By on August 26, 2014

A while back, I stumbled upon the fact that while car enthusiasts may be entertained by talk of things like independent rear suspensions, dual overhead cams, and launch control, people in general (and that set includes the subset of car enthusiasts) like to read stories about people. I think you’ll like the story of Clovis “Mickey” Nadeau, his wife Betty and her 1968 American Motors AMX.

Full gallery here.

Full gallery here. Note: each AMX pictured in this post has a separate gallery.

Being that I’m attracted to the oddball and the unique, the regional American Motors Owners club meet held in Livonia on the Sunday immediately following the huge Woodward Dream Cruse is penciled in every year. This year because I was planning on photographing the original Boss 302 prototype at the big Mustang Memories show at Ford’s Product Development Center I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the AMC meet. I wanted to take photos of a ’62 Rambler American convertible that I knew would be at the show, using my father’s Argus camera that he used when he himself owned a ’61 Rambler American. In addition to those photos, with my digital rig I decided to concentrate on the collection of first generation AMX cars at the show. That proved to be a fortuitous decision because I got to meet the Nadeau family and find out about Betty Nadeau’s muscle car.

While I’m a fan of most things AMC, I was a young teenager when the Javelin and AMX came out and they’ve appealed to me ever since then. Maybe it’s the non-conformist in me, but the Javelin was my favorite of the pony cars, and the shorter wheelbase, two seat AMX is the distilled essence of the Javelin’s shape. In the mid 1960s, AMC chairman Roy Chapin Jr., and president Robert Evans wanted to change the company’s image from being the staid manufacturer of Ramblers, competent and economical but not very exciting compact cars. In late 1965 AMC design head Richard A. Teague was given the assignment of coming up with four show cars that would demonstrate that the little car company that could, could indeed build exciting cars.

The most exciting of the four “Project IV” non-running “pushmobiles” was the AMX, for American Motors Experimental. It was a fastback coupe that had already been in progress in Chuck Mashigan’s advanced styling studio before AMC executives came up with the idea of putting their ideas on tour. Mashigan had a notable design career, including being the primary stylist of the Chrysler Turbine cars. A mockup of the AMX was built on the chassis of a trashed Rambler American. Besides the overall shape, familiar to us as the production AMX, the most distinctive feature of the car was the “Rambleseat” an updated version of the rumble seat. The trunk lid flipped back to reveal a third seat (the concept had a small conventional rear seat), while the rear glass flipped up to provide Rambleseat passengers with a windscreen. Teague referred to the seating arrangement as a 2 + 2 + 2.

66amc_amx_prototype_1

The response from the public to the AMX was so strong that the Vignale coachbuilding firm in Italy was hired to build a running model. Since the original AMX pushmobile and two running Vignale prototypes exist, it appears that Vignale built more than one.

I don’t know if Betty Nadeau’s 1968 AMX still exists or not. She and her husband Clovis, known as Mickey to his friends and family, were married in Ohio, where they grew up, in 1941. They moved to Detroit where Mickey found work and in 1949 moved to what then was a far suburb, Farmington, where they raised three kids including their youngest son, Mickeal. They must have done a good job because Mickeal and his wife Mary had brought his dad to the AMC meet to reminisce, which is how I happened upon them, walking a midst the AMXs. Mickey and Betty must have liked fast cars because in 1962, he bought her a baby blue Thunderbird, one of the “rocket birds”. It might have been too fast, though, because Betty found it hard to control, once doing an unintentional 360 degree spin. Also, her younger son kept borrowing it to impress the girls.

In 1968, Mickey took Betty to an AMC dealership to pick out a new car to replace the T-Bird. By then, the four-seat Javelin had been introduced, followed by more-true-to-the-concept AMX. In mid 1965, AMC had introduced a modern thin-wall “mid block” V8, originally in 290 CI displacement form. With boring and stroking, the same basic engine would eventually be stretched to 402 cubic inches (sold as the 401 to avoid branding conflicts with a Ford motor). In the AMX it had 390 cubic inches, good for 315 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. Since the AMC V8 weighed less than the big block engines of similar displacement from the Big 3, AMCs could be surprisingly quick. Car and Driver measured a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds.

IMG_0064

This 40,000 mile original condition survivor was formerly owned by AMC design chief Richard Teague. Full gallery here.

Clovis wanted to buy Betty a Hialeah Yellow AMX. She liked the black racing stripe but thought that with the bright yellow paint the car ended up looking like a bumble bee. I guess she wasn’t a Mopar fan. Instead she picked one out in Scarab Gold, with the requisite black racing stripes. According to her daughter in law, Mary “drove it and loved it”. Apparently it was some kind of limited edition because the family recalls there being a numbered plaque on the dashboard.

Fashions change though, so a few years later Betty wanted a new look and Mickey had the AMX painted candy apple red with a double black stripe. Betty looked great in it. She drove the AMX for 16 years, until 1984, when Mickey retired, and they sold the car. After spending a few years on the road as snow birds, though found desert living to their liking and settled in Tucson.

Betty has since passed away and Mickey was visiting his kids in the Detroit area when Mickeal and Mary decided to take him to the AMC meet to bring back some fond memories. Clovis has a very good son and daughter in law. It was very sweet of them to bring him to the car show.

