In 1968 Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri was named Playmate of the Year. As part of her award package she received a "Playmate Pink" 1968 AMC AMX, the two-seat sports car version of the AMC Javelin four-seat Pony Car. Every 1968 to 1970 AMX received a plaque on the glove box door with its sequential build number and Victoria's was no different except in one way. Instead of her car's build number, her's received her personal build number, 36-24-35
Words and Images by Richard Truesdell (except where noted)
Its logo is one of the most recognized trademarks in the world. Its magazine helped to spearhead the sexual revolution of the 1960s. In its heyday it published some of the era's best known authors. But what it was best known for was its pictorials of some of the world’s most beautiful women.
Central to the Playboy lifestyle was a group of clubs where Playboy Bunnies, scantily clad, tightly corseted women teased guests, serving drinks with a smile. This was the Playboy Empire at its zenith when its magazine boasted a US circulation of seven million in 1972, spawning licensed editions around the world and a host of competitors. Its clubs covered the United States from coast to coast with other lavish clubs built in major cities around the world.
And its these clubs where all parts of this story intersect, the Playboy lifestyle, its clubs, the women and even the cars. Starting in 1964 Playboy awarded its Playmate of the Year, selected from the previous year's monthly winners a brand new car, usually pink. Donna Michelle, the 1964 Playmate of the Year, was awarded a pink, 289-V-8-powered 1964½ Ford Mustang was part of her prize package and a tradition was born.
AMC's response to the introduction of the compact-sized Mustang was the mid-sized Marlin. To say that it was a sales failure would be an understatement. It was the wrong car, at the wrong time, from the wrong company, selling less than 18,000 units over a three-year production run.
It might have been ungainly, but the Rambler (later AMC) Marlin was featured on the cover of the Band of Susans 1995 CD "Here Comes Success" using an AMC publicity photo from 1965 (band leader Robert Poss is a Rambler Marlin fan)
In searching YouTube, the reissued version of "Here Comes Success" has been posted (if you're interested in 1990's "noise rock" then you'll love this CD)
AMC's next Pony Car attempt, the 1968 Javelin, was developed off of its existing American/Rouge compact car platform, just as the original 1964 1/2 Mustang was based on the Ford Falcon chassis. Backed by a clever advertising campaign by AMC's new ad agency of record, Wells, Rich, and Greene Inc., it was a moderate sales success, selling 55,125 units in its inaugural year.
AMC took direct aim at its closest competitor, Ford's mustang, with this clever ad produced by its new ad agency, Wells, Rich, and Greene
But this was just the start. AMC followed the Javelin with the cleverly designed AMX. The AMX was a two-seat version of the Javelin, with 12 inches sliced out of its wheelbase and distinctively styled with massive, distinctive rear sail panels that gave it a look unlike any car on the road at the time. Like the Javelin on which it is based, the AMX was styled in house under the direction AMC's legendary Design Vice President, Richard “Dick” Teague.
To introduce the AMX to its dealers, AMC held their dealer meetings at nine of the Playboy Clubs across the United States. And AMC arranged with Playboy for their all-new AMX to be the car that would be awarded to that year's Playmate of the Year. It was September 1967's Playmate of the Month, Victoria Vetri, going by the stage name of Angela Dorian, who was the winner and as part of her prize package was the AMX here.
How can we be so sure, that after 45 years that this is that very car? Well for starters, Victoria was its sole owner for 42 years, verified by California Division of Motor Vehicle records, including the car's original registration. This all-important document is now in possession of its second registered owner, Mark Melvin.
Victoria's AMX was well-optioned, equipped with the standard 290cid V-8 mated to AMC's optional floor-mounted Torque Command three-speed automatic transmission, power brakes and steering, chrome Magnum 500 wheels, an in-dash AM/8-track tape deck and important for California where she resided, factory-installed air conditioning. But what makes Victoria's AMX truly unique, besides the pink hue, is the number plate on the glove box door. While every other two-seat AMX has its sequential build number, Victoria's AMX sports her measurements, 36-24-35.
With 12 inches sliced from the wheelbase of the four-seat Javelin the AMX was a true two-seat sports car
What about the Magnum 500s instead of the hub caps shown in the in-period publicity photo? The car that Victoria was photographed with was not “her” AMX as hers hadn't been built yet. For publicity purposes for her promotional tour, local dealers provided cars that were temporarily painted pink. So unlike Victoria's AMX, the car in the photo below is equipped with the standard AMX hub caps rather than the chrome Magnum 500s installed on Victoria's personal AMX.
