Car Craft
Click here to find out more!

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.

CC: How did you make the transition to road racing?
GD: My friend, Jeff Puras and I bought a '68 AMX road-race car in 1987 at a show. We decided to get it back in shape and then started racing it. We've been road racing ever since, and we actually do some instructing at various events.

CC: Was the plan for the Spirit to be a track car?
GD: No, I always intended it to be a street machine with track capabilities-it's basically just the way I envisioned back then, only better since there's better equipment available today.

CC: So you won't make the Spirit hairier?
GD: Probably not-we've still got the '68 AMX race car for more serious competition-it's an old SCCA B-Production car. We'll be running some vintage events with that car soon.

The Details

Car: '79 AMC Spirit GT

Owner: George Doughtie

Engine: AMC 401ci V-8 (bored to 410 ci), TRW forged pistons (10:1), factory forged AMC connecting rods, factory forged AMC crankshaft, internal oil feed line (for priority main-bearing oiling), Milodon road-race oil pan and "swing-out" pickup; machine work by Don Dixon, Norcross, GA

Heads: '77 AMC 401 iron castings, ported, bowls blended, combustion chambers enlarged (62cc) to un-shroud 2.08/1.74-inch TRW stainless valves (from a 440 Chrysler), and fitted with Crane valvesprings, retainers, and 1.6:1 roller rockers

Camshaft: Crane Powermax hydraulic flat-tappet (PN 864561), 0.538/0.563-inch lift and 232/242 degrees duration at 0.050-inch lift with Cloyes timing set

Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM Air Gap with Holley 750-cfm double-pumper fed by TRW/Carter mechanical pump

Exhaust: Hedman Hedders with 151/48-inch primary tubes and 3-inch collectors, 211/42-inch custom exhaust system using DynoMax Super Turbo mufflers

Power: 380 hp at 5,750 rpm and 480 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm

Transmission: Richmond five-speed manual (1:1 Fifth gear), Hurst shifter, McLeod flywheel, Hayes 10.85-inch clutch and pressure plate, Lakewood bellhousing

Rearend: AMC model 20 with 2.87:1 gears and Torsen limited-slip differential, stock AMC driveshaft

Front suspension: Stock AMC control arms with WSC Motorsports urethane bushings, WSC Motorsports coilover conversion using Carrera shocks and 600 lb-in springs, AMC 111/416-inch sway bar, GM/Saginaw fast-ratio power steering box (stock for Spirit GT)

Rear suspension: Stock AMC leaf springs with WSC Motorsports Carrera shocks and AMC 31/44-inch sway bar

Brakes: Stock AMC 10.5-inch disc, front; WSC Motorsports rear disc conversion

Wheels and tires: American Racing Torq Thrust D 15x7-inch front, 15x8.5-inch rear; BFGoodrich Comp T/A R1 P235/60R15 front, P255/60R15 rear

Paint: Original

Body modifications: Louvered hood, '79 AMX grille, front bumper removed

Best quarter-mile e.t.: 12.8 at 110 mph

Top speed: 148 mph observed

Cost to build: Approx. $10,000

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • View Full Article
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!
0 comments
Car Craft