Rare Rides: The 1970 American Motors Rebel Machine

Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Plymouth, and Pontiac. What do these marques all have in common? Well, amongst other things, they produced the overwhelming majority of muscle cars built in the 1960s and ‘70s.

That is not to say though that some seminal performance cars didn’t come from the factories of other players. Indeed, Oldsmobile released their brutish Hurst/Olds in 1968, Mercury dropped their unusual Cyclone Spoiler 429 Super Cobra Jet in 1970, and Buick unleashed one of the quickest and most powerful muscle cars of the entire era in the form of the GSX Stage 1 later that year.

While I appreciate these brands for their efforts, there was another niche player in the muscle car market that always piqued my interest more. Long considered an “also-ran,” this relatively small company came out with a handful of eccentric yet capable street monsters that, by many metrics, bested equivalent cars from the Big Three.

I’m talking, of course, about the American Motors Corporation, colloquially known as AMC.

Formed by the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car companies in the mid-1950s, AMC’s paradigm was to offer models brimming with performance and safety features at a price point below that of the majors. While this business plan sometimes led to some fairly dreary models in terms of quality and style, every once in a while, AMC swung for the fences and knocked one out of the park.

One example of this was a low-production and highly eclectic variant of AMC’s somewhat staid Rebel, known as the 1970 AMC Rebel Machine.

American Motors Rebel Machine

In this installment of Rare Rides, we’re going to take a look at this unusual car, and by the end, I have a feeling that you’ll come to appreciate it, and AMC, as much as I do.

The 1970 American Motors Rebel Machine. (Mecum.)

The AMC Rebel, the car from which The Machine was developed, was first released in 1967, and replaced the Rambler Classic in the AMC lineup. It was a mid-sized vehicle, available in two-door hardtop, two-door sedan, two-door convertible, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon configurations during its production run.

Sporting attractive, though somewhat conservative styling that included a Coke bottle body design, an airy greenhouse, and a short deck, the Rebel distinguished itself with a spacious interior, advanced safety features, and the most comprehensive vehicle warranty in the industry.

The 1967 AMC Rebel SST in two-door hardtop form. (Classic.com.)

Performance was seemingly not AMC’s top priority with the Rebel though, as the base engine, a 232 cubic-inch inline-six, was only capable of a measly 145 horsepower. Buyers could, of course, option their car with a wide range of gutsier six and eight cylinder powertrains, but even then, the top offering was the Rebel SST model with a 280 horsepower 343 four-barrel V8 that yielded an eight second zero-to-sixty time. Not exactly top performance for 1967.

During the Rebel’s development though, there had been interest in creating a halo muscle car version, and two prototypes had, in fact, been built. In the end, it was decided by AMC’s upper management that such a Rebel-based project needed a bit more time to gestate.

By 1968, with the muscle car wars in full swing, AMC executives instead turned their attention towards two other models for transformation into high performance halo cars. Later that year, they released the 1969 AMC Hurst SC/Rambler and the 1969 AMC Hurst AMX Super Stock, giving the company two cars suited to NHRA F/Stock, SS/C, and SS/D classes of drag racing.

The 1969 AMC Hurst AMX 390 Super Stock. (ConceptCarz.com.)

Both vehicles were not big sellers though, with the SC/Rambler only finding 1,512 interested parties, and the Super Stock landing in a paltry 52 homes. What AMC wanted to do for the 1970 model year was to create another highly modified version of a car in their lineup, but one that would have wider appeal.

For this, they turned their attention back to the Rebel.

Although the Rebel received relatively minor exterior and interior trim changes for the ’68 and ’69 model years, AMC saved the first major refresh for the 1970 car. The two-door hardtop, which would serve as the basis of The Machine, was given a new, sloping roofline with redesigned C-pillars that followed reshaped, trapezoidal quarter windows. The rear end was also revised with the taillights integrated into a new bumper.

The 1970 Rebel was given an extensive refresh to the rear half of the car. (ClassicCars.com.)

As with its prior halo cars, the aforementioned SC/Rambler and the AMX Super Stock, AMC subcontracted Hurst Performance to aid in the building of The Machine, though this time Hurst wouldn’t receive recognition in the car’s moniker.

