American Motors trailed the Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda to the pony car party by nearly four years, but when it finally arrived it did so with a contender. The 1968 AMC Javelin was designed by Dick Teague and had clean and understated lines and a big enough back seat for adults, hidden beneath a swooping tail.
Javelins could be ordered for around $2,500 and outfitted with all manner of engines, from an economical 232-c.i. 6-cylinder motor to 290-, 343-, and 390-c.i. V-8s. Top shelf Javelins were badged as SSTs and included reclining bucket seats, wood-grain trim, body cladding, and unique wheel covers. The SST could also be ordered with AMC’s biggest motor of the year, a 315-hp, 390-c.i., four-barrel engine. The 390 appeared mid-year, but could only be coupled with a 3-speed manual transmission or an automatic, which meant that a 343/280 car equipped with a 4-speed transmission and the Go Package was actually faster. AMC’s Go Package included front disc brakes, a heavy-duty suspension, dual exhaust, redline tires, mag wheels, and body stripes.
Car and Driver tested the 1968 class of muscle cars and noted the Javelin was the slowest, though not by much. Around the same time, AMC started racing Javelins with Peter Revson and George Follmer, and the car showed promise. In all more than 55,000 Javelins were sold in 1968. Meanwhile, Chevrolet sold 235,000 Camaros, Ford sold 300,000 Mustangs, and Plymouth moved 45,000 Barracudas.
The Javelin and its companion two-seater AMX changed little for 1969, though the popular Big Bad series of paint colors were introduced. In addition to bright colors, Big Bad cars featured color keyed bumpers. Go Package cars this year could also be ordered with a limited slip rear differential, and the 390 motor could be paired with a 4-speed. Sales slipped for the year to 40,000.
Special editions in 1970 included 2,501 examples of the Mark Donohue Signature Edition, with a custom rear spoiler, and 100 Trans Am Editions with Brooks Stevens’ red, white, and blue paint job. Both the Javelin and AMX received a new front end with optional ram air intake. In terms of performance, 1970 was a high-water mark for the Javelin, as an SST 390 would go 0-60 in 7.6 seconds and a 15.1 second quarter mile. Even so, sales reflected AMC’s general trend and dropped to 28,000 cars.
The Javelin was redesigned in 1971, growing slightly bigger and donning exaggerated wheel arches and a longer hood. The AMX model and two-seat body style was retired and the name joined the Javelin lineup as a trim level. Engines for 1971 ranged from a 210-hp, 304-c.i. V-8, through the 245-hp and 285-hp, 360-c.i. V-8, and the thumping 330-hp, 401-c.i. V-8 in the AMX. The SST continued alongside the top-line Javelin AMX.
On the track, Javelins won Trans Am titles in both 1971 and 1972 and a “Trans Am Victory” package was offered in 1973. Of course, the muscle car’s heyday was ending in 1972 as power output declined courtesy of emissions and safety regulations. Even with Trans Am success, sales suffered, and production of the car ended in 1974.
Javelins styling tends to be polarizing, just as when they were new. Maintenance is not an expensive proposition, but some trim parts can be difficult to find. And keep in mind that during its production run, the Javelin was one of the most affordable ways to gain entry into the muscle car world. As such, the cars were almost always bought to be driven hard, and few Javelins received the same care as Camaros and Mustangs from the same period. The current market doesn’t always support the cost of a restoration, so pristine examples are rare.
All the same, an early, documented 343 Go-Pack car, or one with the 390 and 401 mill is a great choice for a buyer in search of cheap fun. The cars can flat out move, and they stand out against a backdrop of Mustangs and Camaros. Look for documented originals as many Javelins have since received engine swaps, or adjust your budget accordingly.