1971 AMX – Torquey, Not Dorky
A 1971 AMX is an outlier in the realm of early 70s muscle. Most people in the car hobby really miss out on one of the interesting and entertaining facets of car life. For the typical Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, GTO or Cuda owner, how many times do you think they have heard at a car show, “What is that?” “Nice Mustang.” Or occasionally you’ll hear, “I haven’t seen one of those in years!”
I sometimes say the latter to a ’69 Camaro owner just to see him do the typical doggy-head cock in confusion. Such is the life of an AMC owner. Yeah, we’ve heard it all over the years including those suffering from the dreaded EDD (Engine Displacement Disorder). Experts chime in and tell you the AMC 360 is a Mopar engine, the AMC 390 is a Ford engine and the 401 a Buick Nailhead. They’ll even grab their chest in pain if you tell them AMC had a 327 five years before Chevy did. I’ve experienced these comments from the so called experts for the last 47 years as the original owner of this 1971 AMX.
It was essentially AMC’s version of the Boss 302, Z/28, AAR Cuda and T/A Challenger. The dealer I worked at ordered a 1971 AMX with a 360/Auto combo and forgot to check the A/C box on the order sheet. The car sat for months on end and I finally convinced the dealer to sell me the car for below cost. Shortly after, I hit the road in my first new car.
Through the 70s and 80s I drove the snot out of the car racking up 118,000 miles by 1978. There was a $350 AMC dealer repaint that year and a strip and repaint in 1988. The car had never been garaged before ’88 sitting through a lot of Minnesota winters. After a move to California in ’95 and 155,000 miles, it was time for change.
The current engine is a modified 401 built by Doug Rippie Motorsports – a Corvette high performance specialist. Bit by bit over time I collected the parts needed to build the engine I wanted for the car. Reliable, powerful yet tame at the same time.
At Doug’s shop, they started by tweaking and flowing the heads, then a custom grind dual pattern cam from Comp Cams was designed to fit the package with pistons ordered for a 9.2:1 compression with the early high compression heads. AMC engines are known for their torque and told them I wanted a nice wide torque curve. The other pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. An Edelbrock Performer intake arrived along with an Edelbrock 650 AVS carburetor underneath the original cowl induction air cleaner. Everything is held together with ARP bolts and dressed with Offenhauser finned aluminum valve covers.
By 1998 the engine was shipped to California and I wasted no time in getting it installed. The original 360 was still running fine but was now at 155,000 miles so it was time to give it a rest. Over the years, various bits and pieces were added to enhance the performance of the new engine including a Pertronix Ignitor III distributor module and coil. Magnaflow also built a custom 2 ½-inch exhaust system with an X pipe to replace the 2 ¼-inch system connected to Edelbrock Shorty Headers.
Other upgrades to the car over the next few years include improving the suspension and the handling of the car which was pretty good to begin with honestly. A larger PST sway bar up front and the vintage Gabriel Adjustable E shocks were replaced with KYB gas shocks with the rears being staggered. Eaton Detroit Spring made a set of custom heavy duty springs for a slight 1 ½-inch drop and beefed the rear leaves ahead of the axle to handle the increased torque from the new engine. Since AMC used Saginaw steering gears, a WS6 quick ratio unit was swapped in and a smaller diameter Grant leather steering wheel was added helping to make the car incredibly responsive. One final addition to improve the handling was adding 16 x 8 Halibrand 5 spokes with B.F.Goodrich 50 series G Force Sport II rubber. I like the choice since the wheels still retain that vintage look and the 16’s allowed for a superior 50 series BFG G-Force Sport II tires over the usual 15-inch 60 series Radial T/A’s. For stopping power, the car became the test mule for Wilwood to prototype disc brake kits for AMC’s.
The interior has remained stock over the years with all its original pieces with the exception of a few things. One of my favorite things about the car is the cockpit style curved dash with toggle switches and full gauges surrounded by an engine turned overlay. I reupholstered the seats with the original factory black corduroy in 1991 and replaced the carpet. I also upgraded the stereo to a 240 watt Custom Auto Sound unit with a 10 disc CD changer and Polk Audio speakers with an additional 200 watt amp and a 10 inch subwoofer.
My 1971 AMX has navigated numerous long and winding roads over the last 47 years covering 181,000 miles to date. I’ve driven the car hard every day of its life and am amazed how well the car has held up. I sort of equate the car to a bad “B” Movie Horror flick titled, “The Thing That Wouldn’t Die.”
I feel bad for cars guys who always talk about the car they never should have sold wishing they had it back. Maybe I just knew that I never wanted to feel that way and am content with the choice I made to keep it. These days I try and eliminate the confusion on these cars by laying out a book I made when at car shows. The cover has the typical yellow and black theme and is titled, “An AMX History for Dummies”. Below that it says, “Everything you always wanted to know about an AMX but probably don’t give a rat’s ass about”. Below that it finally says, “Look anyway. Do you really need to go see another Red Camaro?”