American Motors took one shot at the performance market in the 1950s with the 1957 Rebel, sporting a 327 CID V8 crammed into a compact Rambler body. Here’s the intriguing story.
In the George Romney era at American Motors (1954 to 1962) the automaker focused almost entirely on compact and economy cars, showing virtually no interest in the performance market. The company’s ads boasted: “Why don’t we enter high-performance Rambler V-8s in racing? Because the only race Rambler cares about is the human race!”
There was one curious exception to this rule, however. In 1957 came the Rambler Rebel, which combined the compact Rambler platform with 108-inch wheelbase and the 327 cubic-inch, 255 hp V8 normally found in the big Nash Ambassador. With its muscular power-to-weight ratio, the unlikely package produced 0-to-60 mph performance second only to the Corvette in 1957, and a performance legend—of sorts—was born.
Though it looks like a tight fit here, the American Motors 327 CID V8 (no relation to the Chevy V8 of the same displacement) fell right into the same space as the standard Rambler 250 CID V8, since the two AMC V8s shared the same architecture and dimensions. Though the Rebel was originally slated to use a 288-horsepower V8 equipped with the then-new Bendix Electrojector system, the primitive electronic fuel injection system was not ready for prime time, and apparently no cars so equipped were delivered to the public. Production Rebels used the Nash Ambassador V8 with Carter four-barrel carburetor, solid lifters, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and an official rating of 255 hp. Photo above by Christopher Ziemnowicz.
The Rebel’s cabin was all standard Rambler in upmarket Custom trim, with nothing to suggest a performance theme. Note the clutch pedal on the floor and three-on-the-tree column shift lever. (Overdrive was also provided, while GM Hydra-Matic was optional.) Despite the un-sporty vibe from the driver’s seat, editors at Motor Trend magazine discovered that the little rocket could do 0-to-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, which made it the quickest American production sedan for 1957 in their book, and second only to the Corvette overall. Photo above by Christopher Ziemnowicz.
A key factor, no doubt, in the stout performance was the Rebel’s light weight, around 3350 lbs. at the curb. Only one body style was offered, the Custom four-door hardtop (there was no two-door shell in the Rambler line at the time) and in just one color combination: metallic silver with gold-anodized side trim, as shown in the lead photo above. List price with standard Rebel equipment was $2,786, and the records show that exactly 1,500 units were produced.
Shown above is the Rebel’s headline feature which, oddly, never made it to production: Bendix Electojector, the first electronic fuel injection system for production cars. Sharp readers will note that this display unit is actually installed on a Buick V8 mockup. Developed in the very early days of solid-state electronics, the Bendix system used breaker points to trigger the fuel injectors, along with some other primitive features that rendered the setup not quite ready for consumer use.
While American Motors pulled the plug on the troublesome setup before it was released to the public, rival Chrysler actually delivered a few dozen cars with Bendix Electrojector, and a handful of these vehicles still exist today. When Bosch entered the electronic fuel injection market some years later, it used a considerable amount of the Bendix technology under license.
In the photo below from the 1957 Chicago Auto Show, a banner over the Rambler Rebel proclaims, “Electrojector Fuel Injection 288 H.P,” a reference to the engine that, ultimately, was never offered. And if we look behind the car, we think we can see an example of the fuel-injected engine on a display stand. Are any of the Bendix Electrojector-equipped Rebel engines or vehicles still around today? Alas, if any still exist, they have yet to surface.