(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.
Well, possibly because of the family resemblance (a Raymond Loewy connection, perhaps?) and also “just because,” I nominate the 1957 “Jubilee” Hillman Minx Deluxe Saloon, somewhat incorrectly named, as it was in celebration of the 25th year of Hillman cars…
That thing looks like Dad’s 1953 Dodge, only smaller. Probably copied from it.
The Loewy connection was between Hillman and the 53 Studebaker. RL had the styling contracts for both.
Im using my 59 as a daily car right now it copes ok
Actually Ed, 25 years of the Minx badge, Hillman as a car brand goes back much further but the first Minx was in 1932.
Hillman was 50 years old in 1957.
As I said in reply to Geeber’s observation that the ’56 had more in common with today’s mainstream cars than other ’50s makes, check this out, specs from the ’57 Rambler brochure and Wikipedia:
Dimensions: 1957 Rambler / 2012 Camry
Wheelbase: 108″ / 109.3″
Length: 191.1″ / 189.2″
Height: 58″ / 57.9″
Width: 71.3″ / 71.7″
Weight: 3353 lb. (Rebel) / 3190 lb.
Rambler had exactly the right size and weight, unit-body construction, flow-through cowl ventilation, and of course the famous reclining seats. The major differences, FWD and engine control computers, weren’t possible for volume production without 1980s technology.
As for the Rebel, methinks it only did what the Studebaker Golden Hawk did the year before – big engine, light weight – but not quite as well. However, the Rebel was certainly a lot tighter and better built. For some reason, though, I just never warmed up to these.
The reason is simple, the Rebel’s not a two-door coupe designed by Loewy. I love the Hawks and don’t love the Rebel, but is love a criterion for CCOTY?
Just Googled up this cute cartoon from 1956GoldenHawk.com.
You win best graphic of the day! 🙂 I will also concede that JPC love is not a criteria for CCOTY, and will bear no ill will to those who vote for this car.
People always say the Packard engine was heavy and ruined the handling of the Lowey Coupe. But the 1957 Hawk with the supercharged Studebaker engine was actually 45 lbs heavier (3405 #s versus 3360 #s) as the Studebaker engine, as has been noted here, was quite heavy for it’s displacement.
Interesting to compare 0 to 60 times of yesterday’s hot rods to the “beige Camrys” of today.
’57 Rambler Rebel: 7.5 sec. (Motor Trend via Car Domain)
’56 Packard-engined Golden Hawk: 7.8 sec. (Wikipedia)
’12 Toyota Camry Hybrid: 7.3 sec. (Car and Driver)
’12 Toyota Camry SE (V6) : 5.8 sec. (Car and Driver)
’12 Toyota Camry SE (I4) : 8.6 sec. (Edmunds)
I don’t understand using a Camry as a benchmark – Camry’s are tupperware.
You have broken the Camry Law. Comparing everything to the Camry. Rambler? Camry. Studebaker: Camry. Corvette: Camry. Mustang: Camry. Corvair: Camry.
Funny thing. I’ve met a lot of those 12, 13, 14 Camry V6s on the strip with my little Verano turbo Buick.
The V6 Camrys always, I mean literally always, wind up looking at my tail lights.
Sometimes I’m very suspicious of what gets written in the magazines. That’s why I took an accelerometer with me when testing and bought the Buick.
Well to start with the 57 Rebel was ugly as sin and of course it was a Rambler. Both of which SHOULD have mattered to me when I was 16 in 1964 when my dad bought a used one WITH A CONTINENTAL KIT for me. Only 26,000miles! Not sure what he was thinking but then he wasn’t a car guy so he probably had no idea what he had just given me. I was appalled and aghast…… that is, until I drove it. Automobile magazines of the time listed the 0 to 60 time as 7.2 seconds and the 1957 Corvette 0 to 60 time as 7 seconds flat. I’ll tell you what I surprised a lot of people in that car. It must have been so embarrassing for them to have their doors blown off by a Rambler. The first two gears of the four-speed automatic were VERY low which meant it came off of the line like nothing I had ever ridden in. As a first car, in terms of performance, I could not have asked for anything more. Except perhaps something like panache. But that was more than made up for by the reclining seats and lest you forget drive-ins were big-time then; got muchas smooches in that backseat. So basically my dad unwittingly gave me a proto-muscle car complete with a fold-down bed. What WAS he thinking? It didn’t take long to learn to love that car. It was a sleeper in both senses. I gave it the name of Smedley because it looked like a Smedley.
You never know. Sometimes Dad’s know exactly what they’re doing even if they don’t tell anyone. Get your kid a hot rod car that looks ugly but is cheap? It might not have been an accident…
I agree that those are the ideal dimensions.
My Infiniti G37 sedan is:
69.8 in wide
187.9 in long
My fourth generation (99) Maxima was:
69.7 in wide
189.4 in long
The Rebel is a hair larger but is right within the ideal range for parking, seating, performance, etc. As a kid back in the 50’s I would have rejected it as too small and gone for the big boat Chrysler 300. Today it has much greater appeal: size, weight, styling, the whole package. The great color combos and the gold mylar trim – maybe we should bring those back, too!
