American History: How AMC’s Underrated Javelin Shocked the World
Everyone loves a good Cinderella story, especially in the world of auto racing. A seemingly unheard of vehicle, finding itself up against the big boys, and figuring out a way to make it work in the end. That description rang true for a number racing teams throughout history, but non more so than the American Motors team of the late 60s and early 70s. RELATED: See Photos of the 1970 AMC Javelin SST Mark Donohue Edition
It was in 1967 when American Motors began development of its highly-anticipated Javelin muscle car. A finger in the eyes of both Ford and GM, the Javelin was not only as quick and competent as the competition, but also safer, and more spacious. Not that those things mattered to most enthusiasts.
In 1968, Road & Track said the Javelin used a “big, heavy, super-powerful engine,” and that it was “an asset in such a small vehicle.” The accolades poured in, and with the success of the road car, AMC turned its focus to racing the very same year.
RELATED: See Photos of the 1968 AMC Javelin
Red, White and Who?
The American Trans-Am series of the late 60s and early 70s was, to say the least, loaded with talent. Ford, Chevy, Plymouth, Pontiac—it truly was a golden age of racing. But one competitor entered the field with no experience, and no accolades to back up any chances of being successful.
In 1968, AMC signed on with Kaplan Engineering to field two Javelins in the SCAA Trans Am series. Behind the wheel of these two vehicles were George Folder and Peter Revson, though Revson was fired nearly halfway through the year and replaced with Lothar Motschenbach.
Strifes aside, the team found success. Placing third in the over-2-liter class in 1968, the competition was left scratching its head as an unknown team with an unknown car found themselves near the top of the leader board consistently. That success was so respected, in fact, that it garnered the interest from one racing’s most reputable names.
RELATED: See Photos of the 1971 AMC Javelin
The Penske Years
AMC signed with Penske in 1970. The new deal meant that Penske would be dropping his successful Camaro program in place of the newcomer. Selling off the previous Kaplan cars, Penske campaigned an all-new design, an all new racing suspension, and an all-new 5.0-liter engine.
The switch for AMC proved fruitful. The Javelin took home second place in 1970 behind the Mustang Boss 302. The overall success on the track, and per Trans Am rules, lead to AMC promoting even more heavily a race-focused Javelin off the track to consumers.
About 100 Trans-Am series Javelin’s were produced for consumers to purchase, featuring a big 6.4-liter V8, and a healthy amount of racing features as a nod to the Javelin’s on track performance.
The Penske AMC team went on to win the 1971 and 1972 Trans-Am seasons, which eventually lead to the introduction of the Trans-Am Victory edition Javelin. And again the team took home the title in 1976.
RELATED: See More of the 1971 AMC Javelin Trans-Am Race Car
Muscle Car Fallout
Though Penske and AMC found success on the track all the way through 1976, AMC Javelin production ended in 1974. Chrysler and Ford were both easing away from the ‘muscle car’ ideology. By 1973, you may remember, Ford had introduced the Mustang II, and other automakers were following suit as the oil embargo of that year forced automakers to rethink big power.
Stricter fuel standards were put in place, and AMC needed a full overhaul of the bumpers to meet regulations, which would have set them back an estimated $12 million. Eventually the Javelin went the way of the Dodo, as did the entirety of American Motors in 1985.
But for enthusiasts and racing fans alike, the Javelin will live on as a legend.
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