In 1968, American Motors entered the rapidly expanding U.S. pony car market with a worthy competitor to the Ford Mustang: the Javelin.
As we’ve often noted here at Mac’s Motor City Garage, in the mid-1960s American Motors was hard at work reinventing itself—from a maker of small, plain economy cars to a full-line automobile manufacturer with a complete range of vehicles. Products like the Marlin and the Rogue signaled that the company was catching up with American car buyers of the ’60s. But with the introduction of the AMC Javelin in September of 1967, the automotive press truly sat up and took notice. Car Life magazine, for one, called the new Mustang fighter an “all-American image buster.”
This American Motors ad (above) draws the obvious parallels between the Javelin and the Mustang. Obviously, the Javelin was aimed squarely at the hot-selling Ford product and its pony car competitors. In features and pricing the two cars were quite similar, but AMC, true to form, claimed the Javelin had the edge in practical details like trunk space and legroom. It’s interesting to note that the Mustang and the Javelin were created pretty much the same way. Just as the Mustang shared its basic platform and components with the compact Ford Falcon, the Javelin owed much to the Rambler American underneath.
The Javelin rode on a unit-construction chassis with a 109-inch wheelbase, three inches longer than the American, while sharing the American’s coil-tower front suspension and Hotchkiss drive at the rear with open driveshaft and parallel leaf springs. Exterior sheet metal was based on two AMC Project IV show cars of 1966, the two-seat AMX and four-seat AMX II, with the concept originating as a two-place coupe by AMC designer Charles Mashigan.
The Javelin was offered in but a single body style, a coupe with a sloping roofline that split the difference between a fastback and a traditional two-door notchback. There was no convertible. At midyear in ’68 AMC brought out its two-seat variant of the Javelin, the AMX. (See our feature on the AMX here.) That’s the reverse of the original product lineage, interestingly enough. In the AMC styling studios, the two-seater came first. Naturally, the four-seater offered far more potential sales volume.
Two key elements of the pony car theme, as pioneered in the Mustang, were upscale interior appointments and a wide variety of drivetrain choices. Following that template, the Javelin’s cockpit was fairly luxurious, for a Rambler anyway, with bucket seats, embossed vinyl, and full-pile carpeting. For $105, the optional SST package included upgraded cabin materials and twin beltline stripes on the exterior.
Powertrain options included a 232 CID inline six with your choice of three-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission, while the eight-cylinder options included a pair of 290 CID V8s engines (with two or four-barrel carburetors) and the 343 CID mill with 280 horsepower. The V8s could be matched to a Borg-Warner T10 four-speed manual gearbox or the Shift-Command three-speed automatic with console or column shifter. The big 390 CID V8 from the Ambassador with 315 hp became available at midyear. But meanwhile, check this out: When Car Life road-tested a 343-powered Javelin SST for its December 1967 issue, it reported a quarter-mile time of 15.4 seconds at 93 mph. That’s impressive performance for the smaller V8, aided no doubt by the four-speed gearbox and sporty 3.54:1 final drive ratio. This was no granny car.
Javelin production for the inaugural 1968 model year totaled a little more than 55,000 cars, barely a drop in the bucket compared to the Ford Mustang and its 317,000-plus sales that season. But for tiny American Motors and its total model-year production of not quite 273,000 cars in ’68, the Javelin was a solid hit, and the company began planning a second-generation pony car for 1971-74.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.