The Machine is an automobile (2,326 built in 1970) produced by American Motors Corporation (AMC). It is a muscle car version of the AMC Rebel. The Machine featured factory performance enhancements with serious power at a budget price.
The Machine was announced to dealers by then Vice-President William Pickett on August 5, 1969. The letter stated the company's intention to finish all of the first one thousand Machine with the "Red Streak" graphics kit, making it one of the most distinctive cars ever built by any company at any time. Each dealer could commit to one Rebel Machine and advised to display in their showrooms, not on their lots. One known exception to this was Empire Motors in Sudbury, Ontario. They delivered more Machines than any other dealer with a total of 60 units. Their technique was to have the son and the nephew of the owner take the cars from the trailer to the local dragstrip, disconnect the exhaust pipes and race them. They made the sales deals on location. Sudbury is a mining town and in those days a Rebel Machine was attractive for young miners with money and nowhere to spend it. A number of the cars in the area are still owned by their original owners.
First proposed in June 1968, the car was to have been a 1969 Rebel coupe finished in black with authoritative black wheels and fat tires, without any stripes, scoops, or spoilers, but with a cartoon "Machine" logo being run through a couple of graphic gears, (International Rebel Machine Newsletter, John Newell, 1995), aggressive street-fighting stance.
American Motors' high performance "halo" vehicle was announced to the press on October 16, 1969 and made its official debut October 25, 1969, in Dallas, Texas; the site of the National Hot Rod Association's World Championship Drag Race Finals. The Machine was conceived by American Motors, and the idea evolved from a collaboration between Hurst Performance and AMC, but unlike the compact SC/Rambler, there was no public recognition by AMC of Hurst's contribution once production commenced.
Hurst was involved in every aspect of developing the performance image of the car. The February issue of Super Stock magazine states that "since we introduced you to the car, we have made a couple of trips and a lot of phone calls to the Hurst Performance Research Lab in Detroit where the Rebel Machine was born and raised..." The Super Stock article titled "The Machine Part II" went on to state that "the Hurst organization and AMC have been collaborating on a couple of very interesting publications that are issued with each Machine sold. The booklets describe to the new Machine owner just what he has bought, and offers explicit instructions on what do to make it better (i.e. quicker) in four stages of modifications."
The marketing was backed up by multiple sessions of drag strip testing at Florida's Gainsville Dragway. The aforementioned Super Stock article and the article by the late Roger Huntington titled 'Are You Geared to Go' became the benchmark performance article for The Machine and in the case of the Huntington article, a template for how to write an informative, useful article about muscle cars.
The standard engine in The Machine was AMC's 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 engine with 340 horsepower (253.5 kW). More importantly, from a racing point of view, the engine developed 430 lb·ft (583 N·m) of torque at 3600 rpm. The horsepower rating only qualified the Machine as a muscle car - and thus higher insurance premiums by one single horsepower; the torque is what made the difference at the starting line. This was the most powerful engine in any AMC vehicle while retaining features required for normal street operations, as well as components to assure outstanding performance characteristics without incurring high-unit and warranty costs (John Newell) penalties. The engine is fed by a miserly 600-cfm Autolite four-barrel carb. Compression was advertised at 10.0:1 and required high-octane gasoline.
The heavy-duty suspension was initially augmented by station wagon springs in the rear giving the car a raked look. These springs caused violent wheel hop in drag racing situations and were phased out of the cars over the model year Lawlor wrote: "Heavy duty suspension was another part of the Machine package. When the car was first announced, it had super heavy duty coils at the rear, borrowed from the Rebel station wagon. These didn't serve any truly functional purpose. They were installed simply to lift the tail of the car for a rakish appearance. However, there appears to have been a running change on this point, though we haven't been able to confirm it with the AM factory. There were complaints that the extremely stiff wagon springs caused severe wheel hop when the clutch was popped at the starting line and many drag racers replaced them with the softer standard coils used on the Rebel sedan and hardtop.
