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AMX-Cessive

“I used to hang out at this local body shop when I was 15, just because they had cool cars around. That’s where I fell in love with the AMX.”

So says Jimi Day, head of FM3 Performance Marketing, the company that produces the OPTIMA Search for the Ultimate Street Car. He’s also the owner of what is possibly the world’s best-sorted AMX.

The result of that love is one of the most recognizable cars in the ultimate street car scene. Mike Musto of “/Drive” pegged additional praise, calling it “the best-driving car I’ve ever been in.”

We get the attraction.

AMXs have always had a raw, underdog appeal, despite not being quite as rare as people think–at least originally. AMC built more than 19,000 AMXs between between 1968 and 1970, but the model always seemed to fall in the shadows of more popular pony car nameplates like Camaro, Firebird, Mustang and Challenger. As a result, the aftermarket barely recognizes the AMX.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Jimi wasn’t always at the cutting edge of resto-mod performance, though. In 2002, he was an investment banker whose long-sought success in the financial services industry meant he could finally seek the AMX he’d lusted after since his teens.

“We found the car in 2002 in Eureka, California,” he recalls. “It had been converted from its original 343 automatic to a 401 with a four-speed, but it was really clean. It needed a little attention, but it was a driver that didn’t need restoration. It even had a trailer hitch, as the owner had just towed all his belongings out to Eureka from Arkansas and then sold the car.”

The next couple of years saw the AMX competing in local car shows and collecting a slew of trophies. At the same time, Jimi’s passion for the automotive industry continued to grow: By 2004, he had retired from the financial life and opened his own auto shop–one focused on the emerging pro-touring scene.

Another life-changing moment for Jimi came in 2006: He took his first crack at a high-performance driving experience, lapping Spring Mountain Motorsports Park in Pahrump, Nevada. Afterward, he came to a conclusion. “I wanted to build the AMX to handle just as well as the Corvette I was driving at Spring Mountain,” he says with a little chuckle, indicating just how absurd that goal seemed at the time.

“At that point, we had already started getting a little deeper into the AMX with the goal of refurbishing some of the weaker points and restoring it to stock,” he adds, “but we took a hard turn.”

Development Capital

Hard turn, indeed. He abandoned the American Motors powerplant, replacing it with an LS3 crate engine from GM Performance Parts–the factory motorsports arm now known as Chevrolet Performance. The engine came from Jimi’s friend at a muscle car magazine. The staff was finished using it, and it was just taking up space. Jimi got a screaming deal on it.

Around this time Jimi himself had plunged even deeper into the high-performance automotive world by starting FM3 Performance Marketing, a group dedicated to organizing branded events and contingency programs for clients in the scene. FM3 Performance Marketing produced the first OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational in 2007.

The AMX continued to develop along with Jimi’s passion and involvement in the community. “Obviously, with starting the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car events, we felt we needed to build the car to reflect what we thought the ‘ultimate street car’ was,” Jimi explains. “So it just continued to evolve and become more refined and extreme as it progressed.”

“Meeting Randy Johnson at D&Z Customs really helped us focus on the build and what we wanted it to be,” he adds. D&Z handled a lot of the major reengineering of the chassis required to produce the ultimate street AMX.

At this point in its life, the car had still never been completely “restored” per se. To this day, in fact, it still wears all of its original body panels and glass, although the original shock towers and inner fenders were removed to accommodate lots of custom bits. The engine and front suspension are held in place by a bespoke subframe, and the four-link rear that locates the Ford 9-inch rear axle is largely custom-fabricated.

Profit Projection

The coming-out party for the car was the 2011 SEMA Show, where the AMX sat proudly in the Centerforce booth. Edmunds even named the AMX one of the top 10 cars of SEMA, which put it in rather rarified company considering this trade show is where every major aftermarket and OEM supplier puts its best and brightest on display.

But unlike its early life as a show pony, the AMX was no longer content to sit still. “We had a lot of plans to do high-performance events, but one thing I really wanted to do was run a Silver State Classic Challenge event,” Jimi says. “There’s really extended periods of 150-mph-plus running, so you have to be really bulletproof, and reliability of all your systems is paramount. We figured if we could prepare for an event like that and be reliable, anything else would be totally within our capabilities.”

Turns out those capabilities are extensive. In addition to the Silver State race, the car has competed in the Sandhills Open Road Challenge, Goodguys autocrosses and even the Tire Rack One Lap of America. “We were really proud of being able to do the One Lap so successfully,” Jimi recalls. “We finished second in the Vintage class after driving 4400 miles and doing 17 competition events in a week with zero failures.”

Despite being one of the signature cars in the scene, Jimi’s AMX doesn’t actually run in the OSUSC events because he’s busy, you know, producing the events. Still, you’ll frequently see the car on course taking a sponsor or a VIP for an autocross lap, and it gets driven to many of the events from FM3’s home base in Nashville. At this point the car has racked up an astounding 31,000 miles of street use since its D&Z overhaul. And its current state may be close to its final state.

“What impresses me a lot about this car is how complete it is,” Jimi explains. “It’s got a/c, satellite radio, heated and cooled seats, and drives like a thoroughly modern car. In 31,000 miles it’s only left an event in a trailer one time due to an electrical component shorting out after a torrential rain. The next day we replaced it, fired it right back up, and kept driving. It’s so good, there’s really no strong compulsion to try and improve it a lot at this point.”

