Faster Than Big-Block Muscle: Amc Javelin 401, The First Police Pony Car
By the end of the muscle car frenzy in the early ’70s, America’s roads were overflowing with fast cars. Some had law-ignoring habits, and the police officers weren’t pleased. Carmakers had been assembling high-performance vehicles for law enforcement for decades. The big sedans with flashing lights and sirens began falling behind lightweight, big-block marauders.
In 1971, the state of Alabama had two issues to solve: the officials had to buy new cars for the state troopers, and they didn’t have heaps of money to make ends meet. Since the Big Three offers were out of reach, the Alabama Public Safety Department (ASPD) made a historic deal with American Motors Company.
The highway patrols were loaned one Javelin equipped with the smallest (and, therefore, cheapest) V8 engine – the 304 CID (five liters) two-barrel plant. The force officers quickly discarded the car as being too slow. A replacement test vehicle was then donated (and not loaned, like its predecessor), this time carrying the best AMC had to offer – the 401 CID (6.6-liter) four-barrel dual exhaust.
Not only was it financially suitable, but it was also crime-fightingly ideal. Field officers discovered – rather overenthusiastically – that nobody could outrun them anymore. As a result, 132 AMC Javelins became the first pony cars in the U.S. to serve and protect.
There are archived instances of high-speed chases in which monstrous big-blocks had to surrender unconditionally to the special Javelins of the ASPD.When I say “special,” I mean the performance primarily, as very little else was different about these cars from the civilian version. The police decals and the beacon were striking identity marks, and so was the rear spoiler from the AMX.
Interestingly, its main purpose wasn’t aerodynamics enhancement, but rather more informational. The vast and almost flat area was perfect for displaying “State | Trooper” on the back of the car. The drivetrain was about as standard as it got. Apart from the radio, the siren, and the gumball beacon on the hood, the Alabama highway patrol car wasn’t different from its general public variant.
The engine was powerful enough to destroy tires at a headache-inducing rate (for the state accountants, anyway). The Chrysler-provided automatic transmission could grind its gears for hours without batting an eyelid. The powerplant was so angry it could starve itself of oil during extensive high-speed sessions (well over 100 mph / 160 kph) that would last more than an hour.
At first glance, the engine wasn’t scale-tipping impressive in absolute numbers, with a net output of 255 hp (259 ps) and 345 lb-ft (468 Nm). But the car only weighed 1.3 tons, and the three-speed Torque-Command gearbox worked wonders. The 2.87 rear also helped with high-speed numbers.
The Alabama officers were delighted to discover that their newly-acquired two-door AMCs had no rival anywhere in the state. The speedometers of the police Javelins were standard, reading 140 mph (225 kph).
Fun fact – demonstrated by official testing then: the actual speed was about 10 mph (16 kph) under what the needle claimed. Funnier fact: the 401-equipped ASPD cars were regularly driven beyond that maximum threshold on the dash gauge.
Several duty reports testify that the fast Javelins clocked north of 150 mph (240 kph) during pursuits. One isolated instance even claims a higher score – a buck-seventy, obtained on the Talladega Speedway. 170 mph (274 kph) in a car with regular, civilian-available gear!
A retired ASPD Captain, Robert Applin from Dothan, Alabama, once recalled the story: “(I) also ran down a full house ‘71 Chevy 454 from Abbeville to Blue Springs. Caught him before we got to Blue Springs, but finally forced him off the road at the top of the hill on the west side of Blue Springs, got him out of his car, stuffed him into the Javelin, then called in and told the station I had him in custody. The whole chase lasted 6 minutes. I turned around on him at the roadside tables just west of Abbeville. The distance was 13 miles. Dispatchers log shows the times of the call-ins.”
Let’s do the math: 13 miles (20.9 kilometers) in six minutes. Multiply by 10, and we get 130 miles in sixty minutes – or 130 mph (209 kph) average speed for that chase. Average, but we must factor in that the police car “turned around on him,” caught up with the suspect, pulled him over, and called the dispatch.
Remember, the officer had to turn his car around, accelerate, reel in the culprit, pull it over, and call it in. If only one minute out of the six was spent on something other than the high-speed chase, we would get a rough estimate of around 156 mph (251 kph). Not too bad for a low-budget police car from Alabama.
Tell-tale legends even claim that police officers would crash street racing events (legal ones) and prank the participants. “If you can get away from me, I’ll let you go without a ticket,” was the laugh of the day, allegedly. But nobody did get away. The AMC Javelin 401 was simply too fast.
Only 132 cars were ever built for the Alabama Public Safety Department, and the vehicles had a rough life (catching ‘shine-runners wasn’t a white-collar affair in the deep South of the seventies). Survivors from that era are few and far between. All of these rare birds are either restored or rust buckets.
The Texas-based classics rescuer Dennis Collins recently discovered one from the former category. The car – already in great shape after a 15-year-long refurbishment – will get a by-the-book professional restoration. We can only wait to see how the historic Javelin emerges, especially since it already is one of the best-looking police force AMCs known to exist. The last photo in the gallery shows this car before the arduous renovation.