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1979 AMC Spirit GT - The Spirit Of Kenosha

George Doughtie's Road Racing AMC

Photography by Henry De Los Santos, Terry McGean

The AMC contingent of our hobby is a passionate one-we know this from experience. Over the years, we've also learned that the AMC engine can be made into a bona-fide contender in the horsepower wars, though this is usually proven in a straight line. George Doughtie has long had faith in the potential of AMC's products, but he takes it further than most, proving it regularly on a road course.

We met George after he applied for Car Craft's 2003 Real Street Eliminator effort. Naturally, the presence of an entry from American Motors piqued our collective interest, but it was tough to take it seriously. A two-seat AMX from the glory days of the musclecar era would have seemed more apropos, but a Spirit? This was one of the last gasps from Kenosha before the legacy of Nash turned to dust. Upon closer inspection however, the Spirit begins to look good on paper. The platform is the same as most AMC passenger cars from the early '70s, and the wheelbase of the two-door models is about the same as an early AMX. Plus, one of the few benefits of the penny-pinching early-'80s engineering was lightweight components like aluminum bumpers and thin-gauge body panels. Aesthetically, the Spirit was probably the most contemporary-looking car to roll out of Kenosha since those early AMXs.

George had already road-raced vintage AMC race cars and had tinkered with the V-8 engines, so he knew that a Spirit street machine could be the ultimate "late-model" AMC (he bought it in 1986). The Spirit he procured was perfect, and fairly rare. Believe it or not, the factory actually offered a GT package for this line, though many of the cars built had straight-sixes. George's Spirit was a factory V-8 with a four-speed and the base-level trim.

The original 304 was swapped for a 401 from a '77 Jeep Wagoneer, which was basically a bolt-in deal since all AMC V-8s share the same external dimensions. George rebuilt the 401 after having it bored 0.030-over, yielding 410 ci. The TRW pistons create 10:1 compression with the stock heads, which have been ported and fitted with stainless 2.08/1.74-inch valves, spec'd for a Mopar. The factory bottom end is already forged, and the whole deal breathes through a Holley carb on an Edelbrock Air-Gap intake and Hedman Hedders to 211/42-inch duals.

One of the most impressive aspects of this Spirit is that it relies almost entirely on AMC hardware to do its tricks. Even the rear axle is factory issue, though George recently traded the stock Twin-Grip limited-slip with a vintage Torsen unit after the stocker failed him during RSE. Without the benefit of the limited slip, George still managed to whittle his autocross times all the way down to second best of our pack. Years spent as a performance-driving instructor no doubt helped. Although dragstrip performance during RSE was also hampered by the ailing rearend, the Spirit has turned high 12s previously.

AMC or not, George's Spirit represents exactly what we're often striving for: a traditional American V-8-powered rear-drive car that combines key factory components with select pieces of aftermarket equipment to yield a vehicle that performs exceptionally well in multiple arenas. The fact that this particular car achieves those goals using mostly AMC hardware, and does it for only about $10,000, is almost enough to make us start scanning the "A" section of the classifieds.

Car Craft Q&ACar Craft: How did you get into AMCs initially?
George Doughtie: In 1980 I bought a '69 SC/Rambler that only had 600 miles. It had been a drag car and needed to be completely restored. I liked it because it was unique, and with a 390 in such a little car, it had to be fast. I joined clubs and really got into the AMC hobby.

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