Vintage Car Life Road Test: Two 1967 Rambler Rebels; 770 Six And 343 V8 SST – Styling Good; Performance Disappointing

This was one of the more interesting vintage reviews I’ve come across, because I don’t remember reading about these new 1967 AMC Rebels at the time; not too surprising, as my 14 year-old attention was more captivated by the Lamborghini Marzal or such. Ramblers—curiously, the new Rebel was still a Rambler in 1967—just didn’t light my fire, despite the new styling and the new name.

Yes, these were quite well-styled for the time, but did it make a difference? Not in sales; ’67 Rebel sales were down 17% from the boxy ’66 Classic! Ouch; that must have hurt.

But how did they drive? CL tested two very different version: a 770 with the 232 six, and an SST with the top 280 hp 343 V8. Their one word summation on both: “disappointment“. More ouch.

CL notes that the new ’67 Rebel (with a dubious new name) was attractively-styled. It took a while to get a couple of them for testing, but they finally did get a pair of them, a mid-level 770 coupe with the 232 six and automatic, and an SST with the 280 hp four-barrel 343 V8, then the top power option.

The 770 with the 145 hp 232 six quickly made it obvious that it was anything but a Rebel when it came to performance. Teamed with the Borg-Warner three-speed automatic, it was downright slow; painfully so, not just in absolute terms, but in relative ones, compared to other six-cylinder cars at the time. As in slower than the larger and heavier 1966 Chevy Bel Air six with a two-speed Powerglide:

The Rebel’s stats: 0-60: 17.3 sec., 1/4 mile: 21.0 @ 67 mph. 30-70 mph: 16.7 sec.

The Bel Air six and other comparable sixes and imports are in the chart below:

The Rebel six was the slowest of all the domestic sixes and just barely faster than the 46 hp Opel Kadett. Not good. It’s especially odd, since a ’64 Classic with the same power train was the fastest of all these sixes. Very odd, the more I think about it. The ’64 only weighed 120 pounds less than the ’67. Hmm.

The ’67 was just slow and sluggish, with the B-W automatic hunting between 2nd and 3rd in 35 mph steady city driving. It felt “grossly overworked” on the highway.

The 343 V8 in the SST was obviously “a good deal more lively“, and a much more pleasant car to drive in traffic as well as on the highway. But…that’s not to suggest it was genuinely fast, or competitive with other similar cars, “ones with 327-350 cubic inch V8s“.

A 0-60 time of 9.0 sec. and a 1/4 mile in 16.9 @83 mph certainly didn’t live up to the “SST” moniker. These are rather middling times for a mid-sized V8 with a four barrel carb. Actually, CL got it wrong; these are barely competitive with smaller V8s. CL tested two ’64 Chevelles, both with the 220 hp 283 V8; the manual did 0-60 in 8.7 sec. and the 1/4 mile in 16.2@84 mph; the Powerglide version had a 0-60 time of 9.1 (same as the SST) but beat the SST in the 1/4 mile with a 16.5 @ 82 mph. That’s pretty pathetic; a 327 Chevelle would have spanked the SST.

In both cases, the B-W automatic had some unpleasant characteristics that were more pronounced behind the six. It was “jerky“, and from rest, there was a time lag from the time the accelerator was depressed to achieving full torque output. Both issues were deemed “unacceptable” by CL.

Suspension geometry was conventional, the typical SLA front units and a live rear axle supported by four trailing links. But there was quite a lot of difference in the handling, due to differences in spring rates and shocks. The 7700 six had very mediocre handling “spongy…tended to pitch and hop over irregularities and roll unduly in cornering“.  Steering was “ponderous“.  The stiffer suspension on the SST was significantly better, but not exactly exceptional, with a harsh ride in some circumstances.

The 770’s all-drum system was…“unacceptable“. They were undersized to start with, and wouldn’t even slow the Rebel six down from 80 mph in anything approaching a reasonable rate of de acceleration. And that was with the driver stomping the brake pedal with both feet.

At least the SST’s optional disc brakes worked well, on the first stop from 80. On the third and fourth runs, fade and rear wheel lockup occurred. But overall, it was considered quite good.

Structural integrity, long an AMC strength due to their deep experience with unibodies, was deemed good. But there were some annoying buzzing rattles, and the passenger side window wanted to pull away from the body at 70 mph.

Given the mediocre fuel economy of the six (14.6 mpg) and its sodden performance, its price of almost $3000 seemed high to CL for what was presumably an economy car. On the other hand, for $700 more, one got a proper car, with decent performance, nicer interior, better suspension and brakes, and racing stripes to boot. The SST’s 12.5 mpg fuel consumption wasn’t really much of a penalty to pay for that either.

CL sums up that AMC has tried to do what the Big 3 have done successfully: build medium-sized cars that function well both as economy cars as well as high performance cars, with the Chevelle, Fairlane and Coronet being held up as examples. But the new Rebel “fails to deliver at the low end , while the SST doesn’t rise to meet other cars of similar size…at the top end of the performance scale.” So despite their attractive appearance, the anticipation that CL had about testing them turned to “disappointment“.

This is a huge comedown from only a few years earlier when the little ’61 Rambler American was highly praised by R&T. The development of the essentially all new ’63-’64 cars and then again these for 1967 taxed AMC’s limited engineering and development capabilities a bit too far. At the same time, the Big 3 were starting to make some genuine strides forward. AMC was trying hard to keep up, but all it could seemingly muster was the styling. And that got old all-too soon.