Unique mashup: Rare AMC Javelin, a top restorer, and the Amish

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AMC
The Javelin Trans-Am vies for total authenticity | LaVine Restorations photos

Few things seem further apart than the gleaming restoration of a red-white-and-blue 1970 AMC Javelin Trans-Am and the “plain” people of the Amish religion, with their horse-and-buggy lifestyle.  Yet here it is, a renowned example of the rare muscle car in concours condition that is inextricably linked with the Amish of northern Indiana.

The Javelin is a spectacular coupe that has received the full-monty treatment from one of the most-esteemed restoration shops in the Midwest, LaVine Restorations of Nappanee, Indiana, best-known for its award-winning pre-war antique and classic cars, many of them prepared for the lawn of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Again, a strange juxtaposition of ingredients, but which came together to the delight of everyone involved.  And oddly, this exceptional Javelin has never strayed far from home.

AMC
AMC factory racing colors were applied to 100 Javelin Trans-Ams

Just 100 of the Javelin Trans-Ams were produced by AMC for 1970 in celebration of the Kenosha, Wisconsin, company’s unexpected success in Trans-Am racing competition.  This was the year that Penske Racing and Mark Donohue defected from Chevrolet to AMC for the SCCA Trans-Am series, bringing victories and acclaim to the Javelins.

The 1970 Javelin Trans-Ams were not homologation cars but outright muscle cars designed for the street, each of them in the distinctive Matador Red, Frost White and Commodore Blue paint scheme of the factory race-team cars, with spoilers front and rear and equipped with the 390cid performance V8, heavy-duty suspension and brakes, and other unique features.

Many of the 100 Trans-Ams coupes wound up competing on race tracks and drag strips around the country.

AMC
Factory NOS parts were extensively used in the restoration

“They are the rarest street-legal AMC ever built,” noted Travis LaVine, manager of LaVine Restorations that his parents, Eric and Vivian LaVine, founded more than 40 years ago.

“They were actually an AMC promotion to draw people into dealerships and get excited about AMC as a brand and the factory racing program.”

The special Javelin was something of a departure for the restoration company, which generally specializes in antique and classic cars from Packard, Cadillac, Bugatti, Duesenberg and such, Travis LaVine pointed out, although they also have restored muscle cars, though rarely to this high degree or with this much enthusiastic involvement. Or with so much acclaim when displayed at car shows.

AMC
On display at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals

“Honestly, this thing when it debuted at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (in November), to say it drew a crowd would be an understatement,” he said. “Everywhere this thing goes now, young people, old people, it doesn’t matter, it’s just an exciting car, so out there with the red-white-and-blue paint scheme.

“It has a very powerful stance to it.  It just exudes the muscle car look.”

The Javelin was brought to the LaVine shop by Fritz Helmuth, who has owned the car since the early 1970s. And that is where the Amish connection comes in.

“I grew up Amish, horse and buggy,” Helmuth said. “My parents were horse and buggy and my brother and sisters still are horse and buggy.”

AMC
Sidewinder side pipes route the exhaust

In Amish tradition, when a young person turns 16, he or she is sent out to experience the “outside” world of modern technology and social mores, and to make acquaintances with the non-Amish, referred to as “English,” and decide whether to go back to being Amish.

So, Helmuth set out to discover whether he wanted to be modern or return to the Amish church and all that entailed.

Meanwhile, a non-Amish fellow named Larry Yoder wandered into a small AMC dealership in nearby Nappanee and purchased the 1970 Javelin Trans-Am brand new.

“He was dating my first cousin, which was how I got to know him,” Helmuth recalled.  “And here he comes in this red-white-and-blue Javelin.  I liked it.”

AMC
The original 390 V8 provides the muscle

This is where the story diverges, with Helmuth deciding he wanted to remain outside and Yoder opting to become Amish – for love, naturally.

“He got serious about my cousin and wanted to join the Amish church,” Helmuth said.  “They have to get rid of what they call the worldly stuff.  You have to get rid of all your English clothes, your watches, radios and cars, anything that’s worldly.

