CC Home Delivery: 1968 AMC AMX – The Two Seat Pony Car Pays A Visit

It wasn’t the kind of call I usually get, but one that I was very glad to receive.

  • Hey Ric, I need a place to store my ailing AMX for a few weeks. Would it be possible to keep it with your Beetle?

Would I take an ailing AMX for a few weeks? Talk about a question where thinking was not needed, just a Pavlovian-conditioned response.

An AMX! I had barely if ever, seen a Javelin. And I had certainly never seen the unusual, off-beat, and bold AMX. It was a situation that hasn’t happened much at CC; instead of me finding the car, the car had somehow found me. A bit of a cheat, I guess. But should I turn the offer on that minor ethical quibble? Heck no! Bring it over!

The plea came from Cesar, my Mustang-loving friend whom I briefly mentioned in a post last year. Now, it’s true he mostly lusts for Mustangs; but it’s a love that stems from a rooted passion for American muscle cars. And that is one tree with multiple branches to fall in love with. When this particular AMX came for sale a decade ago, there was no way he was going to turn down those mighty 8 cylinders away. No sir.

So, what was the matter with the car, and why the sudden cry for help? Turns out that the AMX had been one more victim of the COVID pandemic. No, this is no weird conspiracy theory I’m about to spew. Rather, during the strict lockdowns placed in El Salvador, Cesar’s AMX remained out of his sight for months, stored away in a lonely family property. Unbeknownst to everyone, the site flooded during winter, and as it often happens with calamities, they piled on: Chemicals and containers fell from toppled shelves, and mice made home inside its now decaying interior.

Regardless of damage, expectations were high in my head. A muscle car next to my Beetle? And no money was spent on my part? What fun! To paraphrase those old MasterCard ads; an old classic delivered, cost-free to your front yard? Priceless!

As with most flood-damaged vehicles, getting the AMX moved proved to be quite an operation. Amazingly, the engine runs, but most mechanicals are out of whack in one way or another. Driveability, even if limited, was out of the question. The car arrived, with its stubby profile looking better in person than it ever did in photos.

Steering and braking were precarious, the AMX’s mushy tires turning with difficulty as it rolled down the tow truck’s ramp. Additional instructions were shouted, as the car was pushed and moved slowly around. Finally, as the last resort, plain manpower got it into its current location.

With the operation over and with everyone gone, it was now my chance to sit and admire the AMX’s clean lines and chunky proportions. Sadly, Cesar’s AMX was now in troubled condition. The damage didn’t seem terminal, but it was clear the car would need all the dedication it could get.

Trouble and dedication; two words that define the quarter century of American Motor’s history. Adjectives well known by AMC’s VP of design, Dick Teague; here (before he became chief designer/VP), at top center with hand and pencil on chin. Is he really thinking about that clay, or already contemplating a sexy 2-seater car?

Sticking to the troubled part, AMC was certainly finding some by the mid-’60s; with the Rambler facing strong competition, the Ambassador finding little interest, and the Marlin DOA. By ’66 the company started to hemorrhage money ($12.3 million), and prospects looked dim. While the rest of Detroit was riding the youth wave, AMC was selling the convoluted message ‘Sensible Spectaculars.’

AMC’s CEO Roy Abernethy found much frustration in turning the company’s stodgy image around, but product and advertising didn’t help matters. Before leaving to become governor in 1962, George Romney had picked Abernethy to be his successor, mainly for his experience in retail and close relationship with AMC’s dealers. Whatever dealers wanted, Abernethy knew about. And by the mid-’60s, if dealers were clamoring for something it was pony cars, with the Marlin not being the answer to their pleas.

Thus, work on an AMC pony car was started in ’64 under the guidance of Bob Nixon, Teague’s underling. But with AMC’s 1965 profits coming at a low $5 million and its future looking gloomy, Teague found more leeway to play around with lofty ideas. Trouble? What trouble? Time to create a few concepts and get the buzz going! The sensibles were finally going to turn spectacular.

