Richard Teague is probably my favorite car designer. No disrespect intended towards the many other talented people who design cars and trucks but Teague was the original silk purse from a sow’s ear guy. He’s best remembered for heading the styling department at American Motors from 1961 to 1986, where limited development budgets forced his team to be creative.
The compact 1970 Hornet, itself based on Rambler mechanicals, ended up being the basis for a showroom full of cars. It got chopped into the subcompact Gremlin, upfitted into the slightly more upscale Concord and eventually lifted to make the Ur-crossover, the AMC Eagle 4X4 wagon. Teague was a master at recycling design ideas but keeping products distinct. The two-seat AMX concept was stretched to become the Javelin production car so the production AMX and the Javelin are obviously related but they are still easily distinguished from one another. Before coming to AMC, Dick Teague worked for GM and then Packard, where he was responsible for the last genuine Packards, the 1955 and 1956 models, which looked remarkably contemporary considering Teague was working with a body shell that dated to the early 1950s.
With the exception of the 1970s Matador coupe and the Pacer, both radical and polarizing designs, almost all of the cars designed under Teague at AMC were necessarily derivative. Even the Matador, which was based on an existing platform, and the Pacer, which was designed around the stillborn General Motors rotary engine, had constraints forced upon Teague and his team. Dick Teague did get the chance to do one clean sheet design while at AMC. It was called the AMX/3, a midengine Italian-American sports car that came within a hairsbreadth of production.
Teague considered the AMX/3 his masterpiece, the purest expression of his design philosophy and it’s fitting that his family still owns perhaps the finest example of the six cars that Giotto Bizzarrini fabricated for AMC in Italy before AMC management pulled the plug on the project.
Following the success of Cooper in Formula One, Lotus at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 and the Ford GT40 and similar cars in endurance racing, in the mid 1960s makers of production sports cars started to embrace the midengine layout those race cars had proven. Lamborghini introduced the Miura, in many ways the blueprint for most of the midengine cars to follow, Lotus introduced the Europa and Alejandro DeTomaso brought out the Ford powered Mangusta. The design studios at the American automakers in Detroit took notice and midengine concepts were produced at both Chevrolet and Ford. Eventually Ford would expand their relationship with DeTomaso, importing the 351 “Cleveland” V8 powered Pantera and selling it through Lincoln-Mercury dealers.
Teague also took notice and in 1968 he drew a two passenger fastback coupe with what he called an “airfoil” shape. AMC group vice-president Gerald C. Meyers and chairman Roy Chapin, Jr. saw the sketch, liked it and gave their approval to making a full sized model. AMC staff designers Fred Hudson and Bob Nixon worked under Teague’s supervision to come up with a shape that looked good to people then and still has great proportions and attractive lines. They called it the AMX/2. Theoretically based around a midengine layout, the closest the AMX/2 came to reality was as a fiberglass pushmobile show car that debuted at the 1969 Chicago Auto Show. The reaction from the public and the press was very positive, with some people offering to put deposits down. The response was so good that Meyers and Chapin authorized the design and engineering of a limited production version to go on sale in the 1970-71 model year at a price of $10,000.
Giorgetto Giugiaro had recently opened up the Italdesign studio and the AMC executives commissioned a competition between Giugiaro and their in-house design staff headed by Teague. Joining Nixon and Teague on the design were Chuck Mashigan (who had prior worked at Ford and Chrysler, including penning the Chrysler Turbine car), Vince Geraci and Jack Kenitz. The full size clay model was shaped by Keith Goodnough and Ron Martin. Molds were pulled from the clay model and a full size fiberglass pushmobile was fabricated. Italdesign sent over their own foamcore based model. Though it’s never been seen in public, Giugiaro’s entrant has been described as typical of his designs of the day, low and angular, but AMC managers thought it looked “lumpy” compared to what became known as the AMX/3.
At first glance the AMX/3 shares a general shape with the Miura and the Pantera but it’s more angular than the Miura and has more curves than the Pantera. Some have called it “voluptuous”. Chris Bangle would likely approve of the surface detailing and panel shapes. The aggressive prow, more complex than the Pantera’s simple wedge, is backed by a hood with functional air extractors. Along the side of the car is an S shaped character line that you’ll recognize from the Matador coupe, though it works much better on the AMX/3. You can see the air cleaner of the AMC 390 CI V8 through the rear side windows and the back glass, the engine has a matte black cover with louvers, and everything wraps up in a very tidy rear end that featured something rather ahead of its day, a retractable spoiler.
