When you think about muscle cars, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Mustangs? Camaros? Challengers? Maybe a GTO thrown in for good measure?
It’s true, for most gearheads out there, the muscle car era is dominated by these well known, and well deserving vehicles. The vehicle that’s most often overlooked in the era of the muscle car is the venerable AMC Javelin. Yes, the Javelin may have the look of a muscle car but it’s what was underneath that truly separated this beast from the rest of the muscle car pack. In fact, the Javeline was one of the most dominant Trans Am racing cars of the late 60’s and early 70’s and was championed by the now famous Penske Racing team.
Think there’s more to the story of the Javelin? You bet there is! Sit, down and hang on for the ride - this one’s going to get bumpy.
Development and Concept
Debuting in 1967 as a 1968 model year entrant, the Javelin was AMC’s entry into the hotly contested muscle car segment. The Javelin was not technically a clean sheet design, and was based on the Rambler American compact car that was part of the AMC lineup. At the Helm of the design team was Dick Teague, a man who created such masterpieces as the funky AMX, the Jeep Cherokee, and the the swoopy, supercar like AMX 3.
As with most pony cars, trim levels would range from an affordable, compact car loadout, all the way up to a fire breathing muscle car with all the go fast bits that any hormone filled twenty something could dream of. Only one style was considered: a fastback style 2 door coupe with a unique roofline that was instantly recongnizable from other muscle cars out on the road. Beyond the aggressive, distinctive look; the Javelin also needed to be reliable and somewhat practical for both passengers and cargo. Dick Teague famoulsy said that the Javelin achieved a “wet T-shirt look: voluptuous curves with nary a hint of fat” despite the goal of providing practicality. Ultimately, this is what set the Javelin apart on the sales floor.
First Generation 1968 - 1969
First generation Javelines offered a wide variety of trims and packages that encompassed nearly every budget and every performance desire. Base Javelin’s came with a 232 cubic inch straight six, and a 3 speed manual. 3 speed “Shift - Command” automatic transmissions were offered as optional units and allowed the base Javelin to easily cruise at 80 MPH while achieving reasonable fuel economy. A 290 cu in (4.8 L) two-barrel carburetor V8 was also offered as standard equipment. Here’s the thing though, no one really cared about the base model. What everyone really cared about the was SST model.
SST Javelin’s came with an optional was a 343 cu in (5.6 L) V8 in regular gasoline two-barrel, or high-compression, premium-fuel four-barrel options. To up the performance quotient even more, AMC offered a “Go Package” with a four-barrel carbureted 343 cu in (5.6 L) AMC V8, power front disc brakes, dual exhausts, performance focused suspension, wide body-side stripes, and red-line tires mounted on chrome-plated "Magnum 500" styled rims. In 1968, an even bigger engine was offered as optional upgrade in the “Go Package” - the AMX 390 cu in V8.
Several unique optional packages were offered including the “Mod-Javelin” package that was heavily styled and fit in with the “mod” culture of the 1960’s, align with “Big Bad” color combos.
1970 Redesign & Second Generation
After only 2 years, AMC sought to completely revamp the Javelin, which would eventually lead to it’s imminent downfall and nearly bankrupt AMC.
Although it was not a full redesign, following the trends of the time, the Javelin offered a completely redesigned front end, a redesigned interior and a bevy of new engine options. Two new V8 engines were added to the line-up for 1970, including a new base 304 and an optional 360 cubic inch. At the top of the lineup, the 390 remained but was completely revamped with new cylinder heads and all new 4 barrel carb that worked with the “power blister” forced air induction system.
Customer’s who purchased the popular “Go Package” were treated to even more performance goodies such as front disc brakes, a dual exhaust system, performance suspension with anti-sway bar, improved cooling, 3.54 rear axle ratio, and wide Goodyear white-lettered performance tires on unique wheels. The Javelin, when tested against it’s contemporaries, was noted for having the roomiest interior, largest trunk and quickest acceleration.
1971 would bring about another massive styling change for the Javelin that completely turned a corner from the 1968 to 1970 cars and brought with it a host of high-performance 401 cu in (6.6 L) V8 with a single 4-barrel carburetor and high compression ratio of 9.5:1 for a total of 335 horsepower and 430 lb-ft of earth twisting torque. “Go Package” Javelin’s included included unique "Rally-Pac" style instruments, performance handling package, "Twin-Grip" limited-slip differential, heavy-duty cooling, power-assisted disc brakes, and white-letter E60x15 Goodyear Polyglas tires along with unique styline. This allowed a 401 equipped Javelin to perform the quarter mile in less than 14 seconds.
The Javelin would soldier on for two more years, up until being killed off by Chrysler in 1974 (who owned AMC) due to the lack of interest in the muscle car market, and the looming oil embargo. Despite it’s packaging, and performance, the Javelin never quite hit the levels of success achieved by other manufacturers like Ford and Chevrolet.
Impact On Racing
Even though the Javelin didn’t hit the sales numbers and achieve the high levels of success on the street, AMC absolutely dominated the Trans-Am series and won in 1971, 1972 and 1976. Piloted by the legendary Mark Donahoe, the Penske Racing/Mark Donohue racing Javelin’s were not only incredibly fast but incredibly reliable as well. Beyond the twists and turns of America’s road circuits, the Javelin also was a regular fixture at the drag strip where the light weight, economy car roots and powerful engines allowed prepped Javelin’s to spear the competition. Yes, the pun is intended.
Impact On Muscle Car Culture
What really set apart the Javelin was the commitment to offering an entire, succinct package that was at once reliable and performance focused. A sort of “practical” muscle car that could hold all of your gear and still run a 14 in the quarter mile and look damn good doing it. This was a novel concept in the era of “how fast can I go” but it did gain the Javelin some serious fandom. Today, these unique vehicles are ascending in value and are receiving a deserving second look as one of the most unique version of the muscle car era scream machines.
It’s undeniable, Dick Teague penned shape, unique colors and shape shifting exterior (3 redesigns in 6 years? Unheard of!) stood out for it’s sheer weirdness and extroverted nature.
We’ll take a 72 with the 401 and the Go Package please! Oh, and make it "Big Bad" orange while you’re at it!