During the first half of the 1960s, the now-defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) was struggling to survive in a market dominated by Detroit’s Big Three, so by the end of the decade, the company began developing sportier vehicles that could appeal to younger buyers. This move gave birth to models like the redesigned Rambler Rebel, the new Javelin pony car, or the AMX two-seat grand tourer. While these new models were great machines, they came a bit too late and never sold as well as AMC predicted.
As a last-ditch effort to change the company’s image and reel in some much-needed funds, the newly appointed management team decided to focus a large part of the remaining resources on the development of a groundbreaking mid-engine sports car.
Work on the project called AMX/K began in May 1967 when Richard “Dick” Teague, the head of design, and his chief designer Bob Nixon were given the green light to create a full-scale concept. Visual inspiration came from a sketch done by Eric Kugler and, in about a year of further refinement, a clay model was presented to the company’s higher-ups.
Although AMC commissioned famed Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro to create a separate design proposal, the resulting Styrofoam model sent from Italy was considered rushed and soulless, so the in-house-designed project was ultimately approved for production.
Since the carmaker lacked the necessary know-how to build a mid-engine machine, they went overseas for help. From this point on, the story of this amazing car gets extremely complicated. Even though many automotive historians have researched it thoroughly, conflicting reports persist.
What we do know for sure is that the project evolved into two very similar cars developed simultaneously. The first was the AMX/3, the model which should have made it into production, while the second was the AMX/2, a fiberglass show car made by the AMC design team in the U.S. and paraded around some of the most important auto shows at the time to get the public excited about the production version.
Based on the clay model that Teague and his team created, the AMX/3 took shape in Italy, the homeland of exquisite supercars. It had a beautifully sculptured steel body that was hand-built in Italy by Salvatore Diomante and his company Autocostruzioni S.D. The body incorporated a semi-monocoque chassis developed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design and engineering company Italdesign, with the help of the legendary Giotto Bizzarrini, who’s credited with creating the innovative, fully independent suspension system. It employed not four, but six bespoke Koni shocks designed by Bizzarrini, two of them being used for each rear wheel.
Girling initially made the car’s four-disc braking system, but after the first series of tests performed by BMW in 1969, they proved to be inadequate for the brute force of the car. So later that year, the Bavarians, who AMC employed to perform testing and component advancement, equipped the second prototype (and the cars that followed) with a new ATE system. It featured a larger master cylinder, dual vacuum brake boosters (later versions received single boosters), four-piston calipers along with ventilated rotors in the front, and twin two-piston calipers behind the rear wheels.
Power came from AMC’s most capable engine, a beefed-up version of the AMX’s 390-ci (6.4-liter) V8 that was also used on the upcoming Rambler Machine and delivered 340 hp. It eventually received some extra upgrades such as a forged crankshaft, a custom exhaust system, and a four-barrel Carter carburetor.
It is believed that the production models would eventually receive the company’s 401-ci (6.6-liter) engine that ultimately replaced the 390. Moreover, a BMW eight-cylinder was also considered for the European-spec AMX/3.
On most of the prototypes that were built, the powerplant was linked to a four-speed transaxle developed specifically for this car by Oto Melara, an Italian company that normally built military vehicles. It seems that Bizzarrini pulled some strings and got them to manufacture the bespoke transmission at a very competitive price. However, the unit was far from perfect and, at least one of the later prototypes was given a much more refined (and expensive) five-speed ZF unit.
To prove that it was an exceptional vehicle, Bizzarrini and racing driver Antonio Nieri took the second prototype to Monza for analysis in the spring of 1970. During test runs, the car reached a top speed of 170 mph (273 kph) with different front spoilers. This was close to what a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 “Daytona” could achieve. Furthermore, Nieri’s fastest lap time stood at 1:56 minutes, equaling the performance of the 1965 5300 GT, Bizzarrini’s masterpiece.
One of the few mid-engine sports cars of the era, the AMX/3 had the DeTomaso Pantera in its sights.It was revealed in both Italy and the U.S. a day before the official unveiling of its rival. It was gorgeous, innovative, and the product of some of the industry’s brightest minds but, it never made it into production.
To this day, no one knows why AMC decided to abruptly pull the plug on this fantastic car soon after the official reveal. Rumors surfaced that it was way over budget, and the final sticker price would have been somewhere in the $12,000 region to cover the production cost, which the company predicted would not go down well with potential buyers.
As sad as the story ended, the AMX/3 remains one of the most captivating cars of its era, and arguably the most beautiful ever designed in the U.S. Six original examples survive to this day, all of which were built in 1970. Additionally, three uncompleted chassis are also accounted for. One became the seventh AMX/3 when it was completed in the late nineties, another was converted into the Iso Varedo show car in 1971, and the third is associated with a custom spider reminiscent of the Bizzarrini P 538 race car. However, experts are yet to authenticate its connection to the original AMC project.
You can take a virtual tour of chassis number 2 and hear its engine rumble in the video below posted on youtube by DtRockstar1.