It was not a very large car, just 175.6 inches in overall length and a hair under 75 inches wide, sitting on a 105.3 inch wheelbase. Tracks were substantial for the day at 60.6/61.2 inches front/rear. Overall height was just 43.5 inches, just 3.5″ taller than the Ford GT40 race car (which got the numeric part of its name from its height).
AMC’s factory in Kenosha was set up to mass produce conventional American cars, not limited production, tube framed, exotic sports cars. Though they turned down an Italian designer, AMC looked to Italy for the AMX/3’s engineering and fabrication. American car companies had been using Italian design and coachbuilding companies to make concept and limited production cars since the late 1940s. To turn Teague’s dream into a real car, AMC turned to Giotto Bizzarrini.
Before we go on with how the AMX/3 came into being, it’s appropriate to give a brief look at Giotto Bizzarrini’s background, so you have a better idea of the AMC supercar’s pedigree. The son of a wealthy landowner from Livorno, and grandson of a scientist who aided Marconi, Giotto Bizzarrini got his engineering degree from the University of Pisa in 1953, using a modified Fiat Topolino as his thesis. He was hired by Alfa Romeo, where he worked as both a test driver and as an engineer in their experimental department. According to a story, in 1957 Enzo Ferrari hired Bizzarrini because he was impressed with an engineer who could drive. Eventually moving up to chief engineer for Ferrari, his most notable accomplishment there was the 250 GTO, one of the greatest cars of all time. After a palace revolt against il Commendatore’s plans to reorganize the engineering department, Bizzarrini and four other Ferrari engineers left to form the short lived ATS, to compete in F1 and produce GT cars. That effort went belly up and Bizzarrini then worked with Count Giovanni Volpi on applying the latest aerodynamic theories to a Ferrari GTO chassis. The result is a rather famous car known as the Ferrari Breadvan, because of it’s long station wagon-like roofline and cutoff Kamm tail. He then worked with Iso Rivolta, though after a dispute with them he began building cars under his own brand name. Oh, and in between the Breadvan and the founding of Bizzarrini SpA, Giotto was engaged by one Ferruccio Lamborghini, who had had his own dispute with old man Ferrari, to design the V12 engine used in the first Lamborghini, the 350GTV. Bizzarrini’s design became the basis for every Lambo V12 made until the Murcielago went out of production in 2010.
Not a bad CV, eh?
The heart of any midengine car is the transaxle. Bizzarrini used a ZF box for the first of six prototypes he would build but the others were sourced from OTO Melara of La Spezia, Italy because it better handled the torque of the AMC 390 V8 that American Motors wanted to use. That V8 was mounted longitudinally with the transmission behind it in the tube space frame. Suspension was double wishbones and coil-overs at all four corners with dual shocks in back and sway bars front and back. Germany’s Ate supplied the vented disk brakes. Fifteen inch wheels were from Campagnolo, with 6.5″ wide fronts and significantly larger 9.5″ wide rims in back, mounted with 205mm and 225mm tires respectively. With a 3.45:1 rear end and 340 horsepower, the AMX/3 had a theoretical stop speed of 160 mph and Bizzarrini did do some high speed testing at the Nurburgring but he found that there was lift at high speed, almost getting airborne at 145. After adding a chin spoiler, at Monza the Italian engineer demonstrated to AMC executives that the AMX/3 was indeed capable of reaching the calculated top speed. He reportedly turned to the executives and asked, “Will 170 MPH be satisfactory?” Collector Walter Kirtland, who collects Iso Grifo cars and other 1960s Italian exotics, currently owns the Monza test AMX/3 and he says that Giotto Bizzarrini told him that it was the best handling car that he ever built. High praise considering he built the Ferrari 250GTO.
The stated weight target was 3,100 lbs but the finished prototypes may weigh as much as 3,500. As many off the shelf AMC components that could be used, were, so items like the steering wheel and column, air conditioning controls, assorted switches and exterior door handles will look familiar to anyone who’s driven an AMC car from that era. They may also recognize the AMC engine with its distinctive air cleaner.
