Collector Car/Cars We Remember; Was the Rambler Rebel a ‘Rebel with a cause’

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; Was the Rambler Rebel a ‘Rebel with a cause’Many feel that the 1957 Rambler Rebel was the first real “muscle car” to come to market. Unknowingly, Rambler installed its own 327-V8 coupled to a Bendix fuel injection and the car out accelerated a Corvette in a Motor Trend Magazine car test. (AMC)

Q: Hi Greg, I once owned a 1968 Rambler Rebel 2-door hard top. It was a great looking car and by the time I traded it in 1974 it had almost 100,000 miles on it. There was just a little rust on the front fenders and the little 232 cubic-inch six-cylinder never let me down. It had the automatic transmission with power steering and I traded it for a 1974 Hornet X with the 258-inch six. 

I know you like AMC because you mention your AMC cars in your columns. Keep up your fun columns as they are loaded with info. My question is what did you think of the Rambler Rebel cars that first appeared in the later 1950s? Thank you, Richard L. from Connecticut.

A: Richard, I appreciate your question because in my opinion the Rambler Rebel played an important role in the overall AMC story and I’ll try and explain why.

You owned one of the rare “new” Rambler Rebels as AMC brought back the Rebel name after a five model year hiatus. Specifically, AMC of Kenosha, Wisconsin produced the Rebel from 1957 through 1960, and then again in 1966 to 1970 in one form or another, as by 1968 the Rebel became an option upgrade on the Classic models.  

You ask how important was the Rebel to AMC’s overall success?

The answer is very, very important.  

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; Was the Rambler Rebel a ‘Rebel with a cause’

The 1967 Rambler Rebel was a fine looking car that many felt was similar in looks to the Plymouth Road Runner. (AMC)

We need to revisit 1957 when the first Rebel appeared. This initial Rebel family 4-door sedan was unknowingly and “all by mistake” quite the muscle car of the day. Specifically, families that purchased new 1957 Rebels didn’t realize that they were driving one of the hottest cars on the highway. Under the hood sat an all-Rambler designed 327-inch, 255-horse V8 with a four-barrel carburetor that was quite the performer. However, the already peppy sedan was supposed to come with fuel injection as an option. This intermediate size Rambler had a wheelbase of 108-inches and its family style body didn’t scare any of the popular fast cars of the day – until the boulevard light turned green.

Motor Trend Magazine tested a fuel injected Rebel given them by AMC and realized it was quicker on the drag strip than a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. AMC in a move to protect its family and economy car image, quickly announced that the fuel injection option would not be available and all of the production Rebels would use the four-barrel carburetor instead.

The 288-horse injected version utilized an electronic fuel injection unit by Bendix called the Electrojector, and in addition to the uproar of AMC having the fastest car on the highway, reliability issues with the electronic control unit also contributed to the non-production decision.  

Still, the Rebel with a carburetor was very fast but only 1,500 ’57 Rebels were produced. I recall in 1958, at our local speedway in Vineland, N.J., some of the modified stockcars were using 327 Rebel engines for power. I was 11 years old at the time.  

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; Was the Rambler Rebel a ‘Rebel with a cause’

The 1970 Rebel Machine was the last hurrah for the Rebel name. The mid-size muscle car found just 2,326 buyers at $3,450. The Rebel Machine is worth serious money nowadays at the big auctions when one appears.

Also, in 1958, the Rebel name was used on all standard Ramblers powered by a 250-inch V8. This lasted through the 1960 model year, after which all of the 108-inch wheelbase models took the Rambler Classic name instead. AMC dropped the Rambler name in 1969 as some the intermediates were renamed the Classic two-door hardtop. The Rebel models were gone by 1971 and replaced with the AMC Matador name.

The Rebel you once owned featured specific interior upgrading and a revised roofline that fit the popular styles of the day. Still, the 1966 and 1967 intermediates took the Rambler Rebel name although for 1970 there was still an AMC Rebel listed on the order forms.

Further, and always confusing to Rambler fans like me, the Rebel name that reappeared in 1966 was part of an option, unlike the Rebels from 1957 to 1960 that were stand alone model efforts. Thus, the Rebel was the top-line option of the Rambler Classic two-door hardtop. To attract younger buyers Rebels featured bucket seats, special trim, and the aforementioned new roofline. For the 1967 model year, AMC’s entire intermediate line took the Rebel name. (I told you it’s confusing.)

AMC had to get rid of its “slow and good gas mileage” family sedan image, and the redesigned Rebel intermediate started promoting performance, although far behind the efforts of Chevy, Ford and Chrysler. There were also numerous factory and dealer installed high-output options AMC offered and I always felt that the soon to come to market Plymouth Road Runner had similar Rebel looks in 1968.

So, when it comes to the aforementioned importance of the1968 year, it was the most crucial to AMC continuing to be a car company. Specifically, AMC was profitable for the first time in many years in 1968 thanks to upgrades that attracted the younger set and models that were named Rebel SST, Javelin/AMX and engines like the 390 that sat in everything from the AMX to the compact size American that could dust several 396/325 Chevelles, 383 Road Runners, and 390 Fairlane GTs.

All 1968 models were treated to exterior enhancements, including front and rear major upgrades. Inside, and thanks to government mandates, more safety equipment like shoulder harness, front seat belts, two rear lap belts, lighted side markers, padded seat backs, energy-absorbing steering columns were now AMC standard fare. Best of all, AMC didn’t wait for the requirements to become law, instead incorporating the mandates right away. Although costly and pushing the prices up for the 1968 model year, this move resulted in safety conscious consumers looking closer at AMC than ever before.

Collector Car/Cars We Remember; Was the Rambler Rebel a ‘Rebel with a cause’

Although not a Rebel, the 1969 Hurst Scrambler was the fastest quarter-mile car ever built. AMC put a 390 “Go Pak” V8 in the little compact American for instant 13-second drag strip runs. Only 1,512 of the Scramblers were ever built. (AMC)

I’ll end with the Rebel evolving into two distinct performance vehicles, one street worthy and the other race only. The street worthy was the 1970 “The Rebel Machine” with a special 390-inch V8 churning out 340-horses and 430 lb. ft. torque connected to a T-10 four-speed. It was only available one year at a base price of $3,450 and only 2,326 were ever built.

Additionally, yet not a Rebel, the “AMX” 390 produced 325 horses and was available in the other SST version cars and the iconic 1969 Hurst Scrambler American, the latter the fastest of all Ramblers ever built. (Only 1,512 ever built).

As for the off-road Rebel, it was the famous Hayden Proffitt driven 1968 Rebel SST funny car that was originally powered by a bored and stroked 438-inch AMC engine on nitro. Proffitt joined the already formed AMC team in late 1967 as the new driver and fielded the Grant Piston sponsored Rebel SST Funny Car until 1970 with 426 style Hemi for power.

In ending, I would surmise the Rambler Rebel was the “Rebel ‘with’ a cause”, in play on words off the famous movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, for you youngsters.

Thanks for your letter.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at  

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