The American Motor Corporation (1954-1987) is responsible for abominations like the tumorous Pacer and the ugly, wedge-like Gremlin, eyesores that will forever be emblazoned on the automotive wall of shame. AMC’s also responsible for the poor man’s pony car, the Javelin — easily AMC’s best-looking production vehicle. And then there is the sporty 1968 AMX — a far better example of AMC’s attempts to create a car that wasn’t painful to look at or drive, but still fell a bit short. The AMX was a bruiser in appearance with a short wheelbase. And where the 1968 version disappointed, the 1970 concept, the AMX/3, fulfilled.
AMC wanted a car that would put its name on the map of exotic automobiles forever, and for that they created the AMX/3. The AMX/3 took the best of exotic Italian mid-engined supercar style and combined it with American power in a vehicle that was meant to rival the best the world had to offer. Due to its incredible rarity, it’s a car that’s often overlooked — an aspect that makes the car even more of an icon.
What It’s All About
In the late 1960s, AMC had already established roots in automotive racing, so the next logical step for its halo car would be one both inspired by racing and prepped to do it. The powers at AMC approached Italian automobile engineer Giotto Bizzarrini — the man responsible for the most expensive car ever sold at auction, the Ferrari 250 GTO — to pen their baby. Bizzarini had, in fact, worked for Ferrari and then moved on to build his own cars for a short time. Then, in 1969, he began work on the AMX/3.
The first batch of AMX/3s were built by Bizzarini himself at his Scuderia Bizzarini factory in Livorno, Italy — and it wasn’t just a side project. Bizzarini put all of his knowledge and abilities into creating the new supercar, building the new car off the DNA of his spectacular P538 race car. The result of Bizzarini’s work amounted to a low-slung, fastback sports car style that can be compared to the likes of the Lamborghini Miura, the De Tomaso Pantera and the Ford GT40 — it’s a blend of all three with its sharp nose, short roof height and powerful rear haunches. Its comparison to the Pantera is unmistakeable, and since the De Tomaso supercar emerged only a year after the AMX/3 debuted, questions as to who copied who were inevitable.
The plan was to build 5,000 AMX/3s annually, but that lofty number was shaved all the way down to just a handful of cars per year. Even the revised and far less ambitious goals were hampered by the passing of low-speed, 5 mph bumper-safety standards, which would cost a fortune to work into the already established design of the AMX/3. The production of the AMX/3 then stopped completely when AMC scrapped the project after Bizzarini built only five cars in total. Another five cars had been planned for production, but only one final, sixth car was made with the remaining parts.
Bizzarrini not only built the steel-bodied car at his factory in Livorno, he also designed and developed the semi-monocoque chassis, which he told Kirtland was the ultimate evolution of the P538. Bizzarrini shaped it all around AMC’s mid-mounted, naturally aspirated 340 horsepower 390-cubic-inch V8 backed by a four-speed transaxle that OTO Malara developed to handle the 390’s 430 lb-ft of torque. Power was sent to the rear wheels on fat 225 rubber and mated to a four-speed manual gearbox.
Front and rear A-Arm suspension with coil springs and tube shocks were further bolstered by the presence of anti-roll bars for superb handling. The car’s low center of gravity and rigid chassis aided in supercar handling and ensured that it would be more than just quick in a straight line. Bizzarrini told Kirtland it was the best-handling car he ever built.
The speed of the AMX/3 would have to rival some of Europe’s best, and the goal was 160 mph. It surpassed that by 10 mph, hitting an even 170 mph, thanks to Bizzarini’s addition of a chin spoiler. It bested its closest competition, the De Tomaso Pantera by 2 mph, but was a bit slower than the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona (with a top speed of 174 mph).
Why It Matters
It’s unfortunate that some of the best cars ever made never really see the light of day, and the AMX/3 suffered that fate. There’s no question that AMC had a winner on its hands, thanks to its visionary executives who approached an engineer with serious racing experience. But the AMX/3’s capability and style would not be enough to send it to full-blown production. The few cars that were built were thankfully saved and sold by Bizzarini, rather than destroyed per AMC’s direction.
These cars have rarely shown up for auction, and not all of the cars ownership and location are known. The ones that have shown up easily command well in excess of six figures at auction, as collectors clamor after them due to their ridiculous rarity. The fact that this Italian-built, American-funded supercar never made it to production adds to its legendary status, and there’s no question that if it had made it to market, AMC would’ve had a true exotic image-changer on its hands.