1969 AMC Javelin SST 290
Growing up in the Sixties, you were a Ford guy, a Chevy guy, or maybeif you were a real free thinkera Chrysler guy. But nobody was an American Motors guyor at least would admit it very loudly.
The Javelin, America Motors had hoped, would change that.
It should have. The Javelin handled as well as the pony herd, had good brakes and a nifty new thin-wall casting V8. And Javelin was the prettiest thing from Wisconsin since the Cheese Queen.
Other than Dodges 1970 Challenger, which was really a Barracuda that had joined the Dodge rebellion, Javelin was the last of the pony cars to arrive, debuting in September 1967 as a 1968 model. After the ill-conceived Marlin, the Javelin scored a conceptual bulls-eye. Like the Mustang, it was based on the florrpan of a compact sedan, retuned and recalibrated and enveloped in a sexy new skin.
Engine choices ran from a secretarial six to a four-barrel carbureted, high-compression 290 cid V8 that would make the live rear axle dance like St. Vitus himself. No, it wasnt sophisticated, but it was fun.
The shape, attributed to Chuck Mashigan in Dick Teagues ANC styling studio, was first shown at the National SAE Convention in Detroit in January 1966, as a sporty two-seater called the AMX. Shortly thereafter it was executed in metal by the Italian coachbuilder Vignale.
With relatively modest alterations, the show car/prototype became the production AMX introduced in January 1968, and with a few more changesincluding a stretch to add a back seatthe Javelin of several months earlier.
The styling was exceptionally clean, with smooth, flowing lines, body-contoured bumpers below a simple grille and no fake scoops or gratuitous bulges. A pair of black phony hood scoops was optional; otherwise the hood had indentations with small chrome inserts. It was European enough that the cars were shipped completely-knocked-down to Karmann in Germany who assembled and sold them as Karmann Javelins.
The dash looked more European as well, with round, deeply recessed gauges that included a bigthough not as large as the speedometertach. But the vinyl-covered front bucket seats had minimal bolstering, and the sports steering wheel had imitation holes in its spokes. The top sound systems available were an AM/FM radio or AM/8-track stereo.
You could buy a base Javelin for less than $2,500, but this got you the 232 cid six with a single-barrel carburetor and a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. The 290 cid Typhoon V8, American Motors new engine, was the next step up, with either a two- or four-barrel carb and 9:1 or 10:1 compression, rated at 200 or 225 horsepower respectively.
Top of the line was a 343 cid Typhoon that made 280 hp. interestingly, a floor-shifted four-speed was mandatory with the 22-horse engine, but a column- or floor-shifted automatic was available on the 343 and the two smaller engines. The new 315-horse AMX 390 became available in mid-year. And American Motors but its engine badges on the rear fender instead of the front, like everyone else, which seemed odd rather than distinctive.
Nevertheless, the Javelin was an immediate hit, with 55,124 sold the first year out. That year, American Motors turned a profit for the first time since 1965. So the Javelin returned with more of the same for 69, mostly changing stripes and trim. In mid-year the Big Bad Javelins had bright orange, green or blue paint, even on the bumpers. Not as arresting but more popular was the SST package, SST meaning Super Sports Touring but primarily consisting of more trim and comfort items.
The 290 four-barrel, though the base engine in the AMX, seems an anomaly in the Javelin, costing $250 with the mandatory four-speed, while the Go Pack cost only $16 over that and included the 280-horse 343, front disc brakes, E-70 tires and the handling package. There wasnt even a weight penalty with the 343, as it had the same block as the 290. The 290s horses were reputed to be underrated, however, making the engine an insurance special.
A 1969 Javelin acquired by Charles Gerancher Sr., of North Catasauqua, Pa., had one of the 290 four-barrels. Although fairly basic as ordered new, Gerancher added options while restoring the car, including the side pipes, which were originally available from the factory or dealer-installed. Though most of the dealer literature doesnt show this option, the Javelin was the only car other than the AMX or Chevrolets Corvette available with side pipes.
The pipes offer no obstacle to entry, which is easy enough, but the steering wheel is too close, something even the optional tilt doesnt help. Also, the power steering was too loose, but the alternative is the standard non-assisted steering, or worse, the fast ratio non-assisted steering.
Its rear seat was the largest in the class, which may not have helped the performance image, at least in the conventional sense, as did the Hurst shifterstandard with the four-speed box and working well with it.
We didnt do acceleration tests with the littlefor its timeV8 and contemporary road tests focused on the larger 343 (0-60 in 7.9 seconds, quarter mile in 15.5 at 90 mph). But cruising with the pillarless-hardtops side windows down, the sidepipes advertising a slightly lumpy cam, maybe some Lovin Spoonful on the 8-track, and suddenly its summer in the Sixties. It may not have altered the allegiance of those Ford, Chevy and Mopar guys, but it at least earned their respect.
Yet the Javelin magic couldnt last forever. Even by 69, despite an increasingly successful racing program, the sporty cars sales were declining. But it had, along with other performance models, changed the companys image and, for a time, saved the company. What more could one ask?
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