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Muscle Cars You Should Know: ’70 Mark Donohue-Edition AMC Javelin

“If you had to compete with GM, Ford and Chrysler, what would you do?” That pretty much sums up AMC in 1968 with the debut of the Javelin and AMX. Previous years had AMC teasing the youth market with the Marlin plus the Rambler Rogue with 343 power, but 1968 was a head-on assault without compromise. Available with up to 390 cubic inches, the Javelin and AMX were immediately competitive with the Ponycars from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Mark Donohue with his Trans-Am Javelin. Image: JavelinAMX.com

But if AMC was truly serious, the little company from Kenosha, Wisconsin had to go racing. With Mark Donohue at the wheel, that’s exactly what they did.

The Javelin was AMC’s answer to the Mustang, so it had the classic long hood/short deck proportions that characterized the Ponycar segment.

The design and styling of the Javelin had evolved from 1966’s “Project IV” AMX styling exercise.

Both the Mustang and 1967 Barracuda were offered in three bodystyles – hardtop, fastback, and convertible – but AMC didn’t have the resources to match them and, instead, differentiated the Javelin by offering a semi-fastback coupe and the two-seater AMX.

Small details abounded to distinguish the regular Javelins from the Mark Donahue Edition, besides of course, the improved performance and handling. Images: ColoradoAMX.comAMX

AMC’s first foray into racing the Javelin was the Trans-Am race at the 1968 12 Hours of Sebring. Two Javelins were prepared by Kaplan Engineering with motors by Traco Engineering. They started with AMC’s 290 and bored it to 304 (which is the same size AMC would offer for its regular production cars starting in 1970) to meet the 5-liter limit.

With limited development opportunity, the Javelin made a respectable showing in the Trans-Am circuit.

By 1970, AMC went all-out and hired Penske Racing to head the racing program and New Jerseyan Mark Donohue as driver. Both had been part of Chevrolet’s Trans-Am program, so AMC was serious.

Donohue in particular had an engineering background and was known for his input on his cars. And as Trans-Am rules required homologation for special bits, Donohue’s contribution showed up in the 1970 Mark Donohue Javelin.

Based on the Javelin SST (“Super Sport Touring,” a step up from the base Javelin), the Mark Donohue Javelin set itself apart by the rear spoiler that Donohue designed himself. It also required the Go Package, which included ram air induction, limited-slip differential, and standard 360/290 V-8.

In addition to the Mark Donohue Javelin, AMC produced the Trans-Am Javelin in commemoration of their entry into SCCA racing. Painted in AMC’s racing team colors of Matador Red/Frost White/Commodore Blue, all cars also came with standard 390 V-8 and front and rear spoilers, the latter an adjustable wing quite different from Mark Donohue’s homologation creation. It is believed only 100 were built.

Promotional photo for the Trans-Am Javelin, of which 100 are believed to have been built. Image: AMC-Javelin.blogspot.com

Mark Donohue’s Trans-Am career met with unprecedented success. In 1968 alone, he won 10 out of 13 Trans-Am races.

While his work on the 1970 Javelin didn’t pay off for winning the Trans-Am series championship, the redesigned 1971 Javelin served as the perfect vehicle for winning that year’s championship. However, it is his homologation special from 1970 that’s most fondly remembered by AMC and muscle car fans.

Authenticating a Mark Donohue Javelin is a tricky proposition. There was nothing in the VIN to distinguish the Mark Donohue Javelin from a regular SST, not to mention that base, non-SST Javelins with the Mark Donohue package have been found. If you find a car with its build sheet, nothing will indicate Donohue status either.

Here are some other anomalies:

  • Previous prevailing wisdom suggested that all Mark Donohue Javelins were based on the SST trim level, but some cars have been found based on the base Javelin.
  • While the 360 was available on lesser Javelins, it seems the standard 360 installed in a few Mark Donohue Javelins were reinforced with thicker webbing for four-bolt mains, which was similar to AMC’s service blocks. It also was not unusual for them not to have casting numbers. Otherwise, the usual two-bolt 360s were installed.
  • It also was previously believed that all Mark Donohue Javelins were equipped with ram air induction, but cars are known without ram air.
  • The Mark Donohue Javelin had a standard console with both the automatic and four-speed, but at least one documented low-mileage car is known to have a column-shifted automatic.
  • The 360 was standard with the 390 optional, but a number of 304 cars are known.
  • Mark Donohue Javelins were built between December 1969 and April 1970 but, according to Planet Houston AMX, it’s merely an urban legend.

How to explain this disparity of “facts” and truth? There are probably two reasons:

  1. AMC was continuously on borrowed time but always managed to survive. Like any company, they did things outside the usual production channels or under the radar in order to make a sale.
  2. A memo from American Motors Sales Corporation to all AMC dealers suggested that they could build their own Trans-Am Javelins. It’s quite possible a few Mark Donohue Javelins were built from dealer stock.

Javelins are sleepers in the hobby, so an homologation special that has a tie to a famous racer is never a poor proposition. Perhaps this car is not as popular as it should be is because it’s an AMC product, but with a strong club and enthusiastic fans, a documented Mark Donohue Javelin is an affordable jewel.

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