The late 1970s may be known for disco balls, raging club parties, and over-the-top polyester fashions, but in terms of automotive performance it was the beginning of nearly two decades of sub 15-second quarter-mile dark ages. Remember, in 1978 the fastest production vehicle from 0-100 mph was not a car, but rather the Dodge Lil Red Express pickup truck. Yeah, sorry Corvette. So when we spotted this 1979 Spirit AMX among the listings for the Mecum Auctions Event in Kissimmee, Florida—taking place January 6-16, 2022—blistering performance wasn’t high on our list of expectations. But even though it’s no pavement scorcher, you could still get your Saturday Night Fever on with a vehicle like this as your daily driver.
There’s no in-depth backstory to this particular vehicle in the auction listing, but with only a scant 8,368 miles on the odometer, we’re betting you can still smell the Aqua Velva of the person who originally drove it off the lot.
AMX Swanky Sport Interior
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the high-water mark of automotive design in the late 1970s came thanks to a mustachioed actor named Burt Reynolds and a certain 1977 Pontiac Trans Am with which he shared the silver screen in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. The Trans Am stole the show and other automotive manufacturers quickly locked step to deliver a similar flavor in their own lineups. Unfortunately for AMX, the Spirit didn’t lend itself too readily to the adaptation of smoked T-top roof panels or a brushed aluminum gauge surround, but AMC did manage to cram some sporty buckets between a center console housing some sport gauges and a faux-wood knob on the floor shifter. Aluminum-colored dash panels adorn the HVAC and radio controls, and a three-spoke steering wheel provides input to the front “sport-tuned” suspension.
It was quite a nice job at tarting up the standard Spirit interior and helping it stand farther apart from its Gremlin cousin.
It’s a V-8 … Technically
There’s no denying the hood’s graphic styling is meant to evoke images of the Pontiac Trans Am’s “Fire Chicken” as we’ve come to affectionately call it. Instead of the fire-spitting phoenix of the Trans Am’s centerpiece, however, AMC designed a pinstripe-punctuated AMX logo to denote this as its high-water performance marque for 1979. Surrounding the AMC is what can only be described as an attempt at copying Pontiac’s homework, with evocatively similar orange-over-yellow colorings.
Under that hood, however, is where things go slightly astray. Where Bandit’s ’77 Trans Am sported a 400 cu-in Pontiac small-block that made a respectable (for its time) 185 hp and 320 lb-ft, the 304 cu-in AMC V-8 powering the AMX mustered only 125 hp and 219 lb-ft through an emissions-choked two-barrel Motocraft carb and restrictive exhaust. For this particular AMX, that power is sent to a three-speed slushbox transmission before pushing back to an AMC rear axle sporting freeway-friendly gears. It all equated to a top speed of slightly more than 100 mph, a 0-60 time of 10.6 seconds, and a quarter-mile stroll of 17.6 seconds, which honestly wasn’t bad for the day.
All About the Styling
Where AMC always seemed to go right was in designing and building big, swoopy, bulgy curves. And from the monstrous curved fenders capped with pinstripe-enhanced flares, a sleek fastback silhouette, front chin spoiler, and rear deck spoiler with a leading edge that begins deep in the upper quarter panel, the AMC Spirit AMX is definitely a looker.
Perhaps one of the best designs to come out of this period is turbine wheels, their take on which AMC called “Turbocast II.” The 14×7 cast aluminum wheels have just enough backspacing to push the raised-white-letter tires out to meet the leading edge of the flare and look great. We do dig this little period performer. Be sure to watch Mecum Auctions Kissimmee event on MotorTrend+ January 6-16 to see where the bidding on this one winds up.