We here at CC simply don’t do things part way. Maybe we have all been schooled by the Teutonic discipline of our founder, but we just can’t stand to see a job left unfinished. Which is why we have been in such anguish on the topic of AMC’s designer cars from the 1970s. After we brought you a 1974 Oleg Cassini Matador and then a 1972 Gucci Sportabout, we have been wringing our collective hands over the incomplete status of our collection of these most fashionable Kenoshans. Of course, we have Curbside Correspondents in SoCal, the PNW and other areas of old-car spotting heaven who continually delight us with their rare finds. But when the chips are down and heavy lifting is required, it’s just time to come to the Midwest, that’s all. Which is where we found the car that completes our set: the 1972 Pierre Cardin Javelin.
I’ll be honest: I had remembered the Oleg Cassini Matador in 1974 (CC here). “Who,” I wondered as a fifteen year old kid, “is Oleg Cassini, and why would he lend his name to such a butt-ugly car?” But the 1972 Gucci Sportabout (CC here) Edward Niedermeyer brought us smacked me in the head because I had not remembered it at all. Then I began to feel even more inadequate when some members of the Curbside Commentariat recalled this car. Whaaaa? Again, this one was new to me. Which is odd, for reasons I will get into shortly.
On Father’s Day, my sons and I attended an annual car show in Noblesville, Indiana, where I have never failed to find some interesting wheels, and this year was no exception. We had dawdled a bit and decided that it was time to pick up the pace due to one of the lads having to work that afternoon. Just when we began to breeze along towards an exit, I spotted this purple Javelin. As I got closer, I realized that this was one of the Cardin cars.
As I began to examine the car, I met the fellow who not only owns it, but who also runs the Cardin Javelin and AMX Registry’s Website (here). Andy Meyer was a fountain of information about these cars, and I found myself wishing that I had about an hour or three to sit down and talk some Pierre Cardin. Which is something I never expected to say out loud.
It turns out that we have never done a full-fledged CC on a Javelin, although Paul Niedermeyer did an Automotive History piece on the original 1968-70 version (here). While the 1971 Javelin looked all new, it was actually a cleverly done refresh of the original car. Although the ’71 model looks larger than its predecessor, this is really an optical illusion. The car did gain an inch of wheelbase (to 110), but it was mainly bulging fenders and a longer snout which gave the car an all-new, bigger look.
I think that the 1971-74 Javelin may have been as close as AMC ever got to matching the Big Three on an even-up basis. OK, two of the Big Three, anyhow. For once, AMC cannot be blamed for its lack of market savvy because Ford and Chrysler headed for that same spot in the fishing pond which each of them believed to be a honey hole. The Javelin (especially in sportier AMX trim) matched up particularly well with the 1971-73 Bloatstang and the 1970-74 ChallengedCuda. Who knew that the fishing would be so sparse? Didn’t everyone want a bigger, more powerful pony car? In a rare turnabout, it was GM that actually found where the customers were biting with its smaller, trimmer 1970 1/2 F-body Camaro and Firebird. Actually, AMC did fairly well with this model, building nearly 23,000 Javelins in 1972 (with another 3,220 in AMX trim), and production stayed remarkably steady during the model’s entire 1971-74 run.
The Javelin also developed some genuine racing cred, most famously under the banner of Penske Racing and Mark Donohue. The famous red, white and blue Javelin won the Trans Am title in 1971, ’72 and ’76. The Javelin’s bulging wheel wells were reported to be a direct result not of AMC styling, but from a request by the race teams for additional room in which to accommodate oversized racing tires. Personally, I think the whole thing as a package is every bit as attractive as the Mach 1 or the Challenger/Cuda.
In the spring of 1972, my best friend Tim came to my front door and told me that I had to come to his house, right away. I always enjoyed his house in no small part due to the fact that his family’s driveway was Studebaker Central. The crown jewel was, of course, his father’s red ’64 R2 Avanti, but I still liked his mother’s aging, rusting 1960 Lark VIII. On this spring morning, however, the Lark was gone. In its place was a gleaming Trans-Am Red 1972 Javelin AMX: Rallye wheels, white letter tires, gold stripes, red and black buckets with the U-handle shifter in the console, and a healthy 360 under the hood. Thirteen year old me declared this to be one seriously cool car, and the Javelin was thenceforth on my radar. To this day, I would happily consider a Javelin AMX to be a legitimate, if not superior, alternative to the better-known competition.
Which is why I was so knocked back when I learned about this version earlier this year. I had known of the Broughamification efforts going on in Dearborn with the Mustang Grande (CC here) and in Highland Park with the Barracuda Gran Coupe (CC here). But I had somehow missed that AMC was chasing Ford and Chrysler into the same box canyon.
Pierre Cardin made his name in fashion design in France in the 1950s, and had become increasingly well-known in America a decade later with some decidedly out-front styles (not that well-known, as it turned out, because the use of his design talent and his name cost AMC a surprisingly small amount of money). Actually, Cardin designed several proposals for an interior package for the Javelin, and this combination of Chinese red, plum, white and silver on a black background was the version chosen by AMC management.
The package was introduced in March of 1972 and cost all of $84.95 at MSRP. The trim package consisted of this unique interior and exterior badging, and was available with a limited number of exterior colors, including this Wild Plum (which would be tamed and renamed Fresh Plum in 1973). Less limited was the choice of powertrains, ranging from the 232 (3.8 L) and 258 (4.2 L) cid sixes to the 304 (5.0 L), 360 (5.9 L) and 401 (6.6 L) cid V8s.
So, with an attractive and competitive package with some real fashion-designer style, the Pierre Cardin Javelin was a galloping success. Right? Uhhhh, actually, no. According to Andy’s registry, AMC built 1262 of these 1972 models (with another 12 in AMX trim, believe it or not). Including a single rumored 1974 car, total 1972-74 production came to 4152 units. I would like to tell you that supply was limited by AMC’s rigorous application process that was required for prospective buyers to qualify for purchase of one of these gems, but I would be making it up. Today, the registry can account for a mere 20 of these 1972 models.
There is an old adage that you can sell an old man a young man’s car, but you cannot sell a young man an old man’s car. The corollary to this rule seems to be that you couldn’t sell designer-label fashion goods to people who bought their cars at AMC dealers. We must give AMC some credit here–they were the first auto maker to recognize the potential appeal of designer-edition cars. Lincoln would soon exploit this niche very profitably with designer editions that became some of their most sought-after models. Sadly for AMC, after three tries it was clear: people who cared about designer labels bought their cars elsewhere. And whatever else you may say about this car, isn’t this Franco-American collaboration a lot more appealing than the better-known Renault-AMC Alliance?