Anyone can build a Chevy, but it takes a unique person to build an off-brand. There we said it, and it’s out in the open. You can argue all you want, but talk to anyone who builds a nonmainstream muscle car and they will quickly tell you that they have to be way more creative and resourceful to build a redheaded stepchild from the same era as your Chevelle or Camaro. Of course, that’s also the exact same argument that Chevy guys will use to justify their marque of choice—it’s easier and more affordable, so they can concentrate on taking the car to the next level. Jimi Day not only took his ’69 AMC AMX that he affectionately calls AMXess to the next level, he did so with a car that is rare to see in any form.
Most AMC owners are not that way by accident. Something has to click with them at an early age, drawing them to a brand that society discarded. Jimi says he was a car guy from the time he was 9 years old, helping his dad work on the family fleet of cars. His story was a slice right out of a Bruce Springsteen song, sitting on his dad’s lap, driving down the rural roads of his hometown in central Illinois. When he turned 14, Jimi bought a ’64 Ford Fairlane for $125. It had a 260ci V-8 that leaked from every seal, and it was the perfect classroom that would teach him how to work on just about every system of a car. For a young boy, it was freedom and heaven all rolled up in one. While Jimi owned this car, he helped out at local body shop, and that’s where he fell in love with the AMC AMX. A local guy in town brought one in for touch-up paintwork. It had two seats, a big V-8, and the signature proportions that define an AMX: a long hood, high rear hips, and a nearly nonexistent decklid. In Jimi’s words: “I was smitten. It was 1981, I was 15 and broke, but I vowed that someday I would have an AMX.”
Clean is the first word that...
Clean is the first word that comes to mind when you peek under the hood of the AMX. D&Z Customs smoothed the firewall and removed the strut-tower inner fender panels to create a smooth background so your eyes can focus on the GMPP LS3 crate motor that rests front and center.
It was 21 years later before those words would come to full fruition. Things in Jimi’s life aligned, and he was able to purchase the ’69 AMX that you see here. Of course, it looked nothing like this. It was, however, a complete, driving car from Northern California. It had different paint, wheels, tires, suspension, brakes, engine, trans . . . well, you get the idea.
The first round of modifications Jimi made to the car were really unmodifications. He returned the car to stock, finding original AMC parts or reproduction components wherever he could. He had the 401 engine and four-speed manual transmission rebuilt to stock specs. This led to car shows and trophies and a general round of satisfaction in classic AMC style.
Then, only four years into owning the AMX, Jimi took the car completely apart to attend to the fading paint and address a few minor sheetmetal issues. This next part is something most of us can relate to: In the midst of a total rebuild, the car got sidelined. Business was, well, busy, and life demanded more time, leaving fewer hours to work on the AMX. First, it was moved to the back corner of the shop, and then to a damp warehouse basement.
It was three years before the genesis for the current direction of the car was put in motion. Rich Rinke at Turnkey Restorations suggested that he finish the AMX, and Jimi quickly agreed. By this time, the Pro Touring movement was well established and Rinke was enlisted to also step up the handling and stopping power of the car. Rinke fabricated custom lower control arms and fit the front suspension with Strange coilovers and Brembo brakes from a ’98 Mustang Cobra. This was a vast improvement, but only a smidgen of what the car would become.
About this same time, Jimi was involved with the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI) as race director. The concept was to create an event that would take the best show cars and put them on the track to see if they could perform as well as they looked. As Jimi worked with Cam Douglass to develop the details of OUSCI, the specifics of how his AMX would be built and what would be expected of the car in terms of performance evolved. That’s also when Randy Johnson of D&Z Customs got involved. Together, Jimi and Randy hatched a plan that would put Jimi’s vision into metal and rubber.
That vision included a car that had plenty of modern power for acceleration, very big brakes to slow the car as it came into corners, and completely reworked suspension to get an AMC through the corners like no other since 1971 when Roger Penske and Mark Donahue campaigned a Javelin in the SCCA Trans-Am series. In true Pro Touring spirit, the car had to be built to perform at its best in all of these areas, but also look good and have modern conveniences like air conditioning and tunes that can overpower the Hooker mufflers.
The body was left mostly original....
The body was left mostly original. Turnkey Restorations took on the challenge of making sure the sheetmetal was perfect and sprayed the car in muscle car–appropriate PPG Porsche Guards Red and Innsbruck White. A thin blue pinstripe completes the classic AMC red, white, and blue color combo.
This is when things got interesting. You can’t just flip through a catalog and buy everything you need to create a dead-flat handling AMC. Instead, Randy at D&Z got very creative, adapting a Heidts Camaro front subframe and suspension, and custom-building just about everything that makes up the rear suspension. RideTech coilovers are at all four corners to allow for height adjustments and relatively easy spring-rate swaps and weight jacking for serious corner tuning. Wilwood 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers were employed on the front of the car, while only slightly smaller 13-inch rotors and four-piston calipers slow the rear. Being a bit unconventional, the car relies on Wilwood non-power master cylinders for braking. That’s genuine race car technology. The rotors are covered by 18-inch Rushforth Night Train wheels, wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW tires.
After figuring out the suspension, installing a GM drivetrain wasn’t too difficult. The engine is a GM Performance Parts LS3 crate motor with an LS7 cam from COMP Cams. The combo is good for 557 hp at the flywheel and 453 hp at the rear wheels on a stingy Mustang eddy current dyno. One of the coolest features on the engine is that the coil packs have been moved off of the valve covers with D&Z Customs relocation brackets. They now rest below the spark plugs, hidden next to the engine block. Behind the engine is a Keisler five-speed, interrupted with a Centerforce dual-disc clutch.
The interior is a cool collection of requisite race car equipment and luxury items. The massive Auto Meter Phantom II gauges sit in the factory AMX gauge cluster. The center stack is trimmed in carbon fiber, and Vintage Air controls replace the original heat and defroster levers. The five-point RideTech harnesses (OK, technically they’re only four-point because the crotch strap is missing) slide through leather-covered racing seats. A Hertz amp and subwoofer ride below the RideTech TigerCage. You get the idea. Business first, but comfort and style are a close tie for second place.
The interior is a decided...
The interior is a decided mix of new and old. The 5-inch Auto Meter Phantom II speedo and tach look as though they belong in the original AMX instrument panel. A stainless steel RideTech TigerCage helps stiffen the AMX and protects its occupants from injury if things get out of hand.
Will this be the final form that Jimi’s AMX will manifest itself in? Probably not. It took 21 years for him to achieve ownership, and the car has already seen three very different stages in just 10 years. We expect that this car will be reinvented over and over again, but one thing will remain the same: It will always be a two-seater with a nasty V-8 underhood!
“The goal was to make adjustments to the suspension, drop in a GM LS3, and go racing.” —Jimi Day
Type: GMPP LS3 crate motor
Oiling: Accusump system with remote oil filter and cooler
Rotating assembly: GMPP forged crank, steel connecting rods, hypereutectic pistons
Cylinder heads: GMPP aluminum heads with 2.165/1.59-inch valves
Camshaft: COMP Cams with 230/242 degrees at .050 and .572/.593-inch lift
Exhaust: Hooker long-tube LS swap headers, 3-inch exhaust system with Hooker mufflers
Fuel system: Cadillac CTS-V electric in-tank pump
Cooling: custom aluminum radiator and electric fan
Output: 453 hp at 6,363 rpm and 415 lb-ft at 4,891 rpm (rear-wheel dyno)
Transmission: Keisler RS600 five-speed manual
Rear axle: Speedway Motors 9-inch with 3.50:1 gears, Truetrac differential
Front suspension: D&Z Custom suspension using Heidts Camaro upper and lower control arms, Heidts 2-inch dropped spindles, RideTech coilovers, Heidts custom splined sway bar, Heidts rack-and-pinion steering
Rear suspension: D&Z Custom four-link suspension, RideTech coilovers, Heidts custom splined sway bar
Brakes: Wilwood 6-piston 14-inch rotors, front; 4-piston 13-inch rotors, rear
Wheels: Rushforth Night Train wheels; 18x9, front; 18x10, rear
Tires: 275/35ZR18 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW, front; 295/35ZR18 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW, rear
D&Z Customs fabricated a custom...
D&Z Customs fabricated a custom front suspension that became the mounting location for Heidts upper and lower control arms designed for a first-generation Camaro. The cradle also mounts Heidts rack-and-pinion steering and a custom Heidts splined sway bar.
The rear suspension was all...
The rear suspension was all custom fabricated by D&Z, creating a four-link with rod ends and mounts for a pair of RideTech coilover shocks. The rear axle is a Speedway Engineering 9-inch spinning 3.50 gears.
Those are 295/35ZR18 BFGoodrich...
Those are 295/35ZR18 BFGoodrich KDW tires stuffed nicely into the rear wheelwells. The 275/35ZR18s under the front may be even more impressive, partially made possible by custom-made inner fenders underhood.