Vintage Road Test: 1971 AMC Javelin – Road Test Magazine Evaluates A Regular Pony Car

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In the April 1971 issue, Road Test Magazine was rather pleased to find a relatively “normal” Javelin available for testing from AMC.  After all, press cars were (and still are) usually loaded versions of top luxury or performance models in a line, but as a result seldom represented the cars that average consumers actually bought.  So while this Javelin might have been “boring” by the standards of the late 1960s, it was likely right on target for the tastes of the 1970s. After all, thanks to government regulations and soaring insurance rates, by 1971 even the Pony Cars and Muscle Cars were shifting their emphasis from sport to luxury.

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I have always admired the styling of the first generation Javelin, with its stylish simplicity inside and out.  The 1971 redesigned changed all that: even though the car underneath was basically the same, to my eyes the looks got bloated and gimmicky.  If I were ranking the segment players by looks in 1971, this car would have scored dead last.

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Based on the performance results, this Javelin was definitely equipped more for “show” than “go” (or stopping for that matter), but then again those cushy buckets were likely more important to the target customer than any innate abilities of the machine itself.

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Today, space saver spare tires are the norm, so it’s funny to see them being written about as such a novelty back in 1971.  Though given the minimal trunk room in Pony Cars, it was a wise option for the segment.

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For the most part, Road Test ranked the car as “good.”  Notably, ride and comfort were ranked “excellent,” an important result as the Pony Car class turned to comfort.  In this case, Road Test’s pricing of $4,417 came pretty close to how their test car seemed to be equipped.  I checked out the 1971 American Car Price Guide for cross reference, and here is the listing for the Javelin:

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Based on the details Road Test provided about their test car, here’s what I envision this specific Javelin would have cost at retail:

Javelin SST 2-Door Hardtop $2,999.00
290hp 360 4V V8 $84.30
Shift Command and Console $312.80
Vinyl covered roof $88.40
Bucket Seats, Corduroy Fabric $52.45
Insulation Group $22.20
Rally Side Stripes $34.00
Turbo Cast Wheel Covers $51.35
Rocker Panel Molding $33.75
Rally Side Stripes $34.00
Power Steering $107.50
Power Disc Brakes, Front $88.40
AM/FM Radio $139.65
Air Conditioning $398.50
Tinted Glass, All Windows $35.40
Visibility Group with electric wipers/washers $44.90
Space Saver Spare Tire $13.60
D78 x 14 WSW Tires $36.10
Total $4,576.30
Note: 5% was added to all option retail prices as per the pricing guide instructions

Adjusted for inflation, this works out to $26,908 today–a fair enough price for a stylish, comfort-oriented personal car.  Probably most of the units AMC sold were priced like this, or lower–reflecting the tastes of the times.  High performance was rapidly on the way out, comfort and style were on the way in.  Sales reflected the new reality: this Javelin SST, with 19,000 units sold for 1971, was well positioned against the Ford Mustang Grande (17,406 sold) and the Pontiac Firebird Esprit (20,185 sold) in the quest for cushy Pony Car customers.