“Of course, he had to get rid of his car.  I told him, I wouldn’t mind buying that.”

Helmuth offered Yoder $2,500 for the AMC, he said, but Yoder was holding out for $3,000.  Helmuth decided to wait him out, even though it would take four or five months for him to go through special classes to get baptized.

AMC
Nothing subtle about this muscle car

“I was just waiting, hoping that no one else would know that he was selling it,” he said. “Then lo and behold, before he was going to be baptized, he said, ‘I got to sell this car.’ So I got it for $2,500.”

He bought the car in late 1970, when Yoder had owned it for less than a year.  Helmuth was working at his parents’ sheet-metal shop, which he still operates with much success, and after buying the Javelin, he opted for tweaking it for track performance.

“I started drag racing with it.  I put traction bars on, slicks, headers,” he said. “Oh my, I’d just hammer down.  I had a lot of fun with it.”

He not only took the car to local tracks but became a hell-raiser on the street, he said, and well-known to the local police.

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AMC
The Javelin was driven and raced before going into storage in 1984

“It just got to be a hassle because it was so loud and it had air shocks, and I’d get constantly stopped by the cops,” he said.  “I knew them by their first names.  They’d see me coming. They told me, ‘you can’t hide with that car’.”

In 1984, married and with a family – two boys and two girls – he parked the Javelin in one of the company warehouses, and there it would remain for the next quarter century.

Around 2010, Helmuth happened to read in a muscle-car magazine an article about the Javelin Trans-Ams, where he learned of the rarity and desirability of his car.  The article included identification numbers to check for authenticity, which he did to confirm that his Javelin Trans-Am is indeed the real deal.

From there, he got serious about restoring it, he said, although he was initially thwarted by shops that failed to do what they said they’d do.  He had heard of the LaVines, Helmuth said, because of their work on Hudsons for the nearby Hostetler museum, and approached them to put his AMC back on the road.

AMC
The paint luster looks flawless

Initially, he was again discouraged.

“They were not really interested because it was a muscle car and they were more used to Duesenbergs and things like that,” he said.

But he prevailed, and once the LaVine people became aware of the rarity of the car and got to know Helmuth, they started work on the Javelin.

“When we started on this project many years ago, Fritz just wanted a driver,” Travis LaVine recounted. “He really came into wanting to do this as a concours-level restoration about two years ago, when he understood how important the car itself was.  From what we can tell, there are only 35 or 40 of these still around.”

AMC
The Javelin is attractive to young people as well as veterans

The AMC project also speaks to one of Travis LaVine’s passions, the next generation of collector car enthusiasts.  At 34, he is right on the cusp of the new crop of collectors, and wants the special cars to speak to them.

“They’re all unique and special,” LaVine said of the cars. “But this one does it for me – every car has a story, and that’s really important for getting the next generation involved, is telling stories and having good story tellers to bring life to these cars.

“When you spend time with Fritz and you hear the story of this car, his life with it, it just adds a little bit of soul to the vehicle.  And that as much as anything else – the color, the uniqueness, the power, the sound – that part is probably one of the most endearing qualities of the vehicle because, really, seeing his face light up when he comes in or when he started it up for the first time, I mean, it was priceless.

“That’s one of the things that makes this car so special. He’s a great guy. Fritz comes in here and everybody’s just happy to see him.”

AMC
The interior appears to be spotless

The Javelin has been treated to a complete nut-and-bolt restoration to factory original, with intensive research and as much NOS as possible, just as the LaVines might do for a pre-war Packard (their specialty) or other classic.  The shop has restored about 400 cars over 40 years, he said, and those have included other muscle cars, ’50s and ’60s cruisers, street rods and trucks.

“But definitely, the center of mass here is the classics,” LaVine said, rolling off a list of cars currently in the shop: a 1903 curved-dash Cadillac, ’31 auburn, ’36 Packard 12-cyinder all-weather cabriolet, ‘52 Nash Healey, ’28 Lincoln town car, ’63 split window Corvette, and a 1931 L29 Cord that was an Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg concours class winner. “So we do handle quite an array of vehicles.”

Lavine told the story of the car that put his parents’ shop on the map: a 1928 Minerva from Belgium that won Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours in 1987 (“I was the ripe old age of 3 at that point”), the first time the LaVines had entered the famed Monterey event.

“The first time we were invited to Pebble Beach and we were good to go, we won the whole thing,” he noted. “It was quite an experience for my parents.”

AMC
Travis LaVine (left) and Fritz Helmuth during Chicago judging

While the Javelin Trans-Am now seems about perfect, winning the top “Gold” prize awarded by the AMC Owners Association, Hemuth wants to go further, LaVine said, pursuing a perfect score.

“Now, he wants to chase a perfect 1,000 points,” he said. “We missed by 47 points on our first outing.”

Helmuth, 67, who lives just 40 minutes from the LaVine shop, says he’s had quite a rich experience researching the details of his Javelin and enjoying its acclaim.  But more than anything, he’s living the story of what it is and how it came to be in this tight circle of time, place and tradition.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with it,” he said. “Everybody around here knows Fritz and his red-white-and-blue car.  It’s a special car, it really is.

“And it’s not like I just bought it.  I’ve always had it.”

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I have a number of 60’s cars and the AMC part of my collection includes an AMX 3 that has been to Pebble Beach twice. The collection also includes one of these Javelin Trans Am’s. I have not touched the Javelin since I bought it more than a decade ago. I think it is time to freshen it up. I would really appreciate being referred to the article used as a guide and any other resources that provided useful informative in restoring this beautiful example of the marque.

    • Mr. Carl. I have been interested in contacting you since learning about your AMX3 in articles and your residential connection to Washington, DC. My AMC chapter (Potomac Ramblers) of AMO and AMCRC has hosted national events for both National chapters and, in 2017, we hosted the AMO event in Gettysburg. I attempted without success to connect with you in hopes of having you bring your AMX3 to Gettysburg. If you could be persuaded to bring the car to an AMC event in the future, please contact me to arrange for an invitation. Harley Smith <adoptedup@verizon.net>

  2. I ‘member these. Knew a guy in high school that had a slightly later model (’72-’74?) Commodore blue long nose Javelin/AMX with Mark Donohue’s tape signature on the rear spoiler; he always wanted one of the red/white/blue earlier ones. Now I know why, but his was a 401-4bbl/4spd Hurst car that was pretty cool, too.
    Still, for me AMC peaked with the SC/Rambler in the original paint scheme. Were I not a GTO person, I’d have one.

    • Very Nice Cool Car and interesting history.here. I became an AMC enthusiast a few years back and have 69 Rebel and a 70 Rebel SST. I would like to see more AMC articles in Classic Cars … but Thank You for this one.

  3. Great Article, thanks for writing it. I was fortunate enough to grow up and be part of the muscle car era of the 60’s and early 70’s. I still have a muscle car today (67 GTO) and consider myself quite knowledgeable about all the different muscle cars of that era. I’m familiar with the SC/Rambler and The Machine from AMC, but never knew they built the AMX Trans Am. Thanks again for educating this 68 yr old man 🙂

  4. I thought all the AMC Javelin Trans Am’s and Mark Donohue AMX’s had 401’s. Shows ya what I know! I remember in 1970 when I was just 18 years old, I went to a local AMC dealer to drool over the Mark Donohue AMX’s they had. Even though he knew I couldn’t afford one, the salesman couldn’t get me in one fast enough for a "test drive" because he loved ’em too! And thanks to Gary for the reference to "The Machine" ! I forgot about those!

    • Thank you so much for bringing so much recognition to one of our most beloved; and most rare AMC car ever produced. It’s just fantastic to know that someone; with the resources to do so, gave this car everything it deserves in its restoration. I pray I have the opportunity to see your car in person some day. I probably can’t even imagine the level of detail it has; but based on your photo’s, I’m sure it is jaw dropping.
      Your story is one of the best I’ve ever read! I don’t even like to read much. The information doesn’t come fast enough for me….but when I read this article on your car; I found myself wishing it was a 200 page book!!!

