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Popular & Performance Car Review magazine, March 1986

All American Shootout

Text and photos by
Jerry Heasley.

A four-way Supercar Shootout in Dallas:
GTO vs. 390 AMX vs. Mustang GT vs. Charger Daytona

When John Becker wrote from Dallas offering his l8,000 mile 390 AMX for a Supercar Shootout, we tried to match the two-seater AMC against another big-block small-car from north Texas. But which musclecar could we pair off with the AMX? The 400 Firebird, 396 Camaro and 390 Mustang GT are close in cubes, but they are four-seaters. We thought about a 396 Corvette, but the 396 engine for the Corvette was discontinued after one model year, 1965, so they aren't easy to find. Also, Becker figured a 396 Corvette would be too much muscle for his AMX, which certainly ruled out an easier-to-find 427 Corvette.

After Becker's shootout search proved unsuccessful, we took the initiative and phoned Rex Hall, a Mustang performance fan. A few days later, Rex called back, still without a match for the AMX, but offering to run his 1968 Wi 428 Cobra Jet Mustang against a 440-powered Charger Daytona, owned by friend Del Fisher. In the meantime, we had contacted Phil Bauman, editor of the Classic GTO newsletter, for help in locating a 400 Firebird. His search proved fruitless, but Phil countered by offering to put his 1968 Ram Air GTO on the strip.

So we found ourselves with four big-block musclecars ready to run, but with no match made in musclecar heaven. So why waste an opportunity? We decided to go ahead and run a big four-way Supercar Shootout, pairing each car against the other in six combinations for six big match-ups.

The four musclecars and their enthusiastic owners met at Green Valley Race City in November. Race conditions were ideal with temperatures in the high 50s, the wind at our backs and the track surface so sticky it felt like the work floor in a glue factory. Here's how the cars stacked up:

AMX: Becker was excited. He knew and we knew that his 1968 two- seater was one of the best unaltered AMXS in the country, so it was a perfect supered shootout candidate. And with traction bars standard, it certainly had the potential to do well on the drag strip.

With 18,653 mikes showing, the little American Motors' coupe looked untouched since new. Options included the "Go" package (power disc brakes, special handling package, Twin-Grip differential, heavy-duty radiator, flex fan and racing stripe), four-speed, 3.54:1 gears, Rally-pac gauges, Rally wheels with Goodrich T/A radials, AM/FM stereo, power steering and tilt wheel. The over-the-top racing stripe, if you're looking for it, was deleted by the first owner.

Equipped with the dealer-installed AMC camshaft (part number 4486719) and dealer-installed factory headers, Becker's AMX had more power than the standard 390 car.

Cobra Jet Mustang GT: Rex Hall is the original owner of this immaculate CJ Mustang hardtop, one of the mid- year 1968 1/2's with the 335- horsepower 428 Cobra Jet big-block. A consistent show winner in the Dallas area, it had been featured in several car magazines.

Like the AMX, Hall's Mustang was ordered with several dealer-installed goodies - a medium-riser aluminum intake manifold, an eight-quart deep sump oil pan, a heavy-duty oil pump and a 427 dual-point distributor. On shootout day, the Mustang was shod with Goodyear Polyglas tires, OEM F70x14s on the front and wider H60x14s on the rear, on styled steel GT wheels. Additionally, the factory exhaust manifold were uncapped, with no pipes or mufflers.

So the CJ Mustang looked like a sure winner, When the word spread that the Cobra Jet was on the way to the shootout, the AMX. GTO and Daytona owners immediately conceded victory to the Ford. After all, hadn't Hot Rod, in the March 1968 issue, called the 1968 1/2 CJ Mustang "the fastest running pure stock in the history of man?''

Charger Daytona: It's a superspeedway car, for sure, but Del Fisher wanted to try out his winged Daytona on the drag strip. With a 375-horse 440, TorqueFlite auto and 3:55 gears, it promised plenty of quarter-mile power.

Fisher likes a little more flash, so his 1969 Daytona was fitted with aftermarket Centerline wheels. He also mounted the largest Goodrich Comp T/As that would fit within the wheelwells without having to jack up the car. On the rear was P255 60s, The fronts are P235 60s.

Del also wants the Moparites to know that the white vinyl roof was a dealer add-on, installed to please the original Florida buyer.

GTO: Phil Bauman exhibited a lot of good sportsmanship when he offered to enter his 135,000 mile 1968 Ram Air GTO. In addition to weighing nearly two tons, the Pontiac has 2.93:1 gears and nearly every option in the Pontiac book, including air conditioning, automatic transmission, power steering, power disc brakes, power windows, cruise control and Rally wheels. Plus, Phil added a hood tach, factory eight-track tape and GTO wood steering wheel.

The GTO certainly looked like the tamest quarter-miler in our group. Stock nght down to the G78x14 tires, its main help would come from a dealer-installed Ram Air package, which upped the output of the 350- horse 400 engine. In fact, back when the car was a 120,000 mile original in 1983, Phil conducted a test for his GTO newsletter and discovered that the Ram Air system improved quarter-mile e.t.s by about two-tenths of a second.


The 1968 GTO had the stock 350 horsepower engine, but with dealer- installed Ram Air package.

