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519 Horsepower: 1976 AMC Hornet Sportabout

They say that all is fair in love and war.  Well, the same adage could be used in the world of street racing.  While we here at Barn Finds do not, under any circumstances, advocate going out and laying waste to your opponents at the nearest stoplight, we do recognize that some of you like to have some horsepower at your disposal.  However, winning a race does not depend on horsepower alone.  You have to have an edge.  The builder of this 1976 AMC Hornet Sportabout station wagon for sale on eBay has modified the car to have an incredible edge in any street battle.  Can you believe that this stock-looking station wagon is packing a fully built-up turbocharged General Motors LS V-8 with a claimed 517 horsepower at the rear wheels?  This Q-ship of a wagon is just the right tool to lure your unsuspecting neighbor and their Corvette out to the dragstrip for a proper drubbing.  Is the $30,000 or best offer too high a price to pay for the ultimate street subterfuge weapon?

The concept of Q-ships dates back to that whole Trojan Horse debacle, but it came to full fruition during World Wars I and II.  When the rules of naval warfare went out the window concerning German U-boats, opposing navies decided to do something about the problem.  The main targets were merchant vessels, and submarines counted on their prey being unarmed.  Instead of attacking from below, most submarine captains would surface their vessels and attack while fully exposed.  Imagine their surprise when that helpless merchant ship opened fire on them!  These heavily armed but stealthy merchant vessels came to be known as Q-ships.

On the mean streets of America and at its drag strips, you can’t get any more Q-ship than a 1976 AMC Hornet Sportabout station wagon.  The only thing missing is some wood grain on its flanks.  The seller’s description is a study of subtle subterfuge.  We are told that this wagon was garage-kept most of its life.  It has no rust or leaks and gets 19MPG on the highway.  The front seats have been replaced with new bucket seats and the rear seats have been recovered.  The American Racing Torq Thrust wheels even have new Mickey Thompson tires on them.  While it looks like a low-mileage car, the true mileage is unknown.  Once the surprise was installed under the hood, the odometer was reset.

As for the description of the engine, the average person on the street would need a John Force Universal Translator to understand it.  The overall gist of it is that the car no longer harbors its original AMC engine and has a built 5.3-liter GM LS V-8 with a turbocharger rumbling under the hood.  What the seller wrote in the ad is as follows: Engine: 5-3, bored .005 forged Summit flat top pistons, gen 4 rods, stock polished crank. Lingenfelter GT 2-3 cam, 28/26 ring gap, balanced, heads rebuilt, 1218 springs. Corvette front access. Drive 16′ Spawl fan, Be Cool LS radiator. Holley 3-2 oil pan.Vs Racing Gen 2.5, billet 78/75 turbo, AME spray meth, Dynoed 500/500 @ 5900.

The description of the transmission and the rest of the work is somewhat clearer.  It is a 4L80E that was an older Jasper rebuild.  Whoever built it installed a 2800-stall speed torque converter in it.  The rear end is a narrowed 9-inch with a limited slip differential.  There are other details in the ad on the more esoteric parts of the mechanicals, and I am more than open to any reader who understands the intricacies of this setup to explain it to those of us who do not fluently speak this language in the comments.

As for the suspension, the front end has been rebuilt and new ball joints and bushings were installed.  The car has also been treated to new front disc and rear drum brakes and various suspension parts to both refurbish it and to handle the horsepower.  Speaking of that horsepower, the electronics package is described in the ad as follows:  Holley X Max, V2, build 50, control, controls boost, set up for flex fuel, but not tuned to it. 3.5 displays engine stats.

As a fan of the Q-ship or “sleeper” concept, this AMC is quite appealing.  While the base car doesn’t ring any bells for me, you have to admit that choosing an AMC wagon is utterly devious and the execution is on-point.  While the price may drive the tire kickers away, at least one of you is adding up the components and labor in your head in a mad scramble to justify the cost.  If one of our readers buys this car, be sure to let us know.  A follow-up story sharing the new owner’s tales of racing glory would be epic.


  1. Moparman Moparman Member

    All that engine and only a single exhaust?! I’d imagine that getting “stung” by this Hornet on a drag strip or street race would really hurt! A Q ship indeed! GLWTA!! :-)

    Like 9
    • Allen L

      Only needs one exhaust, because only one turbocharger.

      Like 10
    • JB Jeffries

      Now that AMC is firmly under the MoPar umbrella, a Gen III engine would’ve been much more appropriate. And it would’ve made way more power.

      Like 1
      • Jason Holland

        For way more $$$ too. LS is King because it’s prolific and affordable. Not like ford/whoever owns Chrysler.

