The 1968-1974 AMC Javelin was the creation of Richard A. Teague, chief designer for the company since 1960. Teague left his job at Chrysler and signed on as chief stylist for American Motors. There he remained until his retirement, which he took shortly after the French buy-in and restructuring of the company around Renault (and soon-to-be Chrysler) models.
AMC looked like a good choice for a talented designer in those days. It had been formed out of Hudson and Nash in 1954 by George Mason, whose untimely death later that year prompted George Romney's promotion into the president's chair.
Like Mason, Romney believed in smaller, more efficient "compact" cars, and so American Motors shifted most of its emphasis to the Rambler American -- just in the nick of time for the 1958 recession.
Probably the most sought-after Javelins today are the performance-oriented models, but a Javelin could be luxurious, too, as this 1974 coupe with vinyl roof indicates.
Thus, in a year when sales of most Detroit products plummeted, Rambler rolled to a record 200,000 units. A year after Teague had come aboard, AMC found itself third in volume behind Chevy and Ford, an amazing showing for an independent.
Teague couldn't have minded, after what he'd been through. California-born, a nut for cars and planes, he had joined General Motors in 1948 but was underwhelmed by the bureaucracy there. Switching to Packard, he became director of styling in 1953, only to play centerstage during the death throes of the marque in the mid-1950s.
Teague presided over AMC Styling through those prosperous years when the firm -- the leading purveyor of cars Romney called "alternatives to the Detroit dinosaur" -- could do no wrong.
Teague's eye for styling integrity turned the overstyled Rambler into a smoothly skinned design by 1963, while the American "ordnance vehicle" blossomed into a graceful compact by 1964, the same year AMC embarked on its ponycar project.
The 1968 production Javelins deviated from the styling studies mainly in the front end design, which featured a high-mounted grille but with a more smoothly integrated front bumper.
While the AMC Javelin was very definitely a competitive response to the wildly successful Ford Mustang, other complex changes occurring at American Motors at that time also affected its creation.
When Romney resigned to enter politics in February 1962, his replacement as president was Roy Abernathy, a sales executive with the dubious prior background of Kaiser and Packard.
Almost simultaneously, AMC switched roles. From an exclusive supplier of reliable-but-dull compacts, the firm moved toward a broad product line meeting the Big Three across the board.
During this period, AMC built luxury Ambassadors, fastback Marlins, Rebel muscle cars, the novel two-seater AMX, and the handsome Javelin.
The AMC Javelin was not Roy Abernathy's kind of car, and by the time it arrived, he'd gone. He had been blamed for setting AMC on an ultimately fatal course, first because his board asked for it, secondly because there were few alternatives.
They'd been first out with a compact, but once the Big Three entered that market, Rambler sales bombed. You can have a good idea, even if you're small. But, as Rich Taylor once commented, "you'll have elephant footprints all over you" before you know it.
But Abernathy's successor, Roy Dikeman Chapin, Jr., welcomed such new product thrusts as the Javelin, which improved morale among AMC stylists. The enthusiasm was not hard to understand, Motor Trend remarked, after you'd met Teague himself: "He sits at his desk, surrounded by models of classic cars, flails his arms and yells with enthusiasm when discussing even moderately exciting ones."
1968-1974 AMC Javelin Design
John A. Conde, former AMC public relations manager, remembers that the 1968-1974 AMC Javelin design origins came with Dick Teague's intriguing "Project Four" idea cars, introduced in 1966. Two of these, the AMX and AMX II, influenced the exciting production AMX two-seater.
A third, the Vixen, was a close-coupled coupe with a landau-type roof. All three bore lines that clearly influenced the production Javelin. (The fourth, the intriguing Cavalier, featured front/rear diagonally interchangeable doors.)
Many buyers opted for the more up-market Javelin SST for 1968.
Although obviously a reply to the marketplace and not a new idea, the Javelin received high ratings from the automotive press. AMC billed it as a "full 4-passenger sporty car," and it did indeed have more interior space than any competitor -- save the Mercury Cougar, which it equaled.
The design was beautifully clean and uncluttered in the long-hood/short-deck ponycar idiom, its smoothness accentuated by flush door handles, ventless side windows, and sweeping "C" pillars.