Overseen on the AMC side by Vice-President of Marketing, Bill McNeeley and on the Hurst end by Vice-President David L. Landrith, the project began with brand new 1970 Rebel two-door hardtops being taken off the assembly line at AMC’s Kenosha, Wisconsin, factory.

The big, bad 1970 AMC Rebel Machine. (Mecum.)

The cars were then equipped with an extensively modified version of AMC’s 390 cubic-inch V8 that shared the 4.165 x 3.574-inch bore and stroke, aggressive camshaft, 10.0:1 compression, and forged connecting rods and crankshaft from the 325 horsepower version that appeared in the AMX.

To this was added a 690-cfm Motorcraft four-barrel carb, a high-flow, dual-plane intake, dogleg-port cylinder heads, hydraulic valve lifters, and larger 2 ¼-inch exhaust manifolds that made it the most powerful engine in AMC’s history with 340 horses at 5,100 rpm and 430 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,600 rpm. A heavy-duty cooling system was outfitted to keep temperatures in check, while 2 ¼-inch dual exhausts provided free-flowing exhales.

The AMC 390 borrowed from the AMX was modified to put out 340 horsepower. (Mecum.)

Behind the mill was mated either a robust, close-ratio, four-speed Borg-Warner T10 gearbox with a 10.5-inch clutch and floor-mounted Hurst shifter, or a three-speed Borg-Warner Shift Command slushbox with a pistol grip shifter.

Putting the power to the tarmac was an AMC Model 20 Twin-Grip limited-slip differential containing Dana 3.54:1 gears for manuals with a 3.91:1 ratio optional, and 3.15:1 cogs for automatics.

The rear axle and dual exhausts. (Mecum.)

Suspension consisted of independent unequal-length A-arms with twin ball joints, heavy-duty coil springs sourced from the Rebel station wagon, telescoping shocks, and a .94-inch anti-sway bar up front. The rear utilized four-link trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic shocks, and a .95-inch stabilizer bar. The setup afforded The Machine excellent handling and a taught ride, along with a raked, funny car stance.

For putting a quick stop to any proceedings, The Machine came standard with Bendix front hydraulic, power assisted, 11.14-inch, four-piston disc brakes with 10-inch drums in the rear.

The Machine Wheels were an iconic part of the package. (Mecum.)

Surrounding the brakes was a special set of Kelsey-Hayes “Machine Wheels.” These 15 x 7-inch five-slot, steel rims were painted a silver metal flake hue and were equipped with unique chrome center caps featuring a gear icon with the legend “American Motors” surrounding it. Wide Goodyear E60-15 white-letter rubber was standard.

Inside, things were largely reminiscent of a run-of-the-mill Rebel SST, with the exception of standard bucket seats with unique vinyl covers, a “The Machine” sticker on the right side of the dashboard, and a center armrest upholstered in red, white, and blue vinyl stripes. Other than the armrest, everything else in The Machine’s interior was black.

There were several interior options, with such niceties as cruise control, an adjustable tilt steering wheel, and even air conditioning (a rarity in muscle cars of the period) available.

The hood scoop mounted tach. (Mecum.)

In stark contrast to the interior, AMC went hog wild on The Machine’s exterior. A large, low profile, twin inlet ram air scoop made of fiberglass (models built later in the production run had an injection molded unit) with vacuum-operated flappers dominated the hood and housed a large tachometer visible to the driver through the windshield.

Like they had done previously with the SC/Rambler and Super Stock, AMC applied an outrageous paint scheme to the first 1000 Rebel Machines built that consisted of a white base color accented with a wide B6 Electric Blue stripe across the hood and scoop. The blue was also applied to the bottom quarter of the car’s flanks. On the lower horizontal surface of the blacked-out grille, a reflective decal featured three color blocks of red, white, and blue.

AMC left no doubt as to what you were driving. (Legendary Motor Cars.)

A reflective red 3M tape stripe, beginning at the leading edge of the front fenders, stretched along the belt line of the car, and joined tape stripes of red, white, and blue that ran transversely across the trunk lid. Matching the blacked out grille was a similarly colored tail panel. “The Machine” decals were applied to the trailing end of the front fenders just before the door gaps, and on the right side of the rear trunk lid.

Later in the production run, a slew of colors were offered, all with a blacked out hood, while the inaugural tri-color scheme became a $75 option. A vinyl top was also available late in the model year.