        Like 1
      • JLHudson

        AMC is not “firmly under the MoPar umbrella”. What a bunch of piffle!…and let me be perfectly clear on one thing: with computer ignition, fuel injection & 10 pounds of boost, a 390/401 will also make 800 hp.

        Like 0

    To clarify the drive trains technical jargon would go something like this; RUMBLE RUMBLE RUMBLE, SCHREEEEECH, OH HOLEY HELL !

    Like 10
  3. Tom71Mustangs Member

    I appreciate the history lesson on Q-ships, Jeff!

    Like 11
  4. alphasud Member

    When a saw the title of the article my pulse quickened until is saw LS in the paragraph. I don’t care if it has 1000hp what would really turn my crank would be a built 401 under the hood. Still pretty cool with the sellers choice in the long roof version but part of me says bummer.

    Like 28
    • Aussie Dave Aussie Dave Member

      Yep, total agree, I almost stopped reading when I saw LS.
      An a 401 is more jaw dropping than an LS at cars and coffee.

      Like 20
      • mike

        Exactly….must people put Chevy mtrs in everything???

        Like 13
      • Mark Kress

        Even AMC started putting GM engines in them.

        Since this Sportabout had a 258, it’s a forgivable transgression.

        Like 9
    • Al camino

      Boy some people know how to spend they’re money!

      Like 4
  5. RMac

    Now that is cool
    Sportabouts were sweet looking and with that drive train and restomod it is just stinking awesome but I love sleepers and treat mod with modern upgrades

    Like 5
  6. Howie

    With no plates is this street legal? Sellers feedback (0).

    Like 4

      It has Maryland historic plates on it. The numbers are just blocked out for the photos.

      Like 7
  7. Mike76

    Normally I don’t much care for LS swaps. Just over them. But, I’ve got to admit, this Sportabout is pretty dang cool. I’d be tempted to go full sleeper (another overused term, but applies well here) mode and remove the racing stripes on the hood and look to source a correct set of wheel covers or hubcaps. No one would ever suspect what is lurking under the hood. I can just imagine the tomfoolery I could get into with this. Someone is going to have some fun!

    Like 13
  8. That AMC guy

    Yikes! The Hornet was never meant to handle that much power, top engine was the AMC 360 with something like half the horsepower of this setup. I hope they did some chassis stiffening or that poor thing might twist into a pretzel when you lay on the loud pedal!

    Like 8
    • alphasud Member

      The fact that they left the brakes stock screams one trick pony show.

      Like 5
  9. I_cant_drive_65

    super cool, but the ho-humness of an LS is a little but of a downer. That said there is no denying the awesomeness wrapped around that boring (but fast) LS! The only thing I question is if the front suspension is up to the task. The rest (LS notwithstanding) is nothing but neat-o!

    Like 1
    • Harold Quillen

      Couldn’t of got more horsepower but 500 is enough for this,too bad back brakes aren’t disc

      Like 0
  10. Pete

    My wife owned one when we married. they are very light, and agree, it would need stiffening up. A souped 5.3 without the turbo would probably be enough to have a ball.

    Like 3
  11. Don

    Yippee… someone stuck another Chebbie lump in something and thinks it special… I had a friend with an avocado green 73 Sportabout with the 401 drive train four speed drive train from a 71 AMX..it even had woodgrain…now that was a Kenosha Komet..

    Like 16
  12. CCFisher

    Nice build, but it would be much more interesting with an AMC 401 under the hood. No mention of chassis mods, either. Like That AMC guy said, Hornets weren’t meant for this much power. Without chassis reinforcement, if the next owner has a heavy foot, he/she can count on cracks in the body joints and panels that no longer fit well in their twisted openings. The wagon is probably the worst choice for this upgrade, in terms of body rigidity.

    Like 7
  13. Randall Tefft Sundeen

    For those of You of a certain age, this car was known as a SLEEPER, a sleeper is a car that looks like a pup ( grandmother mobile) but goes like the wind! This was a sleeper, especially for AMC, which, let’s face it, wasn’t the best car on the road!

    Like 0
  14. RoadDog

    It’s certainly not something you see everyday. The single exhaust pipe adds to the ‘Q-ship’ theme. Duals would be a tip-off that all is not what it appears to be, grandma’s grocery -getter. I can see where the AMC purists in the crowd are coming from, but there’s no denying that this is a truly unique build. Not my cup of tea, but it will make someone very happy. GLWTS.