The red 1969 Javelin SST was unusual in that it sported the 232-cid, 145-horsepower six-cylinder engine, good for 24 mpg.
The front bumper, an expensive piece of chrome-plated metal, combined to form the underpan. It created a nice effect back in the pre-Endura-nose 1960s, at the same time avoiding the tacked-on look of the Mustang bumper, for example.
The interior featured standard front bucket seats and deeply recessed full instrumentation in a padded ABS plastic panel. The latter looked a bit funereal on the standard Javelin, which was finished in black, but other colors were available on the upmarket SST.
All 1968 AMC Javelins sported thin-line paint striping at the beltline, and an optional "wide stripe" came with the Rally-Pak, which soon became known as the "Go" package. It included road-going necessities such as power front-disc brakes, wide oval tires, handling suspension, and dual exhausts.
1968-1974 AMC Javelin Performance
The 1968-1974 AMC Javelin performance rated high, with excellent handling and speeds that could match the likes of Mustangs and Camaros.
The 343 V-8 started out as Javelin's largest engine, almost as light and compact as the workaday 290, and therefore not heavy enough to adversely affect the car's weight bias.
Though it gave about 50 cubic inches and 50 horses to the 390/396/400-cubic-inch Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, and Firebirds, it matched their performance: 0-60 mph with the optional four-speed needed less than eight seconds.
Javelin received a mild facelift for 1970, highlighted by a "twin-venturi" grille, revised hood, new wheel covers, and reshuffled trim.
Rival big-blocks would pull away eventually, with their 125-135 mph top speeds against Javelin's 105, but in a country where top speed is incidental and acceleration a virtual gauge of manhood, this was no liability.
AMC achieved it, not by frenetic over-gearing (3.15:1 axle ratio with the four speed) but by relative lightness: A 343 tested by Car Life weighed 3,461 pounds, several hundred less than rival big-inch ponycars. (The base six weighed in at 2,826 pounds.)
Javelin's suspension was conventional, with coil springs and wishbones up front, semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear.
The car needed options like quick-ratio steering and the handling package (front sway bar, heavy-duty springs and shocks), but these were available on all models, including the six. The latter, however, could not be had with the four-speed stick.
Sound ordinary? Perhaps -- but it worked. With the handling package, the Javelin was a handler: It stuck like glue, and while it leaned and rolled a little, this wasn't very apparent to the driver.
One Javelin road-tester said, "If auto racing were relegated to strictly stock cars, we'd put our bet here." Obviously a successful Javelin racing program would need an expert tweaker and a darn good driver.
Furthermore, Javelin was handicapped in Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am racing, where the ponycars competed, by the displacement limit of 305 cubic inches. Mustang and Camaro/ Firebird were running 302s, while AMC had to make do with the 290, thus spotting the competition a dozen crucial cubes.
The Penske Racing Team Javelin was built at a cost of over $100,000 and campaigned by Mark Donohue in 1970, Peter Revson in 1971, and raced by others from 1972-1983.
AMC gamely entered the fray anyway. Hiring Jim Jeffords (of Corvette fame) to head the team, along with crack drivers Peter Revson and George Follmer, the Javelin proved itself capable of running with the hottest Z/28s and Mustangs. Nonetheless, the 1968 season belonged to Penske Camaro and Mark Donohue. In 1969, under Ron Kaplan, the Javelin team was stopped again.
The way to beat Penske, AMC concluded, was to grab his top driver, and so they duly signed up Mark Donohue. He drove hard, and won several races, but not the championship.
The next year, when Ford and Chrysler stopped backing their cars and Penske didn't try hard, Mark and the Javelin came home first -- a notable achievement for a feisty independent that until recently had been building Nash Ambassadors.
1968-1970 AMC Javelin
The 1968-1970 AMC Javelin came at the end of the peak of the ponycar market, and the sales numbers showed.
Roy Chapin had said he'd be happy with "35,000-40,000 sales" in 1968, recognizing that his company had been the last to enter a crowded market against rivals that had been around for up to three years.
So he cleverly priced the car under the competition (the base model started at only $2,482 versus $2,602 for a Mustang), and sold 70,000 Javelins over the calendar year, 56,462 of them 1968 models.
