Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, and Pontiac. What do these brands all have in common? Well, amongst other things, the overwhelming majority of muscle cars built in the 1960s and ’70s rolled out of the factories of these five marques.
That’s not to say, however, that some seminal performance cars didn’t spring forth from the design studios of other players. Indeed, Oldsmobile blessed us with their brutish Hurst/Olds in 1968, Mercury dropped their elegant Cougar GT-E 428 Cobra Jet that same year, and Buick unleashed one of the quickest and most powerful cars of the entire era in the form of the 1970 GSX Stage 1.
While I give major props to these brands for their efforts, there was another niche player in the muscle car market that always piqued my interest more than them. Long considered an also-ran, this relatively small company came out with a few highly eccentric yet thoroughly capable street monsters that, by many metrics, bested cars from the Big Three.
I’m talking, of course, about the long-since-defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC).
Formed by the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car companies in the mid-1950s, AMC’s paradigm was to offer models with performance and safety at a price point below that of the majors. While this business plan often led to some fairly dreary models in terms of quality and style, every once in a while, AMC swung for the fences and knocked one out of the park.
One such example of this was an exceedingly low-production variant of their popular Javelin model. Known as the Javelin SST Trans Am coupe, it came out of nowhere in 1970 to celebrate AMC’s participation in the SCCA Trans Am racing series.
In this month’s installment of Rare Rides, we’re gonna take an exhaustive look at this beast, and by the end, I have a feeling you’ll come to appreciate it as much as I do.
So away we go!
The Javelin first entered the AMC lineup in 1967 as a ’68 model. Styled by the legendary Dick Teague, the car was the company’s stab at a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, four-seat coupe aimed at competing with the wildly successful Ford Mustang in the pony car segment that it created.
Built on AMC’s compact Rambler American “Junior” platform, the Javelin was endowed by Teague with elegant, long hood/short deck proportions and a sleek, semi-fastback roofline for an exceedingly attractive overall profile.
The front end featured what AMC referred to as a “Twin Venturi” look, with pod-mounted headlights at the corners framing a recessed, split honeycomb grille. Round turn signals were recessed directly below the headlights in a wraparound, full-width, chrome bumper. A steeply raked windshield led to the aforementioned low roofline.
Out back was a quasi-buttress treatment that ran from the roof to the trailing edge of the trunk. A simple, full-width light bar containing the taillights and backup lights was stacked above a fender-to-fender, large, chrome bumper.
In contrast to the attractive and conservative exterior, there were quite a few eccentric design choices to the all-plastic, low-quality interior.
Once seated in the Javelin’s standard bucket seats, the passengers were confronted with an unusually upright dash featuring an odd, protruding instrument binnacle with deeply recessed pods that housed the gauges.
The temperature controls were incomprehensibly located on the lower dash to the left of the driver, making passenger adjustment impossible. The center stack, though possessing ample room for controls, curiously had none except for the radio. Similarly, the boxy floor console (if so optioned) was devoid of controls or embellishment, save for the shifter.
Under the hood, base model Javelins came standard with a 232 cubic-inch straight-six. Optional power ranged from a 290 cubic-inch two-barrel V8, a four-barrel version of the same engine, and a four-barrel 343 cubic-inch unit.
The higher trim Javelin, known as the SST, which included a wood-grain appointed interior, body cladding, and unique wheel covers, enabled buyers to order their car with AMC’s hot 390 four-barrel V8 borrowed from the Ambassador. This motor put some serious spring into the Javelin’s step with its 315 horsepower and stump-pulling 425 lb-ft of torque.
Javelins equipped with a V8 could be had with Borg-Warner’s M-12 Shift-Command three-speed slushbox in console and column shifter versions, or a hearty Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual. Final drive ratio options were somewhat limited but ranged up to 3.54:1 depending on the engine/transmission configuration.
The suspension consisted of a twin-ball-joint design with coil springs and an anti-sway bar up front, and semi-elliptical leaf springs out back. For slowing down, the Javelin came standard with 10-inch drum brakes front and rear. Wheels were 14-inch stamped steelies wrapped in E70-R14 tires.
Options for the Javelin were legion, but in terms of performance upgrades, a buyer needed to look no further than the “Go-Package”. This included such niceties as front disc brakes, wider Magnum 500 style wheels, redline tires, heavy-duty suspension parts, dual exhaust with chromed tips, and body stripes.
Performance for a 390/four-speed/3.54:1 Javelin with Go-Package was good, with 0-60 mph coming in just under seven seconds, and the quarter-mile tripped in 15.2 sec at 92.0 mph. What’s more, enhancing output was easy, thanks to AMC’s “Group 19” dealer-installed accessories. These included a dual four-barrel cross-ram intake manifold, performance camshafts, upgraded ignitions, and more.
Owing to the car’s muscular nature and a price that undercut the Mustang’s, sales, by AMC standards, was excellent, with more than 55,000 units finding new homes.
