The “AMX” was AMC’s Rocket

Copper AMX

American Motors hired Dick Teague as associate director of design in 1959, and the AMX was born. Three years later, he became AMC‘s Vice President of Automotive Styling. Teague’s task was to make American Motors a more competitive firm with the Big Three. Many historians argue that American Motors should have focused on small and midrange automobiles, leaving larger models to Ford, GM, and Chrysler.

Ultimately, nothing could have changed AMC’s fate, but for a brief while in the late 1960s, the AMX and Javelin gave the Big Three a run for their money.

The AMX’s next evolution was the fiberglass concept car. This was a show model. The final AMX is rapidly taking shape.

American Motors needed something to attract the younger “in crowd” into the dealer showrooms in the 1960s. American Motors debuted the AMX concept at the SAE meeting at Cobo Hall in January 1966, following the Rambler Tarpon, a sporty concept car that evolved into the not-so-sporty Marlin. The automobile was unveiled on February 18 during the 58th Chicago Auto Show. The AMX shown at the show was a non-running fiberglass concept car with a rear “Rambleseat.”

The AMX gets a new hood and a redesign for 1970. It’s hard to believe AMC changed the car for a year, but it’s possible the automobile was designed for a longer production cycle.

The AMX idea was born in the old Nash Motor Company headquarters at 14250 Plymouth Road in Detroit. The AMX began as a series of artists’ drawings (about 20 men working full-time). In January or February 1965, Erick Kugler’s drafting table yielded many ideas. The woodshop developed a wooden platform for the clay model. The next phase was styling, applying clay, and creating surfaces. The Advanced Studio’s main clay modeler, Chuck Hosper, led the clay workup. Then to the fiberglass shop. The clay sculpture was plastered, and a fiberglass body was cast. The final steps were to paint the body, make and install all moldings and trim, and choose and install wheels and tires.

The people loved it, but they wanted to see a real AMX running and driving. American Motors went one better with Project IV. In 1966, AMC introduced Project IV at the New York Auto Show. It included three additional non-running concept cars: the Cavalier, a four-door sedan designed by Chuck Mashigan; the Vixen, a two-door hardtop designed by Vince Gardner; and the AMX, now a fully running automobile.

The AMX’s bodywork was built in Torino, Italy, at the legendary Carrozzeria Vignale, where genuine craftsman hand-hammered metal body panels. Mashigan spent two weeks in Italy observing the launch of this 90-day-built automobile! It arrived for the New York Auto Show.

Plans for this handcrafted automobile were drawn up long in advance. Dick Teague began writing to Vignale in October 1965. They knew what AMC could want but waited until the last minute to manufacture the metal automobile. Because higher management took their time deciding on the AMX. Why develop a costly handmade metal prototype to pre-sell a car you may not manufacture? Why an AMX instead of a Javelin? AMC desired a surprise. After Marlin’s failure, American Motors had to design a pony car to compete with the Mustang and Camaro. But the public was unaware that American Motors was developing a two-door sports coupe.

After all, Mustangs and Camaros were flying off the shelves, and the pony wars were hotly contested. American Motors began construction on the Rogue, subsequently known as the Javelin, in 1965. Project IV was designed to show the public and lenders that AMC was innovative. The AMX and Javelin were intended to target the youth market, which Project IV helped to establish. American Motors urgently needed this to shed its “Grandma & Grandpa’s Rambler” reputation.

To save money, AMC constructed a two-seat sports coupe from the production of Javelin’s clay model, only modifying the grille, hood, door glass, quarter glass, and roofline. The AMX II, Javelin, and AMX display car and production AMX were all built at the same time but in separate studios.

The production Javelin clay model was created in Bob Nixon’s American Studio by Fred Hudson, Bob’s boss at the time. The massive clay model was then relocated to Mashigan’s advanced studio so they could work on only half of it. This demonstrated to the financiers how clever and economical the notion of creating two automobiles from one was. They started from the rear door edge back, carving and modifying the roofline via the rear quarter panel for the one-foot shorter automobile (12-inch shorter owing to lack of back seat). Then they finished the back of the car and designed a new bonnet and grill for the AMX.

The AMX debuted in 1968. The 1969 model has a 140-mph speedometer and an 8000-rpm tachometer. A 290 cubic inch four-barrel V8 was standard, with 343 and 390 cid options. During this time, Jim Alexander, Bob Bristow, Bill St Clair, Alex Cyers, and Jim Pappas, among others, were sketching and modeling the instrument panel, door panels, chairs, and remainder of the interior in clay. AMC engineers also helped design the interior and exterior of the automobile. Despite being a proper two-seater and an honest American sports vehicle, the AMX was canceled after only three years and 19,134 production runs from 1968 to 1970.