Curbside Classic: 1969 AMC Rebel SST – Some Old, Some New

AMCs never really latched onto me when they were in circulation as wide as it got. Surely I was aware of them, but they were in back at the edge of hearing, as it’s been sung. This ’69 Rebel was front-centre, though, earlier this year in Northern Michigan on a hot late Spring’s day—the kind that makes you forget just when Summer starts (or started?).

From the front, this is an alternate-universe ’68 DeSoto. The opened wing windows go well with the vestigial headfins, don’tchya think? Looks like a probable aluminum radiator behind the grille.

The previous-year Rebel had both headlamps in a single bezel. This ’69 treatment seems less thoughtfully designed; the outboard headlamps look almost like they’re on another car. These are likely the car’s original sealed beams—see the soot-smudges near the top of the reflectors? That’s tungsten boiled off the hot filament, carried upward by the heat plume, and condensed on the cool reflector.

The taillights, on other hand, are the other way round: the ’68s could’ve been that alt-timeline DeSoto, but these ’69s stand on their own by design. I’ll grumble about space for three colours but only two being present, harrumph. At least these have good, wide visibility on account of the wraparound.

The entire rear of the car works well; to my eye it’s better designed than most all the more popular competing models.

The paint is obviously new, and looks like a good, careful job. These colours weren’t amongst the factory-available ones, which were more subdued, but they look good anyhow—even the orange pinstripe separating the blue from the silver.

The new paint contrasts with advanced-age originality—those sealed beams, for instance, and the faded and chipped-up black accent paint and brite-dip anodising on the grille; the old-but-not-bad chrome on the bumper bars, and the paint fade on this SST callout (I point this out not to criticise, just to notice).

Lookit this framed window glass. And I’ve always thought these horizontal-swing/vertical-pivot doorhandles interesting, even when I was a little kid. They’re one of those details that marked out an AMC as different to everything else. I’ve never operated one, so I don’t know how well they work; maybe they’re a damnuisance, or maybe they’re exactly the way all doorhandles should be. But I think they look neat.

And speaking of vertical, this side marker light lasted two years; the requirement was for lights and/or reflectors from 1/1/68, then the “or” was dropped from 1/1/70.

Bunch of interesting stuff to see inside: this car used to have a column shift, but now appears to have some kind of a floor-mounted shifter. The ignition key goes in a bit of an unusual place, not quite on the dash and not quite on the column. There’s that vertical radio, complemented by vertical heat-defog sliders. Great big speedometer, which also contains engine temperature and fuel gauges (the alternate-universe ’68 DeSoto version also has an ammeter, sure). Those infernal air polluters (there is nothing such as a stinkum that “freshens” the air…and what are we meant to imagine ‘black ice’ smells like, anyhow?) are still on the market because we live in a fallen world. And that steering wheel is exceedingly similar to the one in my 1973 Dodge Dart and a zillion other ’70s Mopars:

All in all, it’s a Rebel, it’ll have you know, whether coming…

…or going: