Amid the lovelies seeking shade at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed rally paddock, you’ll encounter a deliciously varied array of classics. Some, like the Lancia Fulvia, Ford Escort, Subaru Impreza, Mini Cooper and Ford RS200 are larger than life rally heroes, permanently etched into history for their contribution to motorsport. Others, well, others aren’t so obvious.
The American Motors AMX, for example. This underdog of the pony / muscle car wars of the late sixties is no stranger to motorsport, particularly that which is played a quarter mile at a time. But I was unaware of it having any rally heritage to speak of. Throw “AMC AMX rally car” into Google (other search engines are available, but not really worth bothering with), and your results list will pretty much boil down to one car — the machine in these pictures.
Now this is really something. The category it features at Goodwood under, namely “the birth of stage rallying” is a bit of a stretch for this particular car, because it was only built up as a rally car with one specific mission in mind: to complete the 8,500-mile Peking to Paris rally in 2016. And it did. It didn’t win, but it only took 17 hours longer than the Datsun 240Z that won.
The history of the race is outlined in Wikipedia, with its inception credited to the Le Matin newspaper of Paris in. “What needs to be proved today is that as long as a man has a car, he can do anything and go anywhere. Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?” This was the challenge set by Le Matin in 1907, and a race was swiftly organised to meet it. The rules? There were no rules. But there was a magnum of Champagne to win, along with all the honour and satisfaction the victor could handle.
The Peking to Paris rally has been restaged on numerous occasions, always varying a little from the original for reasons of practicality. The important thing, though, is that the steely resolve required for such feats of endurance is alive and well. What’s more, its participants display a healthy eccentricity, if this home-brew rally AMX is anything to go by.
The reason for rally veterans Jim Valentine and Jonathan Lodge’s choice of an AMX was, simply, because they fancied it. They were fixed on participating in the ‘classics’ category, and hankered for something American and cool, and the compact nature of the AMX, along with its promising mechanical package, seemed to fit the bill. Even if the two Brits admit to having never heard of the car before they saw this one. Hey, we’ll forgive them that — because they built this.
It’s worth visiting their website, p2pamx.co.uk, for a thoroughly amusing account of the build and subsequent competition.
With 8,500 punishing miles under its belt in 278 hours, 4 minutes and 21 seconds, the Goodwood Forest Rally Stage ought not tax the AMX too harshly, and its big, lazy 390ci V8 (despite the 343 badges) sounded like it was far from getting a sweat on. What’s more; although the sexily abbreviated AMX (in both senses of the word) was quite petite compared to its immediate rivals, it’s still a big old beast by the standards of the Goodwood paddock.
Its appearance as it rumbled and leaned its way around the track, not so much scrabbling for grip as squirming for traction, was a treat for the senses. And once again, deepened my longing for a time when rally cars didn’t all follow the same formula. Rallying today would be much more interesting with a little more variety.
(Images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2018)