7 April 2014

Overlooked Pony: 1968-1974 AMC Javelin

Part 1: Ask the Man Who Owned One

The enthusiasm you see in AMC Javelin owners belies the relatively low production of this unique take on the pony car. Introduced for 1968, the Javelin may have been late to the party, but it made a memorable entrance and left a lasting impression.

Peter Patrone can attest to that. Formerly the head of product planning for Mercedes-Benz USA, and today an auto industry consultant, Patrone put thousands of miles on a 1971 Javelin AMX when he was an engineering student at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) in the mid-1970s. The school’s cooperative work-study program meant students spent six weeks in school, and then six weeks working at a General Motors facility or office. Living in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the time, Patrone would drive to work at the GM assembly plant in Linden, N.J., and then every six weeks drive back to school in Flint, Mich.

He’d bought the Javelin in 1974 from a seller in Manhattan. The car wore the big, ugly aftermarket bumper guards that Patrone called “obligatory” for New York driving. The 1971 Javelin AMX was pretty rare, with just 2,054 made.

Patrone’s AMX was blue with the white T-stripe on the fiberglass hood. Under the hood was the 360 4-barrel engine, hooked to a 4-speed. The engine was part of the optional Go Package, a performance upgrade that also included dual exhausts, handling suspension, Twin Grip differential, styled wheels, white-letter tires and other tweaks.

“It was a unique design,” Patrone said. “It had cool details, like the exaggerated forms over the front and rear wheels and the wire mesh grille.”

Among Patrone’s favorite features was the cowl induction hood. It was similar to what Chevrolet offered on its muscle cars, but the Javelin’s functional air flap spanned nearly the entire hood.

“As soon as you nailed it, the vacuum dropped and the flap opened up,” said Patrone. “It was right in front of the fresh air ducts at the base of the windshield, so the induction roar came through the car’s ventilation ductwork.”

Hard launches had a downside: “It had axle hop like you wouldn’t believe,” Patrone said, citing a problem that contemporary road tests also called out.

Aside a voracious thirst for fuel on 12-hour drives to Michigan, Patrone said the Javelin was otherwise fairly practical.

“It rode comfortably. And it had a more spacious interior and bigger trunk than Mustang and Camaro,” he said. “I had a footlocker at school that fit right into the trunk.”

Patrone’s Javelin suffered a hit from a red-light runner, and eventually he began taking a plane between New York and Michigan. He sold the AMX to his brother.

“He left it at his house on Long Island. With the salt, heat and humidity, the car deteriorated,” Patrone said. “I still have the AMX badge from the grille.”

Today, Patrone takes a break from his daily driver Mercedes to enjoy a ’91 Mustang 5.0 convertible and a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am with the W72 and WS6 packages.

Part 2: No Mustang Wannabe

Introduced for 1968, the AMC Javelin followed the pony car general formula set by the Mustang, but projected its own identity through a unique and fairly aggressive-looking design, respectable performance options and a roomy interior.

Richard Teague, head of AMC design who seemed to work miracles with low budgets, developed a semi-fastback body design for the Javelin. There was no convertible, but there was a short-wheelbase, two-seat offshoot, the AMX, aimed at the Corvette.

AMC showed the value of its innovation with one small-block engine family that covered displacements from 290 to 401 cubic inches over the Javelin’s seven-year production run. Instead of a specific performance model, the Javelin offered the Go Package upgrade, at first with a 343 cu. in. four-barrel V-8 and also offering the 390- and later 360- or 401-cube versions. The package included dual exhausts, upgraded suspension and brakes, Twin Grip differential, styled wheels, white-letter tires and other features.

Imagination loomed large in Javelin design sessions. In tune with the times, AMC offered a “Mod” package and intense “Big Bad” colors. The 1972 and 1973 Pierre Cardin designer edition had a multi-color striped interior.

The Alabama Highway Patrol used a fleet of 401-powered Javelins in the 1970s. AMC put the Javelin into the SCCA Trans-Am series and did quite well. In 1970, the company built a run of 2,501 Mark Donohue signature editions equipped with the Go Package and a distinctive ducktail spoiler used on the Trans Am racecars. Separate from those, a limited run of 100 commemorative Trans Am Javelins had the Go Package and a can’t-miss-it, red-white-and-blue paint scheme.

Constrained by budgets, Teague’s team pulled off a remarkable redesign on the original Javelin body for 1971. The two-seat AMX was dropped, and AMX became the specific performance version of the Javelin, available with the 360 or 401 V-8 through 1974. The 401 was rare.

The Javelin won back-to-back Trans Am championships in 1971 and 1972. But race wins didn’t seem to help sales, which hovered at about 25,000 per year in the 1970s.

Javelin’s best year was its first, with about 56,000 built. The total made from 1968-1974 came to just about 233,000 — plus some 19,000 of the two-seat 1968-1970 AMX.  Today, sadly, good ones are not easy to find.

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