Rebel = First Muscle Car? 1959 Rambler Rebel

Many people say that the 1957 Rambler Rebel with a 327 V8 engine was the first muscle car. That’s always dangerous ground because some folks take it as a personal challenge to dispute any “first/fastest/oldest/biggest/smallest/anything’est” claims. First or not, this 1959 Rambler Rebel is from the same bloodline and it can be found here on Craigslist in Redmond, Oregon. The seller, a dealership, has it priced at $1,995. Thanks to Ikey H. for another great find!

It all started in late-1956 with the introduction of the first-generation Rebel for the 1957 model year. After WWII, it was reportedly the first time that a U.S. car company had offered a mid-sized car with a big V8 in it, beating the big-three to market. Hence the claim that the Rambler Rebel had become the first modern car to be considered a muscle car as we know it today. With 255 hp and a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds, it had to be quite a machine in its day. Any thoughts, discussions, arguments, or disputes about the “first muscle car” claim?

This car isn’t very muscle-car-looking, as we know the classic 1960s and 1970s muscle cars that a lot of us grew up with. The seller isn’t giving us any description on this car what so ever other than a few bullet points about the features, like it’s an automatic, has a clear title, it’s pink, and it runs on gas, etc. And, the photos aren’t super plentiful, but they do hit the highlights: front and rear angles, an interior shot, and an engine photo. A lot of ads don’t even show that. For $1,995 it looks like it would be a fun project.

Thankfully, this car has power steering and it sure would have been nice if the dealership would have sent someone out for literally one minute to clean the interior before taking this lone photo. They had the door open, shag that junk outside and take a photo of the back seat from over the front seats at least. I will never understand the thinking behind giving the absolute bare minimum photo documentation when someone is trying to sell a car online which is 99% related to potential buyers looking at photos! If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that I’d buy each one of you a concours restored Rambler Rebel. As you can see, around the stuff, the front interior looks pretty solid and in good condition. I’d want to see the underside for sure, but it looks good so far.

Boom, there it is, the shot heard ’round the world. Well, the 1957 327-powered Rebel would have been that shot, but for the second-generation (1958 and 1959) Rebels, the 327 went to the Ambassador line and the Rebel received a 250 cubic-inch V8. It still had a potent for the time 215 hp, along with a 4-barrel carb and dual exhaust. It took 12-seconds to reach 60 mph as compared to the 1957 Rebel’s 7.5 seconds, that’s quite a difference. This engine looks cleaner than I thought it would and I see at least one newer hose, that’s a good sign, isn’t it? There is not one word on how or even if it runs, unfortunately, but for two-grand, this car could be worth a gamble for anyone looking for a unique winter project.


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  1. Howard A Member

    Pretty creepy, Mr. G, these cars coming through here , many seem to be hitting nerves. My friend’s mom across the alley, had this exact car. I was too young for my license, but he was a few years older, and the Rambler quickly became the car of choice for cruisin’ and stoplight drags. Smaller V8, 4 barrel, automatic, dual exhausts,( might have even had posi) it was a light car, and could beat just about any other mom and pop car. Great to see the Rambler thing going, makes me a bit nervous, all the old timers unloading their Ramblers. It was not a young at heart persons car, but still could be.
    Far as the 1st muscle car, I say no. That would be the Olds Rocket 88. The 57 Rebel was more like 1st factory hot rod offered, something Pontiac would do a few years later, stuffing big V8’s in small cars, with much more success.
    Again, keeping in mind, it’s a ’59 Rambler, and will drive like one.

    Like 2
    • That AMC guy

      There are a lot of differing opinions as to what was the first muscle car. I always thought it was the Mercer.

      Like 1
  2. Dave

    Part of the problem is having a definition of “muscle car” that everyone can agree on. In the 1960s Detroit took most of its inspiration from the California custom car scene. Even that era had its divisions, when cars like the GTO and GTX were options of base Tempests and Belvederes.

    Like 1
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      Dave, I think you nailed it. I should have defined it better I guess. I hoped that by saying “mid-sized car with a big V8” that folks wouldn’t list a big/full-sized car with a big V8 as being the first “muscle car”, but that’s sort of what happened with a few of the comments. It’s always good to have a discussion, though.

      Like 1
      • Dave

        I wonder if this was the Rambler Kenny Chesney sings about in “How Forever Feels” .

