“It’s Original Only Once” 1970 AMC Javelin Appears on Jay Leno’s Garage
I produced this story for Mopar Muscle almost three years ago and now the car (and its owner) gets a star turn on Jay Leno’s Garage.
In 1970, AMC was in the middle of the muscle car race both on and off the track. Both the Javelin and the two-seat AMX received a substantial one-year-only facelift that added an air of muscle to its appearance. This was due largely in part to the ram air hood with the split center scoop from the AMX. With the exception of the Mopar shaker design, it’s probably one of the most distinctive ram air hoods on any classic muscle car.
After lackluster results the first two years of AMC’s participation in the Trans-Am racing series with the Javelin, AMC surprised the industry when they lured Mark Donohue and Penske Racing away from Chevrolet for the 1970 season. Donohue, a university-trained engineer, quickly evaluated the AMC race team offerings and decided the Javelin required more rear-end downforce on the long, high-speed straightaways found on many of the Trans-Am tracks. He worked with the AMC engineers in Detroit and designed the oversized ducktail spoiler that could be adapted to the production car.
In February 1970, the Mark Donohue package was introduced to homologate the rear spoiler design. The SCCA requirements for Trans-Am stipulated a minimum of 2,500 needed to be produced and offered to the public, a rule that was sidestepped by several manufacturers, most notably Ford with the Boss 302. The required 2,500 examples equated to almost 10 percent of the 28,210 Javelin units for the strike-shortened 1970 model year.
The Mark Donohue Special package added$1,100 to the price of a base Javelin. It included the 360Go Package with the AMX BulgeRam Air hood, the SST exterior and interior decor package, woodgrain appliques for the dash and door armrests. Transmission choices included the floor-shifted Shift-Command BorgWarner three-speed automatic with a console or the BorgWarner T-10 four-speed manual with a Hurst shifter and the and fold-down armrest in place of the console. A 390ci V-8, producing 325 hp with the ram air hood, up 10 hp from 1969, was available for $325 over the price of the 360ci V-8. (All AMC V-8s shared a common architecture from their 1966 intro, offering variations of 290, 304, 343, 360, 390, and 401 ci, thus making all post-1966 AMC V-8s a small-block design. This is similar to the big-displacement 455 Pontiac V-8s that were based on the Tempest’s original 326ci V-8.)
(Performance numbers for a 390/325/four-speed Javelin, from contemporary 1970 road tests show 5.7 seconds for the 0–60 sprint, 14.6 seconds to cover the quarter-mile, with a top speed of 115 mph with this car’s 3.54:1 rear gear set.)
Almost all American Motors production records were destroyed when the company merged with Chrysler in 1987. But it’s common knowledge in the AMC community that about one in four MarkDonohue Javelins were produced with the optional 390ci, 325hp engine.
The Mark Donohue Special was only manufactured for four months from late January thru April 1970 (so all were completed before the start of the 1970 Trans-Am racing season). On an AMC car from this era, the month of manufacture can be found on the assembly decal on the inside edge of the driver’s door. This decal doesn’t survive well during repaints and at some point in its 48-year life, the driver-side rear quarter-panel was painted below the C-pillar, and there’s overspray on the decal but thankfully the decal itself survived. Fletcher considers that the paint is about 80 percent original. The month of assembly can be estimated by the serial number and the assembly order number found on the metal tag, also on the driver’s door. If the car wasn’t manufactured in this four-month window, it’s not a factory-built Mark Donohue Special Javelin.
The spoiler and decal could be ordered separately at AMC dealers' parts counters. Many Javelins received this addition prior to the first owners’ purchase or after the fact. Additionally, many 1970 Javelins have been personalized by the addition of a more common 1971–1974 Javelin/AMX rear spoiler. The shape of the later spoilers is different, as both outboard wing tips are squared on the 1971–1974 versions.
Current owner Mark Fletcher isn’t new to AMCs having owned dozens over the years. His current stable includes a low-mileage-scheme 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler and a 1967 Rambler Rogue convertible with the 290ci V-8. It’s mated to a four-speed stick, like the SC/Rambler and this Javelin. His AMC interest developed at the height of the muscle car era in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s when he and his two brothers were back seat passengers in his father’s test drive of a new Hurst SC/Rambler in 1969 (we should all have fathers like the Fletcher brothers). Although his father did not purchase the impractical and boisterous Red, White, and Blue SC/Rambler, the Fletcher driveway in the mid-1970s included his dad’s 1968 AMX, his mom’s 1967 AMC Rebel Mariner station wagon (a nautically themed offering that was blue with wide side inserts in place of woodgrain trim), and two 1970 Mark Donohue Javelins that Mark and his brothers Kirk and Ken shared during their high school years in his native Kirkland, Washington. Fletcher loves telling the story that some of his classmates thought his last name was Donohue.
Over the years, both Mark Donohue Specials were sold to finance college and travel. But since those years, almost four decades ago, Fletcher kept his eyes peeled, looking for that special and elusive Donohue to replace the two low-mileage cars he drove in the 1970s. As a member of multiple AMC-based Facebook groups, Mark was the first to see and respond to when the original owner’s son posted poor-quality photos of this low-mileage example.
