LAS VEGAS, NV — For many car builders, the SEMA Show is a chance to show off their latest creations.

For builder Dalton O’Neal, the 2022 SEMA Show is not only an opportunity to display his Trans Am racing-inspired 1971 AMC Javelin SST, it’s also a chance to learn. As a participant in the SEMA Battle of the Builders Young Guns, which showcases builders 29 and younger, he would love to move on in the competition.

But he knows he’s just getting started in the world of hot rodding.

The Javelin is the first full build for the 25-year-old Utah resident, and to be part of the Young Guns competition is a bonus—and a great experience. Over the past 10 months, as his vision for the car turned into reality, he has learned at every turn.

See all of our 2022 SEMA coverage here.

(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)

“With an AMC, you don’t see those everyday,” O’Neal said. “When I found this car, it had been sitting for 41 years. We decided to start (working on it) 10 months ago, back in in January. With this I’m following SCCA regulations for Autocrossing. I love the Trans Am Javelins and that’s what I wanted to go for—to have an Autocross car and still build something that’s street-worthy at the same time.”

To accomplish his goal, he turned to Summit Racing Equipment and a host of other partners to deliver the parts. He swapped out the original 304 and put in a 360 cubic-inch engine, which feeds a Tremec TKX 5-speed, 9-inch rear-end, and 3.73 Auburn gears. It’s a combination he became very familiar with very quickly.

(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)

“Working in a transmission shop, my boss is a teacher as well, so he really doesn’t like doing things for you,” O’Neal said. “So you have to learn how to do it yourself. He really threw me in the hot seat and said, ‘If you’re going to race this you have to trust it, so do it right.”

O’Neal also got plenty of tips from his father.

“He grew up around Darlington Speedway down in South Carolina,” he said. “They were all about the drag cars growing up, and obviously he knows all the old cars better than me.”

The younger O’Neal took his dad’s advice and then added a few modern twists.

Newer touches include a Control Feak suspension and coil-over suspension, front and rear. It also has a Holley Sniper EFI system instead of the old carbureted setup. The engine sends exhaust though a set of Doug’s Headers and a Black Widow Angry Housewife exhaust system. Other features include Trans Am-inspired Superlite wheels, Auto Meter gauges, and Summit Racing steering wheels and shifter grips. The paint scheme was chosen and laid down by O’Neal and his father and was based on a look they found on old Hot Wheels car!

(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)

Perhaps the best part of the car is that is was built with modest accommodations.

“I don’t have a lift to get this thing way up in the air,” O’Neal said “I don’t have all the pneumatic tools. It’s just all done in my backyard and on my back porch where I’ve got a little area to work in. And then the front yard is just a pull-in carport. So I try to make use of what I got, and here we are!”

An everyman’s project by a first-time builder holding its own in a sea of high-end show cars.

What’s more inspiring than that?

(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)
(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)
(Image/OnAllCylinders – Dave Fuller)
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Author: David Fuller

David Fuller is OnAllCylinders' managing editor. During his 20-year career in the auto industry, he has covered a variety of races, shows, and industry events and has authored articles for multiple magazines. He has also partnered with mainstream and trade publications on a wide range of editorial projects. In 2012, he helped establish OnAllCylinders, where he enjoys covering all facets of hot rodding and racing.