Car of the Week: 1970 AMC Javelin SST

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By Brian Earnest

He’ll never know for sure, but Dave Labar can probably claim to have the “most painted” AMC Javelin remaining on the globe.

At last count, the Mountain Home, Idaho, resident had painted his beloved 1970 Javelin SST six times. The car is in fantastic condition now and looks great, so Labar has no plans to ever paint it again.

But you never know.

“It’s been a great car. I’ve never really restored it, just repaired it as necessary over the years,” Labar says. “The last time I had it painted, I had to have it blasted down to the bare metal. With five coats on there, the paint was getting kind of thick!”

As a collector vehicle, Labar’s Javelin is unique in several ways. First, there aren’t a ton of ’70 Javelins of any variety still remaining. Only 19,714 of the SSTs were built — plus about 100 SST “Trans Am” editions and another 2,500 Mark Donohue signature models — and nice examples are not overly plentiful these days.

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Labar’s car is also a bit of a rarity in that it carries a six-cylinder. Most buyers preferred one of four-different 360- or 390-cid V-8s that were available, or at least the base 304-cid, 220-hp V-8 that was standard.

Lastly, it’s doubtful too many Javelins have ever been around the block as many times as Labar’s AMC. The odometer shows more than 312,000 miles — most of those racked up by Labar over the past 43 years. And it all started because Labar needed a car to get to and from the church for his own wedding ceremony.

“I bought it in July 1972 and I was in the Marine Corps at the time,” he recalled. “I was getting married the next month and didn’t have a car. I had to buy one to get married. I had to have a car.

“I had gone home that Fourth of July weekend to buy a car and went looking and found a ’66 Comet convertible, but my [future] father-in-law said, ‘No, you can’t have a convertible, you’re getting married. You need something different.”

That something different turned out to be his brother’s AMC. Dave’s fellow Marine sibling had just gotten out of the service and decided to unload his low-mileage Javelin.

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“It had a six-cylinder and he wanted something more … so I bought from him I I’ve had it ever since,” Labar says. “I’m the third downer. My brother was the second owner and car was only about 6 months old when he got it. A lady bought it new and only had it a few months and didn’t like it. She didn’t like the way it ran so she got rid of it.”

Labar lived in his home state of Pennsylvania for the first two years after he was married, but when he joined the Air Force he, his wife and his Javelin had to pack up and hit the road.

“I was all over the country and we went everywhere with it. I traveled a lot and we always kept it with us. I wound up in Idaho. We came out in ’83 and brought the Javelin with us.”

In addition to the multiple repaints, the sporty AMC has gotten a bitten of a rolling rebuild in the past four decades. The engine has been rebuilt twice, the last time coming in 2005 when the block was bored .30 over and the 232-cid six got all new pistons, cam and crank. The black interior has also been redone twice. “It got new seats, new carpet, new headliner — the whole interior, except the door panels are original,” Labar says. The only real bodywork that was ever addressed was back in 1977, when a pair of new quarterpanels were installed after a few rust holes showed up, thanks to the Javelin’s year-round duties in a snowy climate. “We left Pennsylvania in ’77 and it’s never been in a salt environment since,” Labar notes. “When I joined the Air Force, we moved to Arizona. Then we went overseas and I left it stored for a couple years when we were in England, but it was stored in a nice, dry place. Where we’ve lived, rust has never been a problem. I have other old cars, too, and they don’t have any rust on them.”

The last bit of restoration in 2005 also included rechromed bumpers and a sixth coat of Sonic Silver paint. At that time Labar also swapped out the tired three-speed transmission in favor of a five-speed manual that came from a 1979 AMC.

“At this point, yeah, it looks great, but we always kept it up,” Labar insists. “We’ve kept it up pretty much the whole time. It would get to looking a little sad and we’d take it in and get it painted, or get a new interior …It’s not what I would call a restored car. When it needed ball joints, we put ball joints on it. When it needed shocks, put shocks on it. I just like to keep it in a condition where I can get in it anytime I want and go anywhere I want.”

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In his ’70 Javelin SST, Labar found the sporty, versatile pony car that AMC brass was seeking when the nameplate was introduced for the 1968 model year. The Kenosha, Wis.-built two-door hardtops took over for the discontinued Marlin and were joined in AMC’s colorful performance car lineup by the feisty two-seater AMX and later the SC/Rambler and Rebel Machine.

All could be had in various levels of power and performance, giving buyers a myriad of options and engine choices — a formula that helped make the Ford Mustang so wildly successful.

The 1970 Javelin models shared some styling features with AMX, but retained a twin venturi-type grille without the previous bull’s-eye badge. The headlights were better integrated into the nose, sharing a common upper border molding with the main grille. It had the same front bumper, front parking lights and hood as the AMX and, like the two-seat mini-mite, was an inch lower and two inches longer. Standard equipment began with all items (except package tray) that were found on the Hornet SST. Additional features included compartment lights; dual horns; high-back bucket seats; C78-14 tires (D78-14 with V-8) and three-speed manual gearbox with shift control on the floor. The Javelin SST also had a Sports steering wheel with horn-blow rim and full wheel discs. Two limited production Javelin SSTs were offered. The hot Javelin Trans AM cars were replicas of the Ronnie Kaplan Trans-Am Racing Team’s competition machines and were finished in a three-segment red, white and blue paint scheme created by industrial designer Brooks Stevens Only 100 cars were built, the amount necessary to make this model eligible for the Sports Car Club of America’s popular Trans-Am races under 1969 ‘formulas.’ In early 1970, the SCCA formulas were changed and so were the AMC drivers. The new rules demanded 2,500 replicas built to certain specifications. This led to the production of the Mark Donohue Javelin SST. The majority of these cars had a special, thick-walled, 360-cid V-8 and all featured a unique ducktail rear spoiler with Mark Donohue signature script on the right-hand side.

The SSTs were one step up from the base level Javelins in the AMC hierarchy and carried a window price of $2,863. The base 304- and optional 360-cid V-8s were added and replaced the 290 and 343 power plants. The 390-cid V-8 remained at the top of the company food chain and churned out 325 hp.

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Inside, SST models had a one-year-only woodgrain dash for 1970 and other cabin tweaks, including a new center console and bucket seats with built-in headrests. Leather upholstery was optional.

Labar’s car came with few, if any options, and that’s just the way he likes it. “Yeah, one of the things that was appealing to me is it really has no options,” he chuckles. “It’s a six-cylinder, it had a 3-speed with no power steering or power brakes… That was one of things that appealed — it was very easy to maintain because nothing that could go wrong. And when it did need maintenance, it was very easy to work on that six-cylinder without all that other stuff on it … There is something to be said for simplicity.”

One thing working in Labar’s favor back in 1972 was that he was already familiar with the Javelin and knew he would be happy with it before he ever forked over the $1,700 it took to buy it from his brother. “I drove it a few times when he owned it and really liked it,so when he offered it to me I didn’t hesitate to buy it,” he said. “I knew it was a good car and an economical car. And if those years, you know bucket seats and a floor shift — that was pretty popular stuff!”

Labar has acquired a few other AMCs since that purchase. He’s restoring a 1957 Rambler station wagon, owns a 1972 Hornet SST, and is storing his son’s 1970 Javelin and 1979 AMX.

“I just kind of found out I liked AMCs,” he says. “I kind of gravitated to them when I found out just how good the really are. But I have a couple of old Fords, too.”

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After 43 years, of course, Labar says he and his gray Javelin are partners for life. He doesn’t pile up quite as many miles on the car as he used to, but the odometer will certainly continue to roll on well past its current 312,000 rounds.

“In the beginning it wasn’t anything that I intended to keep or anything, but was such a good car I never had any reason to get rid of it,” Labar concludes. “Then after so many years it becomes a quest, ‘How many miles can I get on it, how many years can I keep it?…After 43 years I think it’s time to keep it.

“My son will get it eventually, but nobody is going to get it until I’m gone.”
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