Pro Commuter, the idea of mine that says that the daily driver does not have to openly suck out loud, is still a thing in my head. At least today’s flare-up has some merit instead of being some 1980s front-driver that is handsome enough but requires tons of love to make happen. In fact, the platform is old enough to date to the zenith of the first Musclecar era, it’s rear-drive, has a racing pedigree, a six-cylinder engine and enough tape stripes to make fans of disco rejoice. The target today is a 1980 AMC Spirit AMX, which is about as good as the AMC Gremlin was ever going to get. If the AMC Concord and Eagle were Hornets, the Spirit was the Gremlin…a bit shorter and a bit sportier, the Spirit did away with the funky tail-chopped look and gave the hatchback a more modern look that compares well enough to the Fox body. Underhood and all around, it’s basic American Motors: 258ci six, Chrysler-sourced TorqueCommand automatic trans, the like. They were supposed to be AMC’s last attempt at a performance machine, but between the “too little too late” problems that American Motors always had and the known age of the Hornet platform, the Spirit AMX was the last of the breed, all flares and stripes and the only positive notes that the car had involved the 1979 BFGoodrich team that ran these cars at the Nuburgring.
So, what about this AMX qualifies it as a Pro Commuter option and not an instant 304 swap candidate? Let’s talk about the 4.0L EFI Jeep mill. An evolution of the AMC six cylinder, the 4.0L powered Jeep through the 2000s. That gives you fuel injection and fresh mechanicals, and at least 190 horsepower, but maybe a mild stroker build should be considered for a reasonable 300+ horsepower goal. If the automatic is your thing, start hunting for an A500/42RH/42RE overdrive automatic or get busy tracking down a set of pedals for a manual trans swap. The rolling stock needs some attention, too. As cool as it would be to run the original Turbocast II wheels, we’d have to upgrade to American Racing Vectors just to get a 15″ wheel on the car properly.
AMC products aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but the Spirit AMX is a neat little looker and with the proper addition of power, like everything made in 1980 needs, you could wind up with a street-smart little mover that doesn’t need a V8 to be interesting. Keep the gearing highway-friendly and build up enough power to not need to floor it everywhere, and keep the paint polished so that when you park it next to the guy who drives a Prius because they are an eco-minded family, he dies that much more inside.