Our test car certainly didn't have a noticeable rake, as the accompanying photos show. Nor did it suffer from really severe wheel hop during our drag runs. We can only conclude, therefore that it didn't have the wagon rear springs at all. The ride was still firm, though, so we suspect that we had the rear coils normally supplied as a heavy duty option on the sedan and hardtop. These are stiffer than absolutely stock springs but are nowhere near as harsh as the wagon units." (John Newell)
The weaker springs didn't help the wheel hop much but eliminated the raked look and lowered the overall factory spec'd height of the car from 54.4" to 53.4". The spring change was further verified by the delivery day (December 23, 1969) photo of my own Rebel Machine (August 19, 1970) that was delivered to the original owner, Ralph Stigger of Mississauga Ontario. In that photo, the car sits perfectly level. This was the first Machine ordered and delivered in Canada. It was ordered by Ralph's uncle who was an AMC executive at the Brampton AMC Assembly plant in Brampton, Ontario. As well, when the photographs of the cars are reviewed. Very few still have the raked appearance and on at least one of them the raked appearance was achieved by the owner replacing the springs with the station wagon units.
Standard were a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission with a Hurst floor shifter backed by either 3.54:1 or optional gear ratios up to 5.0:1 rear axle gear ratios, as well as power disc brakes, wide E60X15 Goodyear Polyglas white letter tires mounted on "Machine" mag-styled steel 15-inch (380 mm) wheels by Kelsey Wheels, and a black interior with high back bucket seats and a center armrest upholstered in red, white, and blue vinyl. Numerous other upgrades were standard to make each Machine a potent turn-key drag racer.
The trend to increase the power output from muscle car engines has seen AMC engines top 500 horsepower (370 kW) and big block engines top 1,000 horsepower (750 kW). It should be understood that neither the stock clutch, bellhousing, Borg-Warner T-10 nor the automatic transmission were designed to channel this much horsepower. A Richmond Racing Transmission is much safer. When something small goes wrong under load with high power, the effect is exactly the same as a car bomb and any occupants of the car can be killed or maimed instantly as well as the car totally ruined. That goes for any other muscle car with an original transmission.
As a potential drag racer for the average guy on the street with a micro-budget, The Machine knew no equal when all costs and results were factored in. The optional service kit boosted the horsepower to well over 400 horsepower (300 kW) and lowered its times from 14.4 with the Autolite carb and bone jarring wheel hop to 12.72 in the quarter at a cost of about $500.00 US. (Cars Magazine, Nov. 1970, Are You Geared to Go?, Roger Huntington) According the benchmark book on comparative muscle car statistics "How Fast Were They?" no muscle car of that era in dealer/factory stock history ever beat those times. (Steve Schultz, GaS Publishing, 1996) As of 1996, neither the fastest Viper nor the fastest Corvette of that year could yet beat it. That is a long reign for any car that will probably never be equalled, especially since The Machine was only produced for one year.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) price was US$3,475 US - 4,400 CDN (approximately $20,000, in 2007 dollars). The October 16, 1969 Press Release stated that the company's aim was to release the first one thousand Machines in the Red, White and Blue (paint code 25A) paint/graphics scheme. But in the (December and January issues of Super Stock magazine the number was apparently revised downwards to 300 RWB units before launching the P8 (blacked out hood designation, AMC Parts Book) solid color car production. This is more in keeping with the reality of the Rebel Machine Registry compiled by Mickey Ziomkowski and the manner in which the vehicles were "awarded" to the dealerships.
Jim McGraw, the author who broke the news indicated that this information appeared in the December issue as well. Performance car magazines appeared on stands in the month before the date on the cover and the magazines required a month of set up, press run and shipping time so Jim's article had to have been written in October and his information acquired very shortly after the October 16th Press Release. What's unique here is that no other journalist from that era whose documentation has survived reported those numbers.
When the cars were announced it was reported in the media that every AMC dealer would receive one Rebel Machine that was to be displayed in their showrooms (Official AMC Audio salesman's training tape). They were not to be left out in the lot. The idea was to use the flamboyant paint scheme to lure non-AMC potential customers into the showroom where they could be introduced to the rest of the AMC line-up. Selling the RWG cars was never a high priority for AMC despite the official public stance. But in true AMC fashion, the company covered every base to ensure that the car as produced matched the hype. Also in true AMC fashion, once all the hard work was done, they spent hardly any money to promote what history now accepts as the best all around car that American Motors ever built. In fact from marketing standpoint, after the most expensive and labour intensive performance project for a car offered for public sale, the company abandoned the car to its sales fate and the larceny of the performance car magazines of the era; most of whom, officially, didn't like the paint scheme and trashed the car and the company that produced it.
