Bob Klug has a surefire way to make himself feel better if he’s ever down or needs a little pick-me-up. He knows from experience that it’s pretty hard to be in a bad mood when you are behind the wheel of his crazy, colorful 1970 AMC Rebel Machine.
“It’s been phenomenal to own,” says the resident of Hartland, Wis. “It’s definitely an ego boost. If I’m ever having a bad day I just go out for a ride and I feel a lot better when I come back!”
Klug has had his sweet AMC a long time — since 1984 — but it’s only been about five years that he’s had it back on the road and in fighting shape. The road to restoration was a long, slow grind, but the end result was pretty spectacular. He now gets to prowl the streets in a rare beast that stands out in any crowd.
The whole saga started about 39 years ago when Klug wasn’t even yet an AMC fan. He wasn’t all that familiar with the hairy Rebel Machines, but he decided to take a swing at owning one after talking with a close friend who had been buying cars in Florida, bringing them back to Wisconsin and then flipping them.
“He came back from one of these trips and said, ‘There is this car I wanted to get, but I just didn’t have enough money.’ And he said it was a Rebel Machine, and I said, ‘I remember those.’ … I had gotten a settlement from a motorcycle accident. And my wife being pregnant said, ‘Yeah, a four-wheel toy is fine but not a two-wheel toy.’ So I gave him the money and I said ‘Wave this in front of him and see if he’ll bite,’ and the following week he called me and said ‘I’m bringing your car back from Florida.’ He knew the machine was rare that’s why he really wanted it, and when I gave him the extra money [he bought it].”
A Rebel Machine seems like it would be a difficult car to steal, with its rarity and instantly recognizable patriotic paint scheme, but apparently Klug’s AMC had been swiped early in its life and never fully recovered.
“I found out the car was stolen from the original owner six months after he bought it. It was recovered two years later, believe it or not. The transmission was gone, the interior including the dash, was gone. The engine was still in it, and the rear end was still in it. But that was about it. Everything else was pretty much gone.”
A replacement interior had been put in the car at some point that was from a Matador SST and wasn’t quite correct. The original automatic transmission had also been replaced by a Borg-Warner T-10.
“That was normally assigned to The Machine with the Hurst shifter and linkage and stuff like that,” Klug pointed out. “So that’s about the only stock thing he was able to get back into it at that point.”
The flashy original paint scheme had also been altered. Klug didn’t mind the way The Rebel Machine looked when he got it, but he knew he wanted make the car look stock again.
“It was in Florida and the stripes that are on them are 3M reflective tape, and the Florida sun faded out and cracked the original stripes,” Klug said. “So he had them stripped off and painted on, which then of course took away from the gimmick factory of the reflectivity of the stripes. You could get a Rebel Machine in any color, but then the hood would have been in a Shadow Black. Well, [the previous owner] liked the black hood, so here it is painted white with painted-on red, white and blue stripes with a black hood and across the bottom quarter panels it was done in Big Bad Blue, which was another color that he thought was pretty cool.”
“So it wasn’t true to its original paint scheme and things like that, but it didn’t really matter to me.”
LIVING FAST, DYING YOUNG
AMC officially joined the muscle car battle royal in 1968 when it unveiled cars like the 390-powered AMX and Javelin SST. Two years later it launched another haymaker when the loud and proud Rebel Machine showed up. It had AMC’s top-shelf 340-horse 390 V-8 along with a four-speed, close-ratio tranny, a Hurst shifter, lighted 8000-rpm hood tach, Ram Air, 3.54:1 or 3.91:1 rear axles, heavy-duty shocks and springs, a low-back-pressure dual exhaust system, front and rear sway bars, 15-inch raised white-letter tires, styled wheels, high-back bucket seats and power disc brakes.
“Standing before you is the car you’ve always wanted,” AMC proclaimed in December 1969 magazine ad. The ad showed The Machine that had actually debuted two months earlier at the National Hot Rod Association World Championship drag races.
The ad copy warned, “Incidentally, if you have delusions of entering the Daytona 500 with The Machine, or challenging people at random, the Machine is not that fast. You should know that. For instance, it is not as fast on the getaway as a 427 Corvette, or a Hemi, but it is faster on the getaway than a Volkswagen, a slow freight train, and your old man’s Cadillac.” Which meant it was plenty fast enough.
