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AMX Spirit at Nürburgring

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In October 1979, the B.F. Goodrich tire company sponsored a pair of AMXs in the annual FIA Group One 24-hour race (for mildly modified production cars) held at Germany’s legendary Nürburgring track.[2] The 1979 304 cu in (5.0 L) V8-powered Spirit AMX was already homologated for European FIA Group One Touring Car races.[35]


The cars were the first-ever American entries in this grueling race (the Nürburgring is a 14.1-mile (22.7 km) circuit with 176 turns). They would compete against smaller-engined, but more agile competitors from BMW, Ford, Opel, VW, Renault, and Audi.[35]

Drivers Amos Johnson and his partner Dennis Shaw were the team principals in the North Carolina-based “Team Highball.” Supporting drivers were factory Mazda driver Jim Downing (who would later co-develop the HANS device), actor James Brolin, Lyn St. James, and automotive journalist Gary Witzenburg. Two street-stock cars (both with AMC 5.0 L V8 and four-speed transmission) were supplied to “Team Highball” for Group One race modifications less than three weeks before a transport ship would sail to Europe.[3]


With almost no prior driving time on the race course, and with the race practice cut short by fog, the team qualified the cars in 20th and 21st overall. The #1 Johnson/Shaw/Brolin car was given the faster set-up, with the objective of winning the race.[2]

In the race, the #1 car suffered broken front shock-absorbers and a slipping clutch, and the engine burned oil. Witzenburg reported the brakes and both front shocks “all but gone” in #2 — pumping the brakes dragged the front spoiler, but had little effect on speed. Moreover, since the AMXs were “rather crude” compared with the smaller, lighter cars they were racing against, they lost time in the turns. Nevertheless, Witzenburg said the cars “ran great,” especially on the straights where they reached about 140 mph (230 km/h).[3]


After driving almost 2,000 miles (3,219 km), they finished first and second in class, 25th and 43rd overall out of a field of 120.[3] They were also the fastest entrants using street tires - BFG T/A radials, and had no tire failures.[36]

The preparation of the cars and the team’s experience of the race itself were covered by a period documentary film, The Ultimate Challenge.[37]


The #1 AMX Nürburgring race car “served as a showcar for a few months after the race, then went into storage for about 25 years” and has only about4,000 miles (6,400 km) on its odometer.[38][39] The #2 race car returned to the racing circuit for several years, but has been located and reunited with the original drivers after over 25 years.[40][41][42]

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