1957 AMC Rambler Rebel

The 1957 AMC Rambler Rebel was a true factory hot rod and very likely America’s first real muscle car. The American Motors Corporation fresh off its formation as a result of the merger of Nash and Hudson Motors was busily trying to catch up with the Big Three corporations and other independents in developing a V8 engine of its own. AMC had borrowed the new Packard 352 cu. in. V8 for the 1955 year but struggling Packard would itself soon fade into merger with Studebaker and by 1957 was essentially a Studebaker using Studebaker’s own V8. With the help of engineers from erstwhile Kaiser, Nash and Hudson, AMC hastily put together a V8 engine that could be offered by 1956. The new 250 cu. in. V8 was capable of an enlarged displacement, a factor built into the engine’s design. By 1957 the engine had grown to 327 cu. in. by increasing the cylinder bore to 4 in. Instantly, AMC had an engine capable of performance equal to any engine produced by all other manufacturers.

Early in 1957, AMC engineers explored the possibility of creating a “performance” platform for the new 327. Although against company policy the engineers talked the higher brass into proceeding with a limited production car that would be able to compete with the hot cars of the Big Three, such as the Chevrolet Corvette, Oldsmobile’s J2 package, Chrysler’s hemi-powered 300C and Studebaker’s supercharged Golden Hawk. Thus the Rebel was born.

The first consideration was what body style would get the engine. All AMC cars were unit construction, no sub-frames or frames. This approach increased rigidity and also decreased weight. To make the Rebel very competitive it was decided that the smaller, lighter (3300 lbs.) Rambler 108 in. wheelbase body was more appropriate. The Ambassador, which would normally receive the 327, was larger and heavier. Also, because the Rambler body would ordinarily have the smaller displacement 250 cu. in. V8 as an option, the hardware to accommodate the 327 was already designed and available. The Rambler’s limitation, however, was that the model was offered only as a four door, either a Custom sedan or a Custom hardtop. Neither presented itself as a particularly sporty looking car, but the hardtop came closest and was chosen. All rebels would be painted silver with a horizontal “V” extending along the side and enclosing a gold anodized aluminum panel. The interior would have certain Rebel-specific features, including a unique dash, special seat covers, and emblems. Both brakes and suspension received performance upgrades that were not installed on any other model that year.

The big deal, however, was the engine. It wasn’t the standard 327 found in the more luxurious Ambassador. AMC engineers built up the engine, not by manufacturing new parts, but by modifying the heads to raise the compression from 9.0 to 9.5:1, arranging with Iskenderian Camshafts to produce one of their solid lifter E2 performance camshafts, and deconstruction of the two mufflers to reduce back pressure. The Carter WCFB 4-barrel carburetor was borrowed from the Ambassador and became the standard induction system for the ’57 Rebel although AMC did experiment with the new Bendix Electro-injector system but it proved too troublesome for everyday use. After a few cars were built with the injection system, it was abandoned and all cars were equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor. Both automatic and 3-speed with optional overdrive were available to prospective customers. With the changes made for the Rebel 327, AMC nonetheless listed its horsepower rating the same as the more docile Ambassador – 255 hp. A higher rating would seem logical and more realistic but possibly the Rebel engineers were reeled in somewhat by the cautious and conservative front office.

Fuel injection Rebel engine on display at New York Auto Show, December, 1956

Only 1500 Rebels would be built in 1957, and all subsequent “Rebels” would be equipped with the more modest 250 cu. in. V8. During 1957 the Rebel would go on to outperform all other manufacturers entries in 0-60 runs except the 1957 fuel injected Corvette with which it was equal. Unfortunately, the model remains rather obscure and very few ’57 Rebels have survived the ravages of rust and neglect and today maybe 20 or so exist. I bought my Rebel late in 2018, an intervention to save it from the elements and the inevitable crusher. The car is in very bad condition and will need major sheet metal replacement. Every nut and bolt must come out before a thorough sand blasting from front to back. The engine, a replacement Holley 2-barrel 327 from a ’65 Ambassador, was installed years ago. There is no information of what became of the original 327. The car will be converted from a Borg Warner automatic to a BW T86 3-speed. All parts necessary for this conversion have been located. The engine will be rebuilt to ’57 Rebel specifications including a correct ’57 Carter 4-barrel intake manifold which is currently on hand.

I started cleaning out the car soon after arrival in early 2019, tagging parts along the way. The car was missing many essential parts; almost all of the brake pieces were missing as were the rear axles. The front suspension had been taken apart with many parts missing as was the case with most of the steering components. Like most salvage yards, most parts removed from the car were done so with a cutting torch resulting in considerable damage to remaining pieces. Later in the summer, I got it ready for complete sandblasting. I removed the front fenders, hood, trunk lid and doors and a lot of rusted sheet metal, especially the floor, which was largely ruined by decay. After an initial sandblasting that removed the heavy rust and remaining weak metal, the car was transported to a shop nearby and set on a jig. Because the body was of unit construction, there was no frame to use as a guide for alignment of body panels. Once on the jig, all four corners of the car were braced by welding 1-inch box metal laterally and across. The cross pieces remain adjustable. The next step was to mount the doors and front fenders in place to check for proper gaps and alignment.

The bracing and sheet metal replacement was done at a local shop. The two fellows working on it were able to create a new substructure for the car using boxed steel. They then fabricated sheet metal pieces to form a new floor, which was integrated with the new substructure. Important in all of this was to insure that the rear door posts were in correct alignment and also strong. The quality of the work was excellent and the car is now stronger than it was from the factory.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo

slide 1 - Early cleanup
slide 2  - early cleanup
slide 2a - removed 327 engine
slide 3 - off to first sandblasting
slide 4 - one door skin replaced
slide 5 - on jig to line up doors
slide 6 - rebuilding substructure
slide 7 - restoring floor
slide 8 - front floor restored
slide 9 - restored floor

Meanwhile, the rear axle assembly was at another shop. Because the car was originally an automatic car, the rear axle ring and pinion gears produced a 3.15:1 ratio. To accommodate the stick shift conversion with overdrive a somewhat higher numerical ratio was desirable to take advantage of the greater spread of engine speed. An NOS 3.55 ring and pinion gear set was located and installed. Two matching, correct axle shafts were also purchased along with replacement bearings and seals to complete the refit.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo

slide 1 - removed rear axle
slide 2 - dissasembled axle on bench
slide 3 - replacement ring and pinion
slide 4 - completed rear axle

22nd Annual “Rambler Regional”

Boxborough, MA

July 18, 2020

Hosted by

The 4 Seasons Rambler Club

TOBY KNOLL GARAGE

'50s Cars
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Doug Smith, owner of Toby Knoll Garage, and his Fabulous Hudson Hornet at the Franklin County Technical School’s Fourth Annual Cool Rides Car Show. (2013)

slide 4 - one door skin replaced