Story by Jack Koobs de Hartog and Jürgen M. Wilms. Current photos by Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy Gooding and Co.
Much has been written about the genesis of the AMX/3 program and it is widely reported that the car’s design was the result of a competition between Dick Teague and Giorgetto Giugiaro, that Giotto Bizzarrini and Salvatore Diomante engineered and built the actual prototypes, and that BMW helped test the cars. Teague’s, Bizzarrini’s and Diomante’s respective contributions are well publicized, but the same is not true for Giugiaro and BMW. So when we started to research the history of the AMX/3 prototype No. 2, the car that was famously tested in Monza in 1970, we wanted to know more about the role of Giorgetto Giugiaro and ItalDesign and about the actual involvement of BMW.
Dick Teague and his team won the design competition…
In 1967, a new leadership team was appointed at American Motors Corporation (AMC) with a mandate to turn around the money-losing company and regain lost market share. Installed in January 1967, Roy D. Chapin jr. (52, chairman), William von Luneburg (55, president), and Gerald C. Meyers (39, VP automotive development and manufacturing) decided to revive the AMC brand by focusing the company’s products and marketing activities on “performance.” As part of this push, Meyers championed the idea of building a mid-engined sports car. In May 1967 he gave Richard “Dick” Teague, the head of design at American Motors, and Bob Nixon, his chief designer, the go-ahead to propose a mid-engined prototype. The resulting fiberglass mockup was called AMX/2 and it convinced AMC management of the idea to actually build a mid-engined sports car.
However, they insisted on a design competition between Giorgetto Giugiaro and the in-house design team under Teague. In March 1968, Meyers and Teague went to the Geneva Motor Show to meet Giorgetto Giugiaro and to ask him for a proposal. For this important competition, Dick Teague decided to present an improved design, the AMX/3. The actual design team included Bob Nixon, Jack Kenitz, Eric Kugler, Dick Jones and Gary Guichard plus clay modelers Chuck Hosper, Keith Goodnough, and Howard Clark.
Giorgetto Giugiaro, who was the hottest automotive designer at that time and who had recently co-founded ItalDesign, presented a rather crude Styrofoam proposal that arrived at AMC headquarters in November 1968. In Giugiaro’s defense one only needs to look at how many other groundbreaking projects he was involved in at the time. Maybe he also realized right away that for Dick Teague he was never supposed to be more than a token contender. Whatever the case, Giugiaro’s proposal lost spectacularly against a fully developed fiberglass mock up of the AMC design team. And with that – it is commonly reported – Giugiaro’s involvement in the AMX/3 program ended.
…but ItalDesign was involved in the engineering of the AMX/3
Parallel to the design competition, AMC was looking for ways to outsource the engineering and production of the new car. Wilhelm Karmann GmbH of Osnabrück, Germany, who since 1968 had been assembling CKD (completely knocked down) kits of AMC Javelins for European distribution, were considered the prime candidate for production of the AMX/3. BMW, with whom AMC was in talks about other cooperation projects, declined an inquiry to execute the engineering and cited a lack of engineering resources (BMW estimated they needed 30 to 32 engineers for one year). Instead, upon recommendation of Renzo Carli (managing director and son-in-law of Pininfarina), Giotto Bizzarrini was tasked to do the basic engineering – probably some time in late November / early December 1968.
Bizzarrini, who had recently lost his company due to bankruptcy, approached this unique opportunity with his usual fervor and tenacity. During our research, KONI, the Dutch shock absorber experts chosen by Bizzarrini, provided us with scans of the original technical drawings which Bizzarrini brought to his first meetings with KONI engineers in late 1968. A geometric calculation of the car’s weight and center of gravity and a drawing of the front shocks carry the date of December 5, 1968. Drawings for the front springs are dated Christmas Eve / December 24, 1968 and those for the rear springs and shock absorber are dated January 30, 1969. As usual, the quality of Bizzarrini’s work was excellent: His geometric calculation of the car’s center of gravity predicted a total dry weight of 1473kg. A weight check of the Monza Test Car in 2015 showed a weight of 1522kg, including about 50kg of fuel.
But even Bizzarrini’s brilliance, unusual commitment, and incredibly hard work could not have matched the combined efforts of 30 BMW engineers. It is unrealistic that Bizzarrini alone would have been able to do all the required engineering work in the short time span between December 1968 and June 1969 when the first finished prototype was sent to BMW for testing. Also, Bizzarrini did not have much experience with unibody designs like the AMX/3.
