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Car of the Week: 1970 AMC Javelin SST 'Mark Donohue' Edition

Axel Axemann found his car hiding in lower British Columbia about five years ago. He knew the odds of finding a nice, mostly original example of a “Mark Donahue” Javelin on his side of the border were pretty slim, so he didn’t wait long to jump on the opportunity.
Car of the Week 2020

By Brian Earnest

If AMC had kept on making Javelins, there’s no telling how many Axel Axmann might have owned by now. As it is, the Alberta, Canada resident is up to 10 of the orphan pony cars. None of them have been any better than his current stellar — and rare — 1970 Javelin SST Mark Donohue edition. The beautiful Hialeah Yellow Javelin is so far the pinnacle of Axmann’s long love affair with the racy AMCs.

Axmann got hooked up with his first Javelin through a friend during his teen years. “I said what the hell is that?” he recalls with a laugh. “He said, ‘It’s a Javelin.’ I didn’t even really know what they were … but my first car turned out to be a 1973 Javelin. It looked like a million bucks, but it had a straight-six in it and all the guys were challenging me to races and I couldn’t get out of the gate! [laughs]” Sadly, Axmann lost that car in an accident that wasn’t his fault, but as luck would have it there would be nine more Javelins in his future — and counting.

“I’ve owned every single year of Javelin that there has been and now find myself with one I have pretty much searched for since I lost that first one,” he says. “When I first saw that car and heard about it, because it’s the only year they built it, it absolutely fascinated me. I just love the lines and the body and the look of it. And part of what attracted me to is was that it was so unique.”


Axmann found the car hiding in lower British Columbia about five years ago. He knew the odds of finding a nice, mostly original example of a Mark Donohue Javelin on his side of the border were pretty slim, so he didn’t wait long to jump on the opportunity. “I don’t know much about it other than the elderly gentleman who had it was selling it to buy himself a Harley. At the time that I found it I had a 1973 Javelin AMX that was an absolutely stunning car and I was quite happy with it,” he says. “But when this car came around, I don’t think it was on the market more than an hour, and I called the owner and asked some very pertinent questions and got all the answers I needed and I said, ‘I’m going to send you a down payment right now and I’m hooking up my trailer right now; please don’t sell that car. It was a seven-hour drive, and when I got there I looked the car all over, took it out for a quick drive. It was in reasonable condition … and I finally got it home at about 3 o’clock in the morning.

Looking for star power

A full-page advertisement in the March 1970 issue of Motor Trend was designed to catch the eye of enthusiasts looking to buy a new car. “Starting now, you can buy a Javelin with a spoiler designed by Mark Donohue,” said the copy. Depicted was the rear view of an orange Javelin with all the extras needed to give it the image of a Trans-Am racecar. On the right-hand corner of the spoiler was a chrome signature from Mark Donohue, one of the biggest names in racing at the time.
Donohue had made history with his racing Javelin. He and car builder Roger Penske teamed up to win Trans-Am championships in 1968 and 1969, then signed a three-year contract with AMC to drive Javelins in that road racing series.


One of the modifications they made to their Trans-Am Javelin was Donohue’s spoiler. To make this appendage legal for racing, the spoiler had to be homologated through its use on at least 2,500 cars that the public could buy. That motivated AMC to release the “Mark Donohue” Javelin.

The new four-seat Javelin shared its basic styling features with two-passenger AMX, but retained its own 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 lamps and hood as the AMX and, like the two-passenger mini-mite, was an inch lower and two inches longer.

In addition to the spoiler, the special Javelin SSTs came standard with other extras including dual exhausts, power front disc brakes, E70 x 14 white-letter wide-profile tires, 14 x 6-inch wheels, a handling package and a ram-air induction system that incorporated the AMX hood. The Mark Donohue signature was seen on the right side of the spoiler. A Mark Donohue Signature Edition AMX was also offered. This model came with the choice of a 360- or 390-cid V-8. Buyers could also go with a console-shift automatic transmission or a four-speed manual transmission with a Hurst shifter. 2,501 cars were built this way.


Trans-Am editions were also offered in 1970. These were replicas of Ronnie Kaplan’s racing cars, with a red-white-and-blue paint scheme devised by industrial designer Brooks Stevens. Standard, in addition to SST equipment (minus sill moldings and paint stripes), were front and rear spoilers, black vinyl seats, the 390 “Go Package,” a four-speed gearbox with Hurst shifter, a 140-mph speedometer, 14 x 6-inch wheels, a heavy-duty cooling system, a 3.91:1 rear axle and Twin-Grip differential and F70-14 glass-belted tires. The Trans-Am edition had a $3,995 sticker price. It weighed 3,340 lbs. and only 100 copies were built, just enough to qualify for Trans-Am racing.

The 1970 Javelin SST with the 390-cid/325-hp engine had only 10.4 lbs. per horsepower and could move pretty well. Zero to 60 mph took 7.6 seconds and the standing-start quarter-mile could be done in 15.1 seconds. Total Javelin production for 1970 dropped down to 28,210 cars (a 31 percent decline), of which 19,714 were SSTs, including the Mark Donohue and Trans-Am special editions.

Axemann’s bright yellow Javelin was built in the Kenosha, Wis., AMC plant and made its way to Washington State before winding up with a second owner in Kamloops, B.C. He didn’t know much else about the car’s history, other than it had 114,000 miles on it and, amazingly, almost no rust issues. That became apparent when Axemann had the car stripped and repainted its original hue of yellow.


“It was in pretty decent shape. It had incorrect wheels on it and it wasn’t the right right yellow paint code,” he says. “The interior was showing its years, but mechanically speaking it was in pretty decision shape. I’d call what I did refurbishing rather than restoring. The nice thing about it was when I found there was absolutely zero rust or Bondo under that paint. The body was in impeccable shape. The guy doing the body work was amazed at the condition of the body.”

One other bonus was that the car came with much of its original paperwork that proved it was a true Mark Donohue car. “AMC, in their infinite wisdom, really didn’t put anything on the car that that would denote it being a Mark Donohue Javelin [other than a decal], so unfortunately a lot of cars out there that say they are Javelin SSTs are clones … and the only want to determine if it’s a Mark Donohue car is to have the paperwork, and I was fortunate enough to have it. A lot of guys will take a 1970 Javelin and turn it into a Mark Donohue buy slapping a decal on it. The only difference is the front and rear spoilers.”

While he had his car disassembled, Axemann had the bumpers and brightwork all rechromed, swapped out the corduroy interior for leather — which was an option that year — added new carpeting and a front spoiler. He located a set of rusty Rebel Machine wheels that were another factory option that year and had them cleaned up and installed, which turned out to be a pricey addition. Under the hood Axmann added an aluminum carburetor to help fight some heat issues, and he capped things off with some faux dual exhaust rocker panels.


Show n’ Go

Axemann shows the car in front of judges occasionally, but it’s clear that was not his main motivation for buying and preserving the hot Javelin. He’s not worried about putting miles on the tires or potential scars on the yellow paint. “As often as I can!” he says when asked how often the car leaves the garage. “Son drives my car and he is 19 years old. I don’t worry about it being driven. There are show cars and trailer queens and all kinds of stuff out there, but it is my belief that these cars should be driven. My son takes better care of the car than I do, and I’m happy to let him drive it.

“I just love to drive that car. I love the way it feels when get my foot into it. It’s not really a feeling of nostalgia, it’s a feeling of pride that you have a very unique vehicle. I get tons of questions on it all the time because people just don’t know what the car is.”


Of the 2,501 original Mark Donohue Javelins, nobody is certain how many remain, but Axmann’s educated guess is “maybe 500. To find a documented one, that’s the tough part.” With any luck, Axmann plans to add Javelin No. 11 to his garage, although it won’t replace the yellow car in his pecking order. “I’m actually in the process of looking for a ’71-’73 Javelin — I call those the ‘humpy Javlins’ — but I’m having trouble finding one. I’d want to build a resto-mod with my kid, that’s the goal.

“You never say never, but somebody would have to throw a pretty serious number at me to get rid of my Mark Donohue. It’s the car I always dreamed about.”



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