“Briefly, the standard package includes a wild paint and stripe job, 390-cubic inch engine with improved head porting and manifolds to raise the 1970 rating from 325 to 340 hp, Ram Air hood scoop, hood mounted tach, close ratio Warner four-speed with Hurst shifter, heavy duty suspension (with rear roll bar), power disc brakes, mag-styled wheels and fat E60-15 white lettered tires. At a list price under $3,500, this is probably one of the best “budget supercar” bargains on the market this year. Many of the features that are standard on the Machine come “optional at extra cost” in other supercars. It would be very hard to duplicate this exact package in another make for the same price. You get a lot for your money here.” Roger Huntington, Are You Geared to Go?; Rodder and Super/Stock Magazine, Nov. 1970
“Briefly, the standard package includes a wild paint and stripe job, 390-cubic inch engine with improved head porting and manifolds to raise the 1970 rating from 325 to 340 hp, Ram Air hood scoop, hood mounted tach, close ratio Warner four-speed with Hurst shifter, heavy duty suspension (with rear roll bar), power disc brakes, mag-styled wheels and fat E60-15 white lettered tires. At a list price under $3,500, this is probably one of the best “budget supercar” bargains on the market this year. Many of the features that are standard on the Machine come “optional at extra cost” in other supercars. It would be very hard to duplicate this exact package in another make for the same price. You get a lot for your money here.”
Roger Huntington, Are You Geared to Go?; Rodder and Super/Stock Magazine, Nov. 1970
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Hundreds of lockers in the halls of Downsview Secondary School shook and rattled to the rhythmic impact of my steel heeled western boots on the terrazzo floors as I pounded through the halls, late as usual for class, Grade 13 geography this time. It was the last class of my high school career and I was looking forward to never being back in school again, despite the years of fun and carousing spent there.
As I rounded the corner and rammed through a set of Georgian glass-paned steel doors, I could see the darkened doorway to my classroom. The class was supposed to see a movie today! It flashed through my mind that not only was I late, but I was going to have to pass in front of the entire class and the projector to get to my seat in the far back corner of the room. I wheeled sharply into the doorway and – slipped! Both feet shot out from under me and my entire body rose high in the air as though swept up on an invisible magic carpet.
CRASH! I hit the floor. BANG, CRACK, KASPLATTER! My books and binders cascaded to the floor! I lay there surrounded by the rubble of books and paper and laughed. It was still silent in the class. All that could be seen from inside the classroom were my western booted feet. I picked myself up, gathered the books and strolled into the room with a sheepish look on my face that luckily no one (I hoped) could see in the dark.
A round of laughter and a timely wisecrack by Mr. Dahl, the teacher, greeted me. These people were well accustomed to my shenanigans from years of scholastic co-existence.
At the end of class my group of friends was standing at the back of the classroom by the windows with the summer sun streaming in. We were talking about where we were going in life and what we thought we were going to do for a living while Bob flipped through an out of date news periodical on the window sill. He was almost at the end of the magazine when he exclaimed, "Gee! (Nobody swore in school in those days) What a sharp looking car!"
We all moved closer to see what he was talking about.
"WOW!!!!! I yelled, and then quietly added, "I’m getting one of those!"
"Sure Noodle, where are you going to get the money for one of those?" someone said.
"I don't know, but I'm getting one.” I took over the magazine. The write-up went on to explain that the pictured car was the new Rebel Machine, one of a series of new models to be announced by AMC every six months for the foreseeable future. It was white with a red stripe down the length of the vehicle and had blue accents. It was gorgeous. I had never heard of AMC, but this car impressed me immediately. THE MACHINE was the most esthetically appealing car ever made! It rang every bell and touched every artistic cord in my young body. I wasn’t just smitten; I was possessed in an instant.
The class broke up a few minutes later and we all went our separate ways in life as happens every year in every school. I left the school with the mental image of a Rebel Machine dancing around in my head.The next day, I perused the yellow pages to find out where the American Motors dealerships were located. I wanted to see a Rebel Machine in real life. The article had said that every AMC dealership was to get one for display in their showrooms. O’Donnell-Morrison on Bay St. in downtown Toronto was the first place I called. They had the biggest ad in the yellow pages, so I thought they must be the biggest dealership and would most likely have a Machine. I was right. They still had one sitting on their showroom floor. How much? Four thousand, four hundred dollars was the reply. It was way out of my $70.00 a week reach, but I was going to see it anyway!
At the time I owned the ’65 Ford Galaxie 500XL convertible, 390 with solid lifter cam, 750 Holley, 4 speed, Hurst Shifter and a couple of burned out Thrush mufflers. It was Racing Green with a tan interior, bucket seats and a console, a beautiful car by anyone’s standards. It was also within the context of the times, valueless.
