Car Feature: American Hustler — AMC Spirit

photos by: Scott Schwartz / video by: Sam McConnell

Taking the Hard Corners in Something Extremely Unusual

Everyone here at the Timeless Muscle Magazine headquarters unanimously agree that different can always be a good thing. Camaros, Chevelles, Firebirds, Mustangs… they’re all pretty mainstream and we love them as much as one possibly could.

However, when we ever have the opportunity to run something just a little bit out of the norm, we’re happy to do so. In the last two years that we’ve been in publication, we’ve literally, never, ever, ever have run a full-length feature in these pages. How that’s possible, we don’t know but we’re happy to rectify that with Daniel Grambsch’s 1980 AMC Spirit GT.

The wait for the feature, we think, is well worth it, as Dan’s AMC is one of various, out-of-the-box thinking in and of itself. Getting it out-of-the-way immediately, the original 2.5L GM block is long gone and in its place is the tried and true, all-aluminum LS1 block sourced from a wrecked 2002 Trans Am WS6. An AMC powerplant never lived between this car’s fenders, sadly, as AMC had dropped both the AMC 5-liter V8 and the 3.8L 6-cylinder from its engine roster in ’80.

Now that the most hardcore AMC loyalists have left the room, let’s dig a little bit deeper…

Dan’s history with the AMC goes all the way back to the year 1980 at the age of five-years old, with his parents picking the car up new from the AMC dealership. Fast-forward ten years later, and Dan would acquire the car from his parents, almost immediately swapping in a small-block Chevy at the age of 15.

The AMX-badged Spirit would roll with the traditional 350 under the hood, until 2012, when the LS-swap bug finally bit.

That alloy block still displaces the OEM cubic capacity as well as the stock bottom end components. Moving up to the top of the mill, is a set of CNC-ported Total Engine Airflow 243 casting cylinder heads the expel the fumes in quick fashion.

Sitting squarely in the block is a COMP hydraulic bumpstick  speccing in at 230/234 duration, a 591/598 lift and an unspecified lobe-separation angle.

Breathing in the much-needed outside oxygen is bestowed upon the completely untouched LS6 intake manifold and LS1 drive-by-cable throttle body.

The 2002 Trans Am MAF sensor is also still in place. Now of course, nobody actually makes an off-the-shelf cold-air induction kit specifically for an ’80 AMC Spirit GT, so a custom forced induction system was fabricated and routed through where the driver’s side high beam.

It lends both functionality and a more menacing appearance, and exemplifies Dan’s style. But if you’ve been paying attention to the car’s overall style, then you could see that we’re just scratching the surface.

The fuel system, ignition system and the ECU are all standard-issue LS1 F-body, with only the exhaust system being of aftermarket variety. Being a budget built, a set of long-tube headers attached to the “off-brand” eBay mufflers connected to 1-3/4 inch tubing.

Still borrowing from the F-body parts bin, a 4L60E sits being the GEN-III LS1, with a stock flex plate and an aftermarket 3000-stall converter sitting between the two of them. Connecting the Ford 9-inch rearend stuffed with 4.11 gears, 31-spline gears and a spool  stuffed inside, is an aluminum driveshaft.

Of course, brining this car to a halt is solely relied on 1982-spec 6-cyl AMC Spirit brake calipers (larger than even the ’80 GT versions) with 11-inch drum brakes out back. Which we find rather odd, considering the car’s track pedigree.

Underneath, you’ll notice quite a few changes to the oddball AMC, a set of adjustable Comp Engineering shocks at all four corners, paired with stock AMC Spirit springs and sway bars. A set of subframe connectors have been welded into place, and a beefier Panhard bar sits underneath, too.

To maker the undercarriage just a little more interesting, a little more precise and a little more impressive in the corners, is a quick-ratio power steering box and HBR-fabricated strut rods to accommodate the headers and give a lot of adjustment possibilities for caster.

Another interesting footnote are the OEM AMC upper and lower control arms, that have been heavily modified to increase caster and decrease camber. You have to keep things in perspective; this isn’t a Camaro or a Mustang, this is a Malaise-era AMC that’s often overlooked by most circles in the first place, much less, the aftermarket industry.

That kind of craftsmanship extends to the bodywork as well, sourcing some old school fiberglass front fenders, implementing a ’72 Corvette big-block hood scoop into the stock hood and teaming up with his brother on the bodywork. An Olympic White hue was laid down on the body panels, with a very patriotic blue hood with stars, and red and white stripes over the roof and rear hatch.

If you look through the images and watch the above video, you’ll notice that the Spirit manages to swap rolling stock a total of three times. Depending on the occasion, the car switches from OEM Lincoln BBS-style mesh wheels for the street, 15-inch Weld Pro Stars for the dragstrip and 17-inch Cobra R-stule knockoffs for the road course and autocross.

Depending on the occasion, each wheels gets is respective type of rubber; the street wheels roll on cheap off brand tires, the drag wheels get the sticky Mickeys and soft compound rubber (295/35, front and 315/35, rear) for the road course.

Heading into the cockpit, you’ll find a 4-point chromoly roll cage, custom embroidered seats from Dewey’s with “AMC” stitched on the backrest, removable handlebars for the front passenger occupants (it’s an autocross thing) and a removable racing belt bar. An AutoMeter speedometer and tachometer also reside in the gauge cluster.

The overall combination has managed a best of 11.52 in the quarter-mile at 116.8 mph, with an even more impressive track record running in 1st-place for the season on points in MVSCC racing classes. You can chalk it up to a combination of picking the right parts, a 390 hp/330 lb-ft power output to the rear wheels very slim curb weight that falls below the 3,000-lb. mark.

Dan’s Spirit is rather symbolic; it’s American, patriotic, an underdog (even in its own circles), enduring and infused with more power and efficiency than anything of its era. It was built on a budget, homegrown and the car has been in the same family since it was new. You can throw stones at the owner for not searching high and low for a nameplate powerplant, but with the technology that’s available today, it just made so much more sense; fiscally and performance-wise.

With enthusiasts like Dan Grambsch in the hobby, we can only assume that AMC fans may have a prolonged place in the racing and motorsports realm. We’ll be keeping an eye on Dan and his Spirit in the coming years to see how it continues to evolve.

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Rick Seitz

Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of AutoCentric Media, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles; GM, Ford, Dodge, imports, trucks -- you name it! When he isn't clacking away on his keyboard, he's building, tuning, driving or testing his current crop of personal projects!

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