The company was late to arrive at the muscle car party but fought hard to get the attention of enthusiasts with ever more capable versions of the AMX, Javelin, or Rambler. These models proved somewhat popular yet never managed to outsell GM, Ford, or Chrysler’s offerings.
For the 1970 model year, encouraged by the success of the 1969 SC/Rambler (affectionately known as the Scrambler), the struggling carmaker went all in when it revealed the most outrageous high-performance mid-size coupe that would ever don AMC badges.
Developed alongside Hurst Performance Research, the Machine hid the company’s most powerful engine under its scooped hood, a 390-ci (6.4-liter) V8 that could spit out 340 hp (254 kW) at 5,100 rpm and 430 lb-ft (583 Nm) of torque at 3600 rpm. It borrowed the camshaft, 10.0:1 compression ratio, forged connecting rods, and crankshaft from the AMX’s 390, but with the addition of a high-flow dual-plane intake, redesigned cylinder heads, and larger exhaust manifolds, it made 15 more horses.
Mated to a 5-speed Borg-Warner T10 gearbox with a floor-mounted Hurst shifter as standard in an era where other manufacturers offered a manual as an option, the highly potent unit was fed by a 690-Cfm Motorcraft 4-barrel carburetor and required high-octane gasoline to properly unleash all that brute power.
The list of standard features continued with impressive mechanical goodies such as a beefed-up suspension system that received rear coil springs from a Rebel station wagon, anti-roll bars on both axles, power front disc brakes, and a 3.54:1 ratio Twin-Grip differential.
Customers could also order various factory-installed extras. These included an automatic transmission with a center console-mounted pistol grip and a 3.91:1 rear axle ratio, cruise control, an adjustable tilting steering wheel, and even an air conditioning system.
The Machine was initially available only in a red, white, and blue color scheme but the company added a range of different paint finishes several months after the release. It came with a unique ram-air intake hood scoop that redirected cold air into the engine and also housed a large tachometer visible to the driver through the windshield.
In terms of performance, the car could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0-97 kph) in 6.8 seconds and run the quarter-mile (402 m) in 14.4 seconds.
Prior to its release, AMC launched a massive marketing campaign with the slogan: “not as fast as a 427 ci (7.0 L) Chevrolet Corvette or a Chrysler Hemi engine, but it will beat a Volkswagen, a slow freight train, or your old man’s Cadillac.”
It made its official debut on 25 October 1969, in Dallas, Texas at the National Hot Rod Association’s World Championship Drag Race Finals. The Machine was factory rated at 10.7 pounds per hp, meaning that it qualified for the NHRA F-stock class. Five models with automatic gearboxes and an additional five with four-speed manuals were driven from the factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin to Dallas and four of them were raced at the event in the condition they arrived in. It was reported that all of them achieved solid times in the mid-14-second range during press day practice runs.
Produced for one year only, this marvelous vehicle was priced around $3,500 ($24,677 today), a couple of hundred dollars more than a base Pontiac GTO which offered more power. The steep price was one of the main reasons why the Machine didn’t manage to outsell its rivals. Furthermore, it wasn’t the fastest nor the most powerful muscle car money could buy even though it posted great performance figures, so only around 2,000 of them left dealerships that year.
Many speculate that it would have been a lot more successful if the company decided to release it at least a couple of years earlier. Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, AMC was always a step behind its rivals in the muscle car wars which ultimately led to its demise.
Still, as one of the last true muscle cars of the golden era, it was grossly underrated in 1970, as well as in the decades that followed. Things have begun to change in recent times, and it seems that the Machine is finally getting the respect it deserves. On rare occasions, a low-mileage example in excellent shape shows up at auctions demanding between $80,000 and $100,000. You can take a virtual tour of one in the video below posted on YouTube by Lou Costabile.