The Cobra Jet got the jump on the GTO at the lights and stayed ahead until the end of the quarter-mile.

The '68 1/2 Mustang GT had a stock 428 Cobra Jet with Ram Air. Underhood was well detailed but engine's internals need freshening.

Round one looked like a run-away for the Ford, but as the Mustang moved into the staging lanes, we noticed black smoke rolling out of the tail pipes. Primarily a show car, maybe Hal's hardtop needed some cleaning out. Curiously, Rex had refused to make any preliminary practice passes.

Off the line, the Cobra Jet jumped ahead of the GTO, but a huge cloud of smoke puffed from the rear when Rex hit second gear. The race was close, but the timers declared the Mustang as the winner with a mundane 14.99 @ 90.72 mph to the GTO's 15.17 @ 92.87. The GTO's higher miles-per-hour figure showed that the Pontiac was catching up near the end, its 2.93 gears starting to work. Back in the pits, everyone was astounded by the Mustang's "slow'' time. Maybe the first run "cleared out'' the 428. The next run would tell.


The AMX 390 was a low mileage stocker, if dealer-installed cam kit and headers can be counted as stock. The 390 had a slight lope at idle.

AMX and Daytona left the lights about even, but the AMX started to pull away after about 100 feet, and kept the lead the whole way down the track.

Daytona had just 48,000 miles on the dial and the 440 Magnum engine was as stock as the day it left the factory.

In the staging lanes, the Daytona looked twice the size of the AMX, and what a contrast in staging techniques too. Becker pulled the AMX into the water and roasted the tires, then charged ahead like a raging bull. The crowd in the pits began stirring. What hath AMC wrought? Was this the same 390 that Becker claimed as a low l5-second runner?

Meanwhile, Fisher skipped the water burn-out and chirped the tires a couple of times to clean the tread.

When the tree showed green, the Daytona raised its pointed front end and stayed even with the AMX, which was digging in good and making lots of tire noise - as In UR-R-R-R! But after 100 feet or so, the AMX began pulling ahead. Fisher told us later that he was shifting the Torque Flite manually, leaving the line at 1200 rpm and shifting at 4500. But when the AMX moved ahead, an over-anxious Fisher over-revved first gear and slowed down. The scoreboard registered a 13.95 @ 101.69 for the AMX versus 14.87 @ 94.63 for the Mopar.

Becker was ecstatic. If the Mustang failed to improve, who could beat the Rambler?


This match-up looked like a no-contest, the AMX already with the quickest e.t, and the GTO with the slowest. More than anything, it would be a chance for the AMX to back up its previous time and get ready for the Cobra Jet. True to form, the AMX won with a consistent 13.96 @ 100.67 while the GTO trailed with a 15.27 @ 94.04.

SHOOTOUT FOUR: Mustang CJ vs. Daytona

With both cars running in the high 14s, the Mustang/Mopar match looked close, unless the CJ could straighten out and fly right. As before, the Daytona reared its head on take-off, the tires biting good with little spin. The Mustang, however, moved away from the line slowly, started to catch up, then slowed down again, still leaving a trail of smoke. The Daytona roared through the traps first, hitting a 14.52 @ 96.25, more than a full second quicker than the Mustang's 15.54 @ 87.04.

Back in the pits, Hall explained that he had experienced a problem with the Mustang's automatic shift linkage. Positioned in first gear, the Mustang started out in second until Rex forced the stick into low. Now the Mustang had three problems to worry about: low engine power, shifter woes and Becker's extremely quick AMX.


At this point, Bauman's GTO had no wins and two losses, so he wanted badly to beat the Daytona. And it was possible too, if he could get those 2.93 gears into their torque peak off the line. Fisher's Daytona jumped ahead at the start again with little or no tire spin, while the GTO burned rubber for about twenty feet. Then it was a game of catch-up. But the Daytona took the win with a 14.67 @ 95.64 compared to the GTO's best time of the day, 15.09 @ 93.36.

In defense of the GTO, with 2.93 gears and 78 series tires, the low 15 times are excellent. And this 400, remember, has 135,000 miles!


This would be the day's showcase. Although past e.t.'s made the AMX the favorite, we thought maybe the Mustang could hit the high 13s if the 428 could start making power. Four years ago in Tulsa, Hall's CJ had dipped into the 13s.

Over in the burn-out lane, the AMX once again stomped back and forth, looking like a real drag car. Quite a show. In the other lane, Hall was revving the 428, but the big H60s resisted spin.

Away from the lights, the AMX leaped ahead and stayed there all the way down the quarter-mile. The contest was over immediately, the Mustang recording a disappointing 15.15 @ 89.39 while the AMX tripped the lights at 14.13 @ 97.96.

So the little two-seater AMX put them all on the trailer. No one came close to beating Becker, and even with a healthy 428 CJ, Hall's Mustang may have had trouble. In retrospect, the AMX would have indeed given a 396 Corvette some stiff competition. In the August 1968 issue, Hot Rod recorded a 14.06 @ 98.40 with a 390 four-speed AMX, so Becker's dealer-cammed 390 four-speed made sense with its 13.95 elapsed times.

Our four-way supercar shootout turned into an AMX tribute. /CR

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