Playboy's 1968 Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri poses with an AMX that was used for publicity purposes as this car has hub caps rather than the Magnum 500 styled steel wheels on the car she received from AMC (Playboy photo)
Now here's where Victoria's story gets really interesting.
Before and after her tenure as 1968's Playmate of the Year, Victoria enjoyed moderate success as an actress with her best-known role in 1968 in the Roman Polanski-directed Rosemary's Baby. She became a good friend of Polanski's wife, actress Sharon Tate. She was invited by Tate to the same party where Tate was murdered by Charles Manson's gang, turning down the invitation because she wasn't feeling well.
After that, for the better part of four decades, Victoria flew under the radar, remaining in Southern California where to avoid stalkers, she painted the AMX brown, grey and finally black. This helped her initially to avoid stalkers when the car was its original pink.
Finally, after owning the car for 42 years, she decided to sell the car which by this time was rather banged up. After the car had been put up for sale on consignment at a local service station and “flipped” or re-sold to the used car sales lot, the car caught the eye and attention of Mark Melvin who himself has owned a red 1969 AMX, for 38 years. It was a present to himself when he graduated from high school in 1977. He negotiated the deal directly, first placing a deposit on the car and returning several days later to haul his new treasure home. Victoria, would become notorious a few months later when known by her married name of Victoria Rathgeb, shot her husband, pleaded no contest to attempted voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a term of nine years.
Here's what the Playmate AMX looked like at the time it was purchased in 2010 by Mark Melvin (Mark Melvin photo)
As Victoria languished in prison, the beat up AMX languished in Mark's garage while he assembled the parts needed to restore the car. There was never any doubt that he would restore the car to its original Playmate Pink paint scheme. The restoration commenced in July 2012 and Mark was assisted not only in his quest for NOS parts, but in the restoration effort itself by members of the Southern California AMC community. The small team, headed by Allen Tyler included John and Shelly Siciliano, John Caley, Randy Kirby, Dale Crum, Richard White and Mike Haley. The restoration effort was documented over more than two dozen pages on theamcforum.com (bit.ly/PlaymateAMX).
Allen Tyler with the Playmate AMX on a rotisserie at an early stage of its restoration at Allen's home in Southern California (Mark Melvin photo)
Shortly after purchasing the AMX, Mark invited several AMC friends over to see the car. “After looking the car over thoroughly one person estimated it might cost as much as $25,000 to restore,” says Mark. “Oh how I wish that had turned out to be true! My good friends Allen and John were instrumental in making this car’s restoration happen,” comments Mark. “I could not have had all this work done as quickly with the quality if it had been done elsewhere. To illustrate the speed of Allen’s work, on the day we got the car off the rotisserie and back on the ground I would have been happy with just that for the day. As soon as we accomplished that feat, Allen said, 'Oh let’s go get the engine and put it in too.' It was a team effort all the way.”
Over the course of the next 30 months the small team restored the car at Tyler's house. Tyler commented that every corner of the car had been hit and as no NOS sheet metal was available for the rear quarter panels, he had to repair the panels on the car. The final fit and finish is testimony to his skills as a body man. As the restoration was completed in the winter of 2015, the car received some attention on some blogs which led to its appearance on Jay Leno's Garage. This turned out to be its unofficial coming out party. The official unveiling, coming the last Saturday in May, was when the car was unveiled at Melvin's own SoCal AMX Car Show.
The Playmate AMX's unveiling on an episode of Jay Leno's Garage in April 2015 (Credit Jay Leno's Garage/NBC Universal)
“It took a lot of effort to pull this project together,” says Mark with a great deal of pride. “I had to take out a loan against the value of my house to complete the project but I feel it's money well spent. The Playmate AMX is considered by many as one of the most historically significant cars ever built by AMC. And with its direct connection to Victoria, it certainly carries a great deal of notoriety.”
Asked if he's spoken with Victoria recently, Mark is kind of evasive with his answers but he has stated, “That would be some news story to pick up the Playmate when she’s released from prison in 2019.” After all these years, how cool would that be, for Victoria to see the car as it was, when AMC's R.W. ''Bill'' McNealy handed her the keys, back in May of 1968?
Here's a gallery of studio images of the Playmate AMX from a May 2016 photo shoot.
And finally, my favorite photo of the car, taken in May 2015, right after its appearance on Jay Leno's Garage. Here, AMC enthusiast Chelsea Fletcher (her dad Mark owns three AMCs, two 1967 AMC Rambler Rogue convertibles and a 1969 AMC/Hurst SC/Rambler), recreates the 1968 Playboy publicity photo