AMC’s secret (maybe too secret) racing program
Stock is a word with many meanings in the automotive hobby. There are the stock restoration guys for whom if it was not installed at the factory before first coffee, it does not count. Then there are the dealer cars: Yenko, Baldwin Motion, Dana, Tasca Ford, Grand Spaulding Dodge, and Dick Harrell Racing, to name a few. These guys produced the cars that the factory could not, modifying cars at the dealer before they were sold new to the public. Then you have outfits like Shelby American that ran what were effectively extensions of the factory, producing street cars and racers for enthusiasts, with full factory support.
How did little American Motors fit in? Surprisingly, quite well. In 1966 it introduced a modern V-8, newly designed with a solid bottom end and heads that breathed well. Starting at 290 cubes, it did not take long to punch it out to 401. AMC had sporty body styles to put it in, with the Javelin, AMX, Rambler Rebel, and later on the Hornet and Gremlin. AMC even had a core group of performance-minded people in positions of influence at the head office.
What AMC did not have were the engineering and production resources to develop, manufacture, and stockpile multiple variations of its V-8. What that meant was that the engine that went into your rip-roarin’ AMX was identical to the engine that went into the Ambassador owned by the old couple down the block.
So what’s a small, struggling independent to do? Taking a page from what was happening elsewhere, it had the dealers provide the support. They found the aftermarket parts that suited their needs, either on the street or the track, and made them dealer-installed options. Nothing new
really; dealers of all brands had been installing lights, mirrors, tissue dispensers, and so on since cars were new. Certainly by the 1960s dealer-installed performance packages were well established. What was different was the level of factory participation.
Supporting these operations was the Group 19 program. Named for the section in the AMC parts listings that included high performance, this was AMC’s extensive performance parts list with available dealer installation. It was in effect from 1966 to 1971, though parts may have been available for some time after that.
This was not a program at one dealership or even a particular dealer network. This was part of the regular product line, and it was available at any dealership across the country. Most of the items were listed in the AMA specs for the cars.
AMC also had dealers like Grant Rambler in Arizona that were similar in concept to Dick Harrell or Baldwin Motion, producing the likes of 401 Gremlins for the truly sporting Rambler driver. Various other dealers and dealer groups were doing things like the Rebel Raider, Von Piranha, and various SS/AMX and other racing efforts that were operating in zones across the country.
What, exactly, could you have installed on your Rambler for that first cruise? Here are the commonly installed items for street enthusiasts.
Intake Manifold: Edelbrock provided the R4B dual-plane high-rise single-fourbarrel manifold with an rpm range of
2,500 to 5,500. The bolt pattern was for a Holley or Carter carb, and it had a notch in the plenum divider to allow use of the Holley three-barrel. AMC sold and installed manifolds to match 1969 and earlier engines or 1970 and up versions.
Heat-Blocking Intake Gasket: A simple metal pan gasket that did not have the heat crossover passages punched out.
Carburetors: This information is subject to debate, as some documentation has been lost, but there were several known choices, all Holley. The parts book listed the R4B intake manifold as a set with the Holley 3916 950-cfm three-barrel carb. It had one large oval vacuum secondary with one accelerator pump. It worked, but was not an ideal street carb.
Several other Holleys were given AMC service part numbers and installed under the policy of local procurement. These were the 600-cfm 1850, 780-cfm 3310, or 850-cfm double-pumper 4781.
Camshaft: Crane supplied the camshaft kit AMC sold through its dealerships. The kit consisted of the camshaft, anti-pumpup lifters, valve springs and dampers,
“AMC dropped the ball when it came to promoting the program”
n Clearly meant for public consumption and intended as an à la carte performance wish list, this brochure was placed in the glovebox of 1970 AMC models. The part numbers all correspond to the Group 19 parts listing, leaving no doubt as to what you were receiving.
n This ratty box contains a nearly complete camshaft kit, including lifters, double springs, adjustable studs, hardened pushrods, and so on. This transformed your docile “Towing Package” 390 into a nasty-sounding, high-winding, street-racing mill.
n These are original N.O.S. Doug Thorley headers still in their factory satin-black spray paint. Quality was mediocre, but they worked!