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Monday, December 24, 2012

1970 AMC Javelin Mark Donahue Edition

The 1970 AMC Javelin was a serious contender in the Canadian muscle car field.
To tell the Javelin story properly one has to start at the beginning. In the beginning there was Rambler. Rambler was the phenomenal North American automobile success story in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the United States, Rambler was need of an image change by the mid-1960s. People weren't buying Ramblers anymore. Rambler had somehow gone from being the chic car of choice for the smart and thrifty consumer to representing a vehicle owned by losers. 

In Canada, the situation was not the same. Canadians appreciated the value that Rambler represented and production at the Brampton, Ontario plant rose steadily from 1961 to 1970 (though there were very slight dips in 1965 and 1969).

The 1965 Marlin by Rambler was imported into Canada from Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The pony car revolution was in full swing in 1964 and though American Motors fielded a fastback model called the Marlin for 1965, no one was fooled by its origins. Marlin was a feeble attempt to enter the market when compared to Ford's hot new Mustang. 

Marlin was nothing more than a sensible Rambler Classic with a dramatic fastback. People didn't buy Marlins. They were fish out of water. Dropping the Rambler name from the fastback for the 1966 model year didn't seem to help either. Marlin grew larger for 1967 but even fewer sold.

In its third and final year on the market, Marlin now shared its body shell with Ambassador.

What American Motors needed was a hot-to-trot muscle car that could take on the likes of Mustang, Camaro and Barracuda. Fortunately there was such an animal being readied in AMC's styling studios on Plymouth Road in Detroit.

The 1968 Javelin was all business on streets and racetracks.

Charles (Chuck) Machigan was the designer in charge of the programme and worked in the advanced studio under the direction of the Vice President of Design, Richard (Dick) Teague. Javelin was incredibly beautiful with its deeply-recessed venturi grille, a bold-look bumper and uncluttered styling. Although its wheelbase was only three centimetres longer than Ford's Mustang, Javelin's long deck and crouched-cat rear proportions were altogether lovely.

Interior designers, under the direction of Don Stumpf, made sure that Javelin was particularly commodious in rear seating when  compared to the back seats of other pony cars, all of which were notoriously skimpy and uncomfortable.

The 1967 Rambler American was a no-nonsense, high-value compact in the Canadian market.

Javelin was derived from econo-box Rambler American's mechanicals, just as Mustang's underpinnings came from the Ford Falcon. Both pony cars were endowed with many power options not available to their lesser kin. Both offered trusty six-cylinder engines as standard equipment but both could be powered upward.

Dealers and salesmen had to be specially trained to sell the Javelin. Comfortable selling sensible cars to older customers, Rambler dealers did not know how to talk to kids, nor did they know the language of racing.
The 1954 Nash-Healey.

AMC hadn't had a serious sports car on showroom floors since the Nash-Healey two-seater some fifteen years earlier. People needed to know how to relate to the youth market and not offend those young people who came in to shop for a Javelin. AMC dealers were taken to special Javelin races and introduced to a whole new world.

Javelin sales were great. AMC brass figured the car would be success if production hit 45,000 units. To their delight and astonishment more than 56,000 Javelins scooted out the doors.

In the US, Javelins were marketed in conjunction with Hugh Hefner's Playboy clubs. Neil Gaskin was AMC Canada's VP of Sales and knew that the Playboy Club image would not sit well with Canadian consumers. Besides, there weren't any Playboy Clubs in Canada, so he dreamt up another scheme.

Gaskin ordered a genuine Olympic javelin from a concern in New York City, the only place he could find one. "It was heavy," he called. Then he hired a "Javelin Girl." Christine Demeter was the model who wore the skimpy cave girl outfit and posed, javelin in hand, next to the muscle car. Gaskin recalled that the shoot was along Highway 400, north of Toronto--still under construction at the time. The background of gravel and raw earth lent itself perfectly to the shots.

The Javelin Girl campaign appeared in both English and French publicity. Dealers were given life-sized cardboard standups of Christine to place next to Javelins on showroom floors.

Sadly, the stint at American Motors was one of the last modelling jobs that Christine Demeter ever had. The 33-year old model was murdered by her husband shortly after--in a fashion so brutal and lurid that her death became a best-selling book and a murder-mystery movie on the CBC.

There was little to do in Javelin's second year but sell more of them. Javelin script on the grille was replaced  by a bull's eye and the stripes were redesigned. More woodgrain appeared on the instrument panel and in the interiors. 

Both Javelin and AMX were available in Big Bad Colours in 1969.

For the 1969 selling season, Big Bad Colours were introduced for Javelin and AMX. Big Bad Blue, Big Bad Green and Big Bad Orange were just too mod for words.  Despite the tweaking, sales dropped by some 14,000 units as the market was over-saturated and insurance companies were hiking rates on the pony car segment of the market.

In 1970 Javelin underwent a mild facelift to become six centimetres longer and three centimetres lower. Now it shared a common front bumper, parking light position and hood with AMX. 

Piloted by Peter Revson, this Javelin Trans-Am races in St. Jovite, Quebec on August 2nd, 1970.

A hundred Trans-Am Javelins were assembled under the watchful eye of industrial designer, Brooks Stevens who made sure the cars met the rules of the Sports Car Club of America. In 1970 the SCAA changed the rules to a minimum of 2,500 units of a car being built in order to compete in the club's events.

AMC responded with 2,501 copies of the Mark Donahue Javelin. Most sported a specially-cast, thick-walled 5.9-litre  (360-cubic inch) V8 engine with a 290-horsepower rating. They came with an aerodynamic duck-tail spoiler designed by Donahue himself. The race driver's distinctively bold signature appears on the right-hand side of the spoiler.

The two-seater AMX was deleted at the end of the 1970 model-year run but Javelin was given a major restyle and would soldier on racetracks for several more glorious seasons. 

Visit my old car website at: The Oilspot Eh!

Copyright James C. Mays 2000
All rights reserved.


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