James Cerepak has been a hot rodder almost his whole life. Literally. “I’ve been a gearhead since I was old enough to clutch a screwdriver,” he said.
So when he was 15, he bought a 1974 AMC Javelin, in pretty rough shape, for $1500. Six years later, it’s a beautifully restored classic muscle car.
Rebuilding an AMC certainly isn’t as easy as a Ford or Chevy. I asked James why he chose one.
“When I was a kid I was interested in everything,” he told me. “GM, Ford, Dodge. But mainly Jeep. That’s what my dad was into. He still is. I started digging into AMCs.”
At first, James was looking for a 1970s Chevelle, but he couldn’t find one for a good price. Then he found this Javelin for sale in Northern California.
“For some wierd, odd reason,” James said. “I looked at it and I said, ‘That’s the car.’”
Take a look at the before and after pictures above and you can see it was beat up. Nothing worked on it. The car was in one family for years, passed down from a grandmother to her grandson. James bought it from a farmer who got it from the grandson. After a 12 hour round trip to pick it up, James rolled the Javelin into the carport and started taking it apart that same night.
He pulled the engine and put it aside for later – remember, he didn’t even have his driver’s license yet – and set out to fix the body.
“What I really enjoy doing is body work,” James said. “The body was my main priority as far as getting it laser straight, getting it clean, making sure there was no rust, and that the car was safe to put back on the road.”
There was very little rust on the car, but both front fenders were trashed and had to be replaced. With the functional cowl induction hood he found, James ended up replacing the entire front clip.
But the biggest job on the body was the rear quarter panel on the driver’s side. It had been caved in from the door edge to the middle of the rear wheel, covering an area 8″ above and below the center body line.
“I had to take all the internal structure out of the body,” James said, “and hammer and dolly the body panel out and fix the lines. I probably had about 60 hours fixing that one body panel instead of cutting it out and replacing it. It was a lot of eyeballing and sanding.”
In the very few places bondo was needed, it is so light that a magnet still sticks to the body. “I was a huge stickler about that,” James told me. “I do not like body filler.”
James matched everything up so that the body panels were lined up and the gaps were all correct. As a result of his hard work, the car is all original sheet metal from the doors back. The entire underside of the car still has the original undercoating, with no signs of dirt or rust coming through it – one of the benefits of the car living its entire life in California.
It was during his senior year in high school when the car was ready for paint, and James had it repainted the original F7 Dark Metallic Blue. He loves the way it’s turned out.
“That was a one year only paint color on Javelins,” he said. “It’s my favorite color and depending on the time of day and humidity, the color can change from a Mopar electric blue to a bright indigo purple.” (See below.)
To finish off the exterior, James replaced the T-stripe on the front end and the full vinyl top that had been removed by one of the previous owners.
“When they ripped the top off,” he said, “they literally just ripped the top off.” But that probably was a blessing. The Javelin sat for many years before James had it, and not having the vinyl on the roof probably saved it from rusting out. All the trim pieces were still there, and the studs were still welded to the body, so James decided to replace it.
“If it didn’t run all the way to the back of the car I probably wouldn’t have put it back on,” he said. “But that vinyl top looks so danged cool on that car. It’s almost like another stripe on the side. It makes the car look lower to the ground – a little bit meaner.”
James completely rebuilt the suspension, mostly with factory AMC pieces. The car was equipped with air conditioning and power steering from the factory, so it already had some heavy duty components, but James upgraded many others, including front and rear sway bars. There are factory disk brakes up front and drums in the rear, but interestingly the brakes are not power assisted.
You can see the 245 front and 295 rear tires in the pictures, but I commented to James that the wheels looked like the stock AMC wheels. “That was the goal,” he replied.
The wheels were made by Cragar and were designed to look like factory rims. James modified a set of reproduction center caps so they’d fit. They really add to the period correct look he was shooting for. The 15 x 7 front and 15 x 8 wheels accommodate the Javelin’s suspension travel and fill up the wheel wells without any body rub.
The suspension works as well as it looks. “It handles really well,” James said. “I live in the Sierra Nevada foothills, with a lot of winding canyon roads. I like to push it as much as I can and it really hugs the road.”
James restored the interior, changing it from the original blue to black. The dashboard is stock AMC, but James had to replace the entire assembly, including the frame. The car sat in the California desert for several years, and because AMC made most of the frame out of plastic, everything got very brittle. The dashboard was one of James’ biggest nightmares – it involved a huge number of parts that all had to go together in exactly the right order. But James got a donor car to contribute its dashboard, frame, and crash pads. The gauge cluster is out of a 73 AMX, but the odometer is the original one from the Javelin.
Then he turned his attention to the 5.0 litre, 304 cubic inch small block.
The Javelin had 70,145 miles on the odometer when James bought it, but he thinks the engine hadn’t even been turned over for about 12 years. He was pleasantly surprised when he did a compression check and every cylinder was registering over 150 psi.
“The rings were in good shape. The inside was clean as a whistle,” he said. “All i did was clean it up and put it back in the car. It fired right up.”