Excellent and clarifying comparison. The fat pig looks of today’s (those that still exist….) sedan, make it looks not as “big” as the rambler. The today´s car SUV driving position also contribute for this looks. Last week I’ve seated inside a 1960 Impala, and, what an experience. Low, Wide, low seats, the legs go almost stretched to the pedals and the steering whell in hands…..What a relaxing driving position.
So many 1957 cars come to mind. I could certainly get behind the 300C with its legendary 392 Hemi. Just as significant was the 1957 Plymouth Fury with a 318 V8 and a 3 speed Torqueflite, a combination unmatched anywhere else in the low priced field (quality issues notwithstanding). The Thunderbird of that year is certainly an iconic car, as is the Chevy Bel Air, particularly in fuel injected form.
But for my real nomination, I am going to go another direction: the Ford Styleside pickup. This vehicle set the template for what pickup trucks would be for the next 50 years or more.
As he easily lifts boxes over the side of the bed. Too bad that feature has gone away.
Sounds like you might not be a fan of the two-story pickups of today.
57 was the first year for the Triumph TR3A
The addition of the full width grille transformed the ugly TR2-TR3 into a handsome roadster.
However if I have to pick an American car, a 57 Dodge was my first car…sort of…Being a Canada market car I believe it was actually a Plodge.
to me the TR2 early TR3 grill is much better looking than the wide mouth TR3A. the new grill was necessary for cooling reasons and I don’t dislike it but purely on a styling basis the early grill wins for me
I nominate the 1957 Ford, not for what it was but for what it omitted – quality. Ford had built up a large loyal following stating with the Model T and with the right product they stood to pull away from Chevy in the sales race. Sadly, 1957 was the year the squandered it. The 57s looked great and were the sales leader for 1957. They sure had Chevy beat on style and freshness. Then the public figured out how poorly assembled they were. Quality control seemed to be nonexistent. It did not help that Ford offered two wheelbases (116″ and 118″), numerous models, and a seemingly infinite number of possible option/trim/engine/transmission combinations. Instead of jumping to the head of the pack and staying there Ford fell back giving Chevy breathing room when the had their problems with their 58 and 59 models.
The 57 Skyliner is a great example. The engineers reach sure exceeded their grasp. it was nearly impossible to get all the motors, relays, switches, sensors, etc. to all work correctly at the same time. Instead of a great “Halo” car for had a maintenance nightmare.
I wish I could be more positive because I sure like the 57 Fords but this really was the year that set them up to get behind Chevy and stay there.
I also nominate the ’57 Ford, but for another reason. The ’57 Galaxie was the first of the “low price 3” cars to take a serious run at the mid price market. This did a few things, like hurting Mercury sales and probably undermining the soon to be released Edsel. It also may well have inspired the Impala from Chevrolet.
Pretty soon the lines between low and mid priced cars were very blurry. By the end of the decade you could buy a Chevrolet or Ford that was every bit as fancy and powerful as an Oldsmobile, Mercury or DeSoto. This had a big impact on the traditional “pecking order” of brands and I feel started the slide for a couple of mid-price names.
Quality probably wasn’t job 1 at Ford in ’57, but they did sell a lot of cars. Some sources say more than Chevy that year even. They may not have been great cars, but I think they were the most influential of the year with the benefit of hindsight. My .02 anyway.
The top of the line Ford in ’57 was the Fairlane 500. The Galaxie didn’t come into being until 1959.
Yep, you’re right. Fairlane 500 is what I meant.
You remind me of the greatest Fairlane 500 of them all – the retractable hardtop.
Strangest Ford ever. Why is that super-high-end feature on the Ford? Not a Lincoln or even a Mercury? Or the big T-Bird?
I know there’s a long explanation I once read someplace, but it’s beside the point. An early but sinful step on the road of making Mercury suffer like an ‘ugly sister’ another fifty years then die.
Besides, like every retractable since it really messes up the car’s proportions. Bah!
I recall reading that the hideaway hardtop was originally designed for the Continental Mk.II but the model was cancelled.
The retractable top would have put the Mark II into the Rolls Royce price range. Rather than waste the development costs, it was fitted to the Ford, bringing it up to Cadillac pricing. But at least they managed to sell a few.
I agree with everything you said. But you have to admit, the car is just cool. Also, I think that your photo captures it at its very best angle,with the top halfway between up and down. With the top either fully up or fully down, the lines are a bit awkward. I don’t have any idea why, but the one factoid I remember about the car is that the mechanism used 610 feet of wire. That’s a lot of wire.
Wikipedia has a whole article on the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner.
“The Skyliner had a complex mechanism which folded the front of the roof and retracted it under the rear decklid. It had three roof drive motors driving four lift jacks, four door-lock motors, ten solenoids, four locking mechanisms for the roof, and a total of 610 ft (185.9 m) of wiring. Production totaled 20,766 units in 1957, declining to 14,713 in 1958 and to 12,915 in 1959.”