      I have owned AMC cars since 1978. As a matter of fact; a 1971 AMC Javelin was my first car purchase ever. I bought it just after graduating from high school; and I still own and love it! I have owned over 50 AMC cars; mostly Javelin, AMX, but several Ambassadors also, and still have several. I have never even owned any car except AMC. They were my daily drivers for 30 years. Today, I need a heavy duty truck for work; is the only reason for non AMC ownership.

      I would love to connect with you someday to learn more of who you sourced for some of the things you did to you fantastic looking Trans-Am Javelin; most specifically, your wood-grain dash. We used to have a gentleman that restored these for many years; and from what I have seen, his were even better looking than factory, I have some of his pieces. However; he no longer does them. Unfortunately, do to lack of demand, he no longer does these. Its a shame, because everything I have purchased from him; is the best I have ever seen in our "AMC world" of parts.

      I can’t imagine the level of trust you must have had in the Lavine organization. I have always told people that one of the hardest things for me to ever think about doing would be to let a shop restore one of my cars. I have always been very attached to them, and the fear of something happening to them (like some of the horror stories I’ve heard) would send me into a crises no doubt.

      Thank you again for investing so much time; effort, trust and funds into your beautiful car. Because of that; so many of us AMC enthusiasts will be able to enjoy it. I will be watching the internet closely to learn of the possible chance of seeing it someday; and hopefully, lucky enough to meet you also.

      Good day to you sir and the Lavine organization,

      Respectfully, Raymon Hacking

  5. I had a ’73 Hornet X hatchback with a small 8 cyl. Blue w/ white vinyl roof and white interior. Towed a 16 ft camper cross country and camped in 30+ states. Fold down the back seat open the hatch and you had a bed for two. I had 153k miles on it, 25k of which was towing the camper. Never had a problem with it and only sold it because I was away at school with no place to park or use it.

    My father had a Hornet with a six cylinder which was pretty crappy. Mine was very snappy, the "chicks" loved it and then when the model was used in the James Bond movie "Man With the Golden Gun" it had a cool factor.

    I now drive a 1968 Cougar XR7 regularly and had a ’67 Cougar as a kid. I luv the Cougars but have very fond memories of the Hornet X. My father wanted to buy a Marlin. My mother stopped him in favor of an Impala. I was rooting for dad. AMC had moxie.

    • Hi Joe!

      While the AMX/3 is theoretically the rarest AMC, the 6 built (purportedly a 7th was built using remaining parts), they were all prototypes, and as such, never truly a production car. 4 were sold to private clients, and 2 returned to AMC headquarters. Further, while Teague likely reached his design zenith with the AMX/3, they were assembled entirely overseas, only sporting an AMC-supplied 390 – so while they are an AMC in name, they really aren’t an AMC in engineer and build like the T/A Javelin. It’s a shame that these we never destined for the show room, based on cost and many other factors, but what a beauty they are! That is why I say they are the rarest street-legal AMC 🙂

    • Hi Joe,

      Thank you for the input!

      While the AMX/3 is certainly a rare AMC, the 6 built (or 7 if the purported rumors of another sample being constructed of spare parts are true), all were prototypes and never a "production" car, though designed to be street legal. Four were eventually sold to private collectors, two were returned to AMC’s headquarters, and the potential 7th remained in europe as legend goes. While the AMX/3 was likely Teague’s design zenith, the car was engineered and manufactured overseas, with an AMC-provided V-8 being AMC’s main contribution aside from the design. As such, while they were an AMC in name, they sadly weren’t an AMC in build like the T/A Javelin. It is such a shame that these never made the AMC showrooms and were only prototypes, but what a beauty they are! That is why I say the Javelin Trans-Am’s are the rarest street-legal AMC’s produced – they made it past prototype stage and onto AMC showroom floors and the streets!

      Best,

      Travis LaVine

  6. I’ve owned many Javelin’s there a mustang eater. Very well engineered. I owned a mark Donahue it was green with a hockey stick strip. I’ve taken a 15 mph corner at 40 mph I made it with out crashing. All I can say is that I had to change my shorts.

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