Vintage Motor Trend Road Test: 1970 American Motors AMX – Distinct, Potent And Rough

“What can we say? The AMX is a great machine in so many ways but in others, it wants.” – MT ’69

That basically sums up just about every period review of the AMX. In ’68, Road and Track found a good deal they would like improved in the model. For 1970, the AMX arrived visually refreshed and found a more enthusiastic response at the hands of MT. But still, wanting in pretty much the same areas R&T had criticized a year prior.

Back in ’68, AMC had joined the muscle car wars with the Javelin and the AMX. The related pair were part of a two-pronged attack meant to shake off the carmaker’s old-fashioned image. The Javelin arrived as the more traditional pony car, while the AMX was a more daring move. The bold two-seater had come to be thanks to some sleight of hand by AMC’s stylists; by cutting the Javelin’s wheelbase by about foot, AMC had delivered the ‘sports car’ most of its competitors didn’t. The final result was uniquely styled, hard to categorize, and somewhat compromised.

An AMC product in other words.

In the review, one can sense MT was generally favorable toward the AMX, even if they had mixed feelings about the final product. “American Motors has put GT handling, performance and feel into one car… The machine displays excellent balance. Running the short 3.91:1 gear, you can power-drift through smooth corners with great exuberance, hanging the tail out with the throttle. There is virtually no lean in this car…”

MT’s AMX carried a 390CID V-8, providing 315 hp. The AMX provided the goods in the power department. It was a serious performer; 0-60 arrived in 6.56 secs. and it covered the 1/4 mile in 14.68 secs. clocking at 92 mph.

Those impressive numbers came with the usual drawbacks found in Detroit’s high-performance models. Stiff shocks and high-rate springs compensated for the AMX’s very small wheel travel of its suspension. Thus, the AMX’s ride on rough surfaces was poor and its handling could be skitterish. In high-performance testing, the AMX’s clutch proved troublesome, and the gear shift was hard to use. Meanwhile, the disc brakes showed signs of fading under hard driving.

Another frustrating oddity was that the AMX’s “maximum horsepower is stipulated at 5000rpm, which also happens to be the red-line. And they mean it. One or two revs over the limit and the lifters pump up and they don’t come back.”

The car’s manufacture and packaging came into evaluation as well, finding praise in the former. “We’d have to say that the AMX is one of the better-constructed cars around. Everything fits properly, works and has a sturdy engineered look about it.”

However, there were some irksome details throughout. Seating got a lot of grumbling, the result of limited seat travel. “Frustratingly, you can’t even approach arms-out driving position, let alone being totally comfortable.” Not mentioned in MT’s text, was Road & Track’s criticism of pedals and steering being slightly off-center, affecting seating as well.

In sum, “AMC has almost created a true GT, but not quite… If they could but lengthen the seat travel, lengthen wheel travel without ruining the handling, install a wider gate shifter…. the AMX would be precisely at ground zero.” One can sense that despite its drawbacks, MT was more smitten with the car’s power, styling, and overall potential.

As mentioned, the year prior R&T had a far less enthusiastic review of the model; “The car has a tremendously heavy feel about it… Steering is slow and numb… On rough roads it does what we’ve come to expect of Ponycars – it jumps around. It can be driven hard only on smooth roads.”

Regardless, the AMX was a unique, exciting, and short-lived machine. A dramatically styled vehicle, that arrived just in time for AMC to catch the last wave of the performance market.


Further reading:

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

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