Most common folks have never even heard of American Motors Corporation, and for the most part, that's a good thing. With creations like the Pacer, quite possibly the ugliest car ever built, AMC didn't accomplish many things worthy of occupying space in people's organic hard drives. Yet, in spite of the failures and follies of the now belly-up automaker, AMC left behind a silent legacy that significantly impacts the industry to this day. That's right, a legacy. No joke. And no, your author isn't writing while intoxicated. Scout's honor.
Delving into the annals of AMC history, the company is credited with developing the first full-time all-wheel-drive system offered in a passenger car with the1980 Eagle, complete with a viscous center differential. AMC's Jeep brand practically invented the modern SUV market with its Cherokee and Wagoneer models in 1983. The H1 Hummer was actually designed by AMC under its AM General division before the brand was sold off. To this day, Chrysler markets the Jeep Wrangler, which, along with its 4.0L straight-six, was originally built by AMC. Furthermore, after purchasing the company in 1987, Chrysler used AMC's talented engineers to stage its own revival in the '90s. The moral of the story is that in the wake of establishing a well-earned reputation of mediocrity, AMC managed to roll out some surprisingly decent automobiles.
Part musclecar and part sports car, one of AMC's finest automobiles was the AMX, and straight from the factory there was plenty to like about it. A compact two-seater, it weighed just a smidgen over 3,000 pounds, and packed a V-8-only engine lineup. No puny six-cylinders were offered. The big dog 390ci small-block kicked out 315 hp and featured a forged crank and rods. Checking off the Group 19 options box at the dealer added goodies like a bigger cam, disc brakes, aluminum intake manifolds, a shorter ring-and-pinion set, and a Detroit Locker rear end. As such, it has all the right ingredients to make a kick-ass modern street machine, and Jon Zeimetz's '70 AMX authoritatively proves it.
With modern chassis bits and a proper stance, Jon's AMX exudes the street fighter vibe from every angle. However, it was damn near impossible getting it to its current state of excellence. Due to the obvious lack of readily available parts, building an AMC is a monumental challenge, but Jon had good reason for accepting the daunting mission. "I wanted to build a one-and-only type of car, not another Camaro or Nova," he quips. "You'd be surprised at how many people don't know what an AMC is. All my friends laughed when I bought the car, but now whenever I pull into a parking lot or go to a show, there's a crowd of people around the car before I even get out of it."
Coming from a lineage of Mopar diehards, Jon has grown accustomed to scrounging for parts. He's owned and restored a number of Challengers, 'Cudas, and Chargers. That training was still insufficient, however, as the option more often than not was custom fabricating one-off parts for the AMX. WSC Motorsports (Stone Mountain, Ga.) built the custom front coilovers, rear leafs, shocks, and sway bars. The custom steering pump is a modified circle-track unit. After weeks of searching for a big brake kit, Jon threw up a Hail Mary on an Internet message board for help as a last resort. Miraculously, McIntire Machine Inc. (Patterson, Calif.) responded and provided a stout combo using Wilwood calipers with 13-inch rotors up front and 12-inchers in the back. Although the chassis work was infuriating at times, Jon has no regrets. "I like modern technology, so I wanted to build it as a Pro-Touring car from day one," he explains. "The hard work has really paid off, and it corners just as well as my '05 Corvette. It goes down the road like no other musclecar I've ever owned, and I've owned more than 50."
To scoot the AMX down the road, Jon's original plan called for dropping in a 5.7L EFI Hemi and attaching it to a Tremec six-speed trans. Since the Hemi required hacking up the shock towers for clearance, and no one offered a bolt-in T56 kit at the time, Jon decided to keep it all AMC. Built by Alfano Performance (Kenosha, Wis.), the 401ci AMC mill was bored 0.030-inch over for a grand total of 407 inches, then fitted with Venolia 10.5:1 forged pistons. Plenty stout for the task at hand, the stock forged crank and rods were retained. Up top, an Edelbrock RPM intake manifold feeds a set of heavily massaged aluminum heads, also from Edelbrock. A 252-at-0.050 Crane solid roller cam bumps the valves, and a custom seven-quart oil pan seals in the lube. When the 950-cfm Holley carburetor cracks open and the Hooker long-tube headers belch, Jon estimates the output at 550-600 hp and predicts solid 11-second ETs. Backing up that grunt is a 3,800-stall converter that transfers torque to a Chrysler 727 trans. Knowing that the AMC rear end wasn't up to snuff, Jon adapted an 8.75-inch Chrysler unit out of an A-body. It was narrowed an inch and inside its pumpkin are 3.91:1 gears and a limited-slip differential.
Inside the cabin, pragmatism and functionality take precedence over frivolous embellishments. The custom carbon fiber instrument panel borders on austere, but gets the job done by housing a comprehensive assortment of Auto Meter gauges. Revealing his sense of humor, Jon says the Mopar logos on the speedometer and tach are a tribute to Chrysler's takeover of AMC. Occupants sit in Tuner FX seats and are cinched into place with a custom five-point harness. An aluminum Hurst shifter engages the transmission, and steering inputs are fed into a Grant GT wheel. To thwart excessive road noise, the entire interior is lined with Duramat insulation. Both the door panels and seats are covered in a pattern that mimics the carbon fiber instrument panel, a nice touch that creates a theme of continuity.
While always partial to the '70 AMX for its flush-mounted grille and dual-snorkel hoodscoop, Jon wanted to take his car one step further. One of the most obvious visual elements is its silver-and-black paint scheme. "I wasted thousands of dollars test painting different colors on the car," he says. "Then someone pulled into work one day with a silver and black Harley Edition F-150, and that helped me make up my mind." Jon went through a similar routine with the wheel selection before settling on a set of custom 18-inch Boyd Coddington Junk Yard Dogs wrapped in 245/40 front, and 285/35 rear tires. Other touches are more subtle, like body seams that have been welded shut and bumper bolts that have been removed. Under the hood, there are no errant wires as all electrical hardware is tucked neatly away. One of the coolest details is the custom side pipes. After the car was completed, Jon re-routed the tailpipes to exit out of the quarter-panels. Jon isn't done yet, though, as he's trying to figure out how to fit a Chrysler 300C IRS into the AMX.
Looking back nearly 40 years, why the AMX wasn't more successful is anyone's guess. Despite offering stellar performance bang for not a lot of bucks, less than 25,000 were sold between 1968 and 1970. Sure, it isn't as popular as a '69 Camaro or a '71 'Cuda, but it does have mystique. The nicest '69 Camaro ever built will still fail to get the looks and admiration of this AMX, and that's at least as important to Jon as the raw performance.