With solid success on its hands, AMC chose not to mess with the formula for 1969. Changes were minor and mostly cosmetic. They included an updated grille, new interior door panels and carpeting, and updated optional stripe packages.
The same cannot be said for 1970.
AMC saw fit to enlarge the overall length of the car by 2 inches, elongating the hood without extending the wheelbase. A new front-end design, featuring a deeply-recessed split grille that encompassed the headlights and a new front bumper with square turn indicators, made for a much more muscular visage. On the back, new taillamps with a center-mounted reverse light freshened the look.
Mechanically, AMC reworked the front suspension, with shock absorbers above the upper control arms, trailing struts on the lowers, ball joints, and coil springs. Under the hood, a base 304 cubic-inch lump replaced the inline-six, and a 360 cubic-inch V8 replaced the 290 and 343. The 390 received a four-barrel Autolite carb and new cylinder heads that bumped output to 325 horsepower.
The Go-Package was augmented to include an improved cooling package and a functional “Power Blister” hood that was part of a ram-air induction system.
The interior was also addressed, with a more attractive dashboard, a redesigned center console, new door trim panels, tall bucket seats with integrated headrests, and a fresh slate of options, including a Rim-Blow steering wheel and a variety of seat coverings in cloth, vinyl, and leather.
The big news for 1970 though was a special, ultra-limited edition model tied to AMC’s racing efforts.
The SCCA’s Trans-American racing series was introduced in 1966 and immediately became an alluring opportunity for American auto manufacturers. This was a relatively lightly relegated form of racing, and car companies could battle with each other using modified versions of their street offerings in a contest of whose products were the fastest and most durable. Success on the track, the manufacturers thought, would translate to increased sales at the dealership.
While early SCCA competitions were largely fielded by independent teams with little factory support, that began to change with Trans Am as Ford, Chevy, Plymouth, and others began to pour money and resources into the sport. Big names like Carrol Shelby began fielding factory-supported teams, and world-class drivers such as Formula 1 legends Peter Revson, Dan Gurney, and Mark Donohue began competing in the series.
With the increase in factory money and support, as well as a brighter spotlight shining on the series, the SCCA felt that more stringent regulations had to be instituted. By the time AMC’s interest in Trans Am was piqued, and a racing version of the Javelin was developed, those new rules were in place.
The regulations stated that manufacturers had to produce and sell a certain number of street-legal replicas of the racing version, a procedure known as homologation. If there was a spoiler or wing fitted to the back of the race car, for example, it then had to be present on the street version.
And thus, the 1970 AMC Javelin SST Trans Am model came to be born.
In September and October of 1969, select 390-equipped Frost White over black vinyl 1970 cars were taken off the regular assembly line at AMC’s Kenosha, Wisconsin, factory and moved to a custom prep area in the facility.
The cars were bequeathed with the ram-air induction package and a wide-ratio, four-speed Borg-Warner T-10 transmission with a Hurst Competition performance shifter. AMC’s robust Model 20 positraction Twin-Grip diff with tall 3.91:1 gearing was mounted, as were special-sized Goodyear F70x14 Polyglass raised white letter tires on Magnum 500-style wheels.
A heavy-duty suspension package, 11-inch, four-piston power front disc brakes, 10-inch rear drums, an upgraded cooling package, a front lip spoiler, and a custom, adjustable, three-piece, machined aluminum and fiberglass rear airfoil completed the mechanical and aerodynamic modifications.
Inside, the Trans Am received the upgraded SST cockpit, a 140 mph speedometer, and a dash-mounted 8,000 rpm tach. The Rim-Blow steering wheel, AM radio, and visibility and light groups were added as well.
A custom paint code, “00,” was assigned to the cars, and they were sprayed in-house with a Matador Red, Frost White, and Commodore Blue scheme that replicated AMC’s Trans Am racing car look.
All of these special modifications, along with any applicable taxes and dealer and delivery fees, pushed the price of their “homologation special” to $4,000, a considerable amount of money in 1969.
AMC was unconcerned about the effect of this on sales, though, as their intent was not to turn a profit on the Trans Am but rather to use it as a promotional halo car. Dealers were instructed to locate the car prominently in their showrooms and hype up the fact that AMC was racing this very car. It has been determined that AMC actually lost money on each Trans Am car sold.
When all was said and done, only 100 1970 AMC Javelin SST Trans Am coupes were built to comply with the SCCA’s current homologation requirements. In a twist of fate, though, the rules had been changed during the Trans Am’s production, requiring AMC to build 2,500 “Mark Donohue” models of a differing spec to comply. But that story is for another edition of this column.
Today, only about 40 1970 AMC Javelin SST Trans Ams are known to exist. They very infrequently change hands in private sales or at auction, but when they do, they naturally command exorbitant prices. Concours quality cars have been known to sell for well in excess of $150,000.
Not too shabby for a Rare Ride from a small manufacturer of low-cost vehicles.