AMC Spirit AMX

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The AMC Spirit AMX was the last effort at fielding a high-performance car by independent carmaker American Motors, or AMC.

1980 AMX finished in Classic Black


In the late 1970s, AMC was in a difficult position. The company was cash-poor and all of its models were aging except one, the disastrously unpopular Pacer. One of the company's best-selling models was the Spirit, which was a modified version of the old Hornet, which had been engineered beginning in 1969 and first sold on April Fools' Day, 1970. Though the late '70s was a dark period for automotive performance in the United States, certain elements at AMC surmised that if they marketed a subcompact car with a small V8 engine, they might be able to make a splash in this depressed segment of the market. The engineering for a V8 powered Spirit (suspension, crossmember, etc) already existed, having been engineered originally for the earlier Hornet, and in fact the V8 engine was available as an option on the Spirit, so it was decided that AMC would reintroduce a dormant marque, the AMX.

Although it was widely dismissed as a case of "paint-on performance," [1] the new AMX actually featured quite a few performance-oriented upgrades.


Upgrades introduced for the new 1979 Spirit AMX included color-matched fender flares and front air dam, 'Rally-Tuned' suspension with 1.06-inch (27.7 mm) front and 0.75-inch (19 mm) rear sway bars, high-effort power steering gears, adjustable Gabriel (brand name) 'Strider' shock absorbers, heavy-duty semi-metallic 10.8-inch (274 mm) front disk brakes with ribbed 10x1.2-inch (254x30.5 mm) rear drum brakes, unique AMX grille, 'Turbocast II' 14x7 inch aluminum rims with ER60x14 Goodyear 'Flexten' GT radial RWL (raised white letter) tires, rear spoiler, special striping package, hood and door decals, console shifted automatic or manual transmission with 'Rallye Gauge' package (total of eight dials including an intake-manifold vacuum gauge), as well as simulated aluminum dash overlays with AMX badge on the glove compartment door.


In 1980 the slow-selling V8 engine was dropped in favor of the more thrifty 258 in³ I6, but the market could hardly have cared less. Other changes instituted for the 1980 model year included black flares and air dam, standard 14x6 styled road wheels with the aluminum rims optional, and no simulated aluminum dash overlays. See: 1979 and 1980 compared and 1980 Data Book


24 Hours of Nurburgring

In October 1979, the B.F. Goodrich tire company sponsored two-car team of AMXs in the twenty-four hour Group One endurance race at Germany's legendary Nürburgring race track.[2] Not only were these American Motors AMXs the first American entries in this historic race, but they also finished #1 and #2 in their class out of a 120-car field in this grueling 14.1 mile (22.7 km), 176 turn road race.[3] They were the fastest cars on street rubber, BFG T/A radials.

Amos Johnson and partner Dennis Shaw were the team principals and drivers in the North Carolina based "Team Highball". The new 1979 304 in³ V8 powered AMX was already homologated to meet Group One production car based rules. Two street-stock cars (both with AMC 5.0 L V8 and four-speed transmission) were obtained by "Team Highball" less than three weeks before a transport ship would sail to Europe. With almost no prior time on the race course, the team qualified the cars in 20th and 21st overall. The track tested both the cars and their new street tires, but both finished the race with one car in 25th and the second in 43rd overall. Another unique aspect of these historic racecars is that they were among the few ever to have had a period documentary film ("The Ultimate Challenge") done about the racecar preparation and race experience.

The 2nd place finishing car has been purchased and restored by automotive enthusiast Myron Cottrell [4]

AMX Turbo PPG pace car

The class winning Team Highball AMX was found and purchased by Steve Francis of Main Street Motorsport. After the Nurburging race the #2 AMX was updated to IMSA AC and later IMSA GT spec and includes a run at the Daytona 24 hours. Steve started restoration with a eye on a mix of its FIA Group 1 and IMSA GTO specs. The story on how this car was discovered is highlighted in Tom Cotter's book "The Cobra in the Barn". This is the team car driven by Lyn St James, Gary Witzenburg and Jim Downing. Steve also tracked down the prototype FIA AMX, still in its original paint, that was used to homologate these two FIA AMX race cars.

Following its purchase in 2006, the #2 AMX is currently being restored by AMC collector Scott Campbell in Ohio.

Turbo pace car

An AMX Turbo Pace car was built to be one of four official safety cars in the PPG IndyCar World Series for the 1981 auto-racing season. Using the Spirit liftback body, the racecar was designed by Richard A. Teague, AMC's Vice President of Automotive Design. The car was constructed by Autodynamics of Troy, Michigan under contract from PPG Industries. The turbo-charged and fuel-injected 258 in³ I6 was built by Turbo-Systems Inc. to produce 450 bhp (336 kW).[5] This car was the final chapter in the AMX story.


The Spirit AMX exemplifies both AMC's virtues and its shortcomings. It was an innovative concept and was well executed from an engineering standpoint, which illustrates the creative thinking and skilled engineering that characterized AMC's late efforts. The car was markedly improved and performed very well. However, AMC was unable to shake the perception that its products were hopelessly outdated and substandard, and furthermore the Spirit AMX was introduced the same year (1979) as the new Fox Platform Ford Mustang, so sales suffered and the car was cancelled after a brief (2 year) run.

In 2008, a contestant during the Hollywood Phase of American Idol, Season 7 Revealed that he runs drag races during his spare time. He was seen racing an AMC Spirit AMX.


  1. The History of American Cars 1939-1989. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd.. 1989. pp. 16. ISBN 0-88176-615-1. 
  2. Mattar, George. "AMC Invades Germany" Hemmings Muscle Machines. February 1, 2005, retrieved on September 28 2007.
  3. * Witzenburg, Gary (First Quarter 1981). "Race for a Day: An AMX Adventure at Nurburgring". Automotive Quarterly Magazine 19 (1): 30–39. 
  4. Davis, Marlan, "Barn Finds part 2", Hot Rod Magazine (Primedia Street Performance Group): 86, November, 2007 .
  5. (Source: 1980 AMC Press Release).