This commercial from I Love Lucy is a must-see. It is quite amazing to watch. (So is the 1957 husband-wife “banter”.)
I think 58 was the first year for that.
No, the photo is clearly a 57. Easy enough to research……..
I’d concur on the 1957 Ford.
Paul’s memorial to his father’s 1961 Ford…brought back memories with me. My old man was likewise a child of Austria; he got to the States much younger and before the war. But apparently there’s a reverence for all things Ford in that part of the world…because from college, where my father owned a worn-out Model A, he was a Ford man.
The 1957 Country Squire he bought killed that romance. He nursed five years out of it; that was a feat. And from then he was adrift in brands. He returned to Ford for two more buys, in 1968 and 1973, but was unimpressed. With a sort of rebirth of quality at Chrysler – as he believed he found in his 1978 Horizon and later his 1985 Grand Caravan, he was done with the Blue Oval.
The statistics show he was not alone.
FWIW…I never, ONCE, saw a 1957 Rebel or Rambler in the flesh. I was born a year later; but it’s indicative of how fast Ramblers – and, for that matter, Fords – would disappear off the streets in that era.
I’ve never been near a Ford Skyliner, so I don’t know if “it was nearly impossible to get all the motors, relays, switches, sensors, etc. to all work correctly at the same time.” But I do know that by the time my 1962 Lincoln convertible was built they had things pretty well sorted out, and the bank of relays that extended clear across the space behind the rear seat worked flawlessly. I give the Skyliner props for being the first use of this technology.
But my handle isn’t fincar1 for nothing, and I believe that the Chrysler Corporation’s 1957 styling made a bigger impact on the auto industry than anything else that happened that model year. Every 1957 Chrysler product, from the Plymouth Plaza 2-door sedan to the Chrysler 300C, from the Imperial Southampton convertible to the DeSoto Shopper station wagon, from the Dodge Coronet sedan to the Plymouth Fury was the style leader in its field. The torsion-bar front suspension combined with good spring-rate settings made them handle very well indeed, and the available engines made most Chrysler products the performance leaders in their market.
A local guy has one I see it around quite a lot he demonstrates the roof at every show Ive seen it at, works fine maybe it just needed some Kiwi #8 wire tech to fine tune it.
1961 Lincoln, of course. And Thunderbirds starting in 1958 used similar technology for their convertibles as well.
There was one more Ford innovation in MY 1957: This was the first year of the Ranchero.
I’m very torn here. I love the 57 Chryslers and the 57 Plymouths, especially the Fury and Belvedere, and the 57 Dodges are really beautiful aside from a little strangeness in the grillework. Yet we know in hindsight that Chrysler’s build quality was dismal on the first of the Forward Look cars, because they were trying to change-over to the new platforms a year too soon. The ’57 Chevy is still my favorite of the tri-5 Chevies. I think it was the most well-done effort at tacking fins onto a bodystyle that didn’t originally have them, and we know they had the engineering sorted out. Since it’s still derivative of the ’55 Chevy platform though, I don’t think it deserves a win (again). I also really like a bunch of other 57’s from a styling viewpoint. For probably 1957-59 I’m not going to be able to pick one car and say “This is the one!”…. maybe in ’58, but definitely not in ’59.
I really want to go Plymouth but Chevy hit the Nail on the Head for 57.
If it were 1957, living the same life I am now and in the market for a new car I’d probably buy a 210 Wagon with a “Blue Flame” and Three on the Tree.
Wow! A 210 wagon with a six. That’s really swinging for the fences.
Hey now! 😀
I was just trying to go with the 57 equivalent of what I have now. Though my ride has 4wd and air.
For 55, 56, and 57, chevrolet made basically the same car. I could argue for it as the CCOTY for any of those years. IMHO the 57 was the best of the lot. The 150 series spawned one of the best race cars ever in the Black Widow. The hot 283 in the lightest body and built rugged with six lug wheels. Won 49 Grand National races which hasn’t been done by a single car model since according to Wikipedia.
I still have a 57 210 wagon at my house and it’s still the one I want to drive. I think it, along with the 32 and 40 Fords, exemplify hot rodding. Now CCOTY obviously means more than just nascar or hot rodding. I love AMC and liked Rambler back then. Owned a 57 Ford and (as mentioned above) the quality was lacking. Sometimes a car company just hits a home run. Chevy did it 3 years running. I can’t think of many other cars that did as much. Perhaps mustang in 65, 69 Charger, or the first generation Camaro.
Anyway you have my nomination. In 58 Chevy was a mess. In 57 it was my COTY.
My first car was a ’57 Chevy. Familiarity breeds contempt. My friends all had Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.
So oh lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.
Agreed with these.