Thus, AMC’s stylists got the Ok to create a series of concepts to debut in ’66. First of all, the 2-seat AMX, with the X being for ‘experimental.’ As an executive told Teague, ‘Experimental means we’re not going to build it.’ Words probably told before the balance sheets arrived.

Teague drew some early sketches and further work was done by Erick Kugler. Clay work was to be performed under the guidance of stylist Chuck Mashigan, with a team of 20 artists. An American chassis was chosen as a basis for the AMX’s mock-up, expediting the process, although creating proportion issues of some concern.

The fiberglass AMX was unveiled at the Society of Automotive Engineers convention in January of 1966, and made its public debut a month later, at the 58th annual Chicago Automobile Show. The 2-seat AMX dutifully wowed attendees, and more importantly, impressed favorably the bankers behind AMC’s future cash needs.

With the AMX mock-up doing wonders, and with red ink now appearing inevitable, AMC’s accounting agreed to further AMXs, now to be done in running form. The concepts were now called Project IV, with most work to be performed at AMC’s headquarters.

One exception was the 2-seater AMX, to be built by Italy’s Vignale. Teague must have been beside himself, as it was his favorite of the lot, and quickly took to correspondence with the Italians. The Vignale concept was meant as the showstopper, and it featured some fantastic and not-for-production features: a cantilevered roof, a heavily detailed fascia, and a ‘Rambleseat’ (instead of ‘rumble’, get it?) in the trunk area. In June of ’66, the Project IV AMXs made their public debut at the New York Auto Show.

Teague had a preference for clean and flowing lines, attributes that showed in the Project IV AMXs. From top to bottom: The AMX II, the oddly symmetrical Cavalier, and the Vixen. The Cavalier and Vixen anticipated the ’70 Hornet, with the latter also providing hints of the Gremlin/Javelin chunky detailing. In the public’s eye, the foursome proved that if the company wanted, they could let their stuffy image down.

To complete the image changeover, the AMC production pony car was approved, now christened Javelin. Additionally, a new advertising agency would take over the company’s account. Stodgy AMC was now officially after the youth market.

Abernethy and management knew they had fumbled the Marlin, and stayed out of Teague’s way while working on the Javelin. To speed matters, the 2-seat AMX-show car was used as a starting point for AMC’s first pony car, with some details coming from other AMXs. While the fantastic aspects of the show car were justifiably dismissed, the Javelin’s shape was clean, attractive, and purposeful in a way no other AMC product was. When released, critics complained about the loss of the attractive show car fascia and prosaic interior, but buyers didn’t care. Production for ’68 surpassed AMC’s expectations, with 56,000 units sold.

Javelin SST from the Cohort, by Johnh875.


No design is ever perfect. Instead, talented designers choose ‘defects’ they’re willing to live with. Teague himself admitted the Javelin suffered from a ‘dash-axle’ look, partly due to the American’s original chassis; and partly due to Teague’s wish for the Javelin to offer more leg room than a Mustang. So, AMC was now concerned about rear passengers in pony cars? Yes, Teague was a talented designer, and he may have chosen the ‘defects’ he preferred. Yet, he made such odd compromises.

Abernethy may have acquiesced to dealers’ desires, but he wasn’t going to give in to Teague’s 2-seater wishes. Period. That is until a new and unexpected actor got involved, thanks to a wild card that appears every so often in US corporate culture; the investor. In mid ’66 Robert Evans acquired 202,000 AMC shares, and by June, he had propelled himself to chairman. Not that Evans was a nut case, as he stood away from product planning for the most part.

There was but one notable exception: the AMX. No official notes on his words exist; but mainly, as the design of the ’68 Javelin was advancing, seeing it next to the Vignale concept, Evans thought it essential for the AMX to reach production if AMC was to capture the youth market. All as long as it could be done on the cheap.