The performance magazine industry in the 1960s and 1970s were essentially marketing tools for the domestic car companies. Advertising by the "Big Three" (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) funded most of them in large part. AMC - a Johnny-come-lately initially wanted no part of the performance market and didn't begin to buy into the hype until the 1967 model year although they had been conducting performance related projects including the AMX before that time.
When AMC finally did enter the performance game, the marketplace had been lying in wait for them for some time. It was a marketing ambush in every sense of the word. AMC's first efforts at performance were met with derision by the public who had essentially no knowledge of American Motors products. Their views were shaped entirely by what appeared in the newspapers and car magazines.
For example, Hot Rod magazine published a February 1970 article by Steve Kelly, "Too Much of a Rebel" stated, "AMC's Rebel Machine reminds us of a great defense lawyer who, despite losing his biggest case, still boasted that it was his greatest courtroom scene. The Rebel Machine is a good effort on American Motors' part but it isn't a winner. If there is an attempt here to chase down the well-known middle-class supercar market nobody but American Motors need worry. Here's a car that lists for $3,500 at the starting point, but lacks and appealing interior, feels way too big (and is) to be a handler, and is marked with more identity than Peter Fonda's two wheeler, with about the same taste. Not many of the folks we talked with while we had the car could think of any reason they'd want this car, with 36 months to pay and all the bright paint."
The tach was roundly criticized in all of the performance magazines of the day but the same tach in the same location was praised as a great and functional idea on General Motors cars in those same magazines, sometimes in the same issue.
Kelly went on to say: "A box type hood fixture incorporates a vacuum-operated fresh-air inlet to the carburetor. It also contains a hood mounted tachometer upon which little value can be placed. Its functionality in this spot is questionable." Newell countered, "The tachometer is located where it is so that when drag racing, you could literally watch the tachometer rather than the track without looking in a completely different direction. Peripheral vision was enough to keep you straight." All of the hood-mounted tachs installed on muscle cars in 1970 came from the same manufacturer and differed only in the graphics painted on the dials. (John Newell) In the October 1969 issue of Hot Rod, Kelly offered no criticism of 1970 Pontiac GTO's hood-mounted tachometer.
Unlike most other muscle cars whose scoops were too low to the hood to grab the air properly, The Machine featured a large, functional ram-air intake hood scoop that was painted Electric Blue (code B6) and silver with the generic tachometer visible to the driver integrated into a raised fairing at the rear of the scoop. Early scoops produced in mid 1969 were fibreglass layups, while those installed on Machines sold after January 1, 1970 were injection molded. There was a big difference in weight and finish quality.
After the initial run of 300 units with its distinctive and easily recognizable identity, The Machine was available without the stripes in 14 stock colors and 2 special order colors, with a blacked out hood. The rarest of all paint/configuration schemes for the Machine was Frost White with no hood scoop (72A-8A) but with the hood blacked out, with only one made. All of this car's ownership history is known and verifiable. When I had the car repainted, I chose to convert it to a RWB paint scheme because without the stripes and hood scoop the car would have been worth less than it cost to paint it as it was completely unrecognizable as a Machine without resorting to the VIN and the glovebox door logo.
The "Sleeper Machine" was sold by Jeffery Lynch Motors in Brampton, Ontario. The original wiring harness is still in the car and has never had the pigtail for the tach as part of the wire harness which is still completely original. The car was ordered as a "sleeper" with the only Machine identification being the logo on the glove box door and the VIN. The car was also ordered with the optional 4.10 gears. There is a myth surrounding the production numbers of Frost White Machines that were sold with blacked out hood and no stripes. The myth states there were only 3 sold. But when I was writing the International Rebel Machine Newsletter, I easily identified 6 of them. In truth they are no rarer than Machines of other colours. They seem rarer because most of them were converted to RWB by subsequent owners. As the supplier of the only authentic and completely correct Rebel Machine reproduction stripe kits, I can state this with authority.