The 1957 Bow-Tie was a solid, right-sized, well-built model with a fully modern drivetrain…the only problem was, it was a package in its THIRD YEAR. Which by the standards of the time, made it ancient; it was a warmed-over rehash of the 1955.
Good car? Hell, yes. Classic? Debatable; I can see both sides. But as a groundbreaker…nope. It did what GM cars were wont to do; played it safe.
The 57 is a Classic. There’s no doubt there.
The 57 Chevy is similar to good songs that just got played to death.
Very well said.
1957 DeSoto. The beauty of the Forward Look Mopars along with the distinction of being unique. Sort of like Marilyn Monroe – a busty blond with the freckle on her face…a great overall package.
1957 Edsel. Junqueboi might agree with me knowing his incredibly low standards.
Okay, I know that the ’58 Edsel was introduced quite early in the model year, but I never before heard anyone refer to it as a ’57.
I was kidding, in reality, I would nominate (in no specific order):
-Any GM car sold with fuel injection that year
-Mercury Turnpike Cruiser (coupe)
-Any forward look mopar
DO WANT THE REBEL! I had no idea the orginal was so nerd cool.
That was my thought the first time I saw a photo of one. Somehow AMC went way-wrong in model-year changes, as they took the lights out of the grille and moved them high on the fenders…in the manner of the time.
They partly corrected that mistake with the 1961-62 low-profile grille; but by that time they’d moved away from the upright A-pillar. Which, too, was more practical; but it screwed up the lines of the greenhouse.
I’d seen a few high-tailfin 1958 and 1959 Ramblers; but those lacked the striking front-end of this one.
Same here. I didn’t pay much attention to AMC before the mid 60s cars and forward.
Keeping up with a Vette? That’s sweet!
I agree…but so many Ramblers of the time were the 6-cylinder automatic wagons in two-tone pink that most people were hard put to imagine a performance version.
the ultimate street sleeper must be a two-tone pink 57 Rambler wagon with a gen-3 401
On the track they frequently beat the Corvettes. Some guys would refuse to race the Gray Rebels because of the word going around. By 1958 they were gone.
Ahhh…the 1957 Rambler. The automotive equivalent of a pocket protector.
I’m going to belatedly nominate the 1957 FIAT 500 (launched in July that year).
Leaving aside its obvious and undeniable cuteness, it is (to my mind) the archetype of the modern European city car: tiny and cheap, with just enough go to get you about in European cities, and enough flexibility to do anything you might reasonably want of it. All that, and it looks great in yellow! What’s not to love?
actually the 500 had lackluster sales figures when it was introduced in 1957 as it was a little too expensive compared to the bigger (?!?) 600, aka 1955 italy’s sweetheart…it took some years before being one of the most iconic postwar cars ! Anyway 1957 means Chevy an/or Desoto to me 🙂 !
Being launched more than halfway through the year I didn’t think it would have been a sales hit! 😀
I wasn’t nominating on sales, but on merit. Seems I’m all alone in my love for the wee FIAT, but that’s OK, it can me *my* COTY for 1957 – only 20 years before I was born after all…
you’re not the only one to love the 500 ! The beautiful thing it’s that they just refuse to die and there’re still gobs of them roaming around…tiny and cute for sure but tough as well ! My mother’s first car was a 500L, in a lobster-orange shade, that was back in 1971 !
My first car was a 1959 or ’60 (don’t remember which) North American version 500, with the ugly pods for the required 7″ headlights, massive bumpers, and the larger 499cc 17hp engine that would go into the later 500D. White w/ blue sunroof, bought used from the BMC/Jaguar dealer in the Anchorage suburb of Spenard, I think for about $800, in January 1962 as a belated Christmas present to myself. Best damn present I ever had. Its only flaw was not wanting to start at below-zero temperatures, but anything above 20º or so was okay if the battery was up. It would also foul the spark plug nearest the firewall, usually when I was dressed up for a date, and I would always forget to unfasten and roll up my French cuffs … so I had these shirts with dark edges on the left cuff. But that car and the next, my first Mini, made a pretty good roadside mechanic out of me. They also taught me a lot about driving on slippery stuff.
I’m late, but the 1957 Chevy Bel-Air, hands-down.
I’m even later than Zackman…
I have a hard time choosing between the two white cars Paul posted, but I’m going to vote for the the 300C.
I’ve got a real soft spot for the forward look Mopars, but I also think they are historically significant because they started the grand Chrysler tradition of introducing stylish, technologically advanced, and desirable vehicles that damaged the company’s reputation because they were poorly constructed and not fully developed.
Not available until 1958, but a couple of technologies that are pretty much standard on all new cars today first introduced on the forward look Chryslers – the above mentioned ElectroJet EFI, and the first modern cruise control: http://www.imperialclub.com/Articles/58AutoPilot/index.htm
I like MikePDX’s comparison’s between the Ramblers and today’s Camry. It really shows how far we haven’t come in the past 55 years. Most people today could probably jump into a 1955 Rambler, drive it without much learning curve, and use it to go 30 MPH in the city or 70 MPH on the highway just as they do with a modern car.
