Mike Loboda remembers when he was hooked. “I was eight years old. My brother’s friend pulled up to our house in his bright red ’64 GTO. The front suspension was jacked up, it had chrome Cragars up front and black steelies on the rear, and it was a 389 with three twos and a 4-speed. My brain snapped—it was all I could think about.” Just eight years later, Mike was drag racing a 1970 Hemi GTX 4-speed (“It was too much car for me,” Mike recalls, smiling) that eventually propelled him to an SS/G class win at the 1976 AHRA Grand Nationals held at Dragway 42 in West Salem, OH.
Fast forward to 2008. Mike is campaigning a 1972 Duster with a screaming, de-stroked 340 and a 5-speed manual transmission. His son, Sean, wants in on the fun. They begin looking for a car, and their requirements are simple: it has to be a manual, run the 1/4 mile in the 9-second range (to be a good match for the Duster), and be old-school. Their search resulted in an unusual find: this 1970 AMC AMX they unearthed in South Carolina. “I always admired AMCs, but never thought about owning one,” Mike said. (Image/Todd Biss Productions)
The drag strip has long been dominated by automatic transmissions and delay boxes. Not for Mike Loboda, though.
Director of the U.M.T.R (United Manual Transmission Racers) North region, Mike is dedicated to high-rpm clutch dumps and lightning-fast power shifts. His wheel-standing weapon of choice? This
that combines ’70s show car style with take-no-prisoners 1/4-mile performance. 1970 AMC AMX
“You didn’t think AMC had it in them,” Mike said of the AMX, arguably one of the muscle era’s most beautiful—and daring—designs. “They were a great-looking car, and they ran really well!”
Mike’s runs even better, turning in a best E.T. of 9.40 at 143 mph.
While that’s fast for a stock-framed, leaf-sprung car, the AMX might have even more to offer: the recently rebuilt 415 c.i.d. AMC stroker motor now sports a custom sheetmetal cross-ram intake, topped with a pair of Quick Fuel Brawler carburetors. “Dual quads are just cool,” Mike says, smiling.
Check out the photos below to see more old-school cool and get the full scoop on what it’s like to be a three-pedal racer in a two-pedal world. Mike doesn’t think he needs a turbo, nitrous, or a torque converter to go fast…and you might just agree!
FAST SPECS Chassis Frame: Stock, subframe connectors Rear End: Ford 9″, Richmond Gear 5.43:1 ring and pinion, Moser Engineering axles and spool, Competition Engineering wheelie bars Front Suspension: Stock, AFCO coilovers, limiting chains Rear Suspension: Mopar Super Stock-pattern leaf springs, AFCO shocks, ladder bars Brakes: Aerospace Components front disc, Wilwood rear disc Wheels and Tires: Cragar S/S (15″ x 4 1/2″ front, 15″ x 12″ rear); Mickey Thompson ET Front 27.5/4.0-15, ET Drag 31/10.5-15 Engine and Transmission Engine: 415 cu. in. AMC, factory 401 cu. in. block bored .020″ with billet steel 4-bolt main caps and Mangus external oil pump, Herman Lewis aluminum heads, Xceldyne 2.125″/1.625″ titanium valves, PSI springs, Jesel roller rocker arms, AMC forged crankshaft (offset ground and stroked 1/8″), Carrillo small block Chevy connecting rods, JE forged pistons, COMP Cams mechanical roller camshaft and lifters, Smith Brothers pushrods, ARP fasteners Machine Work: B&K Racing, North Bloomfield, OH Induction: Two Quick Fuel Brawler 750 cfm carburetors, aluminum sheetmetal cross-ram intake manifold fabricated by B&K Racing, MagnaFuel 500 fuel pump Power Adder: “Heaven forbid” Ignition and Electrical: Mallory distributor, MSD 7AL-2 ignition controller, MSD coil, MSD ignition wires, ARC wiring harness, Tilton starter, two TurboStart 16V batteries Exhaust: Hedman Husler race headers Cooling: Be Cool aluminum radiator, stock water pump with Moroso electric drive Other: Summit Racing® braided stainless steel hoses and aluminum AN fittings, Canton Racing Accusump oil accumulator Power and Torque: 650 hp at 7,100 rpm and 544 ft.-lbs. at 5,400 rpm Transmission: Jerico 4-speed manual, McLeod clutch, Lakewood bellhousing, Long vertical gate shifter Exterior Bodywork: Magic Custom Restyling, Brook Park, OH Paint: Designed by owner and Jim Curtis of Magic Custom, painted by Magic Custom Body Modifications: Fiberglass 1968-69 AMX hood lengthened to fit 1970 car, fiberglass trunk lid Interior Roll Cage: TIG-welded chromoly by Davis Race Cars, Madison, OH Other: AutoMeter gauges, stock dashboard with aluminum face, RJS Camlock harness Special Thanks My son, Sean; girlfriend, Connie Carnes; Jim Schneider; and Roger Blile When he bought the AMX, it was painted in classic AMC red, white, and blue. It was a 9-second car, and, since it was strictly a drag car since 1971, it was rust-free. That didn’t mean it was ready to go to the track, though. “The roll cage was really rough. I think it was stick welded,” Mike said. Even worse, the car’s Doug Nash 5-speed was shot and an engine teardown revealed cam bearings damaged by oil starvation. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) It took about a year to get the AMX race-ready. Davis Race Cars in Madison, OH, built a proper TIG-welded chromoly cage, a Jerico 4-speed dog ring transmission was installed, and Dan Vance Racing Engines in Atwater, OH, collaborated with longtime friend Jim Schneider on the AMC 401 cu. in. V8. They addressed the oiling issues, an AMC “Achilles heel” according to Mike, with a belt-driven Mangus external oil pump, a Canton Accusump accumulator, and additional internal plumbing to ensure adequate camshaft lubrication.
