(first posted 11/13/2012) The term “Horsepower War” was coined in the early-to-mid ’50s, when luxury brands like Cadillac, Chrysler and Lincoln battled to outdo each other by rapidly escalating the horsepower ratings of their large V8 engines. Want a tri-power intake on your Caddy? No problem. Much of that activity subsided during the 1958-1961 era as the torch was passed to full-sized cars, with new, high-performance engines, from lower-tier brands. By 1964, the torch had been handed over to mid-size and compact cars, but there was a prophet in the wilderness, named Rebel, that had predicted the trend almost a decade earlier.
Admittedly, the Rebel was a sales flop. Sales totaled just 1,500 units, most likely due to a low-volume/high-price strategy that priced the high-line, fully-equipped Rebel at $2,786–in other words, squarely in Buick territory. (The Chevy Nomad employed the same pricing strategy, but its hi-po engines were optional.)
The Rebel was a mid-year introduction: A top-line Rambler four-door hardtop powered by a 327 cu in version of AMC’s new V8. AMC’s original plan called for it to be fitted with the ill-fated Bendix Electrojector FI system to produce 288 hp; unfortunately, the Electrojector was not ready for prime time, and the idea was scrapped. Nevertheless, the four-barrel production engine produced 255 hp, a figure that provided the 3,355-lb. Rebel with sparkling acceleration. At the 1957 Daytona Speed Week trials, (a Rebel) posted a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds–versus 7.0 seconds for the top-rated ’57 Corvette. That was seriously fast in 1957.
The Rebel was a complete package, with uprated suspension, special Gabriel shocks, a front anti-roll bar and power brakes and steering. Had the Rebel package been available on other, volume-priced Ramblers, it might have made a more lasting impact. Can you imagine a stripper four-door sedan Rebel? It would have predicted the Road Runner.
1957 was a high water year in so many ways, and I have always struggled to decide between the two 1957 cars I’d love to own: The 1957 283 fuel-injected Corvette…
and the dual-four barrel hemi Chrysler 300C. So at least for today, the rebel in me picks the Rebel.