On the other hand, if you go 55 years in the other direction, and compare the Rambler with a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile you see some pretty significant differences…
Weighing in late too…busy week.
But my vote’s the ’57 Chevy. Like wstarvingteacher, my 210 Handyman in the garage is the car I want to drive. And having owned and lived with a ’57 back in college and the first years of my marriage (1979-85), I look forward to putting mine together with just enough modern improvements to be able to drive and enjoy it for years to come.
The 57 Pontiac BonnieVille Fuel Injected. Compare the 56 to the 57… Its Like a decade newer looking easily.
To this party 4 years late, but I must comment on Paul’s conflict of love between the Corvette and the 300C.
As a person with more than a few hours of left seat time in a 1957 Windsor torqueflite 2 bbl 4 door Chrysler, the heart says 300C.
As a person who sat shotgun in a 1957 Desoto Fireflite 4bbl convertible during some interesting “contests”, the heart says 1957 Desoto Adventurer.
But if they’re taken, then the Corvette please. I’m not fussy.
Back in those days one always looked up market with better 0-60 times.
But this 1957 Rebel… I had no idea. And I thought I knew the cars of that era.
The things I learn on CC!
If anyone would like an up close and in-depth look at the AMC Rambler Rebel, I invite you to take a look at one I shot last year at the 2015 Nash Nationals held in nearby Fallbrook, California. I’ve posted an album of nine images posted at this link.
Rich, Great shots.
I see Rambler got the four door hardtop door pillars braced without the need for large support buttresses like other makes (see 57 Imperial below).
Thank you for the pointer.
riplaut, thanks for the kind words. What’s interesting about the 1956-1957 Rambler pillarless hardtops and station wagons (which were all-new that year and were built on a 108-inch wheelbase, is that the window framing from the sedans goes down with the window and with the b-pillar removed, you get a hardtop. It was the only way that AMC could tool up a hardtop, the windows are not frameless like a traditional hardtop.
While other hardtops had less clunky frames, hardtops generally had chrome frames on the glass til the 60s.
The Bendix electronic fuel injection didn’t make it into the car but did make into the ’57 Rebel owner’s manual which contains a detailed description of how the system was supposed to work.
Another great article, detailing something interesting and innovative that I didn’t know existed! These are cool cars. Indeed, they had the right idea with a lightweight car with a hi-po small block, but as is the case for many innovative cars, it was the wrong time for it–people wanted big cars back then, and the horsepower wars were just getting started……phrases like “weight to power ratio” likely weren’t thrown around too much; cubic inches and horsepower (no matter what the car’s weight was) would have been what had sold cars back then to someone with aspirations to go faster than normal.
On top of that, the Rebel had the misfortune of not looking the part……people generally wanted to drive something that looked like it was fast, even if it was slow. The Rebel was fast, but it still had to be something that people could brag to their friends about, and if it looked like a regular sedan (and a smaller one than usual, back then), it would have been a hard sell…..and judging by the numbers, indeed, it was a hard sell.
It’s nothing short of amazing that the 1957 Rambler Rebel should rightfully be considered one of the first musclecars, right alongside the ’49 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 and ’55 Chrysler C300. The reason it’s not is relatively simple: it has two too many doors and, more critically, it’s a homely wart of a car. But I’m certain there were more than a few astonished faces in the late fifties’ stoplight-to-stoplight drags when a ’57 Rebel was competing. As a musclecar, it may be more accurate to refer to it as the first ‘sleeper’ In fact, it’s possible (or even probable) that the Rebel’s speedy demeanor was the basis for the Nash Rambler that kept up with a Cadillac in the old novelty song, “Beep, Beep”. At least the Rebel got a song written about it like all the other old legendary fast cars..
That full width grille with the headlights mounted inside is so ugly, its cute. Ditch the continental kit-which looks like its adding too much weight to the car, and I`ll buy it. Amazing that Rambler didn`t have a coupe in its lineup , this car would have been killer in a coupe, but the four door looks pretty nifty too.
Great feature of an obscure early ‘muscle’ car. It amazing that AMC, still in precarious financial condition, fielded such a car. It really was, at the time, the ultimate oxymoron: a fast, expensive Rambler. But, they did what they could with what they had available and produced an amazing result, as the performance records attest.
As far as styling, the rear and profile were generally appealing, the integrated taillights particularly nice. The shoulder-less monocoque quarters blending into the C-pillar pioneering. But, that confused, hideous grille/headlight ensemble just curdles the milk! For a relatively narrow car, placing the headlights at the outside corners to emphasis width was the only way to go, witness the ’52-’55 Willys Aero. The whole Nash-Healey visual tie-in for the big Nash hardly worked well, was even worse for the ’56-’57 Rambler.
It works if you do it like the Europeans did: horizontal, traditional grill between the headlights (Rolls-Royce for example).
But, that confused, hideous grille/headlight ensemble just curdles the milk!