A photo from a vintage AMC ad showcasing The Machine with the Tri-color livery and one of the normal colors made available later in the production run. (Stellantis.)

The Machine made its public debut at the National Hot Rod Association’s World Championship Drag Race Finals in Dallas, Texas on October 25, 1969. Five cars with four-speed manuals and five with automatics were driven from the factory in Kenosha to Dallas, where four of them were raced in the event. The others were paraded around the track with Linda “Miss Hurst Golden Shifter” Vaughn and a bevvy of other ladies waving to the crowd.

The Machines at the event gave those in attendance a taste of the kind of performance it offered, with the 3,656 pound cars consistently running low six second zero-to-sixty launches and 14.5 second quarter miles at 94 mph. Mind you, those times were achieved with unprepared cars on street tires that had just covered over a thousand miles to get there.

Quite a profile. (Mecum.)

An aggressive ad campaign accompanied the release of The Machine, which made it clear that it was a capable track car as well as being suited to daily driving. In keeping with its Rebel origins, some of the ads and press releases attempted to associate the car with the counterculture movement that was sweeping the youth zeitgeist in America at the time.

In the words of AMC’s VP of Sales, Bill Pickett, “Being different from the crowd today does not necessarily mean being against something, but rather in reinforcing certain specific ideas. We anticipate that The Machine will identify with this new brand of rebel, who demonstrates for something.”

Hip and somewhat odd humor of the day was also used to promote the car. One unusual ad in particular announced that The Machine “is not as fast a 427 cubic-inch Chevrolet Corvette or Chrysler Hemi engine, but it will beat a Volkswagen, a slow freight train, or your old man’s Cadillac!”

The aggressive front end. (Mecum.)

To emphasize The Machine’s track prowess, AMC provided its dealers a wide array of “Group 19” parts, which allowed the owner of a Machine to modify his or her car to optimize performance. Notable parts included a nearly ridiculous 5.00:1 final drive gearset and a $500 “Service Kit” that bumped horsepower to well over 400 ponies, enabling an otherwise stock Machine to trip the quarter mile in the mid 12s.

While AMC had hoped that The Machine would sell in dramatically larger numbers than the AMX Super Sport and the SC/Rambler had, their hopes were ultimately dashed. Over the course of the model year, AMC sold either 1,936 or 2,326 Rebel Machines, depending on whose figures you believe.

The vacuum-actuated air intakes. (Mecum.)

The National American Motors Drivers and Racers Association stands by the former figure, while the 1970 Rebel Machine Registry contends it was the latter. The true number will likely never be established, as AMC did not keep detailed production information.

Regardless, both totals suggest a production run that was far smaller than what AMC had anticipated, and this can largely be blamed on the car’s $3,475 base price, which was slightly more expensive than many of the cars it was intended to compete with.

From the get-go, The Machine was slated to be a one-year-and-done car, as the Rebel line was scheduled to conclude at the end of the 1970 model year, to be replaced by the new Matador for 1971.

The rear haunches. (Mecum.)

It is a little-known fact though, that the essence of The Machine would carry on for one more year in the form of the “Machine Go Package” for the ’71 Matador. Machine Go added a 330 horsepower 401 cubic-inch V8, a four-speed manual transmission, a handling group, and the iconic wheels from the Rebel Machine.

Sans a wild paint scheme, ram air hood, or any type of decals on the car, the Go-Package Matador didn’t resonate with buyers, and roughly only 40 to 65 people pulled the trigger on one.

Today, 1970 Rebel Machines are highly prized vehicles, and rightly so. The car is considered by many AMC enthusiasts to be the apex of the company’s performance car efforts. This, combined with its raucous appearance, makes The Machine a prime example of the type of outrageous muscle cars that were built in the Golden Era of the late sixties and early seventies. As such, concours condition Rebel Machines command prices as high as $150,000 today.

The AMC Rebel was a lot of money for sure, but it was understandable for one of AMC’s fabled Rare Rides.

About the author

Rob Finkelman

Rob combined his two great passions of writing and cars; and began authoring columns for several Formula 1 racing websites and Street Muscle Magazine. He is an avid automotive enthusiast with a burgeoning collection of classic and muscle cars.
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