By Bill McCleery
When Joe Fougerousse began driving back in the 1970s, he started out with Chevrolets. But it seemed everyone else also drove Chevys. Or Fords. Or MoPars.
Fougerousse had a taste for originality and wanted something different from the rest of the crowd. That’s partly, he said, what steered him toward cars made by American Motors Corp. Once he started driving AMCs, he became convinced they were better cars than many of their counterparts.
Nowadays, Fougerousse, 50, is president of Indiana’s club for AMC enthusiasts — the Hoosier AMC Club. He’s also involved in the national American Motors Owners (AMO) club and, to a slightly lesser extent, the American Motors Corporation Rambler Club (AMCRC).
One of Fougerousse’s claims to fame is that he owns a 1968 AMC Rebel SST convertible that ranks among the finest specimens of that particular make and model in existence. In 2008, his Rebel won the AMO organization’s prestigious George Romney Award named after the former AMC president.
Fougerousse bought the Rebel in the mid 1990s for $900 after deciding he wanted a convertible. He had thought he might find a Rambler American convertible, but the Rebel turned up first.
“It was pretty rough,” Fougerousse recalled. “When we picked the car up, it was running but backfiring through the carburetor and shooting out flames. It had no brakes. When we loaded it up onto the trailer, I thought I was going to drive it through the back window of my truck.”
The car sat for several years at Fougerousse’s home in McCordsville, Ind. — a community northeast of Indianapolis — but he began working on the car in earnest in late 2002.
At first, he just wanted to create a solid, nice-looking driver from the dilapidated Rebel.
“I got carried away,” Fougerousse admitted.
He doesn’t even want to divulge how many thousands he put into restoring the car, but he bought three Rebel parts cars during the process. When he finished, he had more than a solid driver. He had a first-rate show car. In fact, he rarely drives the car. He trailers it. He just doesn’t want to take a chance of blemishing a perfect specimen, especially while he’s still taking it to concours shows for judging. But someday, he will start driving the car again, he said.
“Yeah, eventually, once we’re done and tired of having it judged,” he said. “Eventually it will get to be driven.”
He did take his 27-year-old daughter in a drive around the neighborhood one recent summer with the car’s top down. He also has a 25-year-old daughter.
“Her hair was flying everywhere, but she still liked it,” Fougerousse said.
Fougerousse’s Rebel was fully loaded when it rolled off the assembly line in 1968. It came with factory air conditioning, power steering, tilt wheel, AM-FM radio, cruise control, power drum brakes and automatic transmission.
Fougerousse has made a few upgrades — mainly swapping out the car’s 290-cid V-8 for a 401-cid V-8. He also added power disc brakes and some styling touches, such as a hood scoop from a Rebel Machine, which was a sports-trim version of the Rebel.
His car is one of only 823 Rebel SST convertibles produced by AMC in 1968, which was the last year for the convertible model.
The Rebel SST is not the only AMC vehicle Fougerousse owns. His fleet also includes a yellow 1968 AMX and a red 1971 Javelin. However, his wife, Debi, is quick to point out that the Javelin is hers. She is a car enthusiast in her own right.
“It gets me out of doing laundry,” Debi joked. “No, it really does provide opportunities to spend time with my husband and travel and meet people — and I’ve been a car person pretty much all my life, so it’s a good life.”
She loves driving the Javelin, she said, and wishes more women would get involved in the old car hobby.
“A lot of women just see it as a guy thing,” she said. “They don’t take the time to get interested in something their husband is doing.”
Joe recently started work on another project — a 1970 Rebel Machine, white with red and blue trim, and powered by a 390-cid V-8. He promises not to get carried away on this one. “It’s going to be a driver,” he said.
He might wind up distracted this summer from his restoration work. One of his two daughters is expecting a baby in July — and the other is expecting a baby in August.
REBEL FAST FACTS
The 1968 Rambler Rebel offered the only convertible left in the AMC stable, and was modestly restyled for 1968. The Rambler name was removed from the hood, and the tail lamps now took the form of three horizontal, curved rectangles, instead of the two large rectangles seen the year before. Square, recessed door handles were another new feature, and bodyside moldings were eliminated. More than a dozen safety changes, enacted to satisfy government regulations, included new front side marker lamps and a preset door locking system.
Regular equipment on 550s included all standard safety features; heater; front armrests (on four-doors); cigar lighter; dual headlamps; front seat foam cushions and dome or side pillar lamps. Station wagons came with a rooftop travel rack and all-vinyl upholstery and convertibles featured power-operated tops.
Rebel 770 models had all the above items, plus rear ashtrays; rear armrests; Custom steering wheel; glovebox lock; dual horns; and cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl seats. Model identification numbers were seen in the usual places and read 770.
The Rebel SST came only with V-8 power, exclusively in sport body styles, and represented the top of the line. Trim and equipment distinctions included SST lettering (below front fender side scripts); wheelhouse trim moldings; simulated chrome air vents ahead of rear wheel openings; individually adjustable reclining seats; and special interior appointments. Wheel discs were standard on the SST, as was underhood insulation.
The V-8 engine in Rebels was an overhead-valve powerplant of 290 cubic inches with a bore and stroke of 3.75 × 3.25 inches and a 9.0:1 compression ratio. It was built with five main bearings, hydraulic valve lifters and a AMC two-barrel model 8HM2 carburetor to produce 200 hp at 4,600 rpm.
This was the final season for Rambler convertibles and the low-production Rebel ragtops were the last that American Motors offered. When new, the Rebel SST convertible was priced at $2,999 and weighed 3,427 pounds, before options were added. Only 823 were built.
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