By on March 2, 2013

Not the real car Rick owned, but pretty much the same thing,

It was 1984. Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and the Scorpions were on the radio stations I listened to, while Prince, Wham, and some guy named Michael Jackson were on the stations I avoided. I was a young punk and I ran with a fast crowd. Whatever, I was into fast.

At just 17 years old, my best buddy Rick had already owned a string of jalopies. His first car had been a VW Beetle of dubious quality and it had made him famous around the school when its throttle stuck wide-open. Fortunately the gate to the high school football field happened to open and Rick was able to pilot the car out onto the perfectly maintained grass where he was forced to do donuts for his very life until the poor beast finally sunk up to its axles. After that had come a string of unremarkable cars, but then finally, he managed to score some real muscle, a 1974 AMC Javelin.

Rick’s Javelin was an amazing machine and I was instantly taken with its quirky style and it funky purple color. Equipped with a 304 small block and an automatic transmission, the car was not really as muscular as it probably seemed at the time but it did alright on the road. We spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights cruising the around looking for pick-up races, some of which we won or standing around in parking lots trying our best to look tough and pick up girls, both of which we failed at.

By 1991 those days were long gone. I was a 24 year old merchant marine and I spent about 8 months a year at sea. It was a good living for a young man. I got to see a lot of the world and, thanks to a plentiful overtime, I always came home with my pockets stuffed with cash. I took care of business first, of course, and after a couple of trips had paid off my only bill, the note on my Turbo Shadow. Because I lived at home with my parents when I wasn’t aboard ship, my money was my own and, like most young men, I was determined to waste as much of it as possible. That’s how a dirty brown 1972 Javelin SST ended up in my father’s driveway.

Yours truly on the deck of a container ship in KaoSuing Taiwan circa 1990

My father had probably the finest yard in Snohomish county, WA and today, many years later, I can understand how he felt when I brought the car home. At the time, however, I thought a barely running 18 year old muscle car decomposing alongside my father’s carefully tended lawn was perfectly acceptable and didn’t understand what he was so angry about. I didn’t have long to hear him complain though, less than a week after I purchased the car I was back to sea and headed to the far side of the world.

The mind wanders when you are at sea. Your 12 hour work day is spent in the heat of the engine room or out in the in the constant wind on deck but the tasks you must perform are generally menial. You spend most of your time underway chipping rust, sweeping, painting, wiping up spills or checking gauges and doing preventative maintenance on ancillary systems. That isn’t to say that you aren’t needed, ships are expensive and if you didn’t keep up with things the situation could deteriorate pretty quickly, but for the most part you are not doing work that occupies your mind. Thus, without a girl to think about, my thoughts naturally turned to the car I had waiting for me at home.

When I got home six months later, what I found was not what I thought I had left. Over the months at sea I had pictured in my mind’s eye a near perfect project car that I could put into showroom condition with just a little TLC and few magic twists of a wrench. What I found, after months of Washington state winter, was what appeared to be a giant molding turd that, thanks to four deflated tires, looked like it was glued to the ground. It was a mess and I was lucky my father hadn’t had it it dragged off in my absence.

Perhaps if I had known about the missing weather stripping and the leaking windows I could have added to my father’s unhappiness by throwing a blue tarp over it before I left, but now it was too late. While I had been overseas, at least three inches of water pooled on the floor inside of the car, soaking the carpet and anything I had been foolish enough to leave there. The headliner and the seats were water logged as well and the only thing that had prevented a full-on mildew attack was the fact it was still too cold outside. To make matters worse the car had a constant misfire and despite changing all the usual parts I was unable to solve the problem.

I would have been happy if my own Javelin was half as nice as this one.

Now that I was looking at spending more hard earned cash I was looking with a more critical eye and it was obvious I had bought a whole load of trouble. That realization, in combination with the constant ass-chewing I was getting from my dad, made me want out of this mess in a hurry and I took quick action. First, I pumped up the four flats and then, using my dad’s shop vac, I pulled gallons of water out of the car’s interior. On sunny days I set up a window fan to blow air over the damp surfaces and gradually the car dried out. I worked on the engine and got it running passably if not exactly right and I spent some time working on the paint. The end result was nothing like the car I had imagined, but at the very least it was sellable.

