AMC Muscle Cars
by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide

The very existence of AMC muscle cars such as the AMX, Hurst SC/Rambler, and Rebel "Machine" was evidence of how thoroughly muscle car fever swept the nation in the 1960s and early '70s. Even American Motors, the champion of the economy car, had caught the bug.
Throughout the late 1950s and early '60s, AMC was the home of the popular, compact Rambler, and the company prospered in a growing market for economy cars. But how did AMC go from being the leading American manufacturer of low-priced fuel sippers to challenging shoppers to "Test drag a Javelin," as it did in a 1968 advertisement?

AMC's flirtation with the muscle car market was a side effect of its mid-'60s product diversification. After AMC President George Romney left in 1962, his successors altered company strategy to fight the Big Three in as many market segments as possible. While that strategy was ultimately not beneficial to AMC's long-term health, it did put some exciting cars in dealer showrooms.

AMC may have been late to the staging lanes, but it produced an impressive array of performance cars in a relatively short time. The first stirrings of AMC performance came in 1965, when the dramatic if ungainly Rambler Marlin fastback was introduced to battle the
Ford Mustang and Plymouth Barracuda.

From a
sales and performance standpoint, the Marlin was a flop. But AMC did gain some muscle car credibility for 1967 when it dropped its new 280-horsepower, 343-cid Typhoon V-8 into both the Marlin and the more pedestrian Rebel. In 1968, AMC finally emerged as a legitimate muscle car contender.

That year the company introduced two new performance offerings: the Javelin and a truncated variant called the AMX. The Javelin was a much better attempt at cracking the pony car market than the Marlin, and the two-seat AMX was a new sort of animal altogether.

Both cars were available with 290-, 343-, or 390-cid V-8s, with the 390 pumping out a respectable 315 bhp. Cars equipped with the 390 were generally good for high-14-second quarter-mile times, putting AMC in the thick of the muscle car battle.

However, the Javelin and AMX were not the only AMC performance offerings. In 1969, AMC worked with shifter manufacturer and specialty-car builder Hurst to produce the 390-powered SC/Rambler. It followed that up in 1970 with the Rebel Machine, which packed a 340-bhp 390. When the Rebel was retired, the 1971 Hornet SC/360 took its place as AMC's low-buck muscle car.

AMC's biggest-displacement performance engine arrived for 1971: a 401-cid V-8 rated at 330 bhp. The 401 was the top option for that year's new, larger Javelin, as well as the AMX, which ceased to be a separate model and became part of the Javelin lineup. Real AMC performance faded as the 1970s progressed, but the Javelin/AMX soldiered on with a low-compression, 255-bhp 401 for a few years. When the Javelin ended production after 1974, AMC's performance personality died along with it.
the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide.  "AMC Muscle Cars".  December 20, 2006

Comment and Opinion

A follower of automotive history identified as "amateur automotive historian" contributed the following opinion on March 28,2010 which may in fact be closer to the truth.

In your article about AMC Muscle the author wrote "AMC may have been late to the staging lanes, but it produced an impressive array of performance cars in a relatively short time." This relates to what a majority of writers have written about AMC, swaying public opinion to believe AMC was a follower of trends set by 'the big three'. A shell game of words; it was the smaller US automakers that made a range of different sized cars from compact to full size, whereas '51 Nash made 1) sports car size Nash Healey 2) compact size Nash Rambler 3) large intermediate Nash Statesman 4) full size Ambassador = four different sized cars (similar is true for Hudson, Studebaker and Kaiser during early to mid fifties) Nash/AMC was five to ten years early, making '55 intermediate size Rebel then '50 compact size Rambler models, '54 subcompact Metropolitan mention also. The 'big three" makers then were 'late out of the gate' to offer the US consumer a variety of different sized cars, beginning in the early sixties... following AMC's lead? This is true. Always ignored by typical US auto articles, Studebaker made 352 V8 '56 Golden Hawk, 289 supercharged '57 Golden Hawk (four seat sports/muscle car). AMC made '57 Rebel intermediate to have top AMC 327 4bbl V8 engine. '51-'53 Nash Healey won races... before '54 Chevy Corvette, and before '55 Ford Thunderbird. Therefore, it can be argued that the 'big three' were late to the racing scene, and late to make a range of different sized cars, following the lead of the smaller US car makers. Production'65 Ford Mustang was four seat compact, based on Falcon, as a substitute for two seat Mustang sports car promised by Ford. Carol Shelby converted Mustangs into two seater sports cars. AMC then made their two seater'68-'70 AMX, as Ford gave Shelby goodbye while putting backseat back into Shelby Mustang. No comparable car to AMC's AMX. A shell game of words, writers then need to coin a new term like 'muscle car', or 'pony car' in order to sway public opinion to support the marketing agenda of the 'big three', to ignore the actual accomplishments of the smaller US car makers. This leads to a greater moral question of passing on a legacy of false historical information to future generations. I believe maybe our generation can pass on a more honest historical record, plausibly devoid of former, but now useless disinformation. The oversized V8 engines of the sixties were an extension of US carmaker exploration of alternative engines, GM and Chrysler having Turbine car programs in the later fifties. Actual auto history can be more interesting than the illusion we have been made to believe.

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