First Impressions

Written by By John vander Meulen

When the AMX was first introduced, it was 1968, a different world to be sure. Common expressions used were “Book’em Dano”, “you’ve come a long way baby,”. Charleton Heston was mired in monkey business on “Planet of the Apes” and that years’ hotties were Barbara Eden, Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup and the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. Cost of a Superbowl ad…$54G’s….compared to today’s $2.6 Million for 30 seconds…so you know it was a long time ago. The economy was on a tear and President Nixon removing the US dollar from the Gold Standard was still three years away, giving us the mess we are in today.

Two-seater cars at the time were predominately of British, Italian and German origin. Some with beautiful lines,….as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… Bug-eyed Sprites, Austin-Healys, Morris Garage (MG), Jaguars, Alfa-Romeos, Porches and Karmann-Ghias to name a few. British mechanical engineering tended to be, shall we say, somewhat controversial when it came to reliability. It’s said that having one British engineer on the job was ok but having more than one resulted in immediate lack of consensus. Lucas, (loose, unsoldered connections and splices) “ Prince of Darkness” supplied British auto electronics. A tool kit was a must and defective mechanical parts were not always redesigned. Ordering a new windshield- wiper motor for a Jaguar would give you the same item with the same fault. The North American rust belt was not kind and auto body corrosion was severe. Alfa finally stopped importing cars into Canada due to the word “biodegradable”. For auto manufacturers to make it big, you needed access to the North American market.

This was the world in which the AMX was introduced. Demographics indicated only 3% of the car buying public in 1968 would buy a 2-seater. PM magazine did an AMX owners survey based on 1.4 million miles driven. A Massachusetts advertising man says “just sitting on the street it looks like it’s doing 100 mph…(with stripes 120). A young computer clerk loved the “continental lines”. I didn’t know they had computers in 1968….perhaps laying the groundwork for Vic 20’s and Commodore 64’s. Owners complained about the lack of vent windows, handy if you were a smoker. A good vent window could suck the ash off your Export “A” cigarette from a foot away. On the bright side the side windows leaked so bad it was almost like still having them. Complaints ranged from droopy headliners to poor fitting rugs. Quipped a research mechanic, “the interior must have been bought at the Salvation Army and installed by deranged monkeys.” Perhaps he had taken the family to see “Planets of the Apes” earlier in the week and got the lowdown on how a Simian assembly line works. A New York steel company employee complained “the interior is put together quite sloppily….I found numerous screws loose or stripped.” Ok, I concur. I disassembled my interior once and had parts left over that wouldn’t fit anywhere. Drywall screws will do in a pinch. One owner suggested “milking stools could be used in the back for passengers”. Perhaps he was interviewed in “Americas Dairyland”. (You know why a milking stool only has three legs? The cow has the “udder”.) A West Virginia mechanic says his dog, a German Shepherd rides in the back and loves it and its ok with other assorted animals, kids and sports equipment. I had no idea there was that much room back there! A fun loving Tennessee physician says his three kids ride better and happier in the back of their AMX than in his 63 Chevy!… and besides, children’s car seats and seat belts are for sissies. “Needs a sporty grab handle” declares an Ohio draughtsman. Never could figure that one out. Grab handles are a must when riding the subway, especially when standing , and if slightly intoxicated ,prevents you from falling on the person sitting beside you during sudden stops and starts….(I think I know that one from experience). Aren’t seat belts supposed to properly secure you?….maybe seatbelt usage was slow to catch on. The only passenger who ever used my grab handle was an elderly uncle who had never been in anything faster than a Morris Minor. Poor fellow, he was prone to seizures, more so when in the car with me.

Owners found their hoods were acting as trampolines but “have learned to live with it and lower the hood with more care”. Said PM at the time “most owners adjust to the fact their cars are not perfect”. If you think about it, that’s an amazing statement! It was this kind of quality mediocrity the Japanese capitalized on. Can you imagine that scenario today? You take delivery of your new $50G 2011 Lincoln MKX AWD, the headliner droops, carpet doesn’t fit, the hood caves and the windows whistle. What do you say….hey, don’t worry about it, I realize my car isn’t perfect! Not likely! Seventy-seven percent picked the AMX because of the style and 72% took the 4 speed option. Due to “long throw” complaints, the original shifter was replaced by the Hurst. Eight percent thought the car was “comfortable” and 15% were impressed by fuel economy. Sixty one percent picked the 390 option. I disagree with both. I can tell if its head or tails when I run over a nickel and with the 3.54 rear end and premium fuel, economical perhaps, if compared to a cube van. Five percent wanted a bigger engine option. The AMX was built for the hot rodder. If you didn’t find it fast enough there was always a chance to buy one of the 100 Hemi Super Stock Dodge Darts built that year. They would e.t. in the 10’s right out of the box. The 390 weighed in at 579 lbs which was something of an achievement (less than 600 lbs.) Ford’s 390 weighed in at 620 lbs, Chev’s 396 at 771 and the Mopar 383 at 649.

Calculated in 2011 dollars, the AMX base price would be $21,316 compared to $16,021 for a Rambler 440 station wagon. Highway gas mileage with a 390, about 15.5 mpg or 7 km per litre. In comparison a VW Jetta diesel comes in at about 19 kpl. Five bucks today will buy you 4 litres, in 1968, about 60.

On a related note, AMC brass reported pleased and proud of the record established by its Javelin in its first year of major league racing competition. Entered in 12 of the 13 race Trans-American series run by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), one or the other of the two car Javelin team finished second six times, third twice, fourth twice and fifth four times. At least one Javelin finished all 12 of the races entered. Principal Javelin drivers were Peter Revson and George Follmer.