The best way to sell anything is by word of mouth and I told my neighbor Kenny, who was better connected than I, to spread the word. In a small town news gets around fast and two days later a guy named Rusty was on my doorstep offering a deal. Would I take an old motorcycle in trade for the car?

My GS850G after it was completed 1991

It turned out that Rusty had bought the motorcycle, a big old GS-850 Suzuki, so he could go one rides with his father and brothers. But Rusty had never owned a bike and on one of his first outings he had laid the massive machine down. The damage, he told me, was not bad, a scuffed Vetter fairing, a smashed saddle bag and a ground-away crash bar. It was still usable he said, but the wreck had frightened him and he wanted no more of life out in the wind. Would I exchange my troubles for his?

Logic is a weird thing. Did I want a crappy old car that didn’t run right and came with its own marsh on the interior or some kind of big old wrecked motorcycle? It wasn’t a tough decision really, I already had a motorcycle and I liked riding so I really wasn’t afraid of getting the bike. To top it off, a car took up a lot of highly visible space in the driveway and I could keep the bike out of sight in the woodshed which my father wouldn’t yell about. Naturally, I took the deal.

Rusty got a good deal. He took the Javelin down to a local shop where they diagnosed its lingering engine troubles as a bad distributor and they made the repair for right around $100. He used the car for months afterwards, often roaring by my parent’s house in a gross display of power and arrogance, often honking at me when I was outside to make sure I knew it was he who had come out on top in our deal.

What Rusty didn’t know is that it was I who had got the better deal. Within a week of getting the old Suzuki home, I had stripped away the scuffed fairing and the other damaged parts to reveal a machine in surprisingly good condition. With some of my hard earned cash I bought a new exhaust header, got a racier set of handlebars and some sticky Metzler tires and turned the old bike into the hot rod I so earnestly desired. I ended up owning the GS Suzuki for the better part of a decade and the experience turned me from a casual motorcyclist into a real crotch-rocket jockey. The bike changed my life.

It was 1991 and who cares what was on the radio, I had the sound of wind in my ears. I was a young punk and I ran with a fast crowd. Whatever, I’m into fast.

Fast Company – Me aboard my GS850 circa 1995

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself

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17 Comments on “Fast Times: How getting rid of an AMC Javelin led me to a better life...”

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Thank you for another great article Thomas. I can picture you with your Javelin. Back in 1983 my older brother had a 77 Pontiac Sunbird (he called it a Sickbird) that he had the fortune of taking off the hands of his older son. It was dark brown, a good color to hide the rust, and it had a 4 on the floor with a V6. When it ran it was fast, but that was not most of the time. My brother traded it to some guy for a 1980 red Suzuki GS450S which I later bought off of him. It had a red racing fairing and had silver wheels with gold inserts. My brother got the much better end of the trade and with less than 9k miles that Suzuki had many years of life left.

  • avatar

    …..It was 1984. Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and the Scorpions were on the radio stations I listened to, while Prince, Wham, and some guy named Michael Jackson were on the stations I avoided…

    I miss the 80s…an era that in my in my mind is not very far away, despite being a couple of decades in the past. I had my 72 Fury with a Nakamichi in the dash and some power plates in the trunk. Van Whalen (sic) often poured out the windows…I managed to work on my car and make it pretty pristine, but I had far less neglect to start with. Glad the swapping of metal worked for you. I couldn’t get rid of my car. To this day it is in a heated garage, ready to transport me back into time…with the right mindset you don’t need a flux capacitor.

  • avatar

    Fun read! Reminds me of the old saying that the definition of a good car deal is anytime that both sides think they got the better deal.

  • avatar

    Another good read that ended too soon. I graduated from high school in ’84 and remember avoiding the same music. Spent many hours drinking with friends while watching MTV only to make fun of latest Culture Club video. The early 80’s, when underage drinking and driving was a sport, not a crime. Or so we thought.
    Thanks for another good story.