And so James was able to drive his AMC for the last month of high school. “I had a lot of people saying they didn’t expect the car to show up,” he said.
After high school, James drove the Javelin for more than four years, and he’s got a lot of respect for that little 304. “I drove it to Las Vegas once, L.A. twice, and out on the coast on Highway 1. For such an old motor it had some notable long distance trips, and a lot of heavy driving.”
It was during this time that James’ whole Pierre Cardin thing happened. For those who don’t know (or remember) Pierre Cardin was a famous fashion designer – and he was incredibly popular in the 1970s. So in 1972, and ‘73, AMC offered a custom interior designed by Cardin in the Javelins.
“I got a bug for this Pierre Cardin interior,” James recalled. “I could not get past it.”
He found interior pieces he could buy, but the prices were very high. Then he found someone in Chicago through an AMC hobby group. Sadly, this person’s Javelin had been stolen and was never recovered. But he had original Pierre Cardin interior pieces that he’d been storing for years in his garage. He and James made a deal and he shipped the pieces out to California and James installed them – essentially giving him an all original, low mileage, 1973 Pierre Cardin interior. He’s even found the correct exterior badges.
For someone who was not even close to being alive in the 70s, James sure has a good understanding of the decade. “With the T-stripe, the vinyl top, an obnoxiously loud V8 engine, and a purple, orange, white, and black interior, you couldn’t ask for a more 70s looking car,” he said. “Nothing about it makes any sense other than to say ‘Welcome to the 70s!’”
A few months ago the 304 had some timing issues, and James decided to upgrade. He swapped it out for an AMC designed and built 6.6 liter, 401 cubic inch engine that he got out of a Jeep truck.
James bored it out 40 thousandths over to get it up to 409 cubic inches. It has forged internals, cast iron heads, aluminum intake, and was running a Holley 670 CFM Street Avenger. The exhaust is routed out through Doug’s long tube 1⅞” headers with 3½’” collectors. About three feet behind the collectors James installed electrically operated gate-style exhaust cutouts. From there he’s got 2½’ pipes into Flowmaster HP-2 mufflers.
“It makes a really nice exhaust note,” James said. “It idles like a regular car but when you get on it, that’s when it really changes. It opens up and it’s pretty loud. Driving through the hills, it’s very, very loud. And it sounds fantastic.”
The gas tank, mechanical fuel pump, and most of the cooling system are factory stock. James has installed a FlowKooler water pump that features an anodized aluminum impeller and housing. But the factory AMC fan, shroud, and brass radiator are still doing a great job of keeping the V8 cool.
James was running a conventional points and condenser ignition, and he says he was quite accomplished at getting it all set up properly. “I got so good at doing it, it was a shame that I got rid of it.” But he heard about a PerTronix ignition system, and the benefits were too good to pass up.
The Petronix, which was a direct replacement for the factory distributor, eliminated the need for a resistor in the existing system and was totally electronic. The Javelin’s ignition went from 25,000 volts to 50,000 volts, which allowed James to open the spark plug gap significantly, creating a more powerful spark.
With that set up, James’ 409 was making about 450 hp.
It was making that, but it’s going to be making more soon because James is hot rodding his motor again.
To accommodate a new set of 10:1 compression ratio pistons, he’s bored it out another 5 thousandths, bringing it up to 410 cubic inches. James is also installing a slightly hotter cam. With the additional cubic inches and bigger cam, he’s also upgrading to a Holley 750 4-barrel. When it’s completed, James is expecting the motor to put out about 500 horsepower and 450 ft-lbs of torque, on pump gas.
One other intake component James is really excited about is a very rare AMC dual snorkel air cleaner he acquired just a few weeks ago. It’s a factory performance part – but a total of only 745 were made. James picked it up from a life-long AMC fan who’d had it in storage. He’s doing a little repair work on it and is looking forward to getting it installed.
He might also install a Holley Sniper EFI system sometime soon. The drivability and reliability of EFI is attractive to James. “I don’t want it to sit in the garage all day,” he said. “I want to be able to take it to work and then drive home – to be as reliable as a daily driver.”
But suspension work is probably the next project for James’ Javelin. He’s looking to upgrade both the front and rear with some more modern components, and to lower the Javelin just a touch, to “give a little more of the Trans Am vibe.”
The Javelin was quite a project for a first car. But James wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When I was looking for my first car,” he said. “I thought ‘I might as well make it worthwhile and make it the best car I’ve ever driven.’ I’ve had quite a few people ask me if I’d sell it, but I don’t think I’d ever part with it. I’m always looking to improve it and make it better. And I still plan on driving it as much as I can.”
Let’s be honest. American Motors Corporation was not the top dog in the 60s and 70s. As James said, “They were called number 4 to the Big 3. It was a slap in the face.” But AMC guys like Mark Donohue in Trans Am and Wally Booth in Pro Stock made the big guys take notice.
I suspect Mark and Wally would be proud of how James is making today’s hot rodding community take notice of his Javelin.
Photos courtesy of James Cerepak
Follow James on Instagram via javelin_x_74
Click here to see more photos of his Javelin