    Like 3
  15. MDB

    It is a very mild tune, just so you know. Not sure what injectors he is running, but 500 HP with a 5.3 and a billet 78 from VS is low boost. I made 800 with a similar setup, but a Billet 80mm Borg Warner on E85 and 19 psi. It had more in it. Terminator X is the good stuff from Holley, excellent engine managent and although it is not tuned for the Flex Fuel, you would want to for sure if the injectors and lines can support the volume needed for E85…or upgrade both. 4L80Es are bulletproof as they are basically a TH400 with OD. No real mention of the coverter, and that is where the magic lies with a turbo LS and an 80E. The stall rating is not enough to know, you need to know who made it and if it is a single disc lockup or a triple. Getting my converter right was a huge factor for both spool time and ET. Overall, this is a great ride and there is plenty of potential. If I owned this it would be deep into the 9’s with a proper tuneup and tires.

    Like 5
    • Harold Quillen

      Could of got 1200 horsepower with most boost,but no need

      Like 0
  16. Mister Green

    Arming freighters was Churchill’s idea… and it backfired: U-boats simply sank all freighters on sight while submerged. Speaking of that, $30k is simply too much.

    Like 2

    People put an LS in something and suddenly think its worth $1,000,000

    Like 2
  18. Jim king

    Another chevy engine infestation….LS has replaced SBC as the cooking cutter “ me too” wallmart kit swap….🤢

    Like 3
  19. Mike K

    Alway appreciated the styling of the Sportabout. I thought I was one of the few until the old “Automobile Quartetly” magazone highlighted it. Does anyone else remember that publication?

    Like 2
  20. Randall Tefft Sundeen

    My Favorite auto publication! I had several Automobile quarterly editions! My personal favorite was Changing of the guard, a Lincoln for the 80s! That edition showcased all four panther platform Lincolns, The Mark 6 Sedan and Coupe’ and the Town Car and Coupe’! This was a radical departure from the 79′ Models and AQ showed detailed photos and diagrams!

    Like 1
  21. Rustomodrob

    Growing up in the 70s and 80s AMC was everywhere in my neighborhood. From the Gremlin, Hornet, Concord, Javalin, Pacer and even a PacerX.
    But yeah…seems like the LS is the go to for builds…and I get it…they are plentiful, affordable, durable, and you can make some crazy HP with them….but I agree…would have been much more interesting if it had the 401.

    Like 0
  22. bobhess bobhess Member

    Been racing so just getting back. I like this car just like it is. Already built and built right and ready to go. How much hp do you need to smoke folks on the street and how much money and time do you have to do your own modifications? Buy it and drive it.

    Like 1
  23. Davey Boy

    I absolutely agree with bobhess. People are down on the LS swap but where else are you going to get that much tech and horsepower for that much money? Yes they are asking to much for this car, but even the seller knows that. Hence the make offer option. I am a”HUGE” fan of this year Hornet considering I owned a 77 Hornet AMX. White with black AMX graphics. Unfortunately mine only had a 6 cylinder and I don’t know what kind of rear-end it had but it was straight posi. It was hard to drive on icy roads. Every time I let off the brakes, the rear end would slide straight sideways. It was fun in a snowy parking lot but it didn’t have enough power to get out of its own way. Definitely would’ve liked this setup in it. In all honesty, I really like the look of a well set up LS motor under any hood and even though I would love to see a well built 401 in there, for practicality reasons and reliability, (and also drivability) you can’t beat the setup this Hornet has. Perfect in every way except I would’ve preferred dual exhaust. Really wish my circumstances were better and if I end up having to sell my house, I just may take a shot. Oops…TMI? Oh well. If I can’t confide in my like minded gearheads then who can I? “Smoke em if you got em!” Burnouts forever!

    Like 1
  24. hemistroker

    I am no fan of the LS swap into anything with frame rails mindset, but reality is they are plentiful, cheap, have a near unlimited aftermarket support, and can make cheap horsepower. While a 401 done the same way WOULD be cooler, the cost would probably been more $ than the car cost to build as shown, just to get the same performance. And while under the hood appears to be done to a nice standard, most would only get to see the tailgate and single exhaust. cool car for what it was designed to accomplish.

    Like 1
  25. JLHudson

    The idea that AMC is “firmly under the MoPar umbrella” is a bunch of ridiculous piffle. Iacocca disposed of everything AMC for a tax break. Chrysler kept only Jeep stuff and the 360 for the SJ. The idea that AMC needed support from the MoPar clubs was tossed around back in 1988 and rejected. They did not want us either…..as for a Gen 3 “Hemi” versus LS or Coyote, it goes like this: The Coyote does not fit well & the LS is better than the Gen 3 “Hemi”. If one has $$$, fuel injection, computer ignition & 10 pounds of boost on a 390/401 will make around 800 hp. For comparison purposes, there is another Sportabout with a CTS-V motor showing up at AMC shows. A race between these two would be of interest.

    Like 1

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