Between the mid-1960s and early-1970s, compact “pony cars” such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Plymouth Barracuda were an immensely popular segment of the American automotive market. Aimed at younger drivers and typically cobbled together from readily available components, they offered style, sporty performance and a long list of options at an affordable price. In 1965, as part of an effort to give itself a sportier image and attract younger customers, American Motors Corporation started work on its own entry in the pony car class. The end result went on to become an American classic: the 1968-1974 AMC Javelin.
Designed by a team led by Richard A. Teague and initially available at a surprisingly low sticker price range of $2400-$2600, the Javelin had much in common with other American pony cars of the day. Like its competitors, it was a compact by American standards, riding on a 109-inch base. Also in common with its competitors, the Javelin made extensive use of off-the-shelf components. The car was built on the chassis of the Rambler American, which at the time was American Motors’ economy model. When first introduced, customers were offered a choice of three already existing American Motors engines: a 232 cubic-inch inline-6, a 290 cubic-inch V-8, or a 343 cubic-inch V-8. Just a like its contemporaries, the customers could also choose from an extensive list of options, which included an automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a GO-Pack Performance Package (which consisted of the 343 V-8 engine, a beefed-up suspension system, dual exhaust, and power brakes).
What really set the Javelin apart from its pony car contemporaries was its sleek and distinctive body shell. Like its competitors, the body featured a long hood and short deck. But instead of being given angular lines like those found on the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Plymouth Barracuda, the Javelin was given a smoother and rounder look, which was accomplished by giving it flowing body panels and semi-fastback roof. American Motors further enhanced the car’s sporty look by giving it a blacked-out grille and form fitting bumpers. The Javelin’s interior was decidedly sporty as well, featuring bucket seats and a recessed instrument panel.
A late comer to the pony car field, the AMC Javelin made its public debut in August 1967. Sleek looking and a sporty performer, it was very well received by the American motoring enthusiasts and sold well in its first year, with over 50,000 rolling off the assembly line. AMC continuously updated the Javelin over the course of its production life. Mechanical upgrades included larger and more powerful engines and improved suspension systems. Changes to the body shell included a redesigned grille, sculpted front fenders, and a rear spoiler. The Javelin’s sporty image was further enhanced by its success on the racetrack, with factory supported teams twice winning the Sport Car Club of America’s Trans Am Series Manufacturers Championship (1971 and 1972).
Although the Javelin was popular in its time, like other pony cars of its era, its heyday was short lived. A combination of factors, including declining sales, tightening federal safety and emissions regulations, and the 1973 Energy Crisis, prompted AMC to pull the plug on the Javelin after the 1974 model year. Around 235,000 AMC Javelins were built. Surviving examples are prized collector’s items today.
American Motors – 1971 Javelin: American Motors: Specification Models: Gremlin, Hornet, and Javelin, 1970-1974, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
“American Motors Javelin SST: A Bright, New All-American Image Buster,” Car Life, December 1967; American Motors: Specification Models: Gremlin, Hornet, and Javelin, 1970-1974, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Georgano, Nick, ed., The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile; Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 52.
Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 26-27, p. 31-48.
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.