Car of the Week: Dick Teague’s AM 197X - Old Cars Weekly

Car of the Week: Dick Teague’s AM 197X

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Car of the Week 2020
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Richard A. “Dick” Teague grew up a hot-rodding teenager in Southern California before turning his attention to designing new cars. Even then, his cars often had sport to their style, usually being designed as two-seaters — much like the hopped-up roadsters he would have been surrounded by in sunny So-Cal.

Teague had studied at Art Center School of Design in Pasadena, Calif., where the focus was on form and line, not decoration. He carried these lessons to Kaiser-Frazer where he designed a hardtop convertible in 1946. By the early ’50s, he was working at Packard where he designed the 1954 Packard Panther Daytona. This open car combined Teague’s idea for clean forms with his preference for sporty two-passenger automobiles.

 An adjustable rear spoiler was bolted on the rear deck lid.

An adjustable rear spoiler was bolted on the rear deck lid.

Teague was a young man when he had created the sporty designs for Kaiser-Frazer and Packard. By the age of 40 in 1964, he had been elevated to the position of vice president in charge of AMC styling. By this time, he had become known as “Mr. Clean” in the industry. Car Life said that he represented “fresh air amidst an atmosphere of the all too common ‘design by committee’ school of styling.” Teague still favored less flamboyance and exterior ornamentation on cars. He saw clean design as a “maturing of aesthetics,” as well as a safety enhancement with fewer doo-dads to impale pedestrians.

“Teague has brought a young man’s outlook to Detroit’s styling studio,” wrote Gene Booth in the June 1964 issue of Car Life. The designer had a good handle on industrial design and accurately predicted to Booth that bucket seats, fastback roofs and performance engine modifications would become big trends in the near future. He was, of course, correct.

These automotive sporty and performance features were almost required in the booming muscle car market that grew throughout the 1960s. Teague made sure to include them as the muscle car era mushroomed.

“We thought that it was great to see muscle cars and pony cars coming out,” former AMC clay modeler Keith Goodnough told us at the AMC World Meet in 2003. “Chuck Mashigan was put in charge of the Advanced Styling Studio and he was the one who designed the hot pony cars like the AMXes.”

 Several engines have been installed in the prototype. Here the AMX is sporting the AMC 401 c.i.d. V-8.

Several engines have been installed in the prototype. Here the AMX is sporting the AMC 401 c.i.d. V-8.

AMC boss Roy Abernethy resisted the muscle car market. He believed that AMC was doing well selling small cars, and indeed, AMC had experienced an upswing in its fortunes during the early 1960s by building smaller cars. Problems arose when Abernethy started a movement to larger AMC cars, which he personally preferred. These did not sell very well. Meanwhile, the pony car market expanded from 11.2 percent of the market in 1966 to 14.6 in 1967. Total specialty car registrations rose 18.0 percent in 1966 and 17.6 in 1967.

“I decided to do a really hot two-seat car — one like Ferrari would do,” Teague told Motor Trend while discussing AMC’s AMX muscle car. “But instead of (making) 10 a year, we’d design it so we could build 10,000.” Teague wanted the AMX to have a rumble seat, but said, “They (management) looked at me like I was from the moon.” Still, a working model of the AMX — complete with the “Ramble Seat,” aka rumble seat — was approved and built for AMC by Vignale in Turin, Italy. It debuted at the 1966 New York International Auto Show.

About the same time, Detroit industrialist Robert B. Evans bought 200,000 shares of AMC stock. He became the firm’s largest shareholder and was elected to the board of directors. Evans soon dropped word that AMC was going to build a production version of the AMX show car.

Victor G. Raviolo was put in charge of all AMC creative projects in 1967 and wanted to make quick changes. He told a Car Life writer that he had watched women and their reactions to changes in skirt lengths. “The skirts got shorter and women who were 40-50 years old said that wasn’t for them,” he pointed out. “But the next year you see those women and their skirts are a little shorter. This is the influence of young people — they pull the rest of the market with them.”

 Teague added the front clip from a ‘71 Javelin fiberglass mockup.

Teague added the front clip from a ‘71 Javelin fiberglass mockup.

Not all of Teague’s youthful ideas made it to the assembly line. The Ramble Seat rumble seat was considered a safety issue. However, the 1966 AMX did evolve into the midsize Javelin, which entered production for 1968. The Javelin kept the AMX show car’s sporty looks, but brought the rear seat under the roof. A few short months later, the two-seat AMX did bow, and like those skirts Raviolo mentioned, the AMX was a bit shorter than the Javelin upon which it was based.

The production AMX looked very much like a chopped Javelin with a different grille, hood and roofline. “It is a very hot little vehicle with a strong family resemblance,” Teague said. “We have tried to keep the cost down and build an uncomplicated vehicle, but it is still a different type of vehicle because it is a foot shorter than the Javelin, and a two-place car.”

 Red interior has a woodgrained wheel and woodgrained center console lid.

Red interior has a woodgrained wheel and woodgrained center console lid.

Although it was good looking, hot performing and innovative, the AMX never captured the fancy of young car buyers the way the Mustang had. Only 6725 were sold in 1968, followed by a slight — and very temporary — increase to 8293 in 1969. Then, in 1970, the total fell to 4116 cars. The AMX was not selling as hoped and environmental and political factors were shrinking its future potential.

One AMX to save them all

At AMC, company president Bill Luneberg informed Dick Teague that the two-seat AMX was going to be dropped after 1970. Luneberg was a production man and knew the extra work involved in building the two-seater was not justified by its sales. Teague wanted to convince AMC to continue building the two-seater, so he customized his own AMX.

Teague’s car was originally an early-production Rally Green Metallic car with a black vinyl interior, the 390-cid 315-hp engine and automatic transmission. Teague painted the front bumper white, installed ’67 Plymouth Valiant turn signal lamps, bolted on a front spoiler and added 8-in. Kelsey-Hayes rims, a Sidewinder exhaust system and a customized fuel filler on the left-hand sail panel. Other touches included competition-style hood locking pins, twin longitudinal racing stripes, special 390 badges and a red interior with armrest.

Some of the changes to Teague’s car became production options, such as its painted bumpers, which were offered on Big Bad AMXes. To get the racing stripes like those on Teague’s car, AMC buyers could specify the ’68 Go-Package option. The Tadco-made Sidewinders were a ’69 option. Later, Javelin Trans Am and AMX models adopted the chin-type front spoiler.

Teague knew AMC was planning a four-seat AMX model based on the standard Javelin and also knew of plans to give the Javelin new front and rear ends on a 1-inch-longer wheelbase without altering the outer door panels, windshield, unibody and trunk lid. He dusted off the custom AMX he hadn’t used for a while and added the front clip off a fiberglass ’71 Javelin mockup. He also adopted bulging fender lines penned by designer Eric Kugler and added red T-stripes that were already set for production.

Teague installed circular 1971-’74 Javelin turn signals in the grille, a set of ’70 Javelin taillamps and a distinctive scooped hood. The racing-type fuel filler and spoiler were deleted. He added updated side mirrors and silver-blue paint. An adjustable rear spoiler was bolted on. Teague swapped steering wheels and seats, replacing the red originals with ’71-style bucket seats, and installed custom door panels in the same color. He added a rear cushion to make the AMX into a car that could be converted to four-person use (if the rear passengers were very small kids). In essence, he turned his personalized AMX into a ’71 concept car that was dubbed “AM 197X.”

 The Tadco-made Sidewinder exhausts were a ’69 option.

The Tadco-made Sidewinder exhausts were a ’69 option.

Teague showed his personal “1971 styling prototype” to the AMC board of directors on Nov. 4, 1969. The design was rejected and that wasn’t a big surprise. Teague had not had enough time or money to properly integrate the front and rear styling, but the interior did get some additional consideration. In the end, the AMX lived on, but as a package on the Javelin as management had intended.

An AMX keepsake

Teague later gave his AM 197X to his son Rich as a high school graduation gift, and Rich traded it in on a Gremlin. The car was then drag raced on Woodward Avenue before Unique Motorcars in Rockford, Ill., restored it. It almost went to a museum in 1975, but wound up with a teenager who drove it for five years and then stored it in a garage in Whitewater, Wis. Meanwhile, Don Loper, of the American Motors Owners Association, heard about the car and in 1985, he told AMC collector Mike Spangler that the Teague design car was less than 15 miles from his home in Jefferson, Wis.

During storage, Teague’s AM 197X lost a few parts. Regardless, Spangler obtained it and realized it needed re-restoration. He started to disassemble it, and it sat partially assembled for 14 years. During that time, Spangler began documenting its authenticity through Dick Teague himself. Spangler learned that the car used several different AMC V-8s, which explained its 401 badges.

Rich Teague had damaged the fiberglass hood and hood scoop and substituted a flat steel hood. Spangler located an enthusiast in Oregon who reproduces the scoops in fiberglass, but to date has not installed them on the car. Spangler also replaced the damaged rear spoiler with a reproduction spoiler for a Trans Am Javelin. He says just about everything else matches the car when it was turned into a prototype.

Teague died in 1991, before Spangler finished his restoration, which took until 1999 to complete. Former AMO president Darryl A. Salisbury asked Spangler to finish the car for the Eyes on Design show in Detroit, which featured a Teague tribute. Spangler worked hard to put it back to its Nov. 4, 1969, configuration by show time.

Spangler currently stores the car in his private AMC museum in Jefferson where he has two large buildings filled with AMC family cars, dealership memorabilia, literature and petroliana. During the spring and fall Jefferson Swap Meets hosted by Madison Classics, he sells parking spaces on his land opposite the swap area and shows his collection to visitors. Each spring, he also hosts a Graduation Car Show and Pig Roast focused around Nash, Hudson and AMC models.

He and his wife Cheryl have definitely earned their status asVIPs in the American Motors Owners Association and are the best caretakers one could find forDick Teague’s historic AMX.

American Motors Owners Association
1615 Purvis Ave.
Janesville, WI 53548
608-752-8247
www.amonational.com

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