In those days, a 4-speed anything owned by a sub-twenty-five year old was junk that had been driven into the ground needing major repairs. In this case, that was entirely true, even though it wasn't me who had caused the problems. The previous owner had converted the car from an automatic to a standard. It had also been hit by a dump truck at the passenger side windshield post. Although the windshield was replaced and didn't leak, the damage to the ‘A’ pillar was never repaired. The flywheel had so many cracks in it, it looked like a roadmap and as a result, the car shuddered violently when accelerating from a standing start. Even though I’m not a mechanic, I knew the magnitude of the problems this car had were beyond my physical and financial resources. Besides I’d already had a year of adventurous driving in the Ford interspersed with catastrophic breakdowns. It had only cost $900 plus parts and I had definitely gotten my money’s worth in terms of fun, but trouble was certainly coming. It was time for the car to go one way and me to go the other.
I thundered downtown to O’Donnell-Morrison in the ragtop and parked in a no parking zone right on the street in front of the dealership. I’d be able to see the Ford through the showroom window, in the event a meter maid showed up with ticket book in hand. The Machine was visible from the street in the prime showroom location. It gleamed. I stood and gazed at it from the sidewalk before venturing in. The showroom was cathedral quiet. The staff spoke in near whispers. I could only stare at the car. The hood was up. I checked the car over, starting with the engine compartment. The literature said the car was equipped with a 390 cubic inch engine. The Ford was also equipped with a 390 cubic inch engine. The Machine’s engine looked totally under-whelming because it was so small by comparison. And it wasn’t orange or blue. It was… sort of turquoise! One of my favourite colours! It looked great! The engine bay was white, the same colour as the car was painted. I thought it would have looked better in black like a GM. The interior of the car was black except for the grey dash in-lay. It smelled terrific. It was the first time I had ever smelled a brand new car. At the time I didn’t realize that the smell of a Machine’s interior was quite different from any other car, and I was being imprinted as if I were a newly hatched duckling.
I sat in the car and was instantly in heaven. Never in my short life had I sat in a seat that conformed so perfectly to my back. In those days, it was widely rumoured that American Motors had retained a back specialist to help them design the bucket seats, they were so comfortable by comparison with any other of their day. The instant I took my place behind the wheel, I knew that the Machine was built for me. Everything fit. The size of the steering wheel, visibility, shifter throw, clutch feel, you name it, it all fit like the proverbial glove.Unfortunately, no amount of haggling was going to put me into the driver’s seat of that car. I left with a sense of loss and bewilderment. Where was I going to get the where-with-all to buy the car? Simply put, I wasn’t.
Days later, on the say-so of family friends, a local Mercury dealership was prevailed upon to give me a loan for a ’69 Mach I. Without them, the dealership would not have given me a second look. I didn’t earn enough at my aquarium-manufacturing job and was fresh out of school. The car was a demo. Maroon with gold striping, black interior, 351 cu. in. engine backed by an automatic transmission. It was beautiful and without a doubt, the best handling car I had ever driven.
I took possession of the car on July 3rd of 1970. In school I’d spent a lot of time in French class drawing pictures of Mach I’s with huge slicks on them in the style of Big Daddy Roth, a famous automotive artist/designer of the time. I was looking forward to turning that car into a really cool machine with a shaker hood, rear window slats and big fat gummies on the back and Cragar Mags all around.
By July 10th I had come to the conclusion that me and the ‘Stang had to part company. Time behind the wheel at high speeds convinced me that this car was a Monday car. (According to Arthur Haley in his book, Wheels, which was published some years later, there were days of the week in the automotive assembly process that were worse than others to have your car built on.) Mondays were the worst. On Mondays, the book stated many assemblers arrived for work in a less than energetic frame of mind and frequently put cars together with seriously flawed results. My Mustang must have been one of those. In the couple of months I had it, the car spent most of its time in the shop for a series of repairs. If I hadn’t had the Galaxie at the same time I wouldn’t have been able to get to work to pay for the Mustang. By August, I was actively looking for a replacement car. I went to every dealer in the Toronto area with the Mustang.
Belmont Chev-Olds was the only dealership that would consider giving me anything for the car - $25! At a Chrysler Dealer, I almost talked the sales manager into trading me a ‘69 GTX 440 for my ‘69 Mustang, plus $100 cash and a one hundred gallon aquarium. But no, I just couldn’t put enough money into the deal to interest them. Next I looked at a dark green '70 1/2 Z28. It looked mean just sitting there. It was also right out of my league price-wise. GM doesn't usually do weird deals...