Instead, Giugiaro’s firm ItalDesign was part of the team – a fact that Dick Teague most surely would not have wanted to be known publicly and that has been missed by most automotive writers and historians. In an interview by the Italian auto magazine „L’Automobile“ with the founders of ItalDesign (August 1971) they were asked: “What do you consider the debut [year] of ItalDesign?” Luciano Bosio, one of the founders, responded:
“The first public presentation took place with a prototype built in collaboration with Engineer Bizzarrini. The car was the Manta, at the Turin Auto Salon 1968. There were already other projects since ItalDesign had begun its official activities, but as you know such are the contracts with industrial customers that they almost always stipulate strictest confidence: Therefore our work often takes place in the shadow. There are numerous cars of which no one will ever know that they were designed in our studios. However, if you want to talk about our debut in the strict sense, this happened at the Turin Auto Salon in 1969. We presented then a prototype built on the frame of the Alfa Romeo 33: the Iguana and the same year a prototype coupe built for Abarth, in fact the 1600, and in April the following year American Motors introduced in Rome the AMX/3, a mid-engined sports car designed in Detroit, but for which we had planned the first prototypes for bench and road testing.”
It is not by chance that the journalist’s question was answered by Luciano Bosio, the founder in charge of “methods and tools.” A black-and-white publicity card from ItalDesign shows the raw body of an AMX/3 on a test bed for static and dynamic rigidity testing, hinting at the fact that ItalDesign had a major role in developing and bench testing the AMX/3’s unibody chassis. From its inception, ItalDesign was set up to provide not just design but end-to-end design and engineering services to develop and build complete cars. The AMX assignment took advantage of one of the company’s core competencies.
It is not clear what the exact division of labor between Bizzarrini and ItalDesign was, nor who hired whom. In an interview in the August 1983 issue of the Dutch magazine Auto Selekt, Salvatore Diomante, who was involved in the fabrication of the prototypes, remembers that it was Karmann who commissioned ItalDesign to manage the project and that it was in turn Giugiaro who commissioned Bizzarrini to develop the chassis for the first car. In a scenario where Karmann was initially the designated builder, it seems plausible that they insisted on bringing in ItalDesign to do the detail engineering and to get the car ready for production. Incidentally, in the same Auto Selekt article, Salvatore Diomante specifically mentions that he delivered two more “naked” chassis to ItalDesign “who had to adapt the radii” – apparently to be able to use large presses and stamped sheet metal for the cars (AMC initially forecast 1,000 units per year). According to Diomante, he and Bizzarrini later outfitted these two chassis with mechanical components and completed them.
The car shown on the above ItalDesign publicity card is the No. 2 prototype, the car that was tested in Monza in 1970.
BMW: from quality cop to development partner
BMW had turned down AMC’s request to do the engineering for the AMX/3, but discussions about other potential forms of cooperation between the two companies had continued, among them BMW’s interest in finding a North American production facility for its successful BMW 2002 model. Management felt that it would help negotiations along to respond to an AMC request and help with the evaluation of the AMX/3 prototypes. In March 1969, BMW and AMC signed a DM 1.5 million contract to test the quality of the Italian prototypes and verify its performance (among others, a target top speed of 160 MPH). Following standard protocol, BMW launched an internal development project and gave it the next sequential number – which made it E18 (“Entwicklungsprojekt 18”).
Years later, Giotto Bizzarrini remembered that the first AMX/3 prototype was delivered to BMW around June 1969. No official documentation is available from the tests that BMW performed and a recent inquiry to the BMW museum in Munich yielded the rather uncharacteristic response that BMW had “nothing in the archives” about the E18 program. However, through the relentless research of Wolfgang Blaube, a German journalist and automotive historian, excerpts of test and development reports have come to light, chronicling BMW’s path from uncompromising quality cop to constructive development partner of the AMX/3.
BMW engineers initially found the frame (of the tested prototype No. 1) much too weak and flexible. Flexing of the lower frame rails near the front pivot points of the rear A-arms under hard braking and acceleration was such that it badly affected the car’s rear suspension and steering geometry. Welding spots / seams on the frame rails and the suspension pivot points on the chassis were undersized and of inferior quality, leading to burst seams and broken welding spots. Prototype No. 1 clearly had severe shortcomings.
It is likely that BMW’s findings made their way back to AMC, Bizzarrini, and ItalDesign. As a point of speculation, it is possible that it was this crisis that prompted ItalDesign (incidentally, in association with the Polytechnic University of Turin) to conduct it own state-of-the-art rigidity testing which is pictured on the above publicity card.
After improvements were made and incorporated in the next prototype, a final test report, dated December 5, 1969, on the torsional rigidity “of prototype No. 2” noted that the AMX/3 had a 50 percent higher stiffness compared to a benchmark Mercedes-Benz (!) model.
BMW testers also noted a “soft response” of the Girling brake system. Not content with this finding, BMW engineers decided to depart from their narrow brief and to actively help improve the car: They scheduled an exchange of the Girling system on prototype No. 1 with German ATE components. The work was performed at Alfred Teves (ATE) between October 15-23, 1969, and included the installation of a larger master cylinder, dual vacuum operated brake boosters T50-29-11 (subsequent cars were to receive single T51 boosters), four-piston calipers M4-40 and ventilated discs in the front, and twin L38 two-piston calipers in the rear. The handbrake handle was taken from a BMW E3/E9 (Bavaria/CS coupé).
Further BMW input can be seen in the hydraulic clutch system. Due to unsatisfactory performance, BMW engineers initiated the installation of a larger slave cylinder from the BMW E3/E9 (Bavaria/CS coupé). The exhaust system also shows signs of BMW’s involvement. The custom pre- and final silencers were developed under special order SK 5998.01 and SK 5998.02 by Friedrich Boysen GmbH & Co. KG of Altensteig, Germany. Engineers at Boysen kindly provided us with scans of the original production drawings for these commissions. These are dated July 25, 1969, raising the question whether the first prototype was delivered to BMW with an unacceptable exhaust system or no exhaust at all. Interestingly the two surviving drawings from the archives of Boysen show different project names: one uses “BMW E18”, the other “AMX Karmann.”
With German precision and rigidity, BMW also subjected most individual chassis, suspension, and steering components to their usual merciless rigidity and wear-and-tear testing. Examples included brackets for smog equipment (“sufficient, but manufacturing quality does not convince”), Pitman arm, rear suspension upright (“designed strength ok, test specimen broke due to low-quality casting”), drive shafts, A-arm anchor points on the chassis, steering joints, front springs, brackets for front brake calipers, front steering upright and stub axle, front rubber bump stops / spring (“unsatisfactory”). Each test was properly recorded; results were summarized, and signed off all the way up the chain of command.
It is not clear at what point BMW had fulfilled its contractual obligation vis-à-vis American Motors. The last available test & development report, dated April 10, 1970, makes mention of the fact that a number of components could not be properly tested, “due to lack of test specimens / cancellation of the development program by AMX [probably a typo] as per [BMW] internal note dated January 7, 1970”. From the German wording one cannot be sure whether the authors refer to a cancellation of BMW’s testing contract or an overall cancellation of the AMX/3 program. Either way, this date was two months before the March 1970 press unveiling of the prototype in March in Rome and its appearance at the new York Auto Show in April 1970 – leaving plenty of room for even more speculation on the events that led to the cancellation of the AMX/3 program.
One of the best teams ever built a world-class contender
Certainly, the demise of the AMX/3 program cannot be blamed on either the Italians or the Germans. Bizzarrini, Diomante, and ItalDesign performed a miracle given both the time and resource constraints that they had to work under. They were given a show car shape and asked to fit in a massive American V-8, a full-sized driver, a 90-liter tank, and all the other mechanicals and functionality of a state-of-the-art sports car. As designed by AMC, the car was too short to fit the industry-standard ZF transaxle. Bizzarrini had to convince his former employer, OTO Melara, to develop a custom transaxle in record time. BMW’s German supplier Boysen had to come to the rescue with a rather daring configuration in order to fit a dual exhaust system into the impossibly short tail section of the car.
