With just 125 lazy horses under a stubby hood, a three-speed TorqueFlite transmission, tacked-on go-fast (but not really) trim pieces, guaranteed future parts headaches, and styling that looks to be from the fine folks at Hot Wheels, this ’79 AMC AMX won’t make many people ooh and ahh. It’s a really good low-mile example, but come on, how much would you say it’s worth? Six grand? 10 grand? 12?
That’s how much this tacky but exceptional little piece of mustache muscle sold for at the RM Sotheby’s Auburn Spring auction over the weekend. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about a grand more than it cost new.
American Motors (AMC) had a rocky history. We mostly remember the four-wheeled punchlines like the Pacer and the Gremlin, but there were some bright spots like the Trans Am champion Javelin, the charmingly obnoxious red-white-and-blue SC/Rambler and Rebel Machine, and the forward-thinking Eagle 4x4, which arguably spawned the crossover SUV. The coolest AMC for most, though, is the original AMX.
The only major American two-seater this side of a Corvette in the late 1960s and early 1970s, based on the Javelin pony car, the AMX was well-priced when new and it was fast, with up to 315 hp on tap from a 390-cubic-inch V-8. Things went downhill from 1971 on, though, as the AMX moved to just a performance package on the four-seater Javelin until 1974 and horsepower dropped year by year. American Motors brought the AMX name (but not the speed) back on the Hornet platform a few years later, then for the Concord, and finally for the little Spirit liftback in 1979-80.
Available with either a 258-cubic-inch straight-six or a 304 V-8 (1979 only), the Spirit AMX may not have been powerful but it was made in the same, ahem, spirit of the original using the classic big-engine, small-car formula. Some mild suspension mods, quicker steering, and better brakes improved handling over the standard Spirit.
An eight-gauge dash, bucket seats, and a sport steering wheel also made it look more serious than it was, but the exterior was what really wrote the check that the rest of the car couldn’t cash. AMC left the Spirit AMX festooned with a front air dam, rear spoiler, fender flares, giant AMX graphics on the body sides, and a hood decal that looks like the worst temporary tattoo in your kid’s sticker book. It may be the only hood decal that could make Pontiac’s screaming chicken blush.
Surprisingly, two Spirit AMXs finished first and second in their class at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring (25th and 43rd overall). But, contrary to the flames on the AMX’s hood, the car didn’t exactly set the world on fire in terms of sales. Barely 3600 were built in 1979 and even fewer in 1980. Meanwhile, Ford was selling the Fox-body Mustang introduced the same year hand over fist. The AMX quietly disappeared after 1980 and, despite the 1979 AMXs being the last AMCs with a V-8, nobody has really taken them seriously since.
And that’s why we were watching this one closely. There can’t be very many of these still around in any condition and we never, and I mean never, see them pop up for sale. So this car, with its 8346 original miles, factory air conditioning, and original decals has got to be the world’s best.
The Auburn bidders seemed to agree, and at least two of them must have been AMC fanatics, because they pushed this car way beyond RM’s seemingly reasonable $6000 to $10,000 estimate and to exactly 10 grand beyond our current condition #1 (concours) value. We rated the car on-site as being in #2 (a little bit less than excellent) condition, but good luck finding a better one.