Cheap? That was Teague’s mantle! After brief planning and number crunching, the idea sprouted: Let’s take the AMX-inspired Javelin, blow torch a foot out of the wheelbase, and create a Javelin-based AMX! And voila! And now I also have an idea for a ‘subcompact’! Wait until I sketch it later during tonight’s flight!

Talking about the famous ‘Gremlin’ sketch; along the Javelin and AMX, an additional AMX GT show car debuted in ’68, with much Gremlin in its lines. AMC’s purchase director Gerald Meyers has confirmed the often-told story of Teague’s sketch on a barf bag made during a flight, as they discussed a possible subcompact model. If so, it looks more like Teague had a bunch of those ideas already in place after the recent AMX experience, and used the impromptu meeting to either polish them or sell them to a superior. Bob Nixon would take the concept, and use the Hornet -instead of the Javelin- as the basis for AMC’s future ‘subcompact.’

Teague was an ardent believer in creating products that called attention, to find niches the big three wouldn’t think of. And the AMX was certainly that. Yet, it was another peculiar Teague compromise; first, he worried about rear passengers, and now they were not important at all. Thus, the 2-seat pony car was created. Or the hefty and bulky American take on sports cars?

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like the AMX. As a child, AMC’s products always stood out when I saw them in magazines. Their lines always struck me as clean and attractive; with products that greatly contrasted Detroit’s baroque 1970s offerings. The Hornet was honest and straightforward, with a flowing and easy-on-the-eyes profile. The Javelin was a bit of a darling, looking sporty, modern, and ready for action. And the Gremlin… well, I think I negated that one, as I have no recollection of seeing it back then. All the same for AMC’s full sizers.

And much of my AMX fondness sprouts from my like of the Javelin. I find the AMX’s lines attractive and purposeful, as most of Teague’s better moments. My preferences may be too clinical, though. With the Javelin’s original length, despite its ‘dash-axle’ look, there’s a sense of movement even standing still. That’s something the AMX misses, with its stubby profile and shortened wheelbase making its proportions somewhat symmetrical. The sense of speed and movement gets lost to a degree.

Some of those concerns disappear in the metal, as one walks around the AMX and explores its better bits in three dimensions. I find it a rather friendly face, with generally unmolested flanks, and a neat backside. However, the AMX looks too proper and product-like for the pony car wars. The animal essence found in a Mustang or Charger is somewhat subdued on the AMX.

It’s also odd to reflect on what one is facing; it’s a shortened sporty car, with a heft and bulkiness that could only come from Detroit. A bit like coming near a modern gymnast; it’s short, but look at those muscles!

Did I say the AMX lacks animal essence? Not quite, as all came with rather brutal V-8 engines. And in Cesar’s AMX that brute is the 390 mill, with 315HP, and a low 5,000 RPM redline with tons of torque. Front brakes are gigantic disks, and shifting is through the AMX’s available 4-speed manual. What’s it like to drive? Cesar tells me the car is a beast, and period testing agrees; with the car sprinting from 0-60 in less than 7 seconds. All delivered with questionable handling.

If there’s one thing in the world that says AMC to me, it’s their distinctive aluminum handles.

The 390 badge and some wide gaps around the tail lights. The result of age (flooding, etc.)? Or typical assembly of the times?

The headlight and turn signal arrangement look like a spin on the Ambassador’s double-decked headlight theme. It’s a motif that would appear time and time again at AMC, even in the Cherokee XJ-derived Wagoneer.

The AMX’s previous re-spray left some to be desired on close inspection. I hope a much better result will be achieved next time.

It’s corny, but when turning over this piece, I felt I was holding a bit of history. AMC history nonetheless.

Yes, the COVID damage on Cesar’s AMX is regrettable. It looks worse in its current state, as paneling and soft bits were removed for reupholstery and electrical work. On the other hand, a Javelin-AMX novelty can be appreciated; the one-piece plastic dash. Period reviews criticized the interior as being somewhat drab against the competition’s, but some new technology was being applied and served as a prelude to what was to come. Regulations or not, plastics were coming!

