The 1979 AMC Spirit AMX is a car that I think deserves far more love from the car community than it currently gets. AMC was a plucky automaker up against the biggest in the world, they turned out a series of ground-breaking models including the AMC Eagle SX/4 before ceasing operations in 1987.
Race-prepared examples of the AMC Spirit AMX did remarkably well on track, including a 1st and 2nd in class with actor James Brolin sharing driving duties at the Nürburgring 24 Hour in 1979.
The AMC Spirit AMX and the Nürburgring 24 Hour
Two examples of the AMC Spirit AMX were shipped to Germany in 1979 after just three weeks of rushed preparation to compete in the brutal 1979 Nürburgring 24 Hour.
There’s no doubt that this was one of the toughest races on the calendar in 1979, if not the toughest circuit race outright. Whereas the 24 Hours of Le Mans is run on the Circuit de la Sarthe’s 13.62 kilometre (8.46 mile) length with 38 corners, the Nürburgring 24 Hour featured a 22.69 kilometre (14.1 mile) lap with 176 corners. Memorizing the track, its corners, and the racing lines needed to lap it competitively can take months.
The 1979 two-car team put together by BF Goodrich and American Motors gave their drivers just a week to learn the track. Somehow they managed it, largely thanks to the one-armed Nürburgring-ace Heinz Hennerici who lapped the track with his BMW full of the team’s drivers. He held the steering wheel with his knees while he changed gears, and his lap times were far from sedate.
The team’s drivers were IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) AMC drivers Amos Johnson and Dennis Shaw, factory Mazda driver Jim Downing (who’d later co-develop the HANS device), Lyn St. James (who would become the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award), A-list actor James Brolin, and motoring journalist Gary Witzenburg.
Gary recounted the story in detail here for Motor Trend and it’s a fantastic read, the short version is that the plucky American team surprised many by qualifying 20th and 21st in the 120 car field, then finishing the race 1st and 2nd in class, 25th and 43rd overall.
The 1979 AMC Spirit AMX Shown Here
The car you see here is a very low-mileage original Spirit AMX still wearing its original (and now hard to source) decals, it has just 8,400 miles on the dial, and it’s fitted with desirable features like air conditioning, power brakes, power steering, and an AM/FM radio.
The AMX was the performance version of the AMC Spirit, a compact car based on the same basic platform as the AMC Gremlin, but with markedly improved styling that seems to have perfectly captured the zeitgeist of its era.
The AMX version of the Spirit featured up to a 304 cu. in. (5 litre) V8 with Turbocast II rims, color-matched fender flares and a front air dam, rear spoiler, a full assortment of decals, a louvred rear window, rally tuned suspension, front and rear sway bars, three-way adjustable “Strider” Gabriel shock absorbers on all four corners, heavy duty front disk brakes
The V8 was heavily detuned for the era, it was a dark time for the American V8 after all, and it produced a rather hamster wheel like 130 bhp. Owners have realised that a series of internal and bolt on engine improvements can significantly improve power, well over 250 bhp without breaking the bank.
The example you see here is fitted with the desirable 304 V8 and the 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. It’s the cleanest one we’ve ever seen come up for sale and the estimated hammer price of $6,000 to $10,000 USD is going to be very tempting.
If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing on RM Sotheby’s.
Images: 2019 © RM Auctions Inc.