It rather works for me. The “cheeks” are not as wide as they were on the 55 Nash, so it doesn’t look so much like a chipmunk.
Additionally, AMC did the same thing to camouflage the cheeks as they did with the seniors. On the 55 Senior, the fronts of the fenders were blank, while the 56s had parking lights in a large bezel and the 57s had dual headlights in the fenders.
The 57 Rambler also has larger parking lights in a larger bezel than this 56, probably for the same reason.
The design detail that really surprises me about this generation Rambler is the lack of footwells. The stepdown Hudsons unibody Lincolns and later Ramblers all required occupants to step over a doorsill and into footwells. The 56 Rambler has a flat floor.
Glad that configuration appeals to someone, personally never could warm to it. Would have liked it better if they’d somehow hit upon the Blatchley styling for the 1958 “Tibet” concept, see photo.
Another try to post the Blatchley “Tibet’ photo.
My understanding is the ‘all-new’ ’56 Rambler wasn’t quite: it was built on the 108” wb platform of the sedans and wagons introduced in 1954. Those haven’t ‘step-down’ footwells either, the best indication that it was a recycled platform, not all new.
…it was built on the 108” wb platform of the sedans and wagons introduced in 1954. Those haven’t ‘step-down’ footwells either, the best indication that it was a recycled platform, not all new.
On the other hand, the 56 abandoned the Hotchkiss rear end of the earlier Rambler in favor of rear coils and a torque tube, a layout which persisted on the senior Rambler platform until 67.
When the Rambler American was introduced in 58, it retained the Hotchkiss rear end, which persisted on AMC junior platforms until the end of Concord and Eagle production in the 80s.
As for the presence of footwells, parts of the floorpan stamping may have been carried over, or it could as easily have been simply the way AMC designed their unibody platforms until falling rooflines required the introduction of footwells. Hudson had footwells from 48, so it’s not like footwells were unknown in 56. Unfortunately the 56 Hudson Wasp at the Motor Muster had the doors closed so I could not see if it had footwells.
As for the branding of the 56, erasing the Nash and Hudson nameplates was not an insurmountable obstacle as it was done in 58. Rambler could have been separated from Nash the way that Nance separated Clipper from Packard. When Studebaker introduced the Lark, the adverts called in “Lark, by Studebaker” as if Lark was a subbrand.
Found a pic of a 56 Ambassador with the door open. Flat floored again. My hunch is in the 50s, that was simply the way Nash designed their floorpans.
Another try to post the Blatchley “Tibet’ photo.
Looks more than anything else, like a Silver Shadow. The Roller styling went the same way as Nash’s, with big chipmunk cheek fenders with the headlights between the fenders and grill on the Silver Cloud, to much thinner cheeks on the Shadow and Corniche, just as Nash did with the 56 Rambler.
Then there was Bill MItchell’s own tribute to the 56-57 Rambler’s chipmunk cheek fenders with parking lights, and headlights set in the grill.
The ‘Tibet’ shows the modern interpretation of the Classic Era five element configuration: flanking fender shapes bracketing the headlight, ‘guarding’ the emphasized central radiator/grille. Shortly, the look would take full affect by the late ’60 and throughout the ’70 with the neo-classic Brougham Epoch.
Pininfarina and Nash (and even Mitchell’s ’63-’65 Riviera) simply missed the emphasized central grille, opting for a straight placeholder which for some taste looks unresolved or lacking.
As to whether the ’56 Rambler was built on ’54-’55 108″ wb carryover platform, only a careful comparison of the body parts catalogs and actual examples might reveal how much was. Given the urgency that Romney imposed by pulling its introduction a year ahead, and the development and tooling timeline which had to be within 1955 for an on-time 1956 model introduction, safe to say considerable carryovers, compromises, even shortcuts had to occur for expediency.
Some ideas I had not considered in previously thinking about this front end. Another thing I had never thought much about was why Studebaker’s heavily revised and much more conventional 1956 line did so poorly. I had lately been blaming much of this on the lack of a 2 door hardtop in the line, but the all new 56 Rambler may have stolen sales from Studebaker, which was clearly nothing more than a heavy revision of the none-too-popular 53-55 sedan line. The new Rambler (including a 4 door hardtop in the line) made AMC look like much more of a going concern than Studebaker-Packard, even if their situations were not all that different.
Another thing I had never thought much about was why Studebaker’s heavily revised and much more conventional 1956 line did so poorly.
Nash and Hudson suffered a drop in sales in 56 also, Nash much less of a drop that Hudson. Somewhere in my notes I have a breakdown by model, but the new Rambler did suffer a sales loss compared to the 55.
The first thing that comes to my mind is what the press must have been saying about both AMC and S-P along the lines of “troubled”, “financially stressed”, and infecting prospective customers with orpahanitus. That would have been particularly acute in S-P’s case following Packard’s collapse in June. I wondered why my dad bought that 56 Commander as he always had his nose in The Wall Street Journal and Fortune, so surely must have been aware of the company’s troubles, though I don’t know when they bought it. They may have bought it early in the 56 model year, before S-P’s troubles were so apparent.
