Curbside Classic: 1973 AMC Javelin AMX – Right On Target

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I love Michigan.  Our state goes car-crazy pretty much the entire month of August.  There are many noteworthy shows occurring that month, including the Woodward Dream Cruise in the Greater Detroit area, and Back To The Bricks in Flint.  Cool, vintage American cars seem to pop up in the most random of places – including the north cell phone lot at Detroit Metro Airport.

Awaiting an arrival from Chicago, I rounded the corner to park here.  My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I saw this Pewter Silver beauty fortuitously parked in the front row of the lot, unobstructed.  Both first- and second-generation Javelins have proved to be rare sightings for years in the places where I’ve lived, including southwest Florida and Chicago.  I could probably count on one hand the number of examples I’ve seen, running or not, within the past five years.

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I parked and got out of my rental Hyundai Elantra and started photographing this Javelin from every angle.  The owner was on his phone, and I figured it would be easier to (quietly) take the pictures first and ask for forgiveness later.  I then approached the open windows on the passenger’s side (a fastback and a hardtop! – only Ford’s Mustang Sportsroof shared this bodystyle among ’73 domestic sporty cars) and gave my most honest apology to the owner/driver for my obnoxious paparazzo behavior, explaining that the second-generation AMC Javelin was my main teenage dream ride.  He seemed to warm up to this car-struck stranger.  I then mentioned I’m a contributor to a blog called “Curbside Classic”, and he got out of the car and gave me the grand tour.  Just a really nice guy.

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I correctly guessed the model year by the quad taillamp pods and the lack of black, rubber bumper guards out back.  He was the third owner, having purchased this car in 2009.  (Imagine a then-36 year old car with just two owners, with everything all-original.) Powered by AMC’s 4-bbl. 360-V8, he said this car moves smartly out from a stop, being much lighter weight than most modern cars, and also that this mill has gobs of torque.

According to my research, this particular ’73 Javelin, with its 3-speed Torque-Command automatic transmission (which was actually Chrysler’s outsourced TorqueFlite), would be good for something like a 7.4 second 0-60/mph time.  Comparing these numbers with same-year figures of the competition with similar powertrain combos (4-bbl. V8’s mated with 3-speed automatic transmissions), this would be against a 7.0 second 0-60 time from a Ford Mustang with a 351, and a 7.4 second 0-60 time for a Dodge Challenger Rallye with a 340.  (I’ve omitted ’73 Chevrolet Camaro figures in my write-up simply because the upper-8 second 0-60 times I found for a Camaro with a 350-4 / 3-sp. auto combo just didn’t seem plausible, given the still hyper-competitive nature of this segment.)  Numbers may differ based on the source, but ultimately, my point is that American Motors clearly wasn’t phoning it in with the Javelin, with its performance squarely in step with the competition.

Joe With Javelin AMX CC

The more the owner and I talked about his car, the more friendly and enthusiastic he seemed, with his initial, reserved demeanor gradually melting away.  You must forgive the incompleteness of my reportage on the specifics of this car – I might as well have been getting a favorite, famous celebrity’s autograph, plus I had one eye on my watch as I awaited a flight’s arrival.  The only other time I had had a chance to see the interior of a second-gen Jav was when I was fourteen in the summer of 1989 and at a car show in Flint (yes, that’s me behind the wheel).  My teenage self could have died when the owner of that car let me sit in the driver’s seat.  AMC enthusiasts have tended to be unusually friendly folks – which sort of makes sense, given their love of products from America’s perpetual underdog automaker.  A little appreciation of an AMC seems to go a long way.

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The thing I wish I could have photographed was the smell and sound of this car.  A whiff of the black vinyl interior was enough to make me delirious to the point I had to rethink every question I wanted to ask the owner about this car.  (Don’t lie to yourself… you have been as geeked about a car before, which is why you read Curbside Classic.)  That curved, engine-turned dash panel looked at once sporty, industrial, and sculptural.  The low, gravelly rumble of that 4-pot 360 was throaty and primal, as this car passed by the Hyundai’s open windows at the curb at arrivals.  I wish my own voice sounded as commanding.

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As much as I love the smoothly flowing lines of the first-generation Javelin, I love the ’71 restyle from most angles, particularly the ’71 SST with its dual side-stripes and unique vinyl roof treatment.  The redesign was as if the nice, affable, hometown athlete from Kenosha, Wisconsin had started weight training, bulked up overnight, and came back looking completely different – yet still recognizable.  (I think I’m in pretty decent physical shape, but sometimes I wish going to the gym yielded the kind of quick, effective results as the Javelin’s ’71 restyle.)

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I said I like the ’71 restyle from most angles.  The least flattering aspect to me is the rear-quarter panel area from a front three-quarter view.  The rear tires appear to swim in a sea of empty space under those fender blisters.  Those haunches look just a little too overdeveloped, although the rest of the car is nicely proportioned and aggressive-looking.  I especially like the small, lip spoiler molded into the trailing edge of the roof.

The front and rear fender blisters never gave me the impression that AMC was going for a Corvette-look, which I’ve often read was the inspiration.  That assertion still seems a little dubious to me, as the overall proportions of both cars are so wildly different from one another.  Instead, I’ve always seen the fender bulges as a very literal manifestation of a theme – as if Dick Teague had instructed his styling team, “Let’s give our muscle-/ ponycar actual ‘muscles’.”  It’s true that many Javelins left Kenosha with a six-banger (offered in displacements of 232 or 258 cubic-inches), but the base Javelin of this generation doesn’t come across looking quite as low-rent as strippo versions of some of the other cars of this genre (especially Mustang).  It wears those humped fenders well, regardless of what’s powering it.

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“Heroic” is another word that comes to mind when I think of the Javelin v2.0.  If sales figures are any indication, and even in the then-shrinking ponycar market, I think the ’73 Jav should again be considered a success, selling something like 30,900 units (including 5,700 AMX’s like the featured car) against 32,600 Dodge Challengers (less than a 6% difference) and 22,200 Plymouth Barracudas (a ratio of almost 4:3).  The Javelin wasn’t selling in GM or FoMoCo numbers, but it clearly hit the target of its intended demographic, accounting for almost 8% of 392,000 total AMC production for the model year.

By comparison, the ’73 Camaro’s 96,800 production figure accounted for only 4% of 2,579,500 Chevrolets built for the model-year.  That the ’73 Mercury Cougar (still nominally a ponycar for that one last season) outsold the Javelin by only 2:1 is also noteworthy, given Mercury’s much higher overall volume at that point.  AMC’s own redesigned-for-’74 Matador coupe, intended to have a much larger market share than the Javelin specialty car, exceeded 30,000 units only in its first year (of only five in production).

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I’ll summarize by saying the second-generation Javelin still does it for me in a way few other cars have continued to do so since my teenage years.  The subject car has been one of my favorites to photograph, research and write about, given the endurance of my love for these rolling sculptures from southeast Wisconsin.  In your author’s opinion, it remains one of the best-looking ponycars of that era, combining a visual, blue-collar machismo with an underdog likability to make it one of the more compelling classics in its field.

All photographs of the silver Javelin are as taken by the author in Detroit suburb Romulus, Michigan.
Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Related reading:

From Dave Skinner: Car Show Classic: 1974 AMC Javelin

Paul Niedermeyer’s piece on the first-generation models: AMC Javelin: Some Like It For What It Can Be And Others Would Just Like To Find One

JPCavanaugh’s piece on a ’72 Pierre Cardin model: Car Show Classic: 1972 AMC Javelin Pierre Cardin – No, Really…

A first-gen piece by Jason Shafer: CC Outtake: 1st Generation Javelin Found