The 1970 Mark Donohue Javelin SST was one of 2,501 built to homologate the Donohue-designed rear spoiler for Trans Am racing.
Alas, that was the best Javelin would ever do. The ponycar market was fast fragmenting now, and by 1969 it had already peaked. Sales of the 1969 model dropped to 40,000, and model year production after that never exceeded 30,000.
The 1969 Javelin changed only slightly, featuring an altered grille and reshuffled trim. The "Go" package -- "rather too cutely named," Automobile Quarterly sniffed -- now included dummy hood scoops, while the SST gained a mid-year "Big Bad" trim option that flaunted wild colors and stripes, color-keyed urethane bumpers, and a roof-mounted spoiler.
There was also a big-block V-8 now, 390 cubes with 315 gross horsepower, to help the Javelin compete more equally with big-engined rivals.
The 1970 models saw another mild facelift, highlighted by a "twin-venturi" grille, revised hood, new wheel covers, and trim changes. Donohue's Trans-Am effort that year stood to benefit by enlargement of the 290 V-8 to 304 cid, but a rules change allowing competitors to de-stroke big blocks to 305 inches negated this.
Striving to put Donohue's campaign to good sales use, AMC offered two limited edition Javelins that are quite collectible today. The "Mark Donohue Special" carried a huge rear spoiler emblazoned with Mark's signature, while a very low-volume SST Trans-Am featured the racing team's red, white, and blue paint scheme with spoilers fore and aft.
Production of the 1970 Donohue Special hit 2,501; John Conde says they made "only about 50" of the Trans-Am SSTs.
1971-1974 AMC Javelin
The 1971-1974 AMC Javelin saw modest design changes, and sales failed to increase.
The Javelin's biggest styling change came in 1971, but as Dick Teague said, "It was just basically a heavy face-lift . . . we never had a lot of money to do really dramatic things."
Dramatic enough, though: The wheelbase, length, and width increased, but the car's most prominent feature was the front wheel arches (or humps), which gave the car a busier, bulkier, more GM-like look than previously.
The Donohue Special was continued, but a new Javelin-based AMX replaced the now-discontinued two-seater AMX.
The AMX continued as the performance version of the Javelin for 1972. This Trans Am Red sample stickered at $4,761.70.
Product planners apparently thought the name still evoked a performance image, however, so the "Javelin AMX" was outfitted with a standard 360 V-8 rated at 245 horsepower. It could also be ordered with AMC's new 401-cid V-8, an enlargement of the 390.
By now, emission controls were severely affecting performance, and so the 401's 16-second quarter-mile and eight-second 0-60 times only matched what a good 343 could do back in 1968. The 401 remained a Javelin option through the end of production in 1974; it was the largest powerplant in AMC history.
In the disappearing ponycar market of 1972-1974, Javelin maintained a two-model lineup. Sales continued at a rate of about 25,000 units per year, respectable for its builder. Changes were few, restricted mainly to trim shuffles and front end face-lifts.
The Tally-Ho Green 1973 AMX is powered by the 360 V-8 driving through a four-speed.
For 1972, the SST wore a bold egg-crate grille to set it apart from AMX's mesh-type. The following year, both the egg-crate grille and the SST moniker disappeared, leaving a base Javelin and Javelin AMX, the latter with its usual deck spoiler and V-8.
Why was the Javelin dropped? You've probably guessed already: By the mid-1970s the bottom had dropped right out of the ponycar market. And, as John Conde noted, a firm with relatively limited resources could not afford to tie up an entire production line with a low-volume product.
"The Javelin lasted until another all-new car came out -- the Pacer. We needed this manufacturing line to build Pacers on, so we decided to drop the Javelin. But of course, the market for those types of cars certainly wasn't going up."
Neither, alas, was the market for American Motors products of any description. When the Javelin and two-seat AMX were at their peak, car collectors nationwide were rooting the company on.
"We've noticed this at meets, tours, races, any number of events," wrote Automobile Quarterly in 1969. "American Motors must survive, everyone says. [But] few of those espousing concern over the American Motors situation were driving the company's cars."
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