While it was respected for producing sensible, economical cars, American Motors responded to declining market share in the mid-1960s with a change in focus to performance. Given new creative freedom, American Motors styling director Richard “Dick” Teague and his design team unleashed the bold “Project IV” concept cars that toured U.S. auto shows during 1966 and previewed AMC’s future designs, including the AMX that would debut alongside the sporty Javelin for 1968.
Momentum heightened in January 1967, when AMC chose Gerald C. Meyers as vice president of automotive development and manufacturing. In June 1967, Meyers gave Teague and his chief designer, Bob Nixon, approval to propose a radical mid-engine prototype in competition with a proposal from Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Teague and his staff replied with the AMX/2, itself succeeded by the AMX/3, which was selected for development. Italian engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, renowned for his own road and racing cars, as well as his prior work for Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Iso, performed chassis and suspension design.
BMW was tapped for engineering and testing, internally coding the AMX/3 as Project E18. Giugiaro’s ItalDesign would structurally perfect the steel semi-monocoque body. Bizzarrini and close collaborator Salvatore Diomante would assemble the AMX/3 through a new joint-venture company.
Chassis and body parts were purpose-designed, while other items were sourced from AMC and external suppliers. Power was supplied by AMC’s 390-ci V8 engine, rated at 340 hp and mated to a 4-speed gearbox/ rear transaxle supplied by OTO Melara.
BMW’s testing yielded high body rigidity, a state-of-the-art brake system, and improvements to the clutch.
Initial estimates projecting a run of 1,000 cars quickly shrank to 26, but the highly anticipated introduction of the AMX/3 at Rome on March 23, 1970 — one day before the launch of the Ford-powered DeTomaso Pantera — was a full success.
Before AMC canceled the project, five AMX/3s were completed.
Bizzarrini and Diomante built a sixth example from remaining components, which they hoped to market as the Sciabola (Sword).
Extensively researched with exceptional commitment, and beautifully restored, this stunning AMX/3 carries unbroken provenance from new — and a particularly fascinating early history as the Monza test car for the AMX/3 development program.
Following assembly, it was tested by BMW in Germany and then sent to Italy, where it was photographed at the legendary Monza circuit, where it exceeded the targeted 160-mph top speed and posted blistering lap times.
This car was a milestone, coming from a unique project that brought together some of the brightest minds in the automotive world of the late 1960s and 1970s.
|Vehicle:||1969 AMC AMX/3|
|Original List Price:||$14,000|
|Tune Up Cost:||$350|
|Engine Number Location:||Metal tag attached to the front of valve cover|
|Club Info:||American Motors Owners Association|
|Alternatives:||1971 DeTomaso Pantera, 1969 Bizzarrini 5300 GT, 1969 Iso Grifo|
This car, Lot 132, sold for $891,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale Auction on January 20, 2017.
Despite the company’s small size and limited resources, American Motors Corporation developed some real surprises.
Their brilliant Vice President of Design, Richard Teague, took 12 inches and the rear seat out of the Javelin and created America’s only other mass-produced two-seater at the time, the unique AMX.
Working with Hurst Industries, AMC took the compact American 2-door and turned it into one of the fastest-accelerating cars of the 1960s: the 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler.
But the real surprise was AMC’s plan for a $10,000 mid-engine supercar.
“We were into racing at that time with Trans-Am and all that, and it was really kind of a tool, but a serious one, to create an image for the company that was something other than four-door Ramblers and ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ cars,” Teague once said.
AMC’s only supercar
Teague and his associates, Bob Nixon, Vince Geraci and Chuck Mashigan, designed the AMX/2, a fiberglass “pushmobile” that made the auto-show rounds in 1969.
That car formed the basis of the AMX/3, which was turned over to Bizzarrini to be created in metal, with engineering assistance from BMW. The project was completed in just 18 months.
The AMC AMX/3 paralleled Ford’s Italian/American DeTomaso Pantera, the $10,000 image-building supercar that Lincoln-Mercury dealers began selling in 1971.
The Pantera project was ambitious for Ford Motor Company, and it yielded an exciting exotic that was minimally profitable — and had to be upgraded for the newly announced 5-mph front-bumper regulations for 1973.
For AMC, the equally ambitious AMX/3 was just too much. The price had grown $2,000 to $4,000 above the already steep $10,000 target price — and the bumper regulations meant a major redesign would be needed.
After spending $2 million, AMC was forced to quit after just six AMX/3 cars were built.
Teague told author Bob Stevens, “The program was done on a shoestring, and we were on the verge of entering a new era. The muscle car period was ending, and industry priorities were starting to change.”
The famous Monza test car
Dick Teague bought two of his mid-engine creations (#3 and #5), which were deteriorating outside AMC’s Michigan headquarters. Teague’s son Jeff, also a car designer, owned one of them. Jeff Teague died in August 2016.
Our subject car is the Monza test car (#4), which had reached 170 mph on the famed track. William P. deMichieli of Indianapolis, IN, bought the car in 1971.
Two more Indianapolis residents owned it before it was sold to Walter A. Kirtland of Baton Rouge, LA, in 1989. Kirtland had the AMX/3, which was still in development-prototype condition, restored in preparation for the 1990 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Kirtland sold the AMX/3 to a German collector in 2014, who repainted it AMC P79 Bittersweet Orange. He then returned the car to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last summer, where it became the first American Motors vehicle to earn Best in Class at this prestigious event.
With only six built — and very few sales — determining AMX/3 value is difficult. Dick Teague’s yellow AMX/3 (#5) was sold in 1997 for $225,000. Walter Kirtland sold our subject car, the Monza AMX/3, in 2014 for $795k. That’s all there is for public transactions.
A rare auction opportunity
Gooding & Company’s $891,000 sale, just short of their low-end estimate, is a decent 12% return on investment after just two years. I’d call that well sold.
That said, the buyer got a stunning, ultra-rare mid-engine machine with tons of historical provenance and a Best In Class win at Pebble Beach at a bargain price — especially when compared to many similar exotics from that era. Buyer and seller both benefited from the sale of this Italian/American supercar that never got a chance to shine. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)