MID-ENGINE DUEL THAT NEVER WAS | THE 390 AMX/3 VS. THE 351 PANTERA

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AMX/3

The AMC AMX/3

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The Italians may have perfected the mid-engine super car, but it was British racing innovation that got us there.  The 1959 Formula One championship  marked the first time a mid-engine race car had ever claimed the ultimate victory.  Jack Brabham made racing history behind the wheel of a mid-engine Cooper T-51 race car, and the course of car design was forever altered, as mid-engined race cars began to dominate on the world’s racing circuits.

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1963 Ferrari 250P Racing

The 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans -- won by the mid-engine Ferrari 250P.

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By 1961 the Italians, who were at first slow to adapt to the mid-engine design were fully in the game, and all regular competitors in Formula One were driving mid-engined race cars. Other milestone victories for the mid-engine soon followed — the 1963 24 Hours of Le Mans won by Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini in a Ferrari 250P; and the 1965 Indianapolis 500 won by Jim Clark driving a Lotus 38.

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De Tomaso Pantera

The De Tomaso Pantera

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All this got the attention of American automakers GM, Ford, and yes even AMC, who wanted to capitalize on the sizzle and success of the new mid-engine rage, and claim the first true “super car” produced on American soil.  Chevrolet proposed numerous mid-engined Corvette concepts–none of which ever actually made it down the assembly line. Ford partnered with the Italians, namely De Tomaso, providing powerplants for the Vallelunga and the Mangusta, and ultimately bought the company–including the development and distribution of the Pantera, sold here from 1971 to 1974.

AMC arguably took the most ambitious road — Richard Teague, in charge of AMC’s styling direction from 1961 until his retirement in 1986, led the design charge.  Teague’s original concept, striking as it was, never made it past the fiberglass model stage. AMC execs organized a design face-off between Teague’s in-house studio and Italian master, Giorgetto Giugiaro — responsible for the De Tomaso Mangusta, Maserati Bora and Merak, and later the Lotus Esprit. Teague’s concept surprisingly won out. AMC staff designers Bob Nixon, Vince Geraci, and Chuck Mashigan worked with Teague on all the AMX projects, and this mid-engined secret stunner was dubbed the AMX/3.

It should have been the ultimate American super car — but fate would cruelly spoil AMC’s plans.  Plans that could have changed the future of AMC forever by bringing the prestige and recognition they craved — and needed to survive.

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The AMX/3

The AMX/3

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Designed from 1968 and well into 1969, the AMX/3′s exterior lines are arguably sexier and more refined than it’s mid-engined rival, the De Tomaso Pantera — and featured advanced features like a pop-up spoiler that would raise with speed much a Porsche Boxster, mounted at the trailing edge of the rear deck.

Like the Pantera, the AMX/3 was an Italian-American hybrid design. Giotto Bizzarrini led the chassis development and the construction of the first six prototypes in Turin. Having experience with numerous Ferrari and Iso designs, not to mention prestigious autoss he built and sold under his own nameplate, Bizzarrini certainly more than qualified for the job.

The AMX/3 chassis was a semi-monocoque design rendered in steel, same with the body panels. All the underpinnings were standard Italian fare: upper and lower wishbone suspension front and rear, Teves four-wheel power disc brakes, Campagnolo alloy wheels, and a front-mounted radiator and cooling fans.

The transaxle was designed and built by Italian gear-maker OTO-Melara to standup to the strain of the brutish V-8. A four-speed might’ve seemed a damning handicap in the super car world dominated by five-speeds — but the 390ci V-8 (AMC’s best offering at the time), had enough torque–430 pound-feet at 3600 rpm–to more than make up for it. Aspirated through a four-barrel carburetor and equipped with headers and dual exhaust, the 390 cranked out 340 horsepower at 5100 rpms — eclipsing the 310-horsepower 351 Cleveland V-8 of the Pantera.

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c12_0509_amx3_30_z

The AMX/3

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Now the trouble begins.  AMC planned to build and sell AMX’s per month– at $10,000 a pop to test the car’s viability and demand in the market.  Production was ready to roll, orders were placed for necessary outside parts, and the AMX/3 was unveiled to the waiting world in April of 1970 — one day before the premiere of the Ford’s Pantera. The original press release was dated 4/1/70–April Fool’s Day–an ironic touch as the future the AMX/3 fell into a downward spiral.

Numerous factors kept the AMX/3 from ever making it to an actual AMC showroom floor. A huge and debiltating union strike brought AMC to its financial knees and soon several special projects — like a pet-project super car — were deemed irrelevant.  Further analytics revealed AMC would have to charge at least $12,000 for the AMX/3 — 20 percent more than the $10,000 Ford was selling their De Tomaso Pantera for.

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The DeTomaso Pantera

The De Tomaso Pantera

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The AMX/3 project was shuttered by the end of 1970. Four of the six prototypes were allowed to slip into private hands.  A seventh proto — reportedly built from spare parts and mildly restyled in the rear remained back in Italy.  Two of the protos remained at AMC’s headquarters and were left to spoil outside in the harsh Michigan winter weather.  The AMX/3 was officially over and done, before the rubber could even meet the road — with Ford’s out-classed Pantera winning the war by default — until The King Elvis Presley had the last word, that is…

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Pantera ad

Ford Pantera ad

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7 thoughts on “MID-ENGINE DUEL THAT NEVER WAS | THE 390 AMX/3 VS. THE 351 PANTERA

  1. Pingback: AUTO UNDERDOG AMC | WALLY BOOTH’S GROWLIN’ GREMLIN STREET CRED « The Selvedge Yard

  2. A correction: the car did get past the “fiberglass” prototype stage. The current Sciabola project which used a mold made off the pushmobile AMX/3 attests to an earlier iteration of the prototypes just for the show circuit. The actual prototypes, as you pointed out later in the article above, were made from steel.

    Steve

    • Steve,

      I believe we’re both saying the same thing. The “original” concept was fiberglass form only– the later exec-approved protp went into steel production. Agreed.

      Best,

      JP

  3. Thanks for writing this article. There are 5 steel Bizzarrini built AMX/3′s in the USA, plus the original prototype fiberglass display body that I used to make the molds for the reproductions. There is a 6th steel AMX/3 in Italy, I have not confimed a seventh yet, who knows. There was once a race in Michigan between and AMX/3 and a Pantera on a windy country road. The AMX/3 dominated in acceleration, handling and braking, a far superior vehicle in so many way.
    Cheers,
    Tom Dulaney

  4. In 1977 two AMX3s, reportedly belonging to Dick Teague, were in Rockford, IL. at Larry Mitchell’s used car lot “Unique Motors”. Larry being a diehard AMX fan and the president of The Classic AMX Club, International had been asked to restore one AMX3 using the other one as a example of how the it should be finished. At the time I was 18 years old and I had purchased a ’72 Javelin from Larry and I would stop in at his place from time to time just to see what cool cars he had on the lot for sale. Larry had one of the AMX3s (a red one I believe) sitting outside and I was admiring the car and he told me the history of the car. As I was looking over the car he said “go ahead, take it for a drive.” Being 18 years old all I could think of was what would happen if I did take the car for a drive and wreck it. I declined his offer and to this day I wish I could go back change my decision. Even if all I could do was take it down the street and back.

  5. In 1972 when I was 17, I went with dad to the local Ford dealer to pick up our new car…a brand new 4 door Maverick, only option was an AM radio, sitting on the showroom floor gleaming under the lights was a new red Pantera! as I spent as much time as possible going over every inch of that slinky car I noticed the sticker $10,000!!! thats the most money I had ever seen for a car!!who could afford that!! little did I know that years later I would own a Shelby GT500KR worth 20 times that, how times change huh.
    thank you so much JP for your excellent work!

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