One requirement, which I considered essential in a car, was a 4-speed transmission. The Mustang constantly stalled when put into gear upon start-up and I was heartily sick of it. The dealer couldn’t or wouldn’t fix it. To make matters worse, at high speeds, when the gas pedal was floored, the transmission would downshift into first gear almost causing loss of control of the vehicle. Ford’s response was: “You shouldn’t be driving that fast.” That comment sealed the fate of the Mustang where I was concerned. I always drove that fast!
Around the middle of August, my younger brother Mike came home on leave from the Norwegian Merchant Marine. He was at a loose end, so one sunny Friday evening, we decided to go cruising to see what we could find in the way of a replacement for the Mach I. We were on our way down Dufferin Street near Canada’s most famous shopping mall (at that time), Yorkdale. I was gabbing as usual; Mike was looking, when, "WOW! JOHN! LOOK AT THAT CAR!" Mike yelled. His arm shot out the window to point at - A REBEL MACHINE!"WHAT KIND OF CAR IS THAT?" Mike yelled, as we did a 4 wheel drift onto the Star Mercury lot at Dufferin and Lawrence.
I knew exactly what it was and quickly brought him up to speed on the finer points of American Motors’ 1970 flagship car as we swerved into a vacant spot on the lot.
I floated over to THE MACHINE, eyes burning holes in the Rebel. An overweight salesman strolled out of the showroom as, with heart pounding, I struggled to look disinterested. My eyes felt like they were out on stalks and my hands were wet and shaking. "Where did you get this from?" I asked. An American Motors product sitting on a Mercury lot was never a common occurrence and not something the average Ford dealership wanted any part of. I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected that the car in question had probably had the living daylights thrashed out of it by some street racer.“How’d you come to have a car like this traded in here?” I asked innocently, trying not to look too interested in the Rebel Machine.
"Oh, just some guy getting married with a family on the way. He said he needed a family car,” replied the salesman after introducing himself as Frank Zampano."What did he get?" (Like I really cared.)
"He took a Ford Galaxie, 4 door sedan," Frank said.What an idiot, I thought to myself from the perspective of the young, single and foolish."Would you like to go for a test drive?" he asked.
"Okay.” Big Frank went for the keys, then the burly salesman climbed into the back seat with Mike and I in the front. The Rebel burbled out of the lot.
I eased The Machine into the traffic and headed south about a hundred yards to Lawrence Avenue and turned right. Then I put my foot into it. The car did not take off like a rocket but the response was fine until the tach read 4 grand, where the revs flattened out. It had nothing left even though the redline on the tach said 5 grand. It didn't matter though. The car handled well even with standard steering and the seat was made for me! I knew that the performance issue was relatively minor, a valve job at most and maybe it was under warranty to boot.
As we cruised back to the Star Mercury lot, Frank was probably talking to himself because the test drive had gone badly. Since he was sitting in the back seat, he couldn't see that I was practically foaming at the mouth with eagerness to do a deal. After parking the car, we lifted the hood to inspect the motor. I made a comment to Frank about how slow the car was. He murmured something in agreement. Then I asked Frank if he could take a straight trade for the car. "The Mach I for this?” Frank asked. “Can't do it. The Mustang is only a '69 and this is a '70. The boss would never let me do it. Have you got anything else?"
"Yeah, I've got a '65 Ford Galaxie convertible."
“Great, what's it like?"
After hearing the description, he said “No way”, based on the 4-speed. "But what about seeing if you can trade the Ford for something else that we can use?"
"Okay," I said with no real hope that anything further could be accomplished. With that, Mike and I left for home. On the way, Mike said he knew someone who might be interested in trading a '66 Plymouth for the Ford. Mike made a call to his friend Bill and asked him to bring his car over. It was clean and featureless. An easy sell for a car lot. With a quick phone call to Frank I gave him a description of Bill’s car: a white Plymouth, 4 door sedan, slant 6, automatic with a radio in mint condition and no other options. He checked with his boss. The boss said okay, come on in. So Mike and I went right back to Star Mercury with the Mustang and the Plymouth. Frank looked the Plymouth over and took it for a test drive. When he came back, he said the car seemed fine and went in to see his boss. When he returned he said, "It looks like you've got yourself a deal. But we want $6.00 from you to change the three ownerships. Is that okay?"
"Okay," said I, handing over the only 6 dollars I had to my name.
"It'll take a couple of days to get the paperwork done and change the ownerships, just call before you come to make sure it’s ready,” he said, probably thinking how glad he was to get the red, white and blue stripey thing off his lot. Meanwhile, I was congratulating myself on having dumped two lemons in one fell swoop. Mike and I were practically cheering and yelling as we drove home where I turned the Ford over to Bill.
