Springtime for AMC? Pristine examples could elevate the brand’s station

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RM Sotheby's

“Is AMC finally getting its due recognition?” One often hears this refrain when a significant example from the marque surfaces in the automotive ether, and now is precisely that moment. Two upcoming auctions may yield new benchmarks for not just AMC muscle cars, but also everyday models like the Pacer and Rambler.

The RM Sotheby’s Open Roads auction, running online from April 21–29, will offer five AMCs from a single collection—including two that were previously in professional wrestler John Cena’s collection. One, a fully restored ’69 AMX 500 Special, is believed to be one of just 32 made. Also of note is a pre-sale estimate of $40,000-$50,000 for a ’72 Gremlin X V8. We looked at the rising collector interest in the AMC Gremlin last year, and it seems RM Sotheby’s is poised to test that thesis.

1969-AMC-AMX-California-500-Special badge
RM Sotheby's

Just a few weeks later, running in-person and online May 14–22, Mecum’s Indy auction will offer 12 AMCs from the collection of Gary Duncan, a car dealer many Hagerty readers know for his JDM dealership, Duncan Imports. The dozen low-mile cars, all in unrestored condition, span the AMC gamut and cover mainly the brand’s mainstream offerings.

Consignors for both auctions say they’re selling now to take advantage of a hot market and rising interest in rare and low-mile AMCs.

“For those with an interest in AMC vehicles or those who just like unusual vehicles, this is a big deal,” said Mecum spokesman John Kraman. “This is the finest collection of AMCs we’ve ever had. I’m predicting buyers will meet sellers’ expectations.” Kraman cites rising interest and values for ’70s and ’80s cars, AMC rarity, and the condition of the cars offered as reasons to expect a strong outcome for the sale.

“AMC performance cars have been strong for a long time, but getting into more pedestrian models—wagons, Pacers—is breaking new ground from a collector’s viewpoint. It’s so rare to see these models in this original condition.”

RM Sotheby’s Open Roads Auction

1969 AMX 500 Special

1969-AMC-AMX-California-500-Special front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

The 1968–1970 AMX was pretty special in its own right, a short-wheelbase, two-seat Javelin variant that was pitched as a sports car. The 500 Special was built for Southern California AMC dealers to mark the AMX’s role as a pace car at the now defunct Riverside International Raceway. The car offered by RM Sotheby’s, which professional wrestler John Cena had fully restored when he owned it, has a pre-sale estimate of $100,000-$120,000.

Some sources say the true number made is no more than 32, one for each dealer, while other sources suggest it could be fewer. In any case, all were painted Big Bad Green and powered by the 315-horsepower 390-cu-in V-8 and automatic transmission, which were optional for the AMX. The cars were fully equipped with saddle leather upholstery, air conditioning, power brakes, power steering, tilt steering wheel, Rally wheels, tinted windows, light group, visibility group, and more. The hood wore “500 Special” badges, and there was a commemorative brass plaque on the dash.

As for the “500 Special” name, it could pertain to the 500-mile NASCAR race held at Riverside annually. In 1969, the race was sponsored by Motor Trend, but it’s likely that many still referred to it as the Riverside 500. The Trans-Am race at Riverside that year, in which two Javelins finished sixth and seventh, was 100 laps (254 miles).

1971 Hornet SC/360

1971-AMC-Hornet-SC front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

Long the unsung hero of AMC muscle, the 1971 Hornet SC/360 took on the Plymouth Duster 340 and Dodge Demon 340 as a budget muscle car. It failed to catch on, however, and just 784 were made. This SC/360, also formerly from Cena’s collection, has a pre-sale estimate: $40,000-$50,000. It has been resprayed but is said to be otherwise unrestored.

The SC/360 paired AMC’s 360 two-barrel V-8, rated for 245 hp (gross), with a three-speed manual transmission. Most buyers (578 in total) opted for the Go Package, with which this car came equipped. It included AMC’s 285-horsepower 360 four-barrel, dual exhausts, and functional ram-air hood scoop. The upgrade also allowed an optional four-speed stick.

The 3300-pound SC/360 was quick. Motor Trend clocked a 15-second quarter-mile at 94 mph in the four-barrel version, which was competitive with the Duster/Demon 340. Yet, the Mopars sold 23,000 combined for 1971; the SC/360 simply lacked the performance image. Likely the advertising budget, too.

1972 AMC Gremlin X V-8

1972-AMC-Gremlin-X front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

The 1972 Gremlin X offered by RM Sotheby’s has a startling pre-sale estimate of $40,000-$50,000. It is described as original except for some Day 2 dress up and engine mods, including Cragar wheels, an Edelbrock intake and carb and dual exhausts, and shows 28,000 miles. The Gremlin already out-powered its competition with standard and optional six-cylinder engines, and in 1972 added the optional 304 cu-in V-8 with two barrel carburetor, good for 150 net horsepower.

The popular “X” package, which cost $319, dressed up the Gremlin with muscle car-style slotted wheels, white-letter tires, body side stripes and graphics, a blackout grille and bucket seats. With the V-8 and three-speed manual transmission, as this car has, the 2900-pound Gremlin could do 0–60 mph in about 9 seconds and the quarter-mile in 16.8. That was quicker than some base-engine V-8 pony cars, including that year’s Javelin AMX, which had the 304 standard. For 1972 only, V-8-equipped Gremlins featured “torque links”—a kind of traction bar to control wheel hop.

The consignor bought this Gremlin from the original owner, who special-ordered it from a dealer in Virginia and kept extensive documentation over the decades he owned it.

1974 Javelin AMX 360 Go Package

1974-AMC-Javelin-AMX front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

After ending the two-seat AMX, AMC moved the badge to a performance-oriented version of the redesigned 1971 Javelin. The new AMX featured the 360 two-barrel engine standard and 360 and 401 four-barrel engines in Go Package options. For ’72, the standard AMX engine became the 304 two-barrel. The AMX stood apart from the standard Javelin with a flush-mounted mesh grille with large round parking lamps. Inside, the Javelin has faux engine-turned dash trim.

The ’74 360 Go Package included dual exhausts, T-stripe on the hood, flat black painted rear panel, Rally-Pac instruments, Handling Package, heavy-duty engine cooling, twin-grip differential, power disc brakes, and 15-inch slotted steel wheels with white-letter Goodyear Polyglas tires and space-saver spare. The ’74 Go Package did not have the cowl-induction hood included from 1971–1973, but the 360 was still a strong performer, with 220 hp and 315 lb-ft of torque. This car has the desirable four-speed.

The consignor bought this Javelin AMX about three years ago from a man who had restored it with his son. The restoration appears exceptional, and some would say Javelins didn’t leave the factory this good.

1979 Spirit AMX

1979-AMC-Spirit-AMX front three-quarter
RM Sotheby's

If the idea of a $40,000+ Gremlin seems mind-blowing, then what would you say to a 1979 Spirit, the Gremlin’s successor, estimated to bring $30,000-$35,000? This is the AMX, the sporty version of the Spirit that was offered only for 1979 and 1980. As a bonus, this ’79 has the one-year-only 304 V-8 option and apparently every factory option, including air conditioning, sunroof, power door locks, and auxiliary gauges.

With spoilers, louvers, fender flares and flame-like decal on the hood, AMX’s styling package was certainly not for introverts but was in line with period trends. If performance was not exactly in the classic AMX spirit (pardon the pun), there was racing provenance—at the Nürburgring.

In 1979, AMC teamed up with BF Goodrich to field a two-car team in the Nürburgring 24 Hours with V-8 AMC Spirits running on the tire maker’s street radials. Among the drivers were actor/racer James Brolin and Lynn St. James. The Spirits won first and second in class and 25th and 43rd overall in a race where simply finishing is a feat. Go AMC!

Mecum Indy: The AMC Collection

Mecum’s AMC Collection focuses on the brand’s workaday models, with a 1968 Javelin representing the sporty side. Some of the cars show very low miles, including a 1980 Pacer DL with just 1844 miles from new and a 1963 Rambler Ambassador 880 with 8202 miles.

Duncan acquired the cars over time from various collectors, auctions and dealers. He’s got an emotional connection to the brand; his father was a Studebaker dealer, then sold it to work for a Rambler dealer in 1963, and eventually bought a Ford franchise. Also a car dealer, Duncan got an AMC franchise in 1979, which converted to Chrysler when the company bought AMC.

“These are among the best AMCs in the country,” he told Hagerty. “I hate to sell them, but these cars are generational and the market is as hot as I’ve ever seen it.”

1963 Rambler American 440H

1963 AMC Rambler American 440H front three-quarter
Mecum

This two-door was the last of the original American series and shows just 45,839 miles. It has the old Nash/AMC six with the unique Twin Stick—a three-speed manual with a second lever to operate the Borg-Warner electric overdrive. The car is said to be unrestored and looks jaunty in its white over ivory exterior and gold and ivory interior.

1963 Rambler Ambassador 880

Rambler Ambassador 880 front three-quarter
Mecum

Named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, the ’63 Rambler slotted in between compacts and midsize models. Trims ranged from basic up to the top-line Ambassador 990. This slightly lower 880 model, unrestored with just 8202 miles, has the AMC 327 cu-in V-8, automatic transmission, dual exhausts, power steering, Weather Eye heating and ventilating system, and Twin Comfort Lounge reclining front seats. The plastic seat covers recall a time when car owners seemed willing to sacrifice comfort for potentially better resale value from having pristine seats. This car rides on new tires and has the four originals in the trunk.

1965 Rambler Classic 770 Convertible

1965 AMC Rambler Classic 770 front three-quarter
Mecum

Now this looks like a great parade car. The triple-white ’65 Rambler Classic 770 convertible, unrestored with 14,743 miles, sports the then-new Typhoon 232 cu. in. inline six with automatic transmission. AMC’s famous Weather Eye heating and ventilating system is augmented by air conditioning. The spoke wheel covers were an AMC dealer-added accessory.

1967 Rambler Rogue Convertible

1967 AMC Rambler Rouge Convertible front three-quarter
Mecum

As if having one of the 921 Rogue compact convertibles made for 1967 isn’t special enough, this unrestored example one has just 15,854 miles. It’s got the 232 inline-six and automatic, and it looks dashing in red with a black top and red convertible boot.

1968 Javelin SST

1968 AMC Javelin SST_R33 front three-quarter
Mecum

AMC joined the pony car derby with the 1968 Javelin, and like its competition it offered a bewildering array of options for personalization. This is the upgraded SST model, unrestored with 44,644 miles. It was optioned with the 280-hp 343 cu-in, four-barrel V-8, teamed with the automatic transmission. The car looks quite sporty in gold with black stripe and Rally wheels.

1972 Gremlin X

1972 AMC Gremlin X_R32 front three-quarter
Mecum

This green Gremlin X is said to be unrestored with 39,016 miles but has some period-correct upgrades, including a four-barrel carburetor and factory air conditioning unit, plus trim items added from other AMC cars. Ian Webb, of the American Motors Owners Association, identified for Hagerty the rocker panel trim as from a 1970 AMX and console and shifter from a 1971 Javelin. Being familiar with this Gremlin for many years, he estimates the features were added perhaps 30 or so years ago.

“I should say that all the upgrades to this car are very tasteful, and in my opinion make it a desirable car,” Webb said. The ’72 is widely regarded as the most collectible year for Gremlin; first year V-8, only year you got factory torque links, and last year for the non-5-mph bumpers. This car also has factory air and power disc brakes which make it even cooler.”

1977 AMC Matador Wagon

1977 AMC Matador Wagon front three-quarter
Mecum

Showing off AMC’s penchant for occasional creative interior design, this 1977 Matador long roof has a distinctive gray and black upholstery. The light blue exterior with faux wood trim is very, very 1970s. It’s got the 304 V-8, automatic, rear-facing third-row seat, slotted wheels, and shows 65,864 miles.

1980 Pacer DL Sedan and Wagon

Hold the Wayne’s World jokes; Pacers are getting warm, perhaps even toasty. The light blue example offered by Mecum appears exceptional. It’s a well optioned DL model with the 258 inline-six, automatic, air, power door locks, power brakes, and power steering. With 1884 miles, it looks like a new car.

Some prefer the Pacer wagon design to the “fishbowl” sedan, both for its style and practicality. The unrestored example at Mecum shows 15,270 km (13,276 miles) and has the 258 six-cylinder, automatic, air conditioning, power windows, and roof rack. The seats look mighty comfy and the red interior is not something you’d see today.

Eagles

No AMC collection could be complete without at least one Eagle, the four-wheel-drive car that inadvertently predicted today’s crossover/SUV trend. This collection offers a pair, a 1985 sedan with 34,124 miles and a 1986 Limited wagon with 51,238 miles and featuring power windows and power seats.

We’ll no doubt keep seeing AMCs pleasing crowds at Concours d’Lemons shows, but looking at the cars in these two collections, it’s not impossible to imagine AMCs one day turning up at more serious concours events down the road.

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