Keeping the (AMC) Spirit Alive

Dec. 1, 2011
Daniel Rogers turned a rare AMC Spirit AMX into a drag car— his dream since buying it new in 1979.

The sound of a drag car is like music to Daniel Rogers’ ears.

So when Rogers and his wife bought a brand-new 1979 AMC Spirit AMX for her, they always knew that she would drive it to 100,000 miles and then he would convert it for racing duty.

The couple is no longer together, but they stuck to the plan. The car hit 100,000 miles in 1990 and it sat in Rogers’ Ham Lake, Minn., garage until about seven years ago. That’s when he and his brother—who co-own a 3,400-square-foot, two-man collision repair shop called In the Works—started restoring it.

The car “hated the snow,” Rogers says, so every winter he stored it until warmer weather returned. It looked as good as new when he took it out of storage.

He pulled the engine, transmission, rear end, glass, doors and interior. “I mean, it (was) pretty much gutted,” Rogers says.

He wanted to keep it all AMC, so he put a 401-cubic-inch AMC motor that makes 500 horsepower in the black AMX. “I’ve always been an AMC person,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to do this. Nobody else had this car.”

Those engines can be hard to come by, so he asked a friend of his who often junks items to keep an eye out for one. So one day the friend was in central Minnesota cleaning out a property and found one in a rotting Jeep Wagoneer, which had a tree growing through it. Rogers had to drag the Wagoneer out of the woods and cut the roof and bottom with a chainsaw to get the motor, but he wound up nabbing it for $50.

He and his brother, John Rogers, worked together on the car, into which he put about $15,000 to $18,000. Daniel Rogers, 57, says he typically does bodywork and paintwork at their shop, while his brother, 50, does much of the mechanical work.

They gave the Spirit a 727 Chrysler automatic transmission with a reverse manual valve body. It also has an 8 ¾-inch Chrysler rear end and a 35-spline Moser spool and axle. The car has plenty of oomph off the line thanks to a 4:10 gear ratio.

The bodywork consisted of stripping all of the old paint, priming it, sanding it and painting it black, making the exterior identical to factory. The body took about four months to complete, but the brothers poured about 1,500 total hours into the car over a five-year period before it was done. “We just don’t rush through these things,” Daniel Rogers says.

When he finished it and first took it out to a local track, he says people asked him what it was. AMC didn’t make many of these cars—fewer than 4,000 in 1979. So owning and driving one draws attention, Rogers says. Plus, the car has a lot of sentimental value.

“Every person out there’s got a Chevelle or a Camaro,” Rogers says. “I wanted to be different.”

The car’s best quarter mile run so far  is an 11.20 at about 120 miles per hour.

“I wanted to prove that I could make an AMC go fast,” he says.

“This ain’t grandpa’s car.”

Rogers has only taken the car out a handful of times, mostly because he spends a lot of time at the shop. But he’s hoping to climb in the bucket seat and buckle the five-point harness again this spring.

“It’s just a lot of fun to play with,” he says.

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