Bizzarrini started fabricating the first five cars with steel bodies based on the fiberglass model and BMW was contracted to get the design ready for production. The finished AMX/3 was debuted in Rome, Italy in March of 1970. The original plan was for the AMX/3 to be a prestige building halo car, with a $10,000 retail price, a big jump up from the $4,000 production AMX two seater it was going to replace.
Teague said later, “We were into racing at that time with Trans Am and all that, and it was really kind of a tool, but a serious one, to create an image for the company that was something other than four-door Ramblers and ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ cars.”
Mark Donohue was then racing Javelins in Trans-Am and he liked the AMX/3. So did all the journalists who drove it. Reports from the time quote a 0-to-60 time of 5.5 seconds, and a 1/4 mile time of 13.5, credible times now, supercar times then. An unrealistic announced run of 5,000 units was scaled down to two dozen cars for 1970, with output increasing as demand called for it. However, it was not to be.
Production, according to the sources, was greenlit. Tooling was designed, suppliers for purchased parts were lined up and the car was even unveiled before the Pantera. However, the AMX/3 never made it to dealer showrooms. The UAW local in Kenosha struck AMC in late 1969 for 20 days, demanding, and getting, parity with UAW workers at the Big 3 automakers. Not only did the strike cost AMC money in lost production that it couldn’t afford to lose, it delayed the introduction of the Hornet, a critical car for AMC. The financial aftermath caused the company to cancel most special projects. Also, accounting determined that they’d have to charge at least $12,000 for the AMX/3 to make a business case for it. With the Pantera introduced at the AMX/3’s original target price of $10,000, that made the AMC sports car a no-starter.
Also, the times were changing. Teague told Muscle Cars of the ’60s and ’70s, that “…the program was done on a shoestring, and we were on the verge of entering a new era. The musclecar period was ending, and industry priorities were starting to change.” Government regulations were also becoming a factor. To stay in production the AMX/3 would have needed bigger bumpers and emissions controls including catalytic converters. There was simply no money at AMC for those developments. The program was killed. According to Hemmings, Bizzarrini had already completed five cars and had begun work on a second batch of five, when AMC shelved the AMX/3. Bizzarrini’s business partner, Salvatore Diamonte, finished a sixth car from remaining parts and supposedly cut up the remaining bodies which have not yet resurfaced.
Four of the six completed prototypes ended up in private hands while the remaining two were left exposed to Michigan winters outside of AMC’s suburban Detroit headquarters.
In 2005, Teague’s son Jeff, also an automotive designer, told Motor Trend that in 1980, “Dad got tired of seeing those two cars–one silver, one silver blue–rotting away outside the AMC offices and asked company CEO Jerry Myers what could be done.” Old concept cars were worth nothing back then and Myers suggested that they would be crushed. “No way my father would let that happen, so Myers asked Dad if he wanted to buy them. He did, of course, even though they’d deteriorated over the previous decade. We also got hold of a couple dozen unused transaxles.”
Teague restored both cars. He was a big fan of primary colors, so during their restorations the silver car was painted yellow and the blue car was painted red. The AMC VP of styling sold the yellow AMX/3 during the 1980s, but he kept the red one, his favorite of the six, until the end of his life.
All six AMX/3 cars that were made still exist. Four of them have been restored. Dick Teague’s personal red AMX/3, considered the best of the six, remains in the possession of his family, a treasured heirloom if there ever was one. It’s been on display at a couple of museums including the Petersen and last year the Teague’s had it at the Chicago Auto Show where these photos were taken. Some of the other restored cars have been shown at concours level shows, so it’s not as though the AMX/3 is unknown, but I’m a bit of an AMC buff, I’ve known about the AMX/3 for a while and it was a big treat to be able to see one in person at the Chicago show.