Two days and several phone calls later, the new ownership form had been changed and was ready for me. I went and picked it and the car up with the feeling of having just robbed Fort Knox and got away with it. Time for a celebration! It was really mine! Not only that, the balance of the 5 year, 50,000 mile warranty was transferable. That was a big deal.
When my parents saw the car, they were less than enthusiastic. “What on earth do you want a car like that for?” they both said when they saw it.“What’s wrong with it?”
“Look at it. The bloody thing is an eyesore!” my mother said raising her voice as she got wound up.
“No it’s not! It’s gorgeous!”
“Don’t be silly, nobody in their right mind would want to be seen dead in a car like that! Get rid of it.”
“I’m not getting rid of it. This car is fantastic!” At that point I had to do the selling job of my life. The car was put on probation. My parents were just recovering from my previous cars and the Mustang had seemed like a sane departure from the ’57 Buicks and the ’65 Ford, all of which (and many others) had gone through major automotive surgery in the driveway and in the street in front of our house. (Why do you think we have so many prohibitive by laws regarding automotive work being done in the streets? We were far from the only ones using the street as an extension of our driveway…)
After the selling job to my parents, I took the car to see my girlfriend Ruth. She wasn’t happy with the car either. She saw it as competition for her time. She had loved the Buicks and the Ford, but then, she didn’t have to deal with the continuous problems of keeping them roadworthy.
When you first get a new car, you have to go somewhere. The trouble was, I couldn’t think of anywhere to go that was far enough to get a real feel for the car until I thought of my aunt who lived in Oshawa, a General Motors dominated town about 30 miles east of where we lived in Toronto.
It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a drive. No one was home when we got there, so we took pictures of the car in front of her house and hit the road again. On the way; we had the first of many experiences with the police. We were in the passing lane doing about 80 miles an hour when I spotted an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) cruiser approaching from behind. I slowed down to 60 (the speed limit) but the cop pulled us over anyway. “Going too slow for the passing lane,” he said. “Didn’t you see all the cars piling up behind you?”
“Yes officer,” I said.
“Then why were you going so slow?” he asked.
“Because yours was one of the cars behind me and I knew if I sped up, you’d give me a ticket for speeding.” He agreed with a smile and let us go. Whew!
But two fun-filled weeks later, I received a chilling call from Star Mercury saying that I’d misrepresented the Plymouth, that it wasn't a Plymouth, it was a Dodge, and that it wasn't a '66, it was a '65! Frank said they needed another $200 to even up the deal. My knees started to knock. Where would I get all that money? "You better come on up here, and bring the Rebel,” said Frank.
After I hung up the phone, I got to thinking. First of all there was no way I was going anywhere near Star Mercury with the Rebel. So I went over to Lance's house and we sat on a curb discussing the problem. We were sitting behind the Rebel and the evening sun was shining on the rear tires. The bald rear tires. Polyglas tires that were so bald the cords were hanging off in strings. If they had run over a thumbtack, they probably would have gone flat. That gave me an idea. I went home and called Frank.
"Frank, its John, the Rebel Machine guy. About that extra $200 you want. First of all, when I brought that Plymouth to you, I believed that it was as I described. As you know, it was not really my car and I never actually owned it or even drove it. You did. You are also a professional car guy and I'm not. You should have been able to tell what it was yourself. Besides that, you will recall that I did not ask you to put new tires on the back of the Rebel even though you and I both knew that they were bald at the time. So if you want the $200 extra for the car, then fine, I will bring it back, but first of all I am going to take it over to the Department of Transport Safety Lanes at Keele & Wilson. After that, I think your mechanic is going to lose his license. Then you are going to put two new rear tires on the car as well as do some other serious mechanical work. Do you still want the $200?"
"Just a minute," he said. While he was gone, I had time to think about what I’d told the salesman and what the future impact of it was going to be for me even if I was successful. The car really did need new tires in a bad way and I wasn’t in a position to buy any at this point. My $70.00 a week wages barely saw me through the week as it was. Where was I going to get the money for tires? The Mustang on the other hand, had four new tires on it and anything that went wrong with the car was warranty. Maybe I should just take the Mustang back and be done with it. And what about the engine? It definitely needed work. What if it wasn’t covered by warranty? What would I do then?Five of the longest minutes of my life passed before Frank picked up the phone and said, "Okay, you win."
Causes John Newell Supports
GREENPEACE, SEA SHEPPARD, PETA, WORLD WILD LIFE FUND