Green With Envy: Kenny Laflower’s LS-Swapped, 8-Second AMC Javelin

Albeit certainly not on the same scale as Detroit’s ‘big three’ automakers, the once-vibrant American Motors Corporation, shuddered in 1988, still enjoys a devoted but niche following around the country and the world. Among its memorable vehicles and most prized by collectors was the Javelin, AMC’s entrance into the “pony car” market that hit the showroom in 1967. Producing 315 horsepower from its 390-inch V8, the Javelin competed head-to-head with the Mustang, the second-generation Plymouth Barracuda, the first-generation Camaro, and other timeless performance-minded machines of the late 1960s.

AMC produced two generations of the Javelin, but called it quits in the fall of 1974 as other automakers abandoned the pony car market entirely or pivoted to smaller engines and outpaced sales of the sleek AMC. The Javelin’s run pre-dated by three years Indiana native Kenny LaFlower. Now 40 years of age, Laflower has assembled a 1970 AMC Javelin that, while unsatisfactory in the eyes of many a purist, captures attention in its own way with an entirely new generation of gearheads.

The Northeastern Indiana native’s story is a familiar one: growing up around cars and the racetrack with his family, Lallower purchased the Javelin at 15, drawn to it by its looks and the simple fact that it was something different. More than two decades old by that point, it was in rough shape, but it was in Laflower’s price range and it had a V8 powerplant, and that checked a couple of important boxes for any teenage male of driving age in the twentieth century.

Laflower took it to his local strip, the Muncie Dragway, and flogged its worn-out 304 cubic-inch powerplant to blistering laps in the 17-second range. Eventually he blew it up and sold it to a friend, who rebuilt the bottom end but rarely gave it the attention it deserved. Laflower bought the car back three years after he sold it, and the rest is history. Kenny later put a set of aluminum heads and nitrous oxide on the AMC-built bullet and punched into the 10.70s at just a hair over over 120 mph in the quarter.

In 2012, it was painted the gorgeous Synergy Green color that you see now. Two years later, Laflower was attending a car show in his hometown of Huntington, Indiana when he happened upon Adam Hodson, who turned him onto the idea of swapping an LS engine into the Javelin to boost — some pun intended — its performance. By that time, low-buck enthusiasts had been exploiting the impressive capabilities and reliability of GM’s LS engine platform in stock form for a number of years; Hodson, part of Team 260, a group of enthusiasts from in and around Fort Wayne, Indiana who had taken a collective liking to the platform, convinced Laflower it was a cheap and proven path to get his AMC where he wanted it, performance-wise.

As any of the AMC faithful can attest, finding original or remanufactured parts to build a true red, white, and blue AMC powerplant to run into the eights is no simple or affordable task. Laflower noted that one racer he ran across at a recent all-AMC event in Ohio disclosed having $5,000 invested in a set of cylinder heads alone. Laflower meanwhile, with the guidance of Hodson and Team 260, spent only a few hundred dollars on a 5.3-liter GM engine lifted from the junkyard. Paired with an S475 turbo, he was able to push right into the nines — no costly cylinder heads or bottom end assembly work necessary.

Like many who have gone the LS swap route before him, Laflower endured his share of parts breakage early on as he figured things out. MAP sensor issues and other problems plagued his efforts, as he went through two 5.3s and a 6.0-liter engine in a span of a year. But at little more than $700 a pop, it was no big ordeal to go get another one.

That isn’t to suggest the combination wasn’t reliable, however. In 2016, Laflower and his GM-powered Javelin embarked on the test of man and machine that is Drag Week, which that year virtually encircled his home in Huntington. He completed the 1,000-plus mile trip, clocking a best of 10.290 in Norwalk, Ohio and finishing with a 10.528-second, 129.80 mph average to close the week in sixth-place in the Street Machine class — all with the boost turned down to meet the 10.00 minimum for the class. Last year he returned with more potency under the hood compliments of a billet-wheel BorgWarner 85mm turbo, to take on the Super Street Small-Block Power Adder class. He again completed the entire journey, and again finished sixth, this time with an average lap of 8.846 at 153.13 mph and a best of 8.762. Interestingly, he finished one spot ahead of Hodson, who came in just behind at an 8.852-second average over the five days.

While another Drag Week factors into his plans, Laflower has turned to no-prep racing of late; last fall he trekked to Bowling Green, Kentucky and went deep into the late rounds in the small-tire class at the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings filming, and has taken part in other no-prep events in Indiana and Michigan since.

This season, Laflower procured a set of factory LS1 heads massaged by Mike Duke Racing Heads, which allowed him to dial the boost back from 32 pounds to 28, thus placing a little less stress on the stock bottom end while flowing enough air to the keep the performance in the same general range. He’s been a best of 8.64 at 158 mph with the 3,850-pound car (with driver), and while the GM mill has proven elsewhere that it can take more (a lot more, actually), LaFlower assures that he’s content with the current performance level that’s nearly nine full seconds quicker than it was when he bought it off that used car lot in Wabash, Indiana all those years ago.

The spec sheet initially reads like that of a grudge racer who’s being devious about the exact specifications of what’s under the hood. Except Laflower’s is entirely legit. Engine block? Stock. Crank, rods, and pistons? Stock. Intake and exhaust valves and rocker arms? Stock. Machine work? Factory. Measuring 364 cubic-inches, it’s easier to just read off what isn’t stock about the 2010-model, 6.0-liter engine than what is.

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Laflower added a Weiand LS1 intake and a low-buck BBK throttle body to the top of the aforementioned modified-stock heads, and a TLC Performance Stage II camshaft with a .230-inch duration and .600-inch lift. A Holley fuel pump and regulator provide the fuel through 160 lb/hr injectors, while Holley was also chosen for the ignition box and mass air meter and MAP sensor to allow Hodson to do his tuning magic. The engine still uses the factory manifold exhaust, owing to the dirt-cheap simplicity of the whole thing.

Friend Chris Bishir did all of the fabrication work on the turbocharger system, and Jeff Alston jumped in to do the intercooler and water tank, along with the parachute mount and hitch for pulling a trailer. The Javelin sports a front-mounted air-to-water intercooler with 2-inch hot-side and 3-inch cold-side plumbing with Tial wastegates and blow-off valves.

Power is transferred through a Turbo 400 built by Matt Rodgers paired with a Precision Industries 4,000 rpm stall torque converter to a Ford 9-inch out back via a Hurst shifter. Laflower runs a Strange Engineering spool and 3.25 gears to a set of Moser Engineering axles to the Billet Specialties wheels, outfitted with Mac Fab beadlocks and wrapped in Mickey Thompson 275 Pro Drag Radial rubber.

Kenny is still running leaf springs under the car, albeit with upgraded QA1 shocks and Calvert split mono-leafs. Up front he’s added Control Freak Suspension upper and low control arms and QA1 shocks and springs. Wilwood disc brakes front and rear bring it all to a halt.

Originally red, white, and blue in color, Scotty Rodgers covered it in the striking House of Kolor paint. On the inside you’ll find a black vinyl interior with a 10-point cage and five-point harnesses for safety. Unlike many racing-dedicated machines with similar performance capability, it still has both front seats and the rear bench so Laflower can take the family or his racing buddies out for a spin in style.

What Laflower has assembled is, in a lot of ways, the perfect muscle car: the timeless styling of days-gone-by, with the modern powerplant and running gear of today’s highly-refined wonders. And while the LS platform has proven itself capable of far more than he’s pressed it, Laflower says he’s content right where he’s at; and can you blame him? He’s got looks, comfort, reliability, affordability, and speed … and that checks all the boxes, if you ask us.

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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