High Performance AMC Models
Often overlooked but carry great value
Eric Lawrence - July 21, 2014 10:56 AM
1968 AMXPhoto: Steve Statham
1970 AMXPhoto: Joe Greeves
The AMX made a great race car and you will see them at nostalgia events.Photo: Bob Stevens
This 1972 Javelin is powered by the top-of-the-line 401 engine.Photo: Bob Stevens
The Mark Donohue Edition had a production run of 2,501Photo: Steve Statham
The 1975 Hornet set the stage for the return of the AMX brand on the Hornet in 1977.Photo: John Gunnell
The 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler is also known to some as the “Rambler Scrambler”.Photo: John Gunnell
Red, white and blue stayed in vogue with The Machine.Photo: John Gunnell
From the mid-1950s on, when Nash and Hudson merged to create American Motors, their primary sales strategy was to offer dependable cars at reasonable prices.
They were usually boring and plain, but generally reliable, so they had a strong appeal to budget conscious shoppers, many of whom had lived through the Great Depression.
This strategy may have worked well during the Eisenhower years, but by the late ’60s, a different approach was needed. AMC products are often overlooked by the “Big Three” crowd. That’s a shame, because by the late 1960s, they were turning out some pretty aggressive vehicles that were competitive within their respective market segments.
Over the years, AMC prices have remained relatively low. In today’s appreciating collectible car market, they offer enthusiasts on a budget some real opportunities to own a genuine muscle car. They may not draw quite as big of a crowd as Chevelles, Mustangs, or Challengers, but they do offer excellent performance at an attractive price.
AMC’s first real shot at a halo car was the 1968 AMX. As a true two-seater, it was marketed as an affordable alternative to the Chevrolet Corvette. It might sound like a ridiculous comparison when looking back with the advantage of nearly 50 years of hindsight, but you have to give them credit for trying! The AMX came standard with a 290 cubic inch V-8 producing 225 horsepower and there was an inexpensive optional 343 engine rated at 280 hp. Buyers looking to be even more competitive could jump all the way up to the AMX 390, which delivered 315 hp.
Although the AMX was a decent straight-line performer, especially with a few relatively simple tweaks under the hood, it really hit its stride when the road got twisty. Since it was relatively light for a performance car, it was considered by many contemporary journalists to be one of the best handling domestic cars of its time.
AMC sold 6,725 cars that first year, which was not bad considering the competition from more established performance car manufacturers. There were only a few minor changes for 1969 and sales rose by 25 percent to 8,293. 1970 was a tough year, though, as two exciting new players, the E-body Dodge Challenger and the Plymouth Barracuda, entered the fray. Although the 1970 AMX got a major facelift and the standard engine was bumped up to a 290 hp 360 four-barrel, sales fell by almost 50 percent to a disappointing 4,116, and AMC decided they had to scrap the AMX.
Nice 1968-70 AMXs are currently trading hands for around $15,000 while professionally restored ones can bring over $30,000. The 390 cars typically run about $3,500 to $5,000 higher.Some options that can add value are the Go Package and the Big Bad Color Paint Schemes. The Go Package included racing stripes, Twin Grip rear and upgraded brakes and suspension components, and the Big Bad Colors were available in Green (paint code 2A), Orange (3A), or Blue (4A).
American Motors knew that the two-place AMX would appeal to a limited group of buyers, so Dick Teague and his staff designed a more traditional car, the Javelin, sort of a “big brother”. The Javelin was intended to take on the Big Three in the wildly popular pony car segment. Its introduction trailed the popular Ford Mustangs and Plymouth Barracudas by three or four years, but was only about a year or so behind GM’s Camaro and Firebird. Although it never equaled the sales numbers of the Big Three’s ponies, AMC enthusiasts will swear to this day that it was a better car.
The early Javelins came standard with the 232 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, but there were three optional V-8s in the AMC catalog with the 225hp 290, 280hp 343, and the 315hp 390. For 1970, the 290 and 343 were replaced by the 225hp 304 and the 290hp 360 and the 390’s output was bumped up to 325hp. As with the AMX, the
1968-’69 cars are very similar, but the 1970 model was treated to an extensive front end redesign. Javelins with the high performance “GO” package can be identified by the dual intake hood.
There were about 125,000 Javelins produced from 1968-’70. Most were not high performance, since the six-cylinder and small V-8s were the dominant engine choice. Expect to pay about $12,500 for one in nice condition and up to $23,500 for a very well restored example. Add $3,500 to $5,000 if it has the 390.
American Motors decided to get serious about racing in 1970 and hired Roger Penske to manage their SCCA Trans-Am program. They also were able to sign Mark Donohue to take over driving duties. In order to cash in on their racing reputations, AMC offered a pair of special editions, the Mark Donohue Javelin, of which 2,501 were produced in order to homologate the rear wing that Donohue added to his race car to increase downforce, and the much rarer Trans-Am edition, easily identified by its bold diagonally striped red, white, and blue paint scheme.
Nice Donohue models (powered by the 360 V-8) are currently trading for $15,000 to $16,000, with the best topping out around $30,000. Since they are so rare, the Trans-Am cars range from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on condition and history. There are apparently quite a few fakes out there, so be sure to insist on paperwork before writing any big checks.