The block received a .020″ overbore to accommodate a set of
JE forged pistons, and the stock forged crank was offset ground for an 1/8″ increase in stroke and the ability to accept Carrillo forged steel small block Chevy rods. A pair of Herman Lewis aluminum heads completed the long block, and the resulting 415 cu. in. combo was good for a best E.T. of 9.40 at 143 mph and an overall win at the 2009 U.M.T.R. Gear Jammers bash, held at northeastern Ohio’s Thompson Raceway Park. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) The car ran quickly and reliably in U.M.T.R. events for several years; “A very good car, durability-wise,” Mike recalled. But as anyone familiar with race cars knows, no project is ever done. A couple of years ago, the decision was made to sideline the AMX for a freshening-up. Of course, nothing is simple, and that teardown led to the combination of function and form seen here. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) Under the hood, the ground-pounding engine was rebuilt and its single-plane intake manifold was replaced with a fabricated aluminum cross ram hand-built by B&K Racing in North Bloomfield, OH, as a tribute to the piece installed on 1969 Super Stock AMX cars. Topped with a pair of 750 cfm Quick Fuel Brawler carburetors, it provides both under-hood eye candy and a useful bump in power over the previous setup. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) The bigger story is in the changes to the paint and body. Mike was inspired by a picture of a period-styled AMX he found online and went to his painter, Jim Curtis, owner of Magic Custom Restyling in Brook Park, OH. The two worked together to create this ’70s-throwback masterpiece. “The car was in primer on a Friday, and Jim called me on Sunday to tell me it was done,” Mike said, the amazement still apparent in his voice. “Jim is just a wizard with paint. I gave him a few ideas and it turned out better than I imagined.” (Image/Todd Biss Productions) Prior to paint, a set of NOS steel doors and glass windows were installed to replace the fiberglass and Lexan® parts, and a 1968-69 replica fiberglass hood was massaged to fit the longer-nosed 1970 car. “I like the style better, and it was the only way I could mount the AMC Super Stock scoop,” Mike said. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) The results are stunning; a car that’s beautiful to look at from any angle and still unmistakably a drag car. “I like its stance and the way the rear tires almost come out of the wheelwells…it’s just a unique body style. I guess you’d never think of AMC making a car so beautiful. They were a small company. They were always the perennial underdog.” (Image/Todd Biss Productions) This AMC is no underdog, though, especially with a gear-grabbing devotee like Mike behind the wheel. “There is no other transmission,” he says. “I love the driver input, the sound, and the feel of driving a stick shift.” The lightweight, short-wheelbase AMX requires all the input a driver can give, and then some. Mike launches the car at 7,000 rpm and shifts at 7,400. It typically wheelies through the 60 ft. mark. “Ideally, you shift into second while the front tires are still in the air. It makes for a smoother landing,” Mike explains. Of course, there’s a skid plate under the oil pan for landings that aren’t so smooth, and the headers bear the scars of more than a few meetings with the track. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) It’s clear the AMX is no show car. The interior is spartan, with just a pair of racing buckets, AutoMeter instrumentation, a Long vertigate shifter, and an MSD 7AL-2 ignition box on display. The patched transmission tunnel is a reminder that the Jerico isn’t its first gearbox, and might not be its last. “I wish I’d finished the interior. My Duster is carpeted,” Mike laments when asked what he’d change about the car. (Image/Todd Biss Productions) But Mike Loboda is a drag racer. Once upon a time, he tried car shows with a beautiful 1960 Chevy El Camino. He felt out of place. Mike is at home behind the wheel; shifter in hand, clutch pedal underfoot. (Image/Todd Biss Productions)