The Rebel Machine came with a price tag of $3,475, a 114-inch wheelbase and curb weight of 3,640 lbs. It clocked 14.4-second quarter-miles at 98 mph speed and had a patriotic paint scheme that was rivaled only by its SC/Rambler sibling
The first 100 “Machines” delivered from the AMC factory in Kenosha, Wis. were finished in white. Hurst Performance Products did up the lower beltline stripes and hood in blue and then added red stripes on the upper body sides. At the rear, red-white-and-blue stripes ran across the fender tips and deck. Special “The Machine” emblems were tacked on the front fender sides and on the rear trim panel’s right-hand side.
For buyers who didn’t like the patriotic paint scheme, AMC advertised, “If you like everything about it except for the paint job, which admittedly looks startling, you can order the car painted in the color of your choice.” When buyers did this, they got silver striping and the blacked-out hood. The original color scheme became a $75 option.
Sadly, all this flash and dash produced sales led to the production of only 2,326 cars, which made the Rebel Machine a one-year wonder. A year later, AMC instead put its marketing efforts behind the Hornet SC/360 and renamed the Rebel the Matador.
24 YEARS TO DAYLIGHT
Klug figures his Rebel Machine had to be one of the only ones in existence that had a trailer hitch on it. Apparently, it spent more time pulling a trailer than it did racing between stoplights or collecting pink slips at a race track.
“He said he didn’t drive it much, he only used it because of the amount of horsepower and torque that the car had to tow his jet boat down the ocean,” Klug recalls.
The car also had a rust spot on the rear fender that Klug decided was one of the first things to work on.
“I stripped the car completely myself in order to get it back to original condition and I wanted to find out what kind of shape the body was in, so I stripped it right down to bare metal,” he says. “A guy who worked at AMC told me the right front fender of an AMC Ambassador has the same wheel moldings as what’s on The Machine. So I went to a swap meet and found a ’68 right front fender from Oklahoma that was beautiful. I brought it to my body guy and he was able to cut out all the rust and cut out what he needed from the fender and he welded it right in place and matched it up perfectly. Then I had all the body work done that it needed and had it painted and the stripes put on it.”
At the same time, Klug had a couple of fellow AMC enthusiasts who happened to race AMCs and work on engines tackle the 390 V-8.
“They put a dual-roller timing chain in and hardened the valve seats so I could run unleaded premium fuel in the car.”
It was then that Klug says life interfered with progress on The Machine. The engine and bodywork were pretty much done, but the car didn’t have an interior and there was plenty of other work to be done. But it was all going to have to wait.
“In 1992 I shelved the car for 24 years,” he says. “I stored it in a buddy’s pole barn – the same guy who had found the car for me. It sat in his pole barn for 24 years. Life’s priorities came up, like building my home and putting my two girls through college and getting them married off.” [laughs]
In 2016, Klug says he was ready to get the car out of mothballs and “start over on basically everything but the body.
“It was still in good shape, but the paint on the engine block had peeled off and it had been sitting all that time. I hadn’t started it in the 24 years that it had been sitting there.”
Klug enlisted the help of Mike Kusch at Hartland Service, which does a lot of engine and mechanical work for the local collector car and hot rod crowd.
“He got the car set up with a temporary gas tank and things like that. He called me up and said I’m getting ready to fire this thing up. And this is after we put Marvel’s Motor Magic in the cylinders and let it sit for 48 hours. First turn of the key it fired right up …. We haven’t had to do anything to the engine since that time, so hats off to those two guys that freshened up that engine. They knew what they were doing.”
Klug was able to source a new interior and door panels from Legendary Interiors. He had plenty of other odds and attends to finish and loose ends to tie up, including refurbishing the hood tach. Ironically, he said waiting for some many years may have actually made finishing the car easier. In the intervening 24 years, the number of companies making reproduction parts grew, and the arrival of the Internet made finding them a much easier task.
There weren’t a lot of options boxes to check when it came time to buy a Rebel Machine back in ’70. Klug noted that his AM/FM radio is optional, and he has most — but not all — of the parts for the optional factory air-conditioning unit that was on the car. If he ever locates a couple more pieces, he figures he’ll put the A/C back in.
For now, though, he figures his parts chasing days are mostly over and all he needs to do is take the AMC out for regular exercise. The local interstate is not far away, and Klug has no problem getting the red, white and blue coupe out in the passing lane and flattening the gas pedal. When he does, the front end rises up and the hefty AMC screams like the old days.
“It’s funny, I was coming home from a show and a guy pulled up next to me in a Hellcat Challenger,” Klug laughs. “And it was a long stoplight, and the guy looks over and says, ‘Well, you wanna go?’ I said ‘Are you crazy? You have twice the horsepower that I have, and if you break something you can get it fixed. I don’t have that luxury!”
“But then I told him, ‘One thing you’ll never be able to beat; my car made your car possible!’”
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