It’s not every day you run across a bona fide race warrior tucked away in a barn or shed, especially if that warrior is an American Motors product. But that’s what road racer Karen Salvaggio found in 2009 when she bought a tired 1969 AMX.
American Motors was very involved with Trans-Am and road racing in the late 1960s, and the AMX was the car that led the charge. Competing against bigger Mustangs, Camaros, and Cougars, the two-seat AMX was a 3,000-pound terror when equipped with the 315 horsepower 390 V8.
The car Karen found belonged to Southern California racer John Robinson and was prepped by legendary Corvette racer Dick Guldstand. The AMX was ordered as an “option delete” car with no power steering, AC, or other comfort features. It did get AMC’s famous Go Pack setup, adding a four-speed transmission, handling package, Twin-Grip limited slip differential, power front disc brakes, and heavy-duty cooling.
Robinson raced the car until the early 1970s, and it sat in storage for over 35 years until Karen purchased it. A strong advocate of involving women in the high performance and racing world, she assembled a crack team of female hot rodders to restore the AMX. Over 29 women eventually contributed to the restoration.
Dubbed the Valkyrie Project, the restoration began in December 2014 with the goal of making the 2015 Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour. The first stop was High Performance Advisors just outside of Tampa, FL for engine removal before heading to Robert’s Collision Center in nearby Clearwater for bodywork and paint.
The body was straight with no major rust (thanks, California), but JoAnn Bortles of Crazy Horse Painting and her team had plenty of work to do. Stripping the car revealed numerous quick repairs of bumps and scrapes from its racing days. Work that would normally take a month or more had to be done in 12 days. The team put in some brutal 16 and 18 hour days getting the body ready for paint—Deltron Wimbledon White basecoat and custom-mix PPG Deltron Starlight Blue Metallic stripes. This paint scheme replicates the original, but the team added some Easter eggs including ghost stars in the stripes and number roundels.
After a stop back at High Performance Advisors to strip and clean the undercarriage and run the Painless Performance wiring harness, the AMX was trailered to Automotive Specialists in Concord, NC to have the 390 rebuilt. Since Karen planned on racing the AMX, engine guru Keith Dorton and his team tore the 390 down to the block. The cylinders were bored to 4.200 inches, and the block was fitted with a 3.625 inch stroke steel crank, 6.125 inch Chevy steel rods (turned backwards to center the pistons in the bores), and Diamond flat top forged pistons. Static compression ratio is a healthy 12:1.
A .640-inch lift Crane mechanical roller camshaft turns the valvetrain in a pair of Edelbrock Performer RPM 401 aluminum cylinder heads. Up top is an Edelbrock Torker II intake manifold with a 650 cfm Holley Aluminum Ultra XP carburetor. The oiling system is all Milodon, and a MSD distributor, Digital 6AL box, and coil take care of the spark. The 390 cranked out 525 horsepower and 490 ft.-lbs. of torque on the dyno — big power for a 3,000 pound car.
While the engine was being assembled, parts were piling up at Cool Hand Customs in Middleton, WI. Owners Amy and EJ Fitzgerald graciously opened their shop to the Valkyrie team, which arrived with the AMX around Memorial Day.
The list of things to do was pretty staggering. There was an engine to button up, a cooling system, exhaust, and brakes to install, a transmission to bolt in, wiring and plumbing to run, and an interior to fit. The Valkyrie team worked around the clock during the 2 1/2 weeks the AMX was at Cool Hand, stopping once in a while to get a few minutes’ sleep in the shop. At one point, the team was up for 38 hours straight.
The AMX wouldn’t have been a proper project car without throwing up a roadblock or two. For example, most of the factory mechanical clutch linkage was missing, and an attempt to install a hydraulic throwout bearing failed due to a lack of space in the engine bay for the slave cylinder reservoir. In the 11th hour, a local gentleman named Tim came to the rescue. A diehard AMX man, Tim dug into his stash to find the missing clutch linkage. And we mean that literally — he had to dig a hole underneath a donor car to get at the parts.
Did Team Valkyrie get the AMX done in time for the Power Tour? Yes, but they had to trailer it to every stop. In St. Louis, a group called The Late Haulers pitched in to help get the AMX running under its own power so it could be driven around at the last three Tour stops.
Karen and team members Susan Carpenter, Julia Johnson, Zan Martin, Amy Fitzgerald, and Kristian Mill traveled with the car to help raise awareness for the Austin Hatcher Foundation, a non-profit charity that serves pediatric cancer patients and their families. The team spent time visiting local hospitals and painting pinewood derby cars with children.
So what’s happening with the Valkyrie AMX now? Karen competed at an event at Auto Club Speedway in California in late fall 2015, where she discovered some bugs that needed to be ironed out. She has been asked to race at NASA events this year, and plans to compete at various road races and time trials throughout the season.
Quick Specs: Project Valkyrie 1969 AMC AMX
- Engine: 390 cubic inch AMC V8, 525 horsepower/490 ft.-lbs. torque
- Transmission: American Powertrain Tremec TKO-600R six-speed manual
- Exhaust: Custom with Magnaflow components
- Rear Axle: AMC Model 20 with Twin-Grip limited slip differential and 3.55 gears
- Suspension: Rebuilt stock with Ridetech RQ Series shocks and Addco sway bars
- Brakes: Wilwood DynaPro 6 front/Dynalite rear disc
- Wheels and Tires: BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires on Wheel Vintiques Magnum 500s
- Other Items: Vintage Air system, Painless Performance wiring harness, Metro Moulded weatherstripping, Be Cool Cooling Module, Thermo-Tec heat shields and wraps