[This article appeared in the March 1968 issue of
Popular Science magazine.]
I get a kick out of testing new cars. Cars are my business. To me, it's really great to drive the newest Detroit products before they are shown to the public. It makes a great change of pace from the pounding I take on the racing circuit, and it gives me a chance to keep up with what's new.
That's why I was happy to hear from Jim Dunne, Popular Science Detroit Editor, that American Motors' new AMX was ready for a test drive. We flew out to California, and I got my first look at this new sports car at Orange County Raceway, a combination dragstrip and road-racing course, just south of Los Angeles. We had a whole day to get to know the car and put it through all the tests we wanted. I'll give you the details later, but here are some clues:
First I want to tell you something about the styling. It's a modern-looking, sleek two-seater. So maybe you don't expect much head room or well-padded seats. With its 97-inch wheelbase, you certainly wouldn't expect any useful space behind the seats. The truth is that the car isn't as low as it looks and the interior is surpisingly roomy. It's even easy to get into and out of the AMX - no need for those contortionist exercises you sometimes go through with a small, imported sports car. The AMX is a completely practical automobile first, and a smart-looking package with all the appeal of a true sports car second.
Power? More than anything American Motors ever built before. After 0-60 in 6.2 seconds, you reach 80 in 11.5 seconds and 100 in about 16 seconds. Within half a minute, you've gone from standstill to top speed. I had to upshift early, because the test car was pulling a 3.54:1 axle, and the engine was running out of revs at 5,000. It is red-lined at 5,500, but valve float sets in below this. After 5,000, power falls off and all you get is noise.
The brakes were powerful and consistent. What's more, pedal travel was short. I found I could heel-and-toe with the brake and accelerattor pedals to downshift under braking, just the way I do when I race. That's something few Detroit cars let you do.
I was less happy with the transmission. I don't think the ratios were very well chosen, either for road use or for racing. First, second, and third seem very close, and there's a big gap from third to top. Also, the shift bothered me. The stick is so slanted that to get into second I'm pushing down rather than pulling back. I'd like to see the stick more upright.
Handling. At all normal speeds, the handling is just fine. The car is front-heavy (66 percent of the weight is carried by the front wheels), and it has good directional stability. It's on high-speed turns that problems arise. You go into a curve and turn the wheel. The car responds, but not enough. You turn more. And more. Still not enough. So you back off the throttle to give the front tires a chance to bite. When they do, the rear wheels lose traction and the tail starts to swing out. You end up countersteering, with the wheels pointing right on a left-hand turn. Another high-speed phenomenon: The side windows push away from the roof railing when the fresh air coming in the vents builds up too much pressure inside the car. This, by the way, only happens above 110.
Ride comfort in the AMX is in the Mustang/Camaro class despite an 11-inch-shorter wheelbase. Over undulating roads, the whole car rides up and down in a bouncing motion instead of spanning them with alternating dives and takeoffs like a porpoise, the way some longer cars do. For most driving, I'd recommend power steering. You get the quick 18:1 steering ratio, which makes the car much more pleasant around town. If you insist on a manual, you get a slow 24:1.
I liked the no-chrome interior. The cockpit seems very businesslike and suits the character of the car. Seats are comfortable, with tilting backrests.
They told me the car would sell for about $3,300, and at that price it's a fabulous package; hot performance, safe brakes, great ride comfort, sports-car size, and smart looks.
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Last updated February 12, 2005