The second thing working against the 56 Studebakers, and the other reason I wondered why my dad bought the Commander, is they didn’t drive very nice. Ours was the bottom trim with a three on the tree and no power assist anything. Dad would comment that the car “drove like a truck” Maybe the Studebaker architecture, which had found consumer acceptance in 50, was simply uncompetitive by 56 as customers wanted more interior space and more refinement.
While Studebaker had the narrowest interior among full size cars, the senior Nash had the widest, a hair wider inside that a Cadillac. Studebaker persisted with cam and peg steering, while Nash used worm and roller, which offered less friction, so non-power Nash steering may have been lighter than Studebaker’s. Studebaker had not yet gone to asymmetrical leaf springs, so suffered axle control and ride quality issues that Nash’s coli spring/torque tube design was not subject to. The Nash’s width made it heavier than a Studebaker, but with the optional 352, there was no performance penalty.
The entire issue could be the Studebaker chassis. The Lark did fine, when it’s only competition was a revived 1950 Rambler and a slightly updated 1938 KdF. But from that starting point, AMC continued to develop their engines and platforms and grew their business, even selling Kelvinator to finance the automotive division, while Studebaker carried on with their obsolete platform and withered, while money was drained out of the car division and spent on diversification.
It seemed to me that the 56 Rambler was closer in size and concept to the standard Studebaker, which had always tended towards the small side of the market. The older Nash and Hudson were conceived as mid-price brands, while Studebaker had been chasing the low priced 3 since the 39 Champion.
Of course, nearly everyone’s sales were down in 1956 following the industry record-breaking year in 1955. But then again, nearly everyone went into 56 with what was clearly a holdover model. Studebaker and Rambler were two of very few really new models (though both could be argued to have been less new than their makers were saying) so I would have expected them to outperform the industry. Lincoln was all new and did very well that year. But, as you say, bad news was swirling around both companies by then, which certainly didn’t help.
It seemed to me that the 56 Rambler was closer in size and concept to the standard Studebaker, which had always tended towards the small side of the market.
The 56 Studebaker was almost exactly the same width as the 56 Rambler, while the Ford, Chevy and Plymouth were 2-4″ wider. The Studebaker looked like a full sized car because it was the same length overall as the big three, and about 10″ longer than the Rambler.
Besides the narrower body, the Studebaker also was restricted by the old flathead six, 186cu inches and barely over 100hp. The big three sixes were 220-230 cu inches, with the Ford and Chevy also being OHV. The Chevy was rated at 140hp. To compensate for the lack of power, Studebaker had to keep weight down, about 300lbs lighter than the big three. Our Commander appears to have been essentially Champion level trim with a V8. I don’t think there was any sound insulation in it, which to my 10 year old self was OK, because I think it sounded neat, both the RRRrrrrrrrr of the starter spooling down after cranking the engine, and the chug-a-chug-a-chug sound the 259 made cruising down the road.
While the Rambler was 10″ shorter than a Champion, it still weighed 100lbs more. I have never ridden in a 56, but our 64 Rambler was built like a tank with a very rigid structure, unlike the Commander’s Flexible-Flyer ride quality, which was getting worse the more the car rusted.
Studebaker probably only lasted as long as it did because Harold Churchill had the epiphany that what Studebaker had was the interior and the engine of a compact, wrapped in a lot of extraneous sheet metal. They carved off the surplus sheet metal and made their first profit in years. Can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they had taken the sawzall to the Champion a few years earlier, rather than trying to tell people it was a “full sized” car.
Unlike Studebaker, Nash did a very through redesign of the 196 when they converted it to OHV. It appears the only parts carried over were the crank, rods, cam (with different lobes) and they probably were able to reuse the equipment for boring the cylinders and the crank and cam bearings. That 56 Rambler weighed 100 lbs more than a Champion, but it also sported 20+ more hp and ft/lbs of torque.
Here is a cutaway I found of the 196 in original flathead and OHV versions.
Pat Foster had a column in Hemmings recently proclaiming this generation Rambler the car that saved AMC. Other accounts I have read say Romney pushed it into production early as it was supposed to debut in 57. As with every other car that was rushed, there were terrible quality and reliability problems with the 56. I have seen numbers showing the spanky new 56s sold fewer units that the 55s.
Romney really rolled the dice in 56. He spent like a drunk getting the V8 into production, and getting the OHV 196 in production, and rushing the Rambler into production, all at the same time. If the insurance company guys who had just turned down Packard’s loan request had given Romney a thumbs down, that would have been the end of AMC. After that meeting, Romney reportedly confided in a coworker that he had been totally blowing smoke to the insurance company people, but he got enough money to keep the lights on.
Mystifies me why Romney persisted in branding Ramblers as both Nash and Hudson as long as he did. He doubled the cost of producing the badging and documents and created inventory problems, rather than standing Rambler up as a stand alone brand earlier.