  • avatar

    Ah the 1980s and Punk rock, good times for all. I was going to when I read the headline say how the Javelin was painfully underrated compared to the Camaro/Firebird/Mustang trio but a small kiddie pool’s worth of water in the floor pan is hard to overcome. I’m surprised you didn’t drill a hole in an inconspicuous place then patch it later.

    Selling it on though made sense for you and that GS looked like a great bike. Something I’ve been meaning to do is get my license and look into a new motorbike this summer.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Thomas, you’re a keeper.

  • avatar

    I have very fond memory of that motorcycle, although it was a heavy beast (about 270 kg or 600 pounds fully loaded). Still, it was an excellent comfortable cruiser, 80 HP was just enough to provide adequate power but
    not so much to make it difficult to control, like next generation GSX1100.
    And it is the most beautiful motorcycle EVER, at least in my opinion.
    Technicalities aside, living in the ex Yugoslavia in the 80’s, I had a real privilege to ride this big Japanese beast.
    I will not bother you with details, but for us it was very expensive yet totally worth it because it was a best chic magnet you can imagine :-)

    • 0 avatar

      It was a great motorcycle. I used to say it was the Cadillac of bikes, it was big smooth and handled like a 70s Sedan DeVille. I put on a lower, wider bar and it gave me a lot of leverage when I cranked it into a corner. With good tires on it, I could scrape my knee on the right road.

  • avatar

    Those heavy Suzuki’s taught me my limitations. The hard way. Went to the Yamaha dealer and $2600 later, rode out on a new Virago 750. More my style and lower center of gravity. I’m still trying to figure out what I was thinking trading for a Road King two years ago. But, any motorcycle is easier than rebuilding rotors on AMC disc brakes. Or trunnions.

  • avatar

    Nice story.

    BTW, did you have any issues with the Suzuki’s alternator? I knew a few guys who both 850Gs and 1100Gs and the alternator was a known problem and expensive to replace. Other than that, they really liked their bikes.

    I owned two Suzukis, a 1972 GT500 two stroke and a ’77 GS550. The GT500 was my second bike and, while not really a great bike (it handled like an Oldsmobile 98), it had the great virtue of retaining 100% of its value while I owned it. Bought it for $500 and sold it 18 months later for $500 without putting a dime into it. The GS I got in trade for a debt from a friend. It served me well until I could afford to buy a new ’82 650 Seca. I traded the Suzuki for some hi-fi equipment that my ex wife got in the divorce.

    • 0 avatar

      I had problems with the ignition system. It had dual points on it when I got it and I swapped those out for a Dyna electronic ignition system. I got about four years out of it before it fried but I was able to get the bike home OK.

      The next Dyna ignition burned out while I was about 50 miles out and, foolishly, I didn’t stop and call for a truck. About a mile from home, the heat in the misfiring engine got to be to much and it froze up solid. It was an inglorious end for a wonderful bike that had carried me for a long, long time.

      Other than that, the bike never had a single electrical bug.

  • avatar

    Sweet! I bought a GS850 when I was 17 years-old back around 1991 for $650. The bike had a ton of miles (I think around 50-60k). The salesperson told me that this particular model of bike was the “vehicle” that won the original Cannonball Run, but I have no idea if that is true of not.

    Mine suffered a lot of reliability issue when it was hot – it would start to misfire a bit until it would finally stall, upon which it wouldn’t run again until many hours later. In those days, I was not a DIY guy like I am now, so I got totally hosed by repair costs.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • avatar

    My first bike was a 77 GS550 in this same color. Saved from the scrap yard, it would be one of many bikes I would save from the recycle bin.
    I love this 850G. I can’t go along with the Rising Sun paint job though!
    I never had electrical trouble with it though and I too, swapped out the points for an electronic setup. She was a bit slow but handled nicely and was reliable. Ya, you definitely got the better deal here. Good read.

  • avatar

    Hey there, I’m the gal that owns the Baja Bronze 72 Javelin. Thanks for the nice comment on my car in your editorial. At the time the pic was taken it had not been repainted. It looks much better now.

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