Wayne Davis is a guest contributor here at TheMuscleCarPlace.com, and is the owner of Colorado AMX Motorsports near Denver, CO. Wayne and his son Aaron work company jobs by day, build cars by night, and know just about everyone in the industry that is bananas about AMC’s!.
You can check out all of Wayne’s previous articles here…but just know, it’s heavy on the AMC! 🙂
The old Rolling Stones tune goes…. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” In life a lot of times that is true, although as I’ve found recently, sometimes you really can get what you want…kinda. The story goes like this.
In the late 1960’s through the early 1970’s, the Trans American Road Race Series was raging. The four US car manufactures were in fierce competition battling for the Trans Am Championship. There were four US car manufacturers competing in it at the time; Ford, GM, Chrysler, and American Motors.
I was 17 years old in 1970 but was completely oblivious to the Trans Am Series because I was beating it down the quarter mile at the drag strip. Growing up in Upstate NY (right in my back yard) was some of the greatest road racing of all time. Race tracks at Watkins Glen, NY and Lime Rock, CT were both part of the Trans Am series racing, and I completely missed it! Forty years later I’ve now “discovered” Vintage Trans Am racing, partly due to two reasons. First, I’m a big AMC fan and collector, and second, AMC is a big part of the Trans Am history.
Now, I have to get this off my chest…I was recently watching an episode of Hot Rod TV where they were highlighting the Trans Am Series. The commentator was gushing all over about the Mustangs, and casually mentioned the AMC Javelins, calling them an “also ran.” He said the Javelins just came up short and didn’t have much success.
Has Hot Rod been under a rock for forty years? Sure the Javelins lost the 1970 Championship to the Bud Moore Mustangs, but only by 1 point!
In 1971 and 1972 the Javelins won the championship, and came back and won it again in 1976. Granted, by 1972 the series was not what it was in earlier years, but the other manufacturers had more money coming in the ‘back door” than AMC spent through the “front door” with corporate sponsorship. On top of that, the same cars and drivers were driving Ford, GM, and Chrysler cars from the previous years, so the odds were even across the board in ‘71 and ‘72. I wouldn’t call that an “also ran” effort.
I feel better now. End of rant.
Getting back to the Trans Am Series, today Vintage Trans Am is more popular than ever. In fact, some might argue that the popular Pro-Touring craze has Trans Am road racing in its DNA.
My first venture into pro-touring was inspired by the Trans Am. It was a pro-touring Javelin/AMX, emulating the stance and “look” of the 1971 Trans Am Sunoco Javelin driven by Mark Donohue under Roger Penske (which won the championship in 1971). Not only did it win, but it dominated the series, winning 7 of 10 races, beating Ford and GM (1970 was the last year for Chrysler). It was a true David and Goliath story. Who would have ever imagined that lowly AMC would beat the best that Detroit had to offer?
After 1971, Penske and Donohue had to move over to NASCAR to chase Ford, GM and Chrysler since all three of them had left SCCA and moved to NASCAR. There is no disputing that Penske racing is successful in racing today, and especially so in NASCAR (and for the record Penske won his first race in NASCAR with Mark Donohue driving a AMC Matador).
A little over a year ago, the Roger Penske/Mark Donohue Trans Am Championship car went on the auction block at Russo and Steele auctions. My heart begins to go pitter-patter when I think about someone being able to buy that car. Of course “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” though, and the car sold for $847,000!
The original Trans Am cars don’t change hands too often, but this one set a record way beyond everyone’s expectations. I have heard people say, how could a AMC bring more money than any of the Parnelli Jones Mustangs, Sam Posey Challengers, or the Mark Donohue Camaros?
I know the answer as to why it brought such a high price. It wasn’t that it was a Javelin, but instead that it was the last Trans Am car driven by the great Mark Donohue, and it was the championship winning car. As the car was on the auction block, I was fantasizing what it would be like to own that car. In my wildest dreams, I had no idea that some day I actually would…kinda.
For the last few years I had been following the build of a replica of the Sunoco Javelin that went across the auction block. A fellow in Georgia who builds movie props and unique special edition cars with history was building to an exacting level of detail, a replica or tribute if you want to call it that, of the real Trans Am Javelin. The car took him about 5-6 years to build, and sometime during those years I had a chance to be in Georgia and look up the builder. I was blown away.
While the car is not exact in every respect, it was stunning. The fabrication, red, white, and blue corporate colors, wheels and tires, and so on, made you feel like you were standing next to the real Donohue/Penske Sunoco Javelin. While I usually build cars, a few months ago, I was able to acquire that very car. It sits in my shop now. While it’s not exactly street legal and I can’t drive it on the road, just looking at it makes my heart go pitter-patter. When I get in it and start it up, my knees shake.
I’ve been having a blast taking it to the next level, closer and closer to the real car in small details, and even though it is not the real car, it inspires the same emotion as the real car when people see it. From the roll cage, structural changes, fuel cell, side exiting exhaust pipes, and fabrication, it would be hard to tell the replica from the actual car unless they were sitting side by side.
Next time I write, I’ll cover a few more of the details of the actual Trans Am Javelin, what made it so special, as well as more details of the tribute car.
Sometimes you get what you need…but you have to build it!.