1974 AMC Javelin AMX
Many American cars in this country during the Sixties and Seventies were imported by members of the US Air Force, but what’s become of them all? This AMX is a rare survivor. Brought over by a young lady in the USAF and later customised, it’s had a very interesting life, as Zack Stiling discovers…
Words and photography: Zack Stiling
Oxfordshire: a region famed for its pastoral tranquillity and scenic vales, where venerable old dons amble about their business in the city of dreaming spires and the shimmering water of the Isis trickles lazily through the outstretched arms of the willow. Was there ever a more perfect picture of the Arcadian paradise, with its sheep scattered on the hillsides and V8 muscle cars rumbling through the lanes, not to mention the fiery roar of flying Aardvarks…
I beg your pardon? Muscle cars? Flying Aardvarks? Well, yes, once upon a time, anyway. Transport yourselves back to the 1950s, and the former RAF base at Upper Heyford, about seven miles north-west of Bicester, was being taken over by the US Air Force and that part of Oxfordshire was awash with Americans, plus their American cars and all their American ways. From the late 1960s until the airfield’s closure in the 1990s, the nightingale could find itself occasionally drowned out by the rush of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvarks which were stationed there.
Two of the airfield’s personnel were Benjamin F (for Franklin) Lockhart, who was stationed there from 1974 to 1986 with the 20th Munitions Maintenance Squadron, and his wife, Betty Lou. When not working in the gun shop or tool crib, as a weapons safety instructor or the Load Standardization Team Chief, Benjamin played disco at the Top Gun Club. Betty worked in the Traffic Management Office, and together they kept rented accommodation at Ibstock Close, a historic farmhouse in the sleepy village of Little Tew.
As the owner of this 1974 AMC Javelin AMX, it must have been the vivacious young Mrs Lockhart who became the village alarm clock when she fired up its 304cu in V8 of a morning. She previously worked in Transportation on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and bought it new in late ’73 after returning from an assignment at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Since 1972, Benjamin had been at Holloman Air Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and after a period of courtship, he and Betty married in April 1974. From Benjamin’s home in North Carolina, they first made one long-distance drive to San Bernardino, California, to say farewell to Betty’s father (unfortunately, the air conditioning broke while crossing the New Mexico desert), and then the second big journey was from North Carolina to New York, where the Javelin was shipped to Britain.
It was first registered over here on September 15, 1975, and Betty Lou Lockhart retained it until April 1980, when it passed to Frank Brinkley Jr of Bicester, quite possibly another American. When new, it was painted Mellow Yellow which, as the name suggests, was a much more subdued shade than its present colour, which is more akin to Chrysler’s Top Banana. Benjamin remembers trying to direct the Javelin through the English lanes. He says: “Driving the Javelin was a new experience in the UK. It took time to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road and narrow roads were a challenge. Getting parts and servicing the car was also challenging.”
At the time, it was possibly unique in this country. The Javelin was introduced in 1968 as a compact pony car at a time when American Motors was trying to become a serious rival to the Big Three and the AMX joined it midyear as an unconventional but exciting high-performance version sitting on a wheelbase shortened by 12 inches.
The Javelin gave AMC the sales boost it needed, but the second generation of 1971 went the same way as other muscle and pony cars, growing bigger and bulkier. It still looked superb, with a shape not altogether dissimilar to the ’71 Dodge Charger, but with a more truncated tail and even more pronounced, muscular haunches. Unfortunately, all AMC’s engines would be reduced in power from 1972 onwards.
The AMX was dropped as a separate model and became simply the top-of-the-line Javelin, on an unaltered wheelbase. AMC had given up on rivalling the Big Three, preferring to cater for a niche with cars like the Gremlin and soon-to-be- released Pacer, and the frugal Hornet. Its final year of production was 1974 and, even though the ’74 AMX was competitively priced at $3299, $67 less than the V8 Camaro and more than $300 less than the emasculated Mach 1 Mustang II, which didn’t even have a V8 option, with little enthusiasm to market them, annual production of the second-generation Javelins never exceeded 30,000 units. Only 5707 AMXs were built for ’73 and 4980 for ’74, so you’ll be lucky to see one over here.
While Mustangs, Corvettes and Mopars have their devotees, Garry Burns has sworn allegiance to the ’73 and ’74 Javelins (he doesn’t like the tail-lights on the ’71s and ’72s). Aged 14 or 15, a trip with a friend to Santa Pod is what turned him into an incurable American car addict. At 17, he bought a Camaro, and ever since he has enjoyed a spot of wheeling and dealing. We can’t tell you exactly how many British and American classics he’s had, because he lost count when he was 19.
He recalls: “I bought a red ’74 Javelin in the early Nineties from a friend. It was my daily driver and that’s where it started. It’s always been one of my favourite cars.” Since then, other cars have come and gone, but it’s the late Javelins he keeps returning to. “My second one a few years later was a white ’73, but it was just a groggy old thing so I sold it on. It took me 25 years to find another one.”
This Javelin appeared for sale in June 2019, and Garry wasted no time in hopping over to the Isle of Wight to buy it. That was three years ago, and two years of lockdowns meant he hasn’t had a chance to properly enjoy it and take it to shows until now. Garry bought it without inspecting it, convinced by the photos he’d seen that he was buying a good car, and so he was. However, anyone familiar with Javelins will notice that it’s been altered visually. Apart from the bright paint and replica Astro Supremes, it has gained a bonnet bulge and lost its mesh grille cover. This all stems from another chapter of its past life, when it was turned into a true Eighties street machine, painted bright pink, rolling on period aftermarket wheels and with a scoop poking through the bonnet to suggest a blower.
After Frank Brinkley, the Javelin was sold first in 1982 to David Crook and then again in 1985 to Glenn Wilson, both of High Wycombe. Wilson customised the Javelin, spraying it pink in 1986. It remained like that for several years. After Wilson sold it in 1988, it had three further owners in Isleworth, Southall and Gerrards Cross before committed AMC enthusiast Adriano Umbrello of Weymouth bought it in 1991, and added some blue scallops. Though the engine was originally a 304, Adriano discovered that it had gained 360 heads. He sold it to Paul Abbott of Wimborne in 1996, who in turn retained it until 2001.
Sometime afterwards, it was resprayed in the more vibrant yellow it wears today and the 304 block has been replaced by a 360, so it’s not just the heads any more.
Unfortunately, its original mesh grille seems to have been lost during the respray. To conceal the hole in the bonnet, the present scoop was fitted, but an even bigger hole had to be made to accommodate it…
Garry is of the same mind as your writer when he says: “I don’t like the scoop that’s on it now, I must confess. Ideally I’d like to put a straight bonnet on it, but because it’s an AMX (with cowl induction), it’s hard to find.”
Even though Garry’s not made it to a show with the Javelin yet, he has used it for a few trips into town, and it’s been every bit as enjoyable as his first Javelin.
“It’s very good in performance terms, but then it would be with a 360 in it,” he says. “The brakes are typical for an American car, you’ve got to think about what’s ahead, but driving it is very comfortable. It puts a smile on your face, which is what it’s all about.” Garry’s still buying and selling, and cars are coming and going, but we can be pretty sure that the Javelin’s going to stick around for a few years yet.
Adriano Umbrello took these snaps… … when it was still pink! A total of 4980 AMXs were built in 1974. 360 motor replaced original 304cu in V8. A total of 4980 AMXs were built in 1974. Cool turned dash. AMC was brought to the UK by Betty Lou Lockhart.