The "36-24-35" 1968 AMC AMX
The car given to the 1968 Playmate of the Year.
Everyone knows Playboy magazine spearheaded the sexual revolution of the 1960s and published some of the era's best-known authors in its heyday. But what readers really go to Playboy for—let's be honest—are the pictorials of some of the world's most beautiful women.
Beginning in 1964, the most beautiful of the world's most beautiful women, the Playmate of the Year, was gifted a new car as part of her prize package. Donna Michelle was the first recipient, scoring a 1964½ Ford Mustang. In pink. And a tradition was born.
This brings us to the 1968 AMC AMX in Playmate Pink you see in this pictorial, a car billed by many in the enthusiast community as one of the most historically significant cars produced by American Motors.
At the time, American Motors Corporation (AMC) was the fourth-largest automobile manufacturer in the U.S. and was struggling under the weight of competition from the Big Three. AMC's first stab at a pony-car, the midsized Rambler Marlin introduced in 1965, was a dismal sales failure. It followed up with the Javelin, which fared better thanks in part to a clever ad campaign.
The Javelin spawned the AMX, a two-seat version of the Javelin with a foot cut from its wheelbase. It was distinctive, with massive rear sail panels that lent it a look unlike any car on the road at the time. Like the Javelin, the AMX was styled under the direction of AMC's legendary design vice president Richard "Dick" Teague, and during its three-year run—a little more than 19,000 were built—the AMX quickly gained a reputation as a competent performance machine. At the time it was considered a foil for the Corvette and is now a highly collectible car from the muscle-car era.
To introduce the AMX to its dealers, AMC held meetings at nine Playboy Clubs, which had sprouted up across the country during the expansion of Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises empire. As part of its plan to promote the car, AMC arranged for its all-new AMX to be awarded to the 1968 Playmate of the Year, who turned out to be September 1967's Playmate of the Month Angela Dorian, whose real name is Victoria Vetri.
Vetri's AMX was well-optioned and came equipped with the car's base 4.8-liter V-8 mated to AMC's optional floor-shifter, three-speed automatic transmission. It also had power brakes, power steering, chrome Magnum 500 wheels, an AM radio, an eight-track tape player, and factory-installed air-conditioning. But aside from the pink hue, what made this AMX truly unique was the number plate on the glove-box door. While every other AMX has a sequential build number, Vetri's car instead sported her measurements, 36-24-35.
Before and after her tenure as 1968's Playmate of the Year, Vetri enjoyed moderate success as an actress, with her best-known role in the 1968 Roman Polanski-directed "Rosemary's Baby." After that, Vetri flew under the radar for the better part of four decades in Southern California, where she later married and became Victoria Rathgeb. She eventually had the AMX painted brown, then gray, and finally black—partially in an effort to avoid stalkers.
After owning the car for 42 years, Rathgeb decided to part with it. By that time it had gotten pretty banged up. It was put up for sale on consignment at a local service station and later resold to a used-car sales lot. There it caught the eye of AMX enthusiast Mark Melvin, who has owned a red 1969 AMX for 38 years, a present to himself when he graduated from high school in 1977.
Melvin negotiated the deal directly, placing a deposit on the car and returning several days later to haul his new treasure home. Shortly after, he invited several of his friends in the AMC community over to see the AMX. "After looking the car over thoroughly, one person estimated it might cost as much as $25,000 to restore," Melvin says. "Oh, how I wish that had turned out to be true!" Melvin estimates he spent nearly double that amount to get the car back to its original condition.
Like the AMX, Rathgeb had experienced her share of hard times and would eventually do hard time as a result. Shortly after Melvin purchased the car, Rathgeb shot her husband in the back in an apparent fit of jealous rage and later pleaded no contest to attempted voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to nine years in prison in September 2011.
As Rathgeb sat in prison, the beat-up AMX sat in Melvin's garage while he assembled the parts needed to restore the car. Already aware of its provenance (Melvin has had it verified through the records of the California Division of Motor Vehicles and is in possession of the car's original registration), there was never any doubt he would restore it with its original paint color, Playmate Pink.
The restoration finally got underway in July 2012, with Melvin getting help from several members and close friends in the Southern California AMC community.
"My good friends Allen [Tyler] and John [Siciliano] were instrumental in making this car's restoration happen," Melvin says. "I could not have had all this work done as quickly with this 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. Seemingly every corner of the AMX had been hit. No new original sheetmetal was available for the rear quarters, so Tyler had to repair the original panels himself. The final fit and finish is testimony to his skills as a body man.
After the restoration was completed this spring, the car received some attention on the Web, which led to it making an appearance on "Jay Leno's Garage," its unofficial coming-out party. The official unveiling came recently at Melvin's own SoCal AMX Car Show.
"It took a lot of effort to pull this project together," says Melvin, who has taken a great deal of pride in the fruits of the restoration effort. "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 Rathgeb recently, Melvin is evasive but left us with this: "That would be some news story to pick up the Playmate when she's released from prison in 2019." We can only imagine what she'd think, seeing the car exactly as it was when AMC's R.W. ''Bill'' McNealy handed her the keys back in 1968.
Including Angela Dorian and her AMC AMX, Playboy gave pink cars to 10 bunnies. Here are a few of our favorites.
1964½ Ford Mustang convertible
Donna Michelle, the first Playmate of the Year to get a pink car—a 1964½ Ford Mustang convertible with a 260-cubic-inch V-8—got other pink swag as well, including custom luggage, a full wardrobe, and a Honda 50 motorcycle.
1966 Dodge Charger
Allison Parks, who got a 1966 Dodge Charger, told Playboy she was 21 when she posed for her pictorial. She was actually 24 and a mother of two, and both of her kids were featured in the pictorial, identified as swimming school students.
1972 Ford Pantera
Liv Lindeland is Norwegian, De Tomaso was Italian, and the mid-mounted, 351-cubic-inch Ford V-8 in Lindeland's 1972 Pantera was American—three disparate heritages that looked damn good together.
1975 Porsche 911 S
Marilyn Lange got a pink 1975 Porsche 911 S with a rear-mounted, 157-hp flat-six. Her 911 S was the last pink car Playboy gave out but the first of eight Porsches given to subsequent Playmates.
Archival material from Playboy magazine. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.