Perhaps the most readily recalled car produced by now-defunct auto maker American Motors Corp. was the subcompact Gremlin of 1970, created by traumatically truncating the rear bodywork of the company's compact Hornet.
But this wasn't the first time an increasingly desperate AMC employed radical surgery to create a new model in an attempt to keep the bailiffs at bay.
Three years earlier, it had performed major wheelbase-reduction surgery on its then-new Javelin pony car, excising some 300 mm from between the axles to create a short-between-the-bumpers and short-lived two-seater "sports" car called the AMX.
The creation of the 1968 AMX (American Motors Experimental) - which would become the first steel-bodied American two-seater since Ford's 1957 Thunderbird - was first discussed in 1965 when AMC, like other car makers, began hurriedly looking for a response to the rapidly accelerating success that was Ford's Mustang.
That program inspired a number of concepts created under the supervision of in-house designer Dick Teague. The first, in 1966, was a two-seater that featured a unique "Ramble Seat" in the tail similar in concept to the rumble seats of old, with a rear window that flipped up to provide wind protection. It would be sort of like sitting in the back of a modern hatchback with the hatch open.
But one of the most dramatic was the AMX GT, first seen publicly at car shows in early 1968. It took the long-hood/short-deck pony car approach to new, and shorter, lengths by having no rear deck at all: Its dramatically slanted tail end provided a foretaste of the Gremlin.
By this time, the program had already resulted in the Javelin, which had been introduced in the fall of 1967, so the arrival of the AMX in February of 1968 (as a mid-1968 model) was the second blast from this double-barrelled targeting of the sporty car segment.
The AMX wasn't a sports car in the accepted sense, but it was a pretty nifty little sports coupe. And to make this point AMC hired five-time land speed record holder Craig Breedlove, who proceeded to set no less than 106 new world and national speed records with a pair of specially prepared AMXs.
You could acquire an AMX of your own for $3,245 (U.S.), which bought you a pair of bucket seats, carpeting, a dash trimmed in that oh-so-realistic-looking woodgrain trim that was so popular at the time, a heavy-duty suspension (front independent/live axle rear), front disc/rear drum brakes and E70-14 Goodyear Polyglass tires. Options included an eight track, of course.
Taking a foot-long chunk out of the four-seat Javelin's monocoque platform and overall length not only eliminated the rear seat, but cut the weight to 1,450 kg, some 165 kg lighter than a Javelin. And there was a choice of 290-cubic-inch (225-hp), 343-ci (280 hp) and 390-ci (315 hp) V-8s to provide propulsion via a four-speed manual gearbox.
With the 390-ci motor, it could accelerate to 100 km an hour in well under seven seconds, pretty exciting stuff for the day, but not enough to win over many converts to the two-seat pony car concept.
Only 6,725 were sold in 1968 and 8,293 in 1969, perhaps pumped up by the "Big Bad Colours" promotion that offered the cars in Big Bad Blue, Big Bad Orange and Big Bad Green. Psychedelic paint didn't turn sales around, though, and only 4,116 AMXs were sold in 1970 - the last year of production. In 1971, the AMX badge became essentially the top-of-the-line Javelin and in the remainder of the decade it was affixed to various hot Hornets, Concords and Spirits.
The AMX pictured here is a 1969 model owned by Norm Emond of Scarborough, now 62 and retired after a career as a heavy equipment mechanic with the City of Toronto; he says he's now a full-time car enthusiast.
Like most of his generation, he acquired his interest in cars as a teen, while living in downtown Toronto, and went through a number of muscular cars from the 1960s. These included a Mustang Mach 1, Dodge GTS, Ford Falcon and a couple of Cougars, but for most of his working life he drove family-type cars.
While contemplating an early retirement, however, he decided sitting around watching TV wasn't on, and that messing about with old cars would help keep him occupied.
His first, the AMX, came along about 12 years ago. A nephew had spotted what he at first thought was an old Mustang in a city garage, and on checking it out, Emond discovered it was an AMX that had been parked there for a decade and a half, and promptly purchased it.
After tearing it apart, he determined that buying a donor parts car was necessary, but the restoration was then completed within a couple of years. "There was no real problem in finding parts. And they weren't expensive," he says, despite the car's short production life, as many AMC parts are common to other makes.
Some minor compromises were inevitable, mostly involving the badly damaged interior, but Emond made every effort to keep it as original as possible, including the Big Bad Blue paint job.
Emonds car also has the Go Package option, which included the 315-hp, 390-cubic-inch motor and four-speed transmission, along with Twin-Grip differential, power disc brakes, handling package and E70 Redline tires on six-inch rims.
The car runs well, and gets regular use, much of it in the hands of son Randy, although the ride is rather rough due to the short wheelbase and stiff suspension.
It's now part of a growing collection that includes a 1970 Chevy Nova SS clone that Emond uses as a "fun daily driver," a just-restored 1967 Cougar XR7 driven by his wife Marlene, and his current project, a 1968 Cougar.
Why the interest in Cougars? Emond was driving a Cougar when he and Marlene began dating, and they later owned a new one.
"We just thought we'd like another one," he says, and that somehow led to the second. Enthusiasm is insidious that way.
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