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AMC AMX - Funkified!

The George Barris Kustom AMX 400.

By Michael Yoksich, Photography by Michael Yoksich

In the early '70s, AMC's design vice president, Richard Teague, gave a white '69 AMX with a 390-inch engine and an automatic transmission to custom car designer George Barris with instructions to create a visionary vehicle that could be displayed at auto shows.

Without having to deal with safety or production issues, Barris was free to explore the lines of the original car. With its chopped roof and wildly extended front and rear fenders, the low and aggressive style proved to be a winner for car-magazine promotion and as a halo car to bring new customers into dealerships.

Barris had a reputation for building TV cars, such as the original Batmobile, the Koach from the series The Munsters, and later, the General Lee. The AMX 400 soon attracted the producers of the Banacek TV series. They were looking for a car to play an experimental vehicle called the Phoenix. The AMX 400 received a couple of dubious cardboard body modifications and was painted with temporary silver paint before appearing in the second Banacek episode titled "Project Phoenix" with A-Team star George Peppard.

When Barris got the AMX 400 back, the paint was removed, and it was restored to its former look. The car went on the road with the International Show Car Association (ISCA) and appeared at every major show around the country. That's when it got its reputation as the most photographed AMX in the world.

After the car-show tour, the AMX disappeared for a while before turning up in a museum in Nags Head, North Carolina. It was then sold into Tom Monaghan's Domino's Pizza collection. When Monaghan only had a few stores, he had red, white, and blue AMC Javelins for delivery cars. When his pizza franchises took off, he built a 244-car collection, bought the Detroit Tigers, and became the owner of the largest Frank Lloyd Wright collection in the world. Eventually, he decided to sell everything. He got rid of his cars, yachts, planes, and baseball team, and in 1999, he sold Domino's to Bain Capital.

Current owner Mike Geary found the car languishing at Totally Auto in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, where it was slowly being restored. After six months of negotiations with the owner, Geary became the new custodian of the treasure. The AMX only has 3,300 miles on it, and fortunately, it had been stored indoors for more than 30 years.

The original Joe Bailon paint was still intact but not in good enough condition to save, so sadly, Geary had to remove a paint job that had been applied by one of the true pioneers in custom painting. The new candy paint job was applied by Dave Tabacynski at Tabz Toyz in Lancaster, New York, who, with the help of Ron Lasker, finished restoring the car right before a visit to the 50th anniversary of AMC celebrated in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2004.

The car was then reunited with its creator in Detroit at the '05 Autorama. Barris was so impressed with the restoration that he invited Mike and Lin Geary to show the car with him at the Goodguys' 8th annual Nationals. Interest in the car spread quickly, and Geary received an offer to display the AMX 400 at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum's Hot Rods and Cool Mods exhibit, where it stayed until late 2006.

Geary's plans for the future include displaying the AMX 400, his '69 midengine hybrid AMX, and his stock '68 AMX in a restored car dealership. With that kind of exposure, I think it's only a matter of time till we see the AMX 400 on TV again; it might be on Barrett-Jackson.

By Michael Yoksich
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