The 1971–74 Javelin AMX shone brightly in the pony car galaxy
If you want to make a big impression on your first day working for Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, pulling up to its Scottsdale, Arizona office in a Matador Red 1971 AMC Javelin AMX might do it. With just 2054 made, and many now gone, it’s a car even this auction house seldom sees.
Julia Berger, however, didn’t need the car to make a strong impression. Being a new curator for Barrett-Jackson is her first job after graduating from McPherson College in Kansas, which is the only school to offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration technology. She’ll also be managing Craig Jackson’s personal collection.
Berger’s AMX was a largely original example and a real barn find, too. It was also one of 745 equipped with the 401-cubic-inch V-8 and the Go Package, a comprehensive array of performance and cosmetic upgrades.
After buying the rare Javelin in 2016, Berger integrated it into her education. She upgraded the powertrain, drivetrain, and suspension as she learned about those topics at McPherson.
“A lot of the AMC community was not pleased with what I did with the car, but I wanted to build a really good driver, something unique,” she says.
Fret not, AMC mavens, Berger didn’t toss the AMC V-8 for a Chevy LS swap. (More on that in a moment.)
AMC enters the pony-car fray
AMC introduced the Javelin pony car and its short-wheelbase, two-seat AMX offshoot for 1968. Underpinnings for both sprang from the Rambler American compact.
The heart of the Javelin/AMX performance story was the new-generation AMC V-8 introduced for 1966. It was a good-breathing, thin-wall design that weighed about 550 pounds, similar to a Chevy small-block. The AMC V-8 was designed to simultaneously fill in for small-block and big-block engines and had room to grow significantly beyond its initial 290-cubic-inch cylinder displacement. The engine was soon offered in 343- and 390-cubic-inch versions, which would be replaced by longer-stroke 360 and 401 successors.
Instead of a specific Javelin performance model, AMC offered the optional Go Package that added numerous chassis and styling upgrades in combination with the four-barrel carburetor V-8s.
Constrained by AMC’s small product development budgets, the design team under Dick Teague pulled off a fairly remarkable refresh for 1971. Only the door skins, windshield, rear bumper and valance, and decklid carried over. The front styling resembled the 1969–70 Shelby Mustangs, and fenders accentuated by humps gave the ’71 Javelin a more aggressive stance.
The redesigned Javelin grew an inch in wheelbase for 1971 (to 110) and three inches in width (to 75.2). The upside was a roomier interior, with a more useful back seat.
After selling just 19,134 AMXs over three years, AMC dropped the two-seater and for 1971 moved its badge to a sporty step-up Javelin variant. The ’71 Javelin AMX, with a $3432 base price, came standard with the 360-cid two-barrel engine rated at 245 horsepower (gross) and a three-speed manual transmission. The four-barrel version with 285 hp was $49 extra and offered a four-speed optional upgrade. Suspension was firmed up over the standard Javelin, and the AMX rode on 14-inch slotted steel wheels with skimpy E70-14 tires.
401 reasons to upgrade
AMC showed that its performance fangs were still sharp with the new 401-cubic-inch version of its V-8 for 1971. This was essentially a stroked 390 and, like that engine, used a forged crankshaft and rods. Early 1971 engines with 10.2:1 compression were rated at 335 hp and 435 lb-ft. of torque (gross), while a cylinder head change later dropped compression slightly to 9.5, subtracting 5 hp and 5 lb-ft. In 1972, the net ratings became 255 hp and 345 lb-ft. In comparison, the 402 big-block (a.k.a. 396) offered in the Camaro SS put out 240 net hp and 345 lb-ft.
Ordered by itself, the 401, which in the Javelin came only with a four-barrel and dual exhaust, was a deal at $137. That’s one reason the Alabama Department of Public Safety ordered about 130 1971–72 Javelins so-equipped for the state highway patrol.
For civilians, the hot setup was the 401 Go Package for $499, which netted the engine plus Handling Suspension (heavy duty springs and shocks and thicker front anti-roll bar), a fiberglass hood with cowl air induction, a heavy-duty cooling system, Twin-Grip differential, power front disc brakes, 15-inch Rally wheels, and E60-15 Polyglas raised white-letter tires. The 401 offered the four-speed stick or the Borg-Warner Shift-Command automatic. (The Javelin switched to a Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic for 1972.)
