How About Some Love for the AMX?

03/25/2012

By Bill Stephens

Call them what you like. Dark horses, underdogs, the unheralded, uncelebrated, or unloved. Regardless of the nickname they bear, theirs is a category of automobile in which recognition, respect, and reverence are in short supply. And when it comes to Muscle Cars, I believe the “King of the Underdog” has to be AMC’s AMX, which was built between 1968 and 1970.

1968-amx This 1968 AMX doesn’t look like an underdog. But it is.

While G-Force junkies rave on about 396 Chevelles, Cobra Jet Mustangs, and Hemi Anythings, the AMX rarely gets the props it deserves. I remember when the AMX joined the high-performance street warfare which had escalated across the country some four years earlier and to say it set off a thunderous explosion of response would be, well, an exaggeration. Diehard AMC fans agreed they now had a real horse in the Torque Monster race, but GM, Ford, and Chrysler fans didn’t bat an eye.

The AMX looked great, so much so that at least one enthusiast magazine called it “The best looking American car on the road.” While only a two-seater, it escaped any widespread comparisons to the Chevy Corvette, mostly because AMC didn’t want to give the impression the AMX was a sports car. It did receive the Grand Touring appellation from some quarters and thanks to the top shelf 390-cubic-inch, 315-horsepower engine (which got nudged up to 325 in 1970), the AMX had no trouble wearing the “Muscle Car” moniker.

But in the many, many casual conversations I’ve had with car guys at Mecum Auctions all over the USA, whenever the subject turns to truly memorable and dynamic automobiles which ruled the boulevards and main streets of Muscle Car Nation, the AMX rarely if ever gets a mention.

You may have your own opinions on why that’s the case. I have mine. One is, AMC — which stood for American Motors Corporation — had long established its image with the car-buying public years before with cars which were staid, sensible, and excessively practical. The Nash Rambler nameplate represented station wagons with seats that folded into a bed, Nash Metropolitans which were under-powered mini-cars which pre-dated the Smart Car by 60 years, Rambler Americans which were being sold on the basis of fuel economy when gasoline was priced at 20-cents a gallon. But you know what?  That strategy worked with American Motors raking in the cash through the entire decade of the sixties.

But when they jumped into the performance game, that fiscally responsible and cloth-coat conservative image was tough to shake. If that were not enough to besmirch the performance pretensions of the AMX, American Motors bit the dust in 1988 and going out of business has never been considered an image builder.

The Javelin preceded the AMX by five months and it faced the same image shortfalls. They were also pleasing to the eye, blessed with several potent powertrains, and capable handlers.

And lest you think the AMX was overmatched by the competition on the drag strip, several factory-backed race teams and a fair number of privateers successfully campaigned race-prepared AMX’s for several years. NHRA champion Wally Booth raced all manner of AMC-built Super Stocks and Pro Stocks including AMX’s, while Herman Lewis, known to many as “The Godfather of AMC Racing”, is said to have won 200 events in his hellacious red, white, and blue AMX. 

Herman-lewis-amx
Herman Lewis, who recently passed away in February, got plenty of respect in his full-race AMX which picked up 200 event wins.

 

Mark Donohue won the SCCA Trans Am championship in an AMC Javelin in 1971 which added to AMC’s competition body of work. And the legendary land speed record holder Craig Breedlove set numerous endurance speed records in specially-equipped Javelins and AMX’s on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

But that did little to power up the AMX’s street cred or overall desirability and today, fastidiously restored 390-cube AMX’s draw a fraction of the money (and attention) that the Camaros, Chevelles, Mustangs, Cudas, Chargers, and Challengers of the world are slathered with.

Often identified as one of the top collector car investments by various experts within the hobby, the 1968-1970 AMC AMX may be the Rodney Dangerfield of factory hot rods and you could snap one up with a total restoration, that 390 engine, 4-speed transmission, Magnum 500-style wheels, and if it’s a 1970, with a gnarly-looking functional hood scoop, for somewhere between  $30,000-$40,000.

That’s why you’ve got to love an underdog.

Mecum-amx

Want an AMX? This one has the 390 C.I. engine and an automatic transmission and will cross the Mecum Auction block next weekend in Kansas City. Coverage begins Thursday on Velocity.  Check the TV Schedule for times.

 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bill Stephens



Visit daily for posts about the shows and spirit of Velocity, an upscale male lifestyle network, featuring the best of the automotive, sports, adventure and travel genres.

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