At least they made it easy to unbrand the 56 as “Rambler” was stamped into the grill, while, in this case the “Hudson” badge is an extra part that can easily be omitted.
“Mystifies me why Romney persisted in branding Ramblers as both Nash and Hudson as long as he did.”
That had as much to do with dealer contracts to supply Nash and Hudson branded cars to existing dealers. Romney faced a precarious transition situation, how to retain and build his dealer organization while navigating a market that was turning away from Nash and Hudson cars, but hadn’t fully embraced Rambler in volumes that would sustain the company.
Remember, highly successful independent make dealers were being targeted by Big Three sales departments to drop their franchise, take on the ‘guaranteed’ sales of a Big Three brand. Some of the promises were truly ‘pie-in-the-sky’…….such as the exciting new Edsel……..
The Rebel must have been the Rambler that inspired the song “Beep Beep”.
” Beep Beep ” was inspired by the Nash Metropolitan ~ I knew the guy who wrote it , he recently passed away .
The Rebel was a rocket ship but it was also as appealing as a flying saucer .
Ugly when new , funny looking now , only an AMC die hard will ever like them .
For me , the 1957 Ford Fairlane two door was the best looking 1957 American Automobile .
In my Teens I was hired on by a Ford guy to run his VW shop , he also let me work on his old Fords , mostly retractables , he had one of each year , we even found the one he’d taken his honeymoon in and brought it back to life .
The single biggest failure in them was the need to perfectly level pavement before trying to lower or raise the top ~ any side leaning caused the top to drag and this overcame the electric motors ability to work .
He always hated the ’57 Fairlanes , I never knew why as the looked so sharp to me .
I always thought of the little Metropolitan when I first heard the song. Thanks for confirming. Never knew about the fast ’57 Rebel until I read Paul’s CC. Missed it the first time. The song was a hit in ’58, so the timing was right for it to be a possibility. RIP Donnie Claps.
The song calls the car a “Nash Rambler”, so had to be the Rambler, not the Metro.
Right , right :
So you know more than did the man who wrote and recorded it , correct ? .
I have an idea : let’s see _you_ write a song that rhymes with ” Metropolitan ” .
Go ahead , I’ll wait =8-) .
They could have recorded “The little Nash Metro” but they didn’t. They recorded “The little Nash Rambler”. Maybe if the guy who wrote the song said what he meant, then we would know what he was talking about? Or would that be just too much to ask?
It’s not uncommon for songwriters to change something in an otherwise real-life based song because the real person, place, or thing had a name that didn’t rhyme or didn’t fit the meter and rhythm of the song. For example, “Wichita Lineman” is based on a completely true event, songwriter Jimmy Webb driving down a middle-of-nowhere desolate two-lane road when he spotted a telephone line repairman perched at the top of one of the poles. He imagined what he could be thinking, and then wrote the song from the lineman’s perspective – except he wasn’t in Wichita, but rather a small town with a name that didn’t fit the meter of the song, and that nobody who wasn’t local had ever heard of, so it became Wichita. “Metropolitan” is difficult to fit into a song, so it became a Rambler.
It is also interesting that the staid Rambler had the Rebel name. Ok it was 2 years after the James Dean movie, so I wonder if it was still cool or had passed by that point? Or did Rambler’s use kill any cool it may have had?
I think it deserves the Rebel name simply because it was so radically different from what one thinks of as a Rambler. Remember, Rambler was known as very conservative and into fuel economy, not 327 cubic inch four-barrel V-8s, four speed automatic, stock actory dual exhausts. My dad bought me one of these in 1964 and I will tell you what, I surprised a lot of people pulling away from green lights. The first two gears in the four speed automatic with a very low. Wowie zowie
Too bad the Rambler Rebel wasn’t successful. I like the idea of a dowdy, stately and unassuming Rambler with “lightning” under the hood to give the Corvette or any hot looking sports car a run for its money. To see the bewildered and astonished look of the Corvette owner wondering how that Rambler could go so fast would have been fun to watch.
My parents moved from Wisconsin to Calif in 1950. All the relatives “back home” bought Nash. Made in Wisconsin and all that. In 1960 we went to Wisconsin to visit. Grandpa could no longer drive, but in his garage was a yellow 1957 Rebel with 7,000 miles. My dad didn’t want to drive it because he thought it was ugly, but Gramps prevailed, and whooie! My dad had a blast driving it. Probably wore out the rear tires. Scared the crap out of us passengers, though.
My actual car in Cuba 2020. Every day I m driving My 1956 Rambler
“…uprated suspension, special Gabriel shocks, a front anti-roll bar…”
A lot of contemporary tests ding Ramblers for dull handling, even by contemporary domestic standards. I wonder how much that had to do with its’ eventual stodgy grandma-car image and how much making the above standard or at least a cheap and widely available option would’ve done to keep that from happening.
The “crazy but cool” Rebel. Our 1970 Rebel was just crazy; totally lacking any cool!