If you’d like to own an AMX/3, you’re in luck. To begin with, Walter Kirtland is selling one of the original six cars, the same vehicle that Giotto Bizzarrini drove at 160+ mph at Monza. He put it on sale last fall for $895,000, later lowering the price to $795K. I spoke to him while preparing this post and the car is still for sale. Kirtland told me that he’s gotten a couple of serious offers, but he said but for less than the current asking price, he’d rather keep it. Besides the fact that the AMX/3 is one of my favorite cars, I think the asking price is fair. To begin with, not many high profile, fully engineered and running concept cars come to market in the first place and while there are enough for guys like Joe Bortz and Steve Juliano to have amassed specialized collections of just concept and show cars, the number of AMC concepts out there has to be very small. The last time one of the six AMX/3s was sold was 17 years ago. So Kirtland’s AMX/3 is a rare thing. While AMC cars are usually an inexpensive way to get into the car collecting hobby, there are some very serious AMC enthusiasts who can afford a near seven figure car. Add in the provenance of Giotto Bizzarrini and Richard Teague and I won’t be surprised if someone eventually meets Kirtland’s price. It would certainly be on my lottery list.
If seven hundred and ninety five thousand dollars is a bit steep for you, there’s another way that you can own an AMX/3, though it’s going to involve some work. In one of those great stories, someone in 2007 saw a local classified ad and posted it in an AMC enthusiast’s forum. Tom Dulaney saw the post, realized what the car was, called and bought what he determined to be the original fiberglass pushmobile AMX/3. The pushmobile is probably the purest expression of Teague’s design, since Bizzarrini made some slight changes. Rather than retell the story about how it surfaced, I’ll let Dulaney, who has a site devoted to the AMX/3, tell it in his own words:
On Monday, April 9th 2007 in the evening I was reading the For Sale section on an amc forum website and saw a post by “AmcKidd” that read as follows.
AMX-3 !! not mine
Apr 9th, 2007, 11:39am
just looking through local rag paper, i dont do extreme Collector cars, so someone will get a DEAL if its what its advertised as !!!
1970 AMX-III-mid engine proto-type, Roller needs restored, worth 225000. when finished, as- is 22,000.00 Kelsey-hayes 20 spoke, original tires, OTO molero 4 speed transmission, Complete history, photos, & ads- Phone or Number (???? exactly as posted)
Cmon deep pockets, jump on THIS one !! LOL
Even though it had been several hours after the posting first appeared when I read it, I called the number and the line was busy, the line was busy for the next 30 minutes, but eventually Mr. Jim Jensen answered the phone and the conversation went something like this.
Dulaney “Hello, I am calling about the car for sale, I know you have probably been getting a lot of calls.”
Jensen “Yea, you probably heard the busy signal.”
Dulaney “Yes Sir, I did, has the car sold yet?”
Jensen “I was talking to a guy for quite a while and he wants me to send him some pictures of the car.”
Dulaney “I have an idea, you don’t have to send pictures. I live in San Diego and I have a car trailer. I am going to take a quick shower and get in my car and drive up there right away. I will buy your car and we can put it on the trailer.”
Jensen “Well, I am not going to come down in price, I will no accept a penny less than $22,000.”
Dulaney “I would not dream of trying to negotiate with you, I will pay your full price, I bank at Union Bank of California”.
Jensen “Well the first person to show up with the money can have the car”.
Dulaney “ I will be driving up tonight and I will be there tomorrow around noon.”
Jensen “Well if you are the first one to show up, you can have it”.
Dulaney “I’ll take it, I am on my way”.
I drove straight up 600 miles and arrived a little after noon.
Jensen “My son put some pictures up on the forum. I have been getting a lot of calls and my Grandson says there a lot of e-mails about the car. Some folks have been offering considerably more for the car. But I told you that you could have it for $22,000 and here you are, so I will keep my word. Would you like to see the car?”
Dulaney “No Sir, I would like to go to the bank and get you your money”.
After our transaction at the bank and lunch, he showed me the car and parts he had and we loaded the car up. As I looked in the rear view mirror on the drive home, I felt as if I was being followed by a museum piece in primer, thanks Jim.
Since then, Dulaney has had a female mold made from the pushmobile and has made a small number of fiberglass replica bodies that he hopes to sell.
American Motors always seemed to punch above its weight, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that AMC tried to make a credible midengine sports car, or that the one it tried to make got as close to production as it did. In the case of gthe AMX/3, though, their reach exceeded their grasp. Still, it was a noble effort and the fact that all six of the cars that were built are all at least preserved is one indication that these are special cars, valued by informed enthusiasts.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS