Mechanically, the Javelin is closer to a catapult than a javelin-heavy duty and pretty much unbreakable

Some people claim that AMC invented the muscle car with the Rambler Rebel of 1957. Even if we give them that, they certainly came late to the pony car craze of the mid-1960s. Plymouth and Ford were first with the Barracuda and Mustang in 1964, followed by the Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, and Mercury Cougar in 1967. AMC didn't have a real entry until the Javelin appeared for the 1968 model year.

It was worth the wait, as the chronically under-funded underdogs in Kenosha, Wisconsin, came up with a car that was arguably better than its Big Three competitors-AMC fans could point as proof to Roger Penske's all-conquering Javelin Trans-Am team that starred Mark Donohue.

Replacement for the goofy Marlin

After a half-baked attempt with the goofy Marlin, Dick Teague really got things right with the classic long hood/short rear deck Javelin. However, it differed from its competitors in the details. Where pony cars from the Big Three could be gimmicky, oversized, and overwrought, the Javelin was correctly scaled. It was smooth and subtle, with a handsome grille with thin horizontal bars, a design theme that was carried over to the rear with a thin horizontal band of taillights similar to the treatment Pininfarina used years later in the Alfa Romeo 164. And although never recognized as such, Teague's original Javelin really was one of the milestones of 1960s U.S. car design.

Like every other pony car, the Javelin was thoroughly conventional mechanically. The first two years carried over AMC's ancient trunnion front suspension design, replaced in 1970 with a conventional double ball joint design that gave a smoother ride.

Steering was the usual American Novocain numb fare, unless one opted for the quick-ratio manual steering, which, although quick, was very heavy. Brakes were nothing special either with a typically fade-prone disc/drum setup. The scarce dealer accessory four-wheel disc brake package made things a bit better.

The SST package (grounded when Boeing's supersonic Concorde competitor was canceled) got the buyer better trim. Like most pony cars, there were several powertrain choices. The base engine was a 232-ci 6-cylinder with 145 hp; from there, buyers could choose a 292-ci V8 with 255 hp, a 343 with 280 hp, and the 390 with 315 hp and 425 pound feet of torque.

According to Road & Track, even the 343 was capable of 0-60 in under eight seconds and a 15.5 second quarter, which the testers reckoned was slowed by about a second by an especially poor set of tires. Overall, the testers of the day found the Javelin to be a better balanced car than the Big Three products because it lacked a nose-heavy big block option. Transmissions ranged from a 3-speed column shift to a 4-speed or an automatic on the console. Automatics were either a Borg-Warner M11 or M12, while 4-speeds were either Ford or Hurst derived.

"Go Package" the one to have

The "Go Package" was essentially a handling package that included better tires, a front sway bar, stiffer front suspension, and power front disc brakes. Rarer by far were the dealer-installed "Group 19" accessories. These included a dual 4-barrel intake manifold, a high performance camshaft, needle bearing roller rocker arms, a dual point distributor, and a rear disc brake kit. "Big Bad" colors were the vivid flourescent hues of orange, blue, and green-really cool period stuff. Bumpers came body colored on Big Bad cars.

Probably the most disappointing part of the Javelin was the interior. Even by American standards, it was cheap and bland. A note to would-be restorers: doing a Javelin is nothing like restoring a Big Three muscle car-not everything is a phone call or a mouse-click away. There is some truth to the rumor that Chrysler destroyed millions of dollars worth of N.O.S. parts when it bought AMC. Although Javelins are only average rusters, given the low values, do yourself a favor and buy a rust-free Western car that is missing nothing and has a serviceable original interior.

Mechanically, the car is closer to a catapult than a javelin-heavy duty and pretty much unbreakable. The 390 is probably the motor to go for. In addition to the most horses, it has a forged crank that is more durable.

After the 1970 model year, the Javelin became gimmicky, large, and overstyled. It died in 1975, yet another casualty of the fuel crisis. AMC never revived the name, and it seems unlikely it will ever resurface with Chrysler (or even that Chrysler itself will be afloat long).

Javelins still stupid cheap

While the two-seat AMXs have finally started to attract the attention they deserve, they are still somewhat undervalued for what they represent. Javelins are just stupid cheap. Drivers are still out there for $8,000-$12,000, and great cars can still be found for less than $20,000. That's about half of Mustang fastback money.

The muscle car market still seems to be driven by collectors with a one-dimensional outlook on things-they want what their neighbor had when they were kids, and most of the time that was a Camaro, a Chevelle, a Mustang, or a 'Cuda. Auctions and shows have started to resemble an endless film loop of one Camaro or Mustang after another. Can't anybody think outside the box?

If not, maybe I'll step in and buy the great-looking muscle car that won't totally embarrass itself in the twisties for half the price of everything else. It's unlikely ever to appreciate like a Camaro, but I'll get the same tire-smoking thrill ride for a fraction of the entry fee.

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