Story and photo by Bill Vance
1973 AMC Javelin. Click image to enlarge
The 1960s saw the birth of two new kinds of American vehicles: the muscle car and the pony car. The muscle car, which owes its genesis to the 1964 Pontiac Tempest GTO, was really only a regular compact with a big V8 engine under the hood. The pony car, on the other hand, was something different. Even though it owed its origin to some pretty mundane components, it had a new, lower and sportier profile.
Lee Iacocca and the Ford Motor Co. launched the pony car era with the introduction of the Falcon-based Ford Mustang in mid-1964. It took General Motors until the 1967 model year to respond with its Chevrolet Camaro.
The Javelin’s styling was crisp and fresh, with the long nose, short deck silhouette that marked the pony car. It rode on a 2,769 mm (109 in.) wheelbase, compared with the Mustang’s 2,743 mm (108 in.), and offered more interior room than any other pony car except the Mercury Cougar.
Standard power for the Javelin, AMC’s “four-passenger sporty car,” was the corporate 3.8 litre (232 cu in.) overhead valve inline six, rated at 145 horsepower. Those seeking sportier performance could have overhead valve V8s in 4.7 litre (290 cu in.) or 5.6 litre (343 cu in.) displacements.
The Javelin’s suspension was standard fare, A-arm coil springs in front and a solid axle and leaf springs at the rear. But by adding some available options such as an anti-roll bar and stiffer shock absorbers it could be turned into a surprisingly good handler.
The V8 Javelin was quite spirited in performance. Car Life magazine (12/67) tested one fitted with the 280 horsepower 5.6 litre engine and a four-speed manual transmission. Although hampered by inappropriate gear ratios that resulted in serious wheelspin, the testers still managed to record a zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) acceleration time of 8.1 seconds.
This was very competitive with a Mustang fitted with 6.4 litre (390 cu in.) engine (albeit with an automatic transmission) that Car Life tested in January, 1967; the Mustang did an only marginally better zero to 96 (60) of 7.8 seconds. Top speed was similar for both cars: 184 km/h (114 mph) for the Javelin and 182 km/h (113) for the Mustang.
Thanks to a price that came in under the Mustang’s, the Javelin recorded a surprising 56,000-plus sales during the 1968 model year, and helped pull the corporation into the black for the first time since 1965. (AMC had lost $75.8 million in 1967.) It would prove to be the Javelin’s best sales year ever.
A companion model, the short-coupled AMX, with a 2,464 mm (97 in.) wheelbase appeared in mid-1968. This two-passenger version never sold in high numbers and was discontinued in 1970, although the AMX name would carry on in the Javelin.
For 1969, the Javelin was largely unchanged except for a new grille. The corporate 6.4 litre (390 cu in.) V-8 was now an option.
Pony cars were losing some of their bloom by this time, and despite gimmicks like the “Go Package,” with its fake hood scoops, Javelin’s 1969 model-year sales fell to just over 40,000. The ’70 Javelins were again largely carry-overs, but to be more competitive in racing, AMC introduced the Trans-AM racing model with many features that would make it faster on the track.
Nonetheless, sales slipped to slightly more than 28,000 for the 1970 model year and would never again exceed 30,000.
For 1971, stylist Teague managed to make the Javelin look all new when it really wasn’t. The most dramatic change was prominent front and rear fender humps. An even bigger V-8, the 6.4 litre enlarged to 6.6 litres (401 cu in.), AMC’s largest engine ever, was offered.
This was also the year in which racing came together for the Javelin. Under the meticulous preparation of Roger Penske, and the superb driving of Mark Donohue, the Javelin won the Trans-Am championship. It was, however, a rather hollow victor as the other factory teams were no longer competing.
In spite of tighter emission controls strangling power, and causing performance to slip, the company was able to sell 29,000 ’71 models.
For its 1972 appearance, the Javelin received a new grille and an optional Pierre Cardin interior. Sales held at just above 26,000, a figure they would stay close to throughout the last two model years, 1973 and ’74.
By 1974, emissions legislation and the first oil crisis in 1973 were making life tougher for performance cars. Big, thirsty V8 engines became socially unacceptable almost overnight. These factors, plus the fact that AMC needed production capacity for its new Pacer, doomed what many believe was AMC’s most exciting car.