Typically, those who don't want to draw attention to the switch don't list their cars in the Rebel Machine Registry. There is no need for concern on this point because a number of the P-72 cars were apparently converted by the factory after the door tags were riveted to the doors and window trim. The evidence for that came from two doors I spotted in the rafters of Al Timmer's barn. The switch was an easy one since the Electric Blue paint was blown onto a previously painted Frost White body. A change of hoods and the application of the stripes was all that was involved in making a switch since all other Machine options were already installed. Since the body was predominantly Frost White and recorded as such on ownership documentation, there were no legalities involved. So while 25A was the "official" RWB paint scheme, P-72 was a factory initiated though unofficial option.
The original trim scheme was a $75 option. The graphics were known as the Red Streak Racing Stripes (Rebel Machine booklet, 1970, American Motors, back page). The original stripe kits were warranted by AMC but that fact was not advertised. 3M the manufacturer, warranted them to AMC for 7 years (3m Minneapolis). Today the 25A designation or paint code shown on the metal door tag generally adds at least $1000.00 to the value of a Machine and a solid colour Machine can increase in value by the same amount when converted to the Red, White, and Blue (RWB) paint scheme. Of course purists are horrified to some degree at the thought of such a conversion, but the fact remains that since AMC did virtually nothing to publicize the solid colour Machines, the buying public generally has no idea there was such a car. Since most people become aware of Machines due to the stripes, an instant like/dislike was formed in an instant that was not generally overcome at a later date.
The RWB paint scheme met with controversy almost from day one and that controversy is still on-going. Its a case of love it or leave it. Neither journalists nor the public are immune. However, it is undeniable that the Red Streak Racing Stripes are entirely responsible for the unprecedented popularity and awareness that the car is presently enjoying. The Machine is the most rapidly appreciating domestic muscle car and the RBW cars are leading the charge. When I started THE INTERNATIONAL REBEL MACHINE NEWSLETTER in 1995, a #1 quality Machine was worth $8,000. Today, the same car could go for upwards of $50,000. If The Machine had been built by GM, Ford or Chrysler, there is absolutely no doubt the price tag would be at least $30,000 higher. Regardless, Machine prices are headed in that direction fairly quickly. Many smart investors have paid attention to the trend, bought good examples and have added to their collections or otherwise archived them. As such, these Machines don't appear on the Rebel Machine Registry and are more or less divorced from the hobby, having become "commodities".
An incorrect stripe kit devalues the cars by thousands of dollars since the car has to be completely stripped, repainted and re-striped to achieve a correct look. (John Newell)
According to the original owner and drag race driver of the Kelowna Machine, there were ten official factory Rebel Machine drag race cars. They were equipped with chrome rally wheels and knock of spinners - completely different than the traditional "Machine" Wheels. Each of the racers were hand lettered by Robertson signs with body length gold script that read "The Machine" The artist signed the company name to each car. On the left side it was on the lower front fender next to the doors. On the right side, it was signed behind the passenger door on the rear quarter.
Two of the factory race cars survived into the 1990s, one in pieces stored in Al Timmer's barn in Ypsilanti, Michigan and the other in Kelowna, British Columbia. The car in pieces was a rust free car and Al the owner, was a major Rebel Machine parts supplier and specialist who made his living buying and selling Rebel Machine parts almost exclusively. He had more than enough NOS parts to fully restore the car (except for the stripes and script). Unfortunately Al sold out and all of the cars and parts he had disappeared from the hobby. Most likely the new owner didn't know what he had bought.
The last race car was sold to a new owner still in nearly mint condition. Unfortunately, a misguided attempt to improve the look of the engine by the original owner destroyed the car's originality to some degree. Purists were horrified at the shots that appeared on the internet. The new owner decided to restore the car to "factory" original. That may have seen the end of a piece of AMC history - the last original factory race car. The wheels were removed, the Doug Thorley headers removed. The original paint was not perfect but as a Red, White and Blue Machine, it was at the time, the best example of a Rebel Machine in factory delivered condition at the time. It wasn't a production car, but it was an important car.
According to the original owner, his father owned an AMC dealership in Vancouver. He used to race the cars in showroom condition at Mission Drag strip in Langley B.C. and in the US. as far south as Los Angeles. AMC was so impressed, they gave the car to him for free on the condition he race it as he had the other cars. He raced it for two years in pure stock and retired the car undefeated. It was only wet once, according to its owner, in its entire history to the point where I saw it in Kelowna. I photographed it thoroughly at the time. The original owner owns the Cars R Us in Kelowna.
