The 1968-1974 AMC Javelin performance rated high, with excellent handling and speeds that could match the likes of Mustangs and Camaros.
The 343 V-8 started out as Javelin's largest engine, almost as light and compact as the workaday 290, and therefore not heavy enough to adversely affect the car's weight bias.
Though it gave about 50 cubic inches and 50 horses to the 390/396/400-cubic-inch Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, and Firebirds, it matched their performance: 0-60 mph with the optional four-speed needed less than eight seconds.
Rival big-blocks would pull away eventually, with their 125-135 mph top speeds against Javelin's 105, but in a country where top speed is incidental and acceleration a virtual gauge of manhood, this was no liability.
AMC achieved it, not by frenetic over-gearing (3.15:1 axle ratio with the four speed) but by relative lightness: A 343 tested by Car Life weighed 3,461 pounds, several hundred less than rival big-inch ponycars. (The base six weighed in at 2,826 pounds.)
Javelin's suspension was conventional, with coil springs and wishbones up front, semi-elliptic leaf springs at the rear.
The car needed options like quick-ratio steering and the handling package (front sway bar, heavy-duty springs and shocks), but these were available on all models, including the six. The latter, however, could not be had with the four-speed stick.
Sound ordinary? Perhaps -- but it worked. With the handling package, the Javelin was a handler: It stuck like glue, and while it leaned and rolled a little, this wasn't very apparent to the driver.
One Javelin road-tester said, "If auto racing were relegated to strictly stock cars, we'd put our bet here." Obviously a successful Javelin racing program would need an expert tweaker and a darn good driver.
Furthermore, Javelin was handicapped in Sports Car Club of America Trans-Am racing, where the ponycars competed, by the displacement limit of 305 cubic inches. Mustang and Camaro/ Firebird were running 302s, while AMC had to make do with the 290, thus spotting the competition a dozen crucial cubes.
AMC gamely entered the fray anyway. Hiring Jim Jeffords (of Corvette fame) to head the team, along with crack drivers Peter Revson and George Follmer, the Javelin proved itself capable of running with the hottest Z/28s and Mustangs. Nonetheless, the 1968 season belonged to Penske Camaro and Mark Donohue. In 1969, under Ron Kaplan, the Javelin team was stopped again.
The way to beat Penske, AMC concluded, was to grab his top driver, and so they duly signed up Mark Donohue. He drove hard, and won several races, but not the championship.
The next year, when Ford and Chrysler stopped backing their cars and Penske didn't try hard, Mark and the Javelin came home first -- a notable achievement for a feisty independent that until recently had been building Nash Ambassadors.
See the next section to learn about the success of the 1968-1970 AMC Javelin.
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