Real-life testing of the cars showed that the AMC designers were unfamiliar with the typical thermal challenges of mid-engined cars. How to pass massive amounts of cooling air through a frontal radiator, the size of which is limited by the desire for a sleek, pointy nose section? How to avoid heating up the cabin and sucking hot air into the cabin, when exhaust air from the radiator is passed over the front hood? How to extract large amounts of heat (dissipated by the engine, headers, and exhaust mufflers) from an engine bay that – due to the mid-engine layout – is shielded from the flow of cooling air by the passenger compartment? How to move as many as possible heavy components to the front, in order to balance out the large mass of the combined engine-transaxle-unit? The evolution of the prototypes – particularly the No. 2 Monza test car – shows how the Italians managed to overcome many of these problems with simple but effective solutions, drawing on years of practical experience. Arguably, only the combined brilliance of Bizzarrini, Diomante and ItalDesign could have achieved such an outstanding result under such limiting circumstances.
As far as BMW is concerned, it was certainly a somewhat unfair mismatch to unleash the corporate might of its development and testing organization onto the product of the severely under-resourced Italian team. Understandably, BMW drivers and engineers could not show any mercy in testing and evaluating AMC’s new sports car. But at some point they must have become impressed and intrigued, and the fun of designing a super sports car began to outweigh their professional skepticism. That was the moment when the engineers at BMW went beyond the letter of their contract and decided to help improve the AMX/3 by using their know how and their industry connections in Germany. Still today, their impact can be seen on the prototypes.
The AMX/3 was created by one of the best automotive design and engineering teams ever. Looking at how well prototype No. 2 (the Monza test car) performed, there is no doubt, that the team of Bizzarrini, Giugiaro/ItalDesign, Diomante, and BMW would most certainly have overcome all of the car’s teething problems and made the AMX/3 a world-class contender among the mid-engined super car elite of its time.
The authors would like to express particular gratitude for their contributions to Wolfgang Blaube (Hamburg, Germany), Jerry N. Werden (Indianapolis, IN), Friedrich Boysen GmbH (Altensteig, Germany), KONI BV (Oud-Beijerland, Netherlands).
Selected bibliography of the AMX/3 program
Zinn II, C. L. AMX Photo Archive – from concept to reality. Hudson, WI: Iconografix, 2012. Print
Koobs de Hartog, Jack. Bizzarrini – le mie Vetture, la mia Vita – my Cars, my Life. Opoeteren, Belgium: self published. Print
Massagrande, Carlo. L’A(MX 3) di Giotto. Auto Sprint No. 13, March 30 1970: page 24. Print
La Terza AMX. Quattroruote No. 4, April 1970: page 70. Print
American Motors Pull a Fast One. Autocar April 23, 1970: page 56. Print
Ludvigsen, Karl. AMX/3. Motortrend No. 6, June 1970: pages 48 – 50, 108, 110, 112. Print
Coltrin, Pete. AMC Mid-Engined Coupe – A fast answer to the de Tomaso from American Motors and Giotto Bizzarrini. Road & Track No. 6, June 1970. Print
Ludvigsen, Karl. Kraft im Zentrum. Auto Motor Sport No. 14, July 4, 1970: pages 66 – 67. Print
F.M.P. American Motors «Sciabola Bizzarrini». Quattroruote No.1, January 1971. Print
Sagona, Pier Luigi. Non Produce né Vende Automobili – Incontro con L’Ital Design. L’Automobile (Speciale) 7-8, July / August 1971: pages 26 – 32. Print
Ackerson, Robert C. Change of an Image: Behind the Scenes at AMC with the AMX and the Javelin. Automobile Quarterly Volume XIX, No. 1 First Quarter 1981: pages 3 – 13. Print
Oude Weernink, Wim. AMX 3 – De Dood van een Project. Auto Selekt No. 8, 1983: pages 21 – 25. Print
Mimbs, James. Yankee Doodle. Classic & Sports Car No. 6, June 1989: pages 46 – 49. Print
Bird II, David W. Dick Teague – Automotive Renaissance Man. Automobile Quarterly Volume XXX, No. 2 Winter 1992: pages 4 – 19. Print
Lamm, Michael. Mid-engined Marvel – Inside the Audacious AMX/3. Automobile Quarterly Volume XXXXI, No. 3 Winter 2001: pages 5 – 17. Print
Blaube, Wolfgang. Akte X. Oldtimer Markt No. 4, April 2011: pages 42 – 49. Print
[Editor’s Note: The AMX/3 at the center of this article (chassis number WTDO 363 2/55/55) will cross the block as part of Gooding’s Scottsdale auction, scheduled for January 20-21, with a pre-auction estimate of $900,000 to $1.3 million.]
UPDATE (23.January 2017): The AMX/3 sold for a fee-inclusive price of $891,000.44 Comments | Leave a Reply