The Javelin can be classified into two generations: 1968 to 1970 (with a distinct 1970) and 1971 to 1974. Javelins competed successfully in Trans-Am racing and won the series with AMC sponsorship in 1971, 1972, and independently in 1975.
The Javelin was a production version of one of the AMX prototypes shown around the USA during the 1966 AMX project tour. It debuted in 1968. Available engines were a straight-six and three V8s. The optional "Go Package" included a four-barrel carbureted V8, power front disc brakes, dual exhausts, and wide tires. The SST trim level gave a greater degree of luxury. In mid-1968 the AMX engine was offered as a Javelin option. Its impressive and of torque could send the Javelin from zero-to-sixty  in the seven-second range. A “Big Bad” paint (neon brilliant blue, orange and green) option was available on Javelins starting in mid-1969 and through 1970. The “Mod Javelin” Package was also introduced mid-year in 1969 and included an unusual roof mounted spoiler and twin blacked-out simulated air scoops on the hood. American Motors supported the AMX and Javelin with a "Group 19" range of dealer-installed performance accessories. These included a dual four-barrel cross-ram intake manifold, a high performance camshaft kit, needle-bearing roller rocker arms and dual-point ignition.
Road & Track compared the Javelin favorably to its competitors on its introduction in 1968, describing the "big, heavy, super-powerful engine" as "an asset in such a small vehicle", and the styling as "pleasant." The disc/drum brakes and the non-power-assisted "quick-steering" option were criticized. Many journalists also complained about AMC’s safety-style interior, saying it was dull or bland.
Also offered was the AMC AMX, a shortened, two-seat version of the first-generation Javelin.
The Javelin's first Trans-Am attempt was in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1968. Starting in January, two Javelins were prepared by Kaplan Engineering with engines by Traco Engineering. Power was provided by the basic V8 that was bored out to . Ronnie Kaplan recalls that "... we never had enough time to properly develop the Javelins because of our time factor and most of our testing and development took place at the race track." Starting with a 68-car field, only 36 cars finished, with Peter Revson and Skip Scott driving one of the Javelins to 12th overall and 5th in the O-class, a "remarkable" performance considering the program was initiated so quickly. For the 1968 season, although the Javelins finished in third place, AMC established a record by being the only manufacturer's entry to finish every Trans-Am race entered.
The 1970 Javelins featured a new front end design with a wide "twin-venturi" front grille and a longer hood, as well as a new rear end with as well as full-width taillamps with a single center mounted backup light. This was a one-rear only design. Underneath the restyle was a new double-wishbone front suspension featuring ball joints, upper and lower control arms, coil springs, and shock absorbers above the upper control arms, as well as trailing struts on the lower control arms.
The engine lineup for 1970 was changed with the introduction of two new V8 engines: a base and an optional to replace the 290 and the 343 versions. The top optional continued, but it was upgraded to new heads with 51 cc combustion chambers increasing power to (. The code remained "X" for the engine on the vehicle identification number (VIN). Also new was the “power blister” hood with two large openings that were a functional cold ram-air induction system that was included with the "Go Package" option. The "Go Package" with the four-barrel engines was selected by many buyers and it also included front disk brakes, dual exhaust system, heavy-duty suspension with anti-sway bar, and performance tires with white letters on styled wheels.
The interiors were also a one-year design featuring a broad new dashboard and bucket seats with clam shell integral headrests.
Among the special models during 1970 was the Mark Donohue Javelin SST. A total of 2,501 were built to homologate the Donohue-designed, and emblazoned with his signature, rear spoiler. These were designed for Trans Am racing.
An estimated 50 Trans-Am Javelins were also produced. The cars not only featured the front and rear spoilers, but were painted in AMC racing team's distinctive red, white, and blue paint scheme.
Three Javelin series were offered: the base model, the SST, and the AMX.
The car was restyled in 1971 to incorporate the integral roof spoiler and fender bulges from earlier Javelins racing in the Trans-Am Series. The media criticized the revised fenders (originally designed to accommodate oversized racing tires) as "...like the Corvette, but less graceful..." AMC offered a choice of engines and transmissions. Engines included a I6 and a four-barrel AMC V8 with high compression ratio, forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods engineered for 8000 rpm.
