Taking a break from the American-Italian exotica so beloved of Richard Heseltine’s column, this month he turns his attention to something one per cent pure U.S. Beef – the all-American Rambler!
From here to obscurity
Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
Grant Rambler SST Funny CarThe American Motor Corporation and motor sport were once mutually exclusive. The top brass didn’t see the value of such endeavours and were openly scornful of Ford’s Total Performance programme, stating in print: ‘The only race we are interested in is the human race’. That all changed in 1966 after new management decided to inject a little excitement into proceedings. It would chase a more youthful image at a time when sales were on the slide (sales had slumped by 20 per cent during the previous 12 months). Drag racing was just the ticket for gaining publicity, it reasoned. The firm’s newly appointed Performance Activities Director Carl Chamakia was tasked with making things happen. What’s more, he was armed with $1 million in order to get AMC on-track.
Chamakia turned to Grant McCoon of Los Angeles-based Grant Industries to design and construct the Rambler Rebel Funny Car that would compete in the National Hot Rod Association’s X/S (Experimental/Stock) and SX/S (Super Experimental/Stock) categories. Basis for this brave new world was a 3099mm (122in) altered wheelbase tubular chassis clothed in an ultra-thin glass-fibre body. Powering the beast was a 5.6-litre (343cu in) AMC V8 which was bored and stroked to 7.2-litres (438cu in) by ‘Famous Amos’ Saterlee. Packing a GMC 6-71 supercharger and Enderle fuel-injection, it purportedly produced 1200bhp at 9000rpm and was fuelled by a heady blend of alcohol and nitromethane.
Painted in red with a blue racing stripe and white stars, it was nothing if not noticeable. The man charged with braving the quarter mile was ‘Banzai’ Bill Hayes, although he soon made way for Hayden Proffitt (after either incurring an injury or displeasing AMC depending on whose version of history you believe). In 1967, Proffitt managed a best elapsed time of 8.11sec at 180.85mph. It transpired that the car was quick over the initial eighth mile, but performance tailed off thereafter. A new car was then constructed for the 1968 season, the Grant Rebel SST being resplendent in AMC’s corporate livery of red, white and blue. There was no great increase in speed, however, the latest variation on the theme stubbornly remaining in the mid-eight second range over the quarter mile, with terminal speeds of around 180mph.
AMC was clearly on to a loser with the drag racing programme, and its bid was cut short at the end of the year. The firm changed tack and focussed instead on fielding the Javelin in the Sports Car Club of America Trans Am category in association with Roger Penske. It proved a prolific winner on the circuits, too. That wasn’t quite the end of AMC in drag racing, though, as Ron Rosenberry campaigned Ted McOsker’s King Rebel with some success in the late Sixties, with blown and injected Chrysler Hemi V8 power.
Some sources claim that this was the Grant Rebel SST with a new powerplant, but others insist that the car was sold to Pat Johnson after its ‘works’ career ended and was raced in 1970 by Hank Clark. Javelin-bodied ‘Floppers’ also enjoyed time in the limelight, perhaps the most extreme variation on the theme being Doug Thorley’s wild-looking mid-engined device Javelin 1.