The AMC Cavalier was part of three other prototypes that hinted at some of AMC's future production vehicles. In 1966, the Cavalier became part of "Project IV" touring the auto show circuit. This group of four show cars included the Vixen (a 4-seat coupe with "flying buttress" rear roof pillars), the AMX prototype (a 2-seat coupe that evolved into the real production car), and the AMX II (a notchback hardtop that was 8 inches (203 mm) longer than the AMX). At the time, none of the concept cars carried the Rambler nameplate, which AMC started phasing out in 1966 in favor of AMC.
Only the 4-door Cavalier sedan with 4 seats was designed by Richard A. Teague in AMC's advanced design studio. While the "Project IV" cars were being shown to the public, the automaker was already underway preparing for future production cars and some of the Cavalier's design cues were incorporated into new 1970 model year AMC Hornet, which required tooling and final stampings by summer 1969.
The AMC Cavalier was unique in that the vehicle was a study in symmetry. It was built to demonstrate the use of numerous interchangeable body panels. For example, the fenders were identical (the opposite ends, e.g. left front and right rear). The doors were similarly shared with opposite sides (an idea originated by Cord on its prototype 935 Saloon) since the rear doors were hinged in the back (suicide door). The hood and decklid were also interchangeable. The Nash Metropolitan, which was sold by AMC up to 1962, also had interchangeable inner panels, but their outer skins were different. In addition to reducing tooling costs by thirty percent, the design objective of the AMC Cavalier was also to demonstrate how to reduce the costs of production.
Another small independent automaker also sought to reduce manufacturing costs toward the end of its existence. Studebaker developed a concept car with a 113-inch (2,870 mm) wheelbase for potential launch in 1967-1969. The fiberglass construction of the "Familia" design study featured interchangeable hood and trunk, doors, bumpers, head-light and taillight housings, windshield and back window, as well as side windows. However, the Familia's concepts were not incorporated into Studebaker production cars.
The AMC Cavalier also featured curved sides, as if a fuselage, punctuated by full wheel arches and riding on 13-inch (330 mm) "mag" wheels with whitewall tires. The rear roof pillars ("C" pillar) were a "flying buttress" design providing the profile view of the car with a sweptback roof style to what appears to be a short rear deck. The rear window was recessed between the C pillars, making back area look similar to that of the General Motors' 1966-1967 "A" body platform two-door models, such as the Chevrolet Chevelle and Pontiac GTO. The swept-back panels and roof were covered in black vinyl to enhance the car's deep red metallic body finish.
The AMC Cavalier featured a minimal amount of ornamentation compared to contemporary production cars, but was comparable to popular foreign makes as AMC was interested in marketing the car overseas. Utility was enhanced with dual-action scissor-type hinges on the deck lid so it could be opened like a normal trunk lid, or elevated to the height of the car's roof to accommodate tall, large, and bulky items in the trunk area.
Safety was emphasized with wrap-around rear lights designed to illuminate alternate warning signals in green, yellow, and red. A built-in roll bar reinforcement allowed for the thin pillar posts and roof panel. Exterior door handles were replaced with flush, push-type door buttons.
The dashboard of the AMC Cavalier was a schematic layout of the car; the vehicle's profile and interior cavities were represented in the design of the dashboard.
Under the innovative body panel structure, the concept vehicle had a conventional front-mounted 343 cu in (5.6 L) 280 bhp (209 kW) AMC V8 engine with rear-wheel drive (FR layout). The compact-sized AMC Cavalier rode on a 108-inch (2,743 mm) wheelbase and offered seating capacity for six adults.
According to Robert B. Evans, chairman of the automaker at the time, the innovative AMC Cavalier toured the auto show circuit to "help restore public confidence in AMC, where sales have sagged."
"The styling of this car totally works when contrasted with the other similarly sized offerings" during the mid-1960s that included the Chevrolet Corvair and the Ford Falcon.
Except for the short hood giving it equal-length front and rear decks, many of the Cavalier's styling touches found their way into the AMC Hornet that was introduced for the 1970 model year. The Hornet was also designed under the direction of Richard A. Teague. "The Cavalier's strong horizontal lines, flat surfaces, minimal overhangs and blockish face were all visual hints to the 1970 AMC Hornet compact." Although the production Hornets did not use interchangeable body parts, its front and rear bumpers were made from the same stamping.
A coupe version of the Cavalier was also part of the "Project IV" concept tour, but was designed without parts swapping. This companion model, called the "Vixen" also forecast the 1970 Hornet appearance "in its simple blunt "face," dual headlamps, long-hood/short-deck profile, and flared wheel openings."
Teague took the exact opposite of the Cavalier's symmetrical design for the 1973 "Hornet GT" concept car. This car featured differently styled sides and pillars to test ways of improving both visibility and roof strength, as well as gaining more interior space.
The Sharjah Post Office issued a 3 dirham (Dh) airmail stamp in January 1971 depicting a drawing of the AMC Cavalier (Michel catalog stamp number 783). It is part of a "Post Day" series of stamps illustrating a pair of early and modern automobiles. The postage stamp shows a 1904 Rambler and the Cavalier is misidentified on the stamp as a 1970 car, probably because the concept vehicle looked so similar to the AMC Hornet that was introduced for the 1970 model year.
American Motors planned to use the "Cavalier" name for a new pony car model to debut in 1968. By that time, however, General Motors had secured the rights to the "Cavalier" name, which it would use fourteen years later on the Chevrolet Cavalier. The second choice was selected: Javelin.