The car shown at the beginning of this article is not likely one of the official factory racers. It looks like one of the test cars that were debuted first at Dallas and later Gainsville, Florida. When the Machines made their debuts, they were not trailer queens. There were ten of them, half automatics and half four speeds. They were driven from the factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin to Dallas, Texas and raced in the condition they arrived in. Each car had over one hundred races apiece put on them before the flogging was over and were still in saleable shape. All of the cars were subsequently sold to customers according to AMC policy.
In the September 1999 issue of Motor Trend the magazine ran a feature titled "The Best, Fastest and Most Outrageous" - The 50 most memorable cars ever tested by Motor Trend. The years it covered were the last 50 years of the 20th Century. The Machine was listed number 25. Its forerunner and inspiration, the '69 SC/Rambler was included in the shot used as an honourable mention. Their author Bill Sanders said, "For a price below $3,500 the Machine performs like a champ, both in straight out acceleration and excellent handling."
The following year, the Rebel became the Matador and 2 inches (51 mm) longer. The Machine survived only as an option and not a popular option at that. Production figures are said to be 42. (Pat Wnek)
Before the advent of the multimedia advertising and the development of what were in effect factory built race cars somewhat de-tuned for street use, cars were just a means transportation for all but a select few. By the mid-sixties, car wars were being fought on dragstrips across the United States and to a much lesser extent in other countries. It was marque against marque with the adage, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."
Meanwhile, the automotive scene was also being transformed as technology and new sophisticated techniques and materials that had never existed before. It serviced an enormous new teen market, created by the Baby Boom, which demanded something different. Large amounts of corporate money was devoted to pleasing the "Boomers". AMC lagged in addressing the new demand.
In 1969, AMC's response was the little Rambler American, rebadged as the SC/Rambler with 315 horse engine nestled between the shock towers. The car was exactly the image success AMC had hoped for. The cars proved very popular, but AMC management failed to recognize the potential.
For 1970, AMC initially wanted to hit the ball out of the park. The concept was considered too brutish and unsophisticated to make the impression AMC decided it wanted to make. And the body style was different for 1970. AMC collaborated with Hurst again and like any company with a strong appreciation for the impact strong graphics can have on the viewer, another powerful automotive image grew on the drawing boards.
This relationship with Hurst was far more important to AMC than nearly anyone at AMC understood. Before the 1967 model year, AMC products all suffered from a flaw that reasserted itself at the end of the muscle car era - their cars were all out of proportion from a design standpoint: AMC dispensed with attractive styling in favor of engineering convenience. In many ways Hurst helped AMC overcome this. Executives at AMC actually built a mini-philosophy around the Machine concept. They must have spent time and money deciding exactly who their target market was. Unfortunately they wildly over-estimated the size of this potential market. Otherwise,, The Machine would never have been built.
In a press release of 16 October 1969, AMC VP R.N. McNealy noted, "the supercar buyer is usually young, relatively affluent and has a "critical awareness" of exterior styling. At the same time he wants to be treated as an individual and stand out from the crowd. The Rebel Machine's distinctive paint job, rakish nose-down attitude and obvious performance characteristics lets the supercar buyer express his identity, or, in the words of today, 'Do your own thing'. 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."
This was very bold marketing statement for its time and remains unique to this day in automotive marketing history. Essentially, this statement aimed the car at a very specific sort of person and that type of person is almost never the target of a marketing strategy. AMC were looking for future leaders. And in truth, they did find them. A very high proportion of Machine owners went on to become professionals and business owners. The original owners were generally of the same age and income level. AMC misunderstood, perhaps intentionally, the sales potential for the Rebel Machine by a fairly wide margin.
That misunderstanding was compounded by misunderstanding the demands of muscle car buyers, for the Machine was underpowered and overweight. Unlike the SC/Rambler, the Machine could not win in stock classes at the drag strip, because it was at the heavy end of the weight scale vs. horsepower in its class. The only way to have overcome that would have been to introduce more Service Package components. The cost of obtaining the required emissions certificate was too high for no perceived financial return, AMC was caught in a classic "Catch 22", and the Machine proved a failure. Why AMC had not chosen to continue using the smaller Rambler American chassis is not known.