I happened upon them as they were working their way down the row of stock 1968-1970 AMX cars. Mickey was pointing out to his son various features as he remembered them. As they got to the last car in the category, Mickey beamed. It was a near identical AMX to Betty’s in the same Scarab Gold with black stripes, though it was  a 1970 model, not a ’68. That color was a shade of light metallic green that was very *popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When the owner of the AMX, Dennis Maljak, found out why the Nadeau’s were at the show, his grin was even wider than Mickey’s as he offered the older gentleman a chance to sit behind the wheel of an AMX like his wife had, once again. Mickey pointed out to the owner that the steering wheel wasn’t original. He knew because Betty always kept a $20 bill folded up and tucked behind the horn ring on her AMX’s steering wheel, just in case, for emergencies. The owner then retrieved the original steering wheel that he’s planning on restoring, from his trunk, and checked it for currency, just in case.

If you’re reading this and own a 1968 AMX that was originally painted Scarab Gold, check underneath the horn ring on your steering wheel. If there’s a twenty there, I can introduce you to the original owner who has some great stories about your (and his wife’s) car.

*I was talking to retired GM designer Jerry Brochstein and was relating the Nadeaus’ story and when I said the AMX was painted “baby shit green”, he laughed knowingly.

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

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25 Comments on “A Son, His Father, and Mom’s Car, a 390 Cubic Inch AMX...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Great story ! .

    Those 401 C.I. V-8’s had serious bottom end oiling problems and for decades you could buy used AMC products (mostly Jeeps & Cop Matadors) with bad bearings for $700 only two years old and in otherwise VGC but , they were hard to sell once you’d installed a crank kit .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Great story, Ronnie. I’m also a huge fan of this era of AMC’s. Would love to own an AMX or even a decent Javelin SST, but other conditions don’t allow for it at this time.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Awesome!

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “With boring and stroking, the same basic engine would eventually be stretched to 402 cubic inches (sold as the 401 to avoid branding conflicts with a Ford motor).”

    I find that curious as I don’t recall a Ford engine of that displacement. Chevrolet had a 402 C.I. (396 C.I. with a .030 over-bore) manufactured between ’70 and ’72 but they didn’t call it a 402. Depending on the vehicle of installation, it was referred to as either a 396 or a 400 Turbo-Jet.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Lincoln had a 402 IIRC.

      Go go gadget google!

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        AMC was concerned with confusion over a rarely heard of Lincoln engine but had no worry with a 390?

        • 0 avatar

          People still argue w us that many of AMC engines were made by someone else. 327,360,390 seem to be the ones I hear the most stories about. 327 and 360 were used before gm and Chrysler respectively.

          • 0 avatar

            Well, AMC did source some major components from other automakers. I’m pretty sure that their automatics were 727s from Chrysler. The Pacer looks the way it does in part because it was supposed to have a compact rotary engine, bought from GM. When GM killed their Wankel, AMC had to shoehorn their inline six into the small engine compartment.

            There are lots of urban legends in the car world. I recently had a Toyota Tundra as a press vehicle and when my daughter posted a photo of it with her on Facebook, one of her friends said that Toyota’s V8s were based on the small block Chevy.

            It’s an interesting question: just how much complete and utter bullcrap about cars do you hear from other car enthusiasts?

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          I suspect the 401 designation was to set it apart from other engines in general. The only othe production 401 I can think of was the Buick Nailhead.

        • 0 avatar
          ramblinrev

          I don’t buy that logic either, because AMC wasn’t the first to have a 401!
          (Think Buick!)

  • avatar
    sco

    Right you are, Ronnie, it really is all about people and the feelings and memories cars inspire in us. What a sweet story, very nice job!

  • avatar
    sco

    Right you are Ronnie, it really is about people and the feelings and memories cars inspire in us. It’s funny how a machine can make you feel more human. What a sweet story, very nice job!

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Very nice story.

    FYI, all of the original AMXs had numbered dashboard plates.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    Another interesting read, In the top pic, it almost appears to be front mid-engined, but I forget about the frontal overhang since it’s so reduced these days. Around 1990, I borrowed my friend’s ’68 Skylark, 2 dr, black vinyl roof to visit my parents. Dad’s friend was there and he and my cousin both had had one just like it 20 yrs before. He asked it I remembered my mom’s ’68 Polara, the neighbor’s ’68 Javelin, and my brother’s Mustang and added, “Every car in 1968 was painted ‘baby shit green.”

  • avatar
    TrenchFoot

    People + oddball cars = terrific story. And details to boot. (I never knew my 401 was a 402.)

  • avatar

    these are beautiful cars

  • avatar
    matador

    I’ve always loved the American Motors cars. From the beginning to the end, they were always… unique. They didn’t aim to blend in, they aimed to be loved for their differences.

    I’d love to own an AMC. Maybe someday….

  • avatar
    Loser

    Thanks for another good story. I love reading things like this.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    The first gen Javelin and AMX were beautiful looking cars. I can’t stand what they did to the second gen versions. A friend of mine recently picked up a long forgotten garage find ’68 Javelin with a 390. The interior is a bit ratty but the body is in surprisingly good shape for being a Michigan car. It looks to be a pretty straightforward mild resto, it reminded me how much I like those cars and how much I need to own one.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    I never paid any attention to the independents as a kid. I took a minor interest in Hudson because I liked Michael Lamm and he was into Hudsons. Then I came across Patrick Foster and his enthusiasm and knowledge of these companies and their products got me hooked. I now have brand new old worlds to learn about. Amazing the lights a good “teacher” can turn on. I’ve always enjoyed your work, Ronnie, and now I appreciate more of the subject matter.

  • avatar
    mic

    How do you get in that “Ramble seat” without jacking up the paint? I can see a lady in high heels scratching the crap out of it.

  • avatar
    old5.0

    Great story. I owned a 69 343 Javelin for a short time and loved it.

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