Regarding the interior, period reviews had further quibbles, most rather common to the pony car segment. Ergonomics were poor in general, with the steering slightly off-center, and both seating and interior space being compromised. In all, a pony car!

Do I agree with such peeves? Most seemed spot on while I sat -in childlike impulse- in Cesar’s AMX. The window crank was hard to reach, the steering protruded oddly and was slightly off-center. The shifter sat high on my hand, and most controls (what few there were) seemed hard to reach. Finally, the AMX’s nose extended forever into the horizon, and rear vision was rather compromised.

Not that any of that would change Cesar’s mind, or pony car fans’ preferences. All the trouble is worth it to get some minutes gunning those powerful mills.

Buff magazines didn’t quite know what to think of the AMX, and even AMC seemed confused. The company sometimes referred to it as an ‘American muscle car’ (I’m down with that), and at others as a ‘true sports car’ (Mmm, not really…) Most said the closest thing in the market was the Corvette, others thought it was the long-gone 2-seat Thunderbird.

In truth, there was nothing like it. Like a good number of late AMCs, it was certainly a product in search of a niche, and somewhat half-finished. Working with outdated technology, the company gave the world interesting driveable-concepts that didn’t quite function that well. The Gremlin was an impractical subcompact, while the Pacer was a non-economical compact. And the AMX? The 2-seat pony car? The personal pony car?

Of course, all these were new sensations for AMC, and it’s not surprising it didn’t quite know what to do with itself. It was the church-going kid suddenly paragliding and asking to join an Ayahuasca retreat. Odd and unexpected events were now inevitable, with some even seeming a bit desperate. Now AMC was even courting with that Oh-so-cool ’60s publication; Playboy, by providing an AMX to 1968’s Playmate of the Year, Victoria Vetri. Finished in Playmate Pink, of course.

In more substantial endeavors, racing was part of AMC’s renewed vigor; with AMXs and Javelins taking to the track in a large factory effort. It’s a completely separate chapter, but let’s just say that in ’71 and ’72, AMC won the Trans-Am Championship title.

Regardless of AMC’s ever-precarious position, dreams were running wild for a while. Teague and company were even contemplating another halo car: A mid-engine. Even Giotto Bizarrini of Ferrari and Lamborghini fame got involved, and a few handmade units were apparently built. With the Pacer and Matador coupe sinking the company, all those lofty ideas died quickly away.

So, much has happened to Cesar’s AMX. Then again, he will probably get the car done, since he’s already pulled others from the brink. A replacement windshield is already purchased, rust is minimal, bits of exterior trim are stored away, and the interior’s soft bits are being restored and reupholstered. Meanwhile, paint shops have improved a great deal, so they’ll probably do a decent job.

By the way, if you wonder how AMC ended up selling cars in El Salvador, think no more about it. They didn’t. This particular AMX was imported directly to its first owner in the late ’60s, who intended to race it in local tracks. Apparently, Mustangs and Camaros were just too ‘ordinary’ for him. No idea if such plans ever materialized.

Of course, the AMX experiment was short-lived. Close to 20K units of 2-seat AMXs were sold between ’68 to ’70. An estimated less than a thousand still exist. The moniker would survive though, first as a trim package for the Javelin, and then in ever less compelling forms.

As with most halo cars, the intended purpose of the AMX was to get buyers excited and create buzz. Did the model really boost AMC’s showroom sales? Such measurements are always hard to assess, and I often wonder if they’re more of a myth than anything. Regardless, if such myths are necessary to create daring oddballs like the AMX, I’m all for it.

Further reading:

Vintage R&T Road Test: 1968 American Motor’s AMX – The Gremlin’s Predecessor

Curbside Classic: 1973 AMC Javelin AMX – Right On Target