NORWALK, OH — “That thing got a Hemi?”
That was the question posed in Dodge’s ubiquitous ad campaign used to launched the Gen. III Hemi engine about 15 years ago. The engine was introduced in Dodge’s Ram Heavy Duty pickup — perhaps the furthest thing from an early 1970s AMC Javelin.
Yet, a Hemi’s exactly what you’ll find under the hood of Keith Zanone’s 1973 AMC Javelin.
Coincidentally (or not), Zanone purchased the Javelin right around the time those Hemi commercials were inundating our televisions. He didn’t mind; he’s actually a Mopar guy at heart.
“Back when I sold my Super Bee to buy this, a lot of the Mopar stuff was ridiculously overpriced,” Zanone said. “I couldn’t find anything I liked that was reasonably priced. I’ve always like the body styles of the 71 through 74 (Javelins), and I found this one on Craigslist up in Minnesota. It’s still wearing that same paint, but I’ve changed pretty much the rest of the car.”
Most notably he swapped out the AMC’s 304 engine for a Magnum engine, and later the 2014 5.7L Hemi that’s tucked into the car now.
“Everybody is doing an LS swap and I wasn’t going to do that,” he said. “The car’s unique and I’m a Mopar guy. The LS is a killer motor and I have tremendous respect for it, but it’s just too easily done. Being this motor is so wide, it makes it a more difficult swap.”
Zanone wanted a challenge, but even he admits it was a little more daunting than he thought.
“I knew I had to change the front-end to get the motor in,” he said. “The air conditioning compressor and the steering were fighting for the same space. I wanted to upgrade the suspension but no one really made hardly anything for these. I talked to Brian from Fat Man, and he said, ‘Yeah, I can design one for you.’ It allowed the motor to go in.”
There were plenty of other hang-ups as well. Keith says the Hemi actually sits about four inches higher than the Magnum it replaced. That meant a pretty uncooperative driveline angle, so he swapped the transmission for a smaller, slightly more accommodating 4L60.
“I have double the cost in that transmission than what I paid for the motor when you consider a $900 adapter and $900 in standalone controller,” he said. “Plus, you have to build up the trans with the converter.”
Other features on the Javelin include a Fat Man independent front suspension, RideTech coil-overs, and 11-inch brakes. Those help make the car easy to drive, and Keith says he drives the car anywhere from 5,000-7,000 miles per year.
Inside the car, you’ll find added comfort items like power windows (made with modified Jeep Grand Cherokee window regulators), power locks, and a Vintage Air A/C unit, which also proved to be a challenge.
“The Vintage Air guys even wanted to know how I got the unit behind the dash,” Keith said. “It’s hard to figure out, but you’ve got to insulate the heck out of it. I even did a video for the AMC guys to help them!”
The A/C system was an essential addition, since he’s taken the Javelin across Route 66 and through the desert.
“I’ve been real lucky with the car,” he said. “It’s been a great car. The number one compliment I get is that (the engine) looks like it belongs in there. That’s what I was after!
“That thing got a Hemi in it?”
Yes…yes it does!