base 290. Which would you have chosen?
Written by Steve Magnante and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks