Tom Hafner’s bright red coupe draws attention for what it is...and for what it is not.
The car is an almost entirely original American Motors AMX, among the rarest of the breed in any gathering of pony cars.
And what it’s not is another Mustang or Camaro with flames, monster wheels and a chromed blower sticking out of the hood.
American Motors was a late arrival at the pony car corral. By the time the AMX came to market, the Mustangs and Camaros had become well-established in the must-have mindset of the American consumer.
It was also a time of upheaval within AMC. It had changed its name from Nash to Rambler and then to AMC as it tried to shed the stodgy image of being the car of choice for blue-haired matrons and cigar-chomping grandfathers.
The AMX entered a market already crowded by Mustangs, Cougars, Camaros, Firebirds and Barracudas.
While the pony cars from Ford and Chevrolet carry the distinctive, muscular made-in-America lines, the AMX’s bodywork could have easily been sculpted at a drawing board in Turin.
Hafner was barely out of diapers when the stylists at American Motors began drawing the liquid curves that would become the AMX. He was only five years old when his 1969 coupe came off the assembly line at Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“A friend of mine in high school had one,” he says. “I always thought they were a neat looking car.”
He knows the history of his car beginning in the early 1980s, when a friend bought it.
“It was in pretty poor condition,” he says. “My friend did a lot of work on it, and sold it to someone else. I kept track of the car and bought it in 1988.”
Throughout the years, the owners have resisted the urge to tart it up with chromed bells and whistles.
It has been repainted twice. The first time it lost its original “seafoam green” to a flashier coat of red. Hafner had it repainted about 10 years ago --it was hit by a ladder that came off a contractor’s truck -- this time picking “rally red” from the MoPar color chart.
He’s also had the engine out a couple of times.
“I’ll take it out and drag race it once in a while,” he says, adding that one run damaged the engine.
“It never did seem right,” he says, “so I took it apart and rebuilt it with lower compression pistons to make things easier on it.”
The 390 may be a lower horsepower engine, but it is no slacker by any means. While it hasn’t been on a dyno, he figures it churns out between 375 and 390 horsepower.
Parts are still available from a host of resources, and generally are reasonably priced. And there are numerous clubs around the US devoted to the AMX and its lesser sibling, the AMC Javelin.
With rare exception, most of the AMX cars have been kept mostly original. Maybe that’s because they were “right” when they left the factory, or because there is not a lot of aftermarket parts available, or perhaps the owners feel they don’t need to do anything to stand out in a crowded cruise-in.
“A lot of people don’t know what it is,” he says. “That’s probably the most common question about it.
“The second most asked question is why did I take out the back seat,” he laughs. “They don’t realize it was always a two-seater car.
Hafner says he doesn’t show the car much and generally puts only 1,000 or so miles a year on it.
“I did a show with it when I lived in Kansas,” he says. “It must have taken a month to get it ready. It is just too much work for a car that I want to drive on the street.”
And drive it he does.
Hafner drops the four speed gearbox into second, punches the throttle and lights up the rear tires.
“It’s the best part,” he says as his face breaks into a boyish grin, “of owning a muscle car.”