Goodguys 2023 Goolsby Customs Next Generation Winner!
Congratulations to James Cerepak for winning the Goodguys 2023 Goolsby Customs Next Generation title with your 1974 AMC Javelin! We’ll see you and your vehicle in Scottsdale, Arizona November 17-19, 2023 at the 26th Speedway Motors Southwest Nationals!
In one way or another Goodguys has been hosting the Next Generation program (formally known as YoungGuys) for nearly 3 decades and we’ve met a ton of young rodders through the program who have an immense passion for the aftermarket automotive industry. In recent years, Jonathan Goolsby with Goolsby Customs has backed the Next Generation program and has been actively involved in introducing and helping these under 30-year-old hot rodders find where their place is in this industry.
James Cerepak was one who didn’t need much guidance. A true do-it-yourselfer, James grew up in the kind of family that repaired broken stuff rather than toss it and replace it. He carried that mentality into his ’74 Javelin which he purchased during his junior year of highschool after it had been sitting for 12 years wasting away. For the next 14 years James made that Javelin his number three priority after school and work.
Fast forward to today and that same Javelin is what earned James the overall Goolsby Customs Next Generation title for 2023. He truly encompasses everything that the Next Generation program is all about and eats, sleeps, breathes, and lives automobiles 24/7. When he’s not at home working on his car, you can find James working at his local small-town general automotive repair shop. He also spent a few years doing dealership repair work, everything from Toyota’s to Powerstroke diesels. The kid knows his stuff.
After he purchased his Javelin, James started buying and collecting original AMC documents specifically for 1971-74 Javelins and tells us he’s accumulated enough documents and information to build one with his eyes closed. His plan was to redesign his AMC base model into a prototype performance car of those from the SCCA Trans Am era. Keep reading and you’ll see how he executed that.
We’re going to start under the hood, because like any true die-hard hot rodder you can never have enough horsepower. Unhappy with the original 360c.i. engine and knowing there was a 401c.i. option available that dropped right in, James started building a 401. He magnafluxed the crankshaft, ran the stock rods, and added forged pistons to the tune of 11.5:1 compression with Dog Leg heads. He worked with Isky Cams to get a custom ground camshaft to his liking and then painted the long block himself with AMC Metallic Turquoise paint.
He then added a Milodon deep sump oil pan, Pertronix Ignitor III ignition system, Edelbrock intake, Holley Sniper EFI, a set of Doug’s long tube headers, custom 2.5-inch exhaust with cutouts, Flowmaster mufflers, a cooling system consisting of a Frostbite radiator, Flowkooler water pump, and Spal electric fan, Bulltear accessory drive, Powermaster alternator, and topped it off with a set of iconic finned Offenhauser valve covers. The new engine is good for 450 horsepower through a modified 904 transmission.
As James will tell you, finding aftermarket parts for a ‘74 AMC Javelin is hard. His closest source is cross-referencing various Jeeps as they ran the same engines as Javelin’s, but often in different years, and you need to know your stuff. That won’t help when it comes to the suspension. But that didn’t stop James. He ordered a QA1 front suspension system for a Camaro and modified it to work under his Javelin, added air shocks to the rear, and went with a set of 17×9 American Racing wheels on all corners wrapped with BFGoodrich tires. The rest of the original suspension components were removed, cleaned, inspected, and reinstalled with new bushings and hardware. The car has a nice static stance and hugs the corners around town.
James gets a kick when he tells people the paint job was done at Earl Scheib’s, but he made Earl’s job easy with 1,500+ hours of his own time body working the sheet metal to perfection before delivering the car to get sprayed. Recreating the color was difficult as it was a 1-year only AMC color and originally lead based. But they figured it out and sprayed the Sherwin Williams F7 Metallic Blue and shined it up. James brought it home and added the vinyl top, 401 badges, custom JavelinX badges, chrome trimming, the vinyl T stripe on the hood, and new exterior lighting.
The interior is mostly stock and features one of the unique Pierre Cardin factory designs. James added his own touch by molding the Holley Sniper information screen into the dash where the ash tray once was, re-wired the entire car, rebuilt the factory HVAC system using all OEM parts (including tracking down a NOS heater core on the other side of the country), added LED lighting in the dash, and topped the column with a sportier ’71 model steering wheel. We dig the old airplane throttle-stlye shifter.
There’s no doubting how deep James Cerepak’s passion for old cars runs. He regularly drives his ’74 Javelin to work, to local car shows, and a couple times a year he will stretch its legs for a few hundred miles at a time. He tells us he’ll add roughly 5,000 miles to the odometer annually, but he isn’t afraid to hop in and knock off a 1,000-mile trip at the drop of a hat. Save them. Build them. Drive them. That’s what James did, and there’s a lot of us who can take some inspiration from a guy like him.
Come see James and his ’74 Javelin at the 2023 season-ending Goodguys 26th Speedway Motors Southwest Nationals in Scottsdale, AZ November 17-19 where he will be on display with the 2023 Goodguys Top 12 winners, and the Chevrolet Performance Builders of the Year.
Photos by Steven Bunker