He may have left the financial industry, but Jimi still knows the value of a solid long-term investment.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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Comments

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FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 Dork
4/11/17 11:55 a.m.

Good looking car, but my interest was rapidly lost at the LS motor. I have never been a fan of cross-breeding...

Appleseed
Appleseed MegaDork
4/11/17 12:03 p.m.

In reply to FSP_ZX2:

For some, performance trumps brand loyalty.

FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 Dork
4/11/17 12:44 p.m.

484 hp/500 lb/ft out of a streetable, stock head AMC 401

It's about "the easy button" more often than not. It's easier--read cheaper--to build a Chevy.

I can, through Indy Cylinder Head, get an all-aluminum AMC motor that will make 840HP/700 LB/FT.

All the AMC "perfomance" you can handle

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
4/11/17 1:01 p.m.

In reply to FSP_ZX2:

Also, one has to look at AMC's history and realize they were all about borrowing parts from other brands.

I'd have preferred they used nearly anything except an LSx, but that's just me and it doesn't meant the car isn't damned fast or worthless, just not how I'd build it.

Bobzilla
Bobzilla UltimaDork
4/11/17 1:04 p.m.

Looking at that picture, I need to get the truck up and driving.

FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 Dork
4/11/17 1:20 p.m.
Stefan wrote: In reply to FSP_ZX2: Also, one has to look at AMC's history and realize they were all about borrowing parts from other brands. I'd have preferred they used nearly anything except an LSx, but that's just me and it doesn't meant the car isn't damned fast or worthless, just not how I'd build it.

Their engines are their engines.

OldGray320i
OldGray320i Dork
4/11/17 1:38 p.m.

There was a guy here in town, worked for City of Tucson, had an AMX in the 10s, all motor, all AMC. Car was dialed in 9-ways from Sunday. Watched the burn out, on small slicks, and thought, "dang, that guy is in the 11s, I'll guess 11.40-11.70s". He got to mid track, and I'm thinking that's faster than 11s....

I think he was 10.70 or something, it was ridiculous.

Met him quite by happen stance, we started talking at work, talking drag racing, talking dialed in cars, and I mentioned an AMX I saw. Turns out it was him, he'd had the car for years, worked at NAPA auto parts prior to the city, did his own head work and machining, chassis work, etc... He'd applied every detail I'd ever read about for a drag car, and then some.

Thing was so impressive.

Stefan
Stefan MegaDork
4/11/17 2:13 p.m.

In reply to FSP_ZX2:

and it isn't your car, so what's the problem?

maj75
maj75 Reader
4/11/17 4:20 p.m.
FSP_ZX2 wrote: 484 hp/500 lb/ft out of a streetable, stock head AMC 401 It's about "the easy button" more often than not. It's easier--read cheaper--to build a Chevy. I can, through Indy Cylinder Head, get an all-aluminum AMC motor that will make 840HP/700 LB/FT. All the AMC "perfomance" you can handle

BTW, I don't think there is anything made by AMC in that last motor.;)

iceracer
iceracer UltimaDork
4/11/17 5:31 p.m.

Many people think the AMC 327 is a GM 327. Not.

AMC won some Nascar races. The did pretty good in Tran Am.

FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 Dork
4/11/17 6:56 p.m.
iceracer wrote: Many people think the AMC 327 is a GM 327. Not. AMC won some Nascar races. The did pretty good in Tran Am.

The 287 and the 327 are based on an older Packard design and were used thru 1966. The 1967-1969 290/343/390 was an all AMC motor and it became the 304/360/401 in 1970/71. There are some minor differences from the 67-69 and the 70+ motors, but they all share the same block dimensions. AMC won in Nascar as recently as 1975 (Darlington)...and the TA championship in 71 and 72.

Nick (Bo) Comstock
Nick (Bo) Comstock MegaDork
4/11/17 7:33 p.m.

I have no sentimental attachment to AMC so the LS only makes the thing better in my opinion.

Now stick an LS in a Pontiac built before 1980 and you will see me come unglued!

Dusterbd13
Dusterbd13 UltimaDork
4/11/17 7:40 p.m.

I stuck a ford in my amc.

Only because I couldn't find a mopar.

68TR250
68TR250 Reader
4/12/17 8:20 p.m.

Wanna get sick? I did. I was there and shortly after I arrived with the tanker one of the captains let me know what was in the building coz they know I am a car guy. I couldn't find a picture of the AMX, the Charger or the 'Cuda but they were in there and were the three cars lost in the fire.

Chadeux
Chadeux Dork
4/12/17 9:21 p.m.

I don't see how the LS is even remotely controversial anymore. It's just another V8 now. It just happens to be good.

Javelin
Javelin MegaDork
4/12/17 9:39 p.m.

In reply to 68TR250:

Wait, this AMX was lost in a fire?!?

68TR250
68TR250 Reader
4/13/17 4:55 a.m.

Nah, A very nice AMX was lost

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed SuperDork
4/13/17 5:54 a.m.

It's beautiful.

HapDL
HapDL New Reader
4/16/17 10:06 a.m.

In reply to Chadeux :

Depends on whether you think it's important to try and keep a car relatively true to the OEM or not. In the case of classic cars like this, I happen to think it is important. As was pointed out above, it was not necessary to go to the LSx, which has to be the most overused engine around and totally non-interesting. Penske and Donohue proved the AMC engine was capable of winning and that's still true today, it's just harder and most expensive to do it that way. It's a trick car no doubt, but it'd be better with the AMC engine in it.

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