From here, Mark tells what transpired. “When a price and location was disclosed, I eagerly showed my interest and started speaking with the original owner within an hour. Early into the conversation, I realized that I was being asked more questions about how I would care for the car than I was asking the owner about the car’s condition. Both the original owner and I quickly realized that this well-preserved and unaltered special Javelin SST would continue to be loved and cherished by me. An agreement was made that day at the sellers asking price. I wired him a deposit, and the car was soon transported from its home in Nebraska to my home in Southern California. I bought the car sight unseen. This can often be a risky endeavor in today’s world. But I knew that at the seller’s reasonable asking price, it would get snapped up if I didn’t move quickly. I checked out his son’s Facebook page and could see pictures of him fishing with his father. I was always certain that both the car and the owner were real.”
Through the years, the car was driven primarily by his wife and used for daily transportation when the kids were young. The car was garaged each night and never driven in inclement weather. The longest trip ever taken by the rare Javelin was once to Estes Park Colorado, a 370-mile round trip. Otherwise, the car was only driven locally in the Gering/Scottsbluff area. Over the course of 48 years, the car accumulated just 45,000 miles. It has retained all of its original equipment, even the original, mandated 1970 air pump system.
Over the years of storage and once-a-week startups, the manifold air tubes rusted from the inside out. The owner simply removed the air tubes and the air pump belt, and put plugs in the manifolds. He left all the original components in place. Fletcher will eventually install the replacement air tubes and belt to bring it back to factory stock. One surprise was when the original Rim-Blow horn quit working. The owner took it to his local mechanic to fix the horn and when he got it back, it had a tractor horn button mounted to the pristine wheel center. Fletcher has left this feature intact as part of the car’s history. The car has only had one small dent repaired behind the driver’s door. Two other small panels were repainted and the rest of the car is original paint, chrome, and trim. There are some minor storage dings, some of which have already been repaired by a local paintless dent professional.
In the short time that Fletcher has owned the car, about a month at the time that this story was written, he has made a few corrections and improvements in order to enjoy the car in the hot Southern California weather. “My first and only alteration was to remove the anemic two-core radiator and replace it with a four-core aluminum unit,” he says. “I will also be adding an original AMC fan shroud to keep the car cool during the hot summer months. I have had the original radiator rebuilt to box it up for future concours events I plan to attend.”
“There is a car show every weekend in Southern California,” says Fletcher. “I plan to show it often in Riverside, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties. I have promised the original owner that I will bring the car to Denver, Colorado in 2020 for the AMO National event. The original owner, who literally interviewed me before letting me buy the car, plans to drive the three hours to see his Javelin be judged as an unrestored factory-correct example.”
We’re sure that he’ll agree that the car now has a worthy custodian who’ll cherish this redheaded stepchild of the extended Mopar family. It’s a worthy competitor to the better-known muscle cars from the other side of the Mopar family.
There are two schools of thought as to what constitutes a legitimate Mopar. One school says that unless it was built when the marque was part of the traditional Mopar family — Chrysler, Dodge, Imperial, and Plymouth — it’s not a real Mopar.
The other school says that if the company was acquired by Chrysler Corporation, as was American Motors in 1987, then cars built by the predecessor company are indeed Mopars. They can be called Mopars by adoption. Each school has its fans and detractors, but over the last two decades, the American Motors cars have been increasingly welcomed by almost all major Mopar events, with classes dedicated to the cars of AMC.
This widens the appeal of our hobby, especially for the next generation who’s priced out of buying their first collector car. Take this Javelin as an example. It’s realistically appraised at somewhere north of $35,000. This is far more than the very reasonable price Fletcher paid for this low-mileage, original-condition Javelin. It proves that bargains are out there, just look outside the box, meaning your local and regional Craigslists, and as in Fletcher’s case, cars when they come up on Facebook marque-and model-specific groups.
What is its cousin in the traditional Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth Mopar family — say a comparable 1970 Barracuda or Challenger under 50,000 miles, with a four-barrel 383 and a four-speed transmission — going to cost to acquire? We dare say that it’ll be more than $50,000. (At Mecum’s 2017 Kissimmee auction, Lot 128, a very similarly equipped, restored 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Gran Coupe, a non-A/C, 383, four-speed car, sold for $51,000.) That makes this Javelin, or even the bit more expensive (and rare) two-seat 1968–1970 AMX, a very reasonably priced alternative and a great way to enter the ranks of classic car ownership.
For a different take on this story, condensed down to 500 words and designed into a traditional print-magazine-style two-page spread layout, visit my friend Keith Keplinger’s page on Facebook at
And check out his full portfolio of more than 30 similar layouts at
Type: AMC Gen 3 small-block V-8, 390 ci, 325 hp
Bore x Stroke: 4.165 x 3.574 inches
Block: OEM cast-iron
Rotating Assembly: factory
Cylinder Heads: factory 291c
Camshaft: OEM, factory
Oiling System: factory
Fuel: Quad Autolite 4,300
Output: 325 hp at 5,000 rpm, 420 lb-ft At 3,200 rpm
Engine Built By: AMC
Transmission: BorgWarner T-10 four-speed manual,
Shifter: factory-installed Hurst short throw
Rearend: AMC 20 stock 3:54:1
Steering: factory power steering
Front Brakes: factory power discs brakes
Rear Brakes: factory power drums
Color: factory code 87A Glen Green with white C-stripes
Wheels: 15x7 factory rally “Machine” (about 1 percent of production)
Seats: original Tan vinyl, factory buckets with fold-down armrest “Buddy Seat”
Instruments: factory stock 140 mph speedometer and factory optional tachometer