        Like 1
  3. Kenneth Carney

    Wouldn’t turn it down Howard! Suits me
    just fine! At least I could get back into the hobby without breaking the bank.
    Other than the rust issues these cars have, I just can’t stand that torque tube
    drive setup Rambler was using back
    then. It took twice as long to change
    a set of U-joints as you had to pull the
    entire rear axle just to get to them.
    Also, getting the right parts was a huge
    problem too as AMC used engines and
    driveline parts from other automakers.
    Back then, you could run acrosd a car with a Packard V-8 mated to a GM
    tranny which may have been hooked to
    a Ford or Chrysler rear axle. My ’62
    Classic had a Jeep six mated to a
    Studebaker auto tranny finished off
    by what looked like a ’48 Ford rear
    axle. That all being said, I’d still take
    this car–problems and all–much cheaper
    than some of the cars I’ve seen here.
    Besides, it speaks to me.

    Like 4
    • dweezilaz

      Not really a problem.

      Packard engine mated to a Packard transmission for two years 55-56. Never available with the Hydramatic.

      GM Hydramatic 56-57 with AMC’s engines.

      Borg Warner supplied automatics to Studebaker and AMC for years as well as other makes. Chrysler automatics from 1972.All the manuals remained Borg Warner.

      AMC never used a Jeep engine in it’s Ramblers. Aside from the Packard engine/trans and the Metropolitan, the only other time AMC used someone else’s engine [not counting Renault that is another story] was after buying the rights and tooling to Audi’s 4 cyl for 1977, then GM’s Iron Duke.

      Jeep used AMC engines after the their purchase of Jeep in 1970.

      Like 3
  4. Howard A Member

    Changing a clutch in a Rambler was no day at the beach either, which is why the automatic, which was a bulletproof unit, was the way to go. Remember, if you do go the vintage Rambler route, be sure to check the front suspension. These appear ok, but it’s hard to tell. Like I said on the ’61 Rambler post, my grandfathers car looked perfect, but the trunnions had rusted clear of the unibody. It’s a tough fix.

  5. Del

    First muscle car was the car that had 1 horse power per cubic inch.

    I believe that title belongs to Chrysler in the mid 1950s. 😁😂🤣

    Like 3
    • Frank Shearer

      1956 Chrysler 300B, 354 cubic inch Hemi, 355 Horsepower.

    • TreDeuce

      One hp per inch. That belongs to the 283 hp 283 of 1957.

    • Jake Kaywell

      Nah. That would be the 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk. With its centrifugal Paxton supercharger, it was able to make 289 HP out of 289 cu.

  6. Mountainwoodie

    HoA- As usual right on the mark. Has there ever been a more ungainly design mated to an engine more unsuited to the design than this? Anybody have any ideas? I wonder what off the shelf parts of other manufacturers make up this particular car.

    Like 1
  7. WayneC Member

    There are several schools of thought on who would have come out with the first muscle car. My opinion would have to have been the Studebaker Golden Hawk of 1956, with the Packard 352 inch 375 horse engine stuffed, and I mean stuffed, in its engine bay. They were a great straight line car, but not so good on corners as the engine was so heavy. Also considering it’s size, it is a mid size car, so I would consider it in the same class.

    Like 1
  8. Troy s

    As I had to educate myself on the older cars way back in the eighties my understanding was there were the “power packs” of the fifties, the “super stocks” of the early sixties and the “super cars” of the mid-sixties to early seventies. There were also the “pony cars” and ‘jr. super cars” regardless of engine displacement.
    Did anybody call their brand new GTO,,442,SS396 Chevelle, hemi powered GTX,etc.. a muscle car back then?
    I’m thinking thats a later term that actually didn’t exist in the heyday of high octane factory high performance cars.

    Like 2
    • Howard A Member

      That’s a good point. Back then everybody had fast cars, heck, even dad’s Olds 98 could have been considered a muscle car. It wasn’t until the absence of horsepower, that high horsepower cars really were different than dad’s Olds, they were cars with muscle.

      Like 2
  9. Terry

    Given the meaning of muscle car; low cost, light weight and high performance then this one ticks all the boxes. To me the late forties Olds Rocket 88 was the first muscle car.