With cowl air induction, the drop in vacuum under hard acceleration triggered a switch that opened a wide flap at the rear to pull intake air from the high-pressure area near the windshield’s base. The Go Package was $410 with the 360 four-barrel and included dual exhaust, normally an option for that engine.
The AMX stood apart from the standard Javelin with a flush-mounted mesh grille featuring large round parking lamps. Some road testers and owners found the grille was loosely attached. A spoiler at the back of the roof and another on the decklid, plus distinctive T-stripe on the hood and blacked-out rear body panel amped up the muscle car persona. Inside, the AMX’s faux engine-turned dash featured Rally Pac instrumentation with a 140-mph speedometer and a clock/tachometer combo that some called the ‘tick-tock’ tach.
Running with the big dogs
The 3400-pound Javelin AMX was respectably quick for the time. Testing a Go Package 401 model, Sports Car Graphic recorded 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.3 at 98.8 mph. By comparison, the Camaro Z/28 and Mustang Boss 351, with their higher-maintenance, high-performance small-block V-8s, were a few ticks quicker. The AMX might have been swifter if not hampered by hellacious wheel hop noted by road testers.
The Javelin went from contender in SCCA Trans Am racing to champ in 1971 and 1972, admittedly after Ford and Chevy had pulled factory support. The great Mark Donohue scored seven wins in 1971. The car remained a low-volume model with 25,000–30,000 sold per year from 1971–74. The AMX’s portion increased after 1971, though: 3785 in 1972, 5707 for 1973, and 4980 in 1974. Of the 16,526 total, 3776 had the 401 Go Package.
The weak-tea 304 two-barrel became standard for the AMX in 1972, although most customers upgraded to the one of the 360s. The functional cowl induction was deleted for 1974, and some AMXs got a steel hood when production was extended through November.
From Mercedes to muscle car
Berger didn’t set out to buy a muscle car. When a deal to buy a 1980s Mercedes fell through, she looked at a ’71 Javelin owned by her stepmother’s old high school friend. The car had been parked in a Virginia barn for 23 years.
What she saw was an original Go Package 401 model, with a solid body showing just a touch of rust in the quarters. A repaint from the early 1980s in the original Matador Red still looked good, and the interior had been reupholstered, too.
“I’d seen the Trans Am Javelins in photos, but had never seen one of these in person,” Berger remembers. “Just a quick wash took the years of dust off, and I knew it was the car for me. I love the unique design.”
The AMX’s engine was not running, though. With some help from her boyfriend, Berger tore it down and quickly saw problems.
“We found mismatched pistons, and it looked like someone had taken a hammer to the camshaft,” she says. “The Woodruff key was all bent out of shape. I guess you could say it had a bit of variable valve timing.”
From stock to road warrior
Berger was up for the challenge. She’d grown up around motorcycles, with a dad who loved Ducatis. Her interest in cars came later, and in high school, she took auto body and auto tech courses. At McPherson, her focus was collection management, and she spent summers working for private collections.
She decided to do a full rebuild on the 401, using aftermarket pistons to get 10.5:1 compression. A Holley Dominator EFI setup replaced the Motorcraft four-barrel carb.
Rather than rebuild the original automatic, Berger installed a General Motors 4L80E transmission and replaced the rear with a Ford 8.8-inch unit. Using her boyfriend’s mill and lathe, she built her own oil pan.
“Doing the work helped me know as much about what went into the car as possible,” she says.
For more modern handling, Berger lowered the Javelin using QA1 coilovers up front and double-adjustable shocks in the back. These were not made for the Javelin, so she had to do some machining in front and had to relocate the rear shocks to make everything work. She gave her Javelin a set of American Racing Torque Thrusts, 15×8 inches with 225/60R15 rubber up front and 15×10 inches with 295/50R15s out back.
Berger completed her Javelin AMX in time to participate in McPherson College’s 20th Annual College Automotive Restoration Students (C.A.R.S.) Car and Motorcycle Show on May 4.
Now, Arizona and an exciting new career beckon.
“I couldn’t imagine going to a job and not being around cars or talking about cars,” she says. “A desk job was not for me.”