Although the two-seater AMX was discontinued after 1970, the AMX name lived on in 1971 as the top trim level of the Javelin. The new Javelin, which still had room for four, was actually a more practical choice for most enthusiasts than the original AMX. The new Javelin would be produced through 1974 and was available with high performance options until the bitter end. The Javelin’s base engine was the 232 cubic inch six-cylinder, with a slightly bigger 258 six as the first option. The first V-8 was a two-barrel 304 (210hp), followed by a two-barrel 360 (245hp), and a four-barrel version, rated at 290hp. Top of the heap was the new 330hp 401, essentially a stroked version of the old 390. The Javelin AMX came standard with the two-barrel 360 cubic inch V-8 for 1971, but dropped down to the 304 cubic inch V-8 for 1972-’74. After the federally mandated changes in engine ratings took effect, the horsepower rating of the V-8s would drop considerably for 1971-’74. The 304 was now rated at 150hp, the 360s would drop to 175hp and 220 hp, and the 401 would now be rated at 255hp.
There were just under 100,000 regular Javelins produced from 1971-’74, most equipped with a six cylinder. Their values trail the earlier cars by about five percent, so figure on $11,500 to $12,000. Add $1,000 for the 304ci, $1,500 for the two-barrel 360, $3,000 for the four-barrel version, and up to $5,000 for the 401.
Roughly 16,000 Javelin AMXs were sold during this time frame, so although they are uncommon, they really don’t qualify as rare. Look to pay between $13,500 to $15,000 for one in good condition, and up to $25,000 for a really nice one. Since the base engine was the 360 two-barrel for 1971, add $1,500 for the four-barrel and $3,500 for the 401. With the 304 becoming the base AMX engine for 1972-’74, you’ll need to add $1,500 for the 360 two-barrel, $3,000 for the four-barrel, and $5,000 for the 401.
When the Javelin was discontinued after 1974, the AMX name went along with it. It would not stay away for very long. American Motors realized there was still significant brand equity in the AMX name, so they brought it back for 1977 as a sportier version of the Hornet hatchback. As really more of an appearance package than a fire-breathing muscle car, the base engine was the 258 six, with the old 304 V-8 being optional. When the Hornet nameplate was retired a year later, the 1978 AMX was moved over to the Concord. Cars in good condition are currently selling for around $5,000, with really nice ones in the $10,000 to $12,000 range.
The AMX name moved once again in 1979, becoming the top level of the new Spirit, where it would remain for 1980, when it was officially retired. Spirit AMXs sell for about 90 percent of the Hornet/Concord versions, so figure on a little more than $4,000 for a nice car and up to $10,000 for a really sharp one.
Somewhat emboldened by the first year success of the AMX, American Motors joined in the time-honored tradition of stuffing a big, powerful engine (the 390) into an inexpensive, lightweight (Rambler Rogue) body. The result was the 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler, almost universally called the Rambler Scrambler. All cars were painted white with bright red sides and a blue racing stripe, which began with an arrow on the hood that pointed into an oversized hood scoop, as if the air couldn’t figure out where to go on its own. This was called the “A” paint scheme, and was applied to the first 500 cars. Not surprisingly, they were a little slow to sell, so AMC came up with the slightly more subdued “B” scheme, which featured tasteful (relatively) red and blue stripes on the side, but no racing stripe or air flow directing arrow. These 500 really didn’t sell a whole lot faster, so the last run of 512 cars returned to the bolder “A” scheme. Nice cars sell for between $25,000 and $30,000, with restored cars going as high as $60,000.
Perhaps feeling that one of the factors limiting sales of the Scrambler was its small size, the performance guys at AMC decided to try again with a larger car for 1970. They outfitted their mid-size Rebel hardtop with a thoroughly beefed up Ram Air 390 rated at 340 hp. They even came up with a cool sounding name – The Machine. Rebel Machines could be ordered in any standard paint color, but the most popular was a red, white, and blue design inspired by the “B” Scramblers. Machines are less expensive than the Scramblers, with good cars going between $15,000 and $17,500 with really sharp ones reaching $35,000.
For 1971, American Motors chose their new Hornet to receive the high performance treatment and created the Hornet SC/360. The standard engine was the two-barrel 360 rated at 245hp, with the four-barrel coming in at 285. They are pretty rare, with fewer than 800 produced. Good ones are trading in the $10,000 to $12,000 range, with very nice ones routinely breaking $20,000. The four-barrel version, which also came with a hood scoop, will add $1,500 to $2,500 to the bottom line.
AMC collectors are a very dedicated group of enthusiasts. While their cars will never be as sought after as some of the more mainstream collectibles, they will always have their core group of devotees. If you’re looking for something a little bit unusual, or just want to be a little different, an AMC might be what you’re looking for. They’re sporty, good looking, and typically a bargain when compared to their contemporaries.
Eric Lawrence has been the editor of the CPI Collectible Vehicle Value Guide since 1988, and has written monthly columns for various car enthusiast magazines since the early 1990s. He can be reached at ELawrence@BlackBookUSA.com.