  10. Wrong Way

    Deja vu! My father had one exactly like this one to a T! Sadly it was outside when a softball size hail storm hit Nebraska! Hammered the top all in and everything else!

    • robert semrad

      Venango, Nebraska, 1962?

      • Wrong Way

        McCook, I am thinking a couple years earlier? Could be wrong tho

      • robert semrad

        Wrongway, McCook’s only about 80 miles from Venango, as the crow flies….Dad bought a new 1962 Impala… two weeks later, it was totaled out by the insurance company from that hail storm.

  11. Daniel G Rawinsky

    Seems like there are a lot of educated Rambler guys here. Question, I have a 1971 IH 1310 with a 304 engine. Didn’t Rambler or American Motors have a 304 and did either of these engines have anything in common? Thanks! Danny

  12. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    @Dave … The GTO was not an “option” it was purposely configured to PERFORM .. it was not just a ” drop a V8 in” an otherwise docile Detroit POS family car. … there was more to a GTO than ‘engine’ , and it set the Standard for Muscle Cars for years to come.

    Like 1
    • Dave

      From what I’ve read, when GM redesigned their midsize cars for 1964 John Delorean and his co-conspirators were looking at a Tempest when someone said they could put a 389 in it rather quickly. Due to corporate rules they had to make the GTO the next step above the Le Mans. The next year Olds followed the Pontiac path with the 442, the upper end of the F85/Cutlass/ 442 family. The rest is history.

      • robert semrad

        First year for the 4-4-2 was 1964.

        Like 2
      • TreDeuce

        Sorry, Dave. My first new car was a 1964 Olds 442 convertible.

        Like 2
      • Dave

        You guys are right. I had to visit musclecars.howstuffworks to find the story. Pontiac sold 10 Goats for every 442. According to the stats the Olds came with a 2.54 rear end, obviously set up for effortless high speed cruising.

      • TreDeuce

        2.54 would have been for an automatic equipped Cutlass. 442’s had 4-speeds. Gear ratios were optional on manual trannies.

        442’s were set-up for handling.

        442 = 4-Barrel _ 4-speed _ Dual Exhaust

      • robert semrad

        TreDeuce, the 1965 442’s had the automatic option. The 1964’s did not. SO. some 442’s had an automatic, some didn’t, depending on the options chosen.

      • robert semrad

        Also, starting in 65, the first ‘4’ in 442, stood for 400 c.i., not 4 barrel. There were even 260 c.i. diesels with the Cutlass, and a very few 4 doors 442’s made, which were all in 64, called police intercepter. They had 4 barrel carbs, 4 speed transmissions, and dual exhaust, which is how Oldsmobile designated the 442 in 64….65, not so….it then stood for 400 c.i., 4 speed, and dual exhausts.

    • Dave at OldSchool Restorations

      and I know some will say it was not originally a standalone model, but it was configured that way, and as soon as the sales took off, it became a standalone…

      also, Muscle cars were not just intermediates. the 63-64 Impala with a 409 4 speed was certainly considered one, and was one of the few cars that could beat my 69 Goat.

      Like 1
      • Dave

        Was anyone able to pull the Don Yenko COPO bit over on Pontiac or Olds? Pontiac was building 389 and 421 tri power motors and Olds had a 425/375 Starfire engine. Olds went a strange direction with the Cutlass Turnpike Cruiser.

        Like 1
      • Troy s

        @Dave, well there was the ’68-’69 Hurst Olds powered by the big 455, in a Cutlass that was not to have more than 400 cubes, I’ve heard tall tales of some goats being equipped with 421/428 engines, quietly, although there would be no way to prove it. The COPO thing was not anything goes as corporate would absolutely not allow the 427 in a Nova,, ever…I know, old news to you guys.

      • Dave

        I was a teenager when this was going on, but around here more than one junkyard 421 and Tri Power manifold found its way into pre 68 Goats. When junkyard 455s became available then they went too.

  13. p.t. cheshire

    Fastest zero to sixty in 1957 was the Fuelie Corvette, second fastest zero to sixty was the Rambler Rebel, fastest U.S. production car was the Chrysler 300 letter series

    Like 1
  14. G.W.Gilmore

    No one gonna mention the other one next to it? Maybe a package deal could be made and then there would be plenty of parts. I see the green one has better grill. Better rear deck also.?

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