Racing versions competed successfully in the Trans-Am Series with the Penske Racing/Mark Donohue team, as well as with the Roy Woods ARA team sponsored by American Motors Dealers. The Javelin won the Trans-Am title in 1971, 1972, and 1975. Drivers included George Follmer and Mark Donohue, the latter lending his name and signature to a limited-edition 1970 Javelin-SST model with a special rear spoiler of his own design.
From 1971 the AMX was no longer available as a two-seater. It evolved into a premium High-Performance edition of the Javelin. The new Javelin-AMX incorporated several racing modifications and AMC advertised it as “the closest thing you can buy to a Trans-Am champion.” The car had a stainless steel mesh screen over the grille opening, a fiberglass full width cowl induction hood, and spoilers front and rear for high-speed traction. The performance-upgrade "Go Package" included the choice of a 360 or 401 4-barrel engine; also "Rally-Pac" instruments, handling package for the suspension, limited-slip “Twin-Grip” differential, heavy-duty cooling, power disk brakes, white-letter E60x15 Goodyear Polyglas tires on 15x7-inch styled slotted steel wheels, T-stripe hood decal and a blacked-out rear taillight panel.
A journalist who road-tested cars for an American auto magazine in the 1970s recalls the 1971 Javelin-AMX as "arguably the worst-built muscle car I have ever driven ... Decal stipes peeled off, loose knobs on the dash dropped off...loose carpeting pulled up, the front grille was barely attached." Also an entire rear wheel and brake assembly sheared off as the test car pulled away from a light, which could "have been fatal had it occurred...while cruising on the highway." The car ran the quarter mile in 14.60 seconds at 98 mph, "respectable for 1971, but certainly nowhere near the top rung of muscle cars.
During the 1972 and 1973 model years 4,152 Javelins were produced with a special interior option designed by fashion design Pierre Cardin (official on-sale date was March 1, 1972). It has a multi-colored pleated stripe pattern in tones of Chinese red, plum, white, and silver on a black background. Six multi-colored stripes, in a tough satin-like nylon with a stain-resistant silicone finish, run from the front seats, up the doors, onto the headliner, and down to the rear seats. The fabric for the seat faces was produced for AMC by Chatham Mills, a veteran maker of interior fabrics. Cardin's crest appeared on the front fenders. MSRP of the option was US$84.95. The trend for fashion designers doing special interiors still continues, but Cardin's continues to be the “most daring and outlandish.”
American Motors achieved record sales in 1972 by focusing on quality and including an innovative “Buyer Protection Plan” to back its products. This was the first time an automaker promised to repair anything wrong with the car (except for tires) for one year or 12,000 miles. Owners were provided with a toll-free telephone to AMC, as well as a free loaner car if a repair to their car took overnight. One commentator has said that “[d]espite the Javelin's “great lines and commendable road performance, it never quite matched the competition in the sales arena ... primarily because the small independent auto maker did not have the reputation and/or clout to compete with GM, Ford, and Chrysler.”
By 1974, Chrysler abandoned the pony car market. Whereas Ford replaced its original Mustang with a smaller four-cylinder version, and other pony car manufacturers also downsized engines, the Javelin's big engine option continued until the production of the model ended in October/November 1974 amidst the Arab oil embargo and overall declining interest in high performance vehicles. American Motors also needed a manufacturing line to build its all-new AMC Pacer.
Chicago Sun-Times auto editor Dan Jedlicka says that the Javelin, which he describes as "beautifully sculpted" and "one of the best-looking cars of the 1960s", is "finally gaining the respect of collectors, along with higher prices. The first generation Javelin has also been described as a "fun and affordable American classic with a rich racing pedigree and style that will always stand out from the omnipresent packs of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler pony cars. The basic version of the car does not command the high prices of some other muscle cars and pony cars. However, in its day the car sold in respectable numbers, regularly outselling both the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Challenger so popular today.
1971 through 1974 AMX versions command higher prices, according to collector-car price guides.
There are many active AMC automobile clubs, including for owners interested in racing in vintage events. The Javelin shared numerous mechanical, body, and trim parts with other AMC models, and there are vendors specializing in new old stock (NOS) as well as reproduction components.
The 1971 AMC Javelin has the following specifications: