The cars we loved.
The history of the American automotive industry is littered with the failed carcasses of failed and dissolved companies. One of these AMC (American Motor Company) was itself the result of the merging of two smaller companies Nash and Hudson. Although most of it’s cars were small and inexpensive, AMC was a true innovator. What once was the third largest US auto manufacturer was the first to offer a overdrive transmission and to outsource components from other car companies, a common practice today.
In the mid 50’s AMC decided to start building larger cars to compete with Ford, GM and Chrysler. The resulting car was called the Ambassador in 1958, it would be AMC’s new flagship. At times the car was called the Ramber Ambassador or Ambassador V8 by Ramber. The Rambler was a smaller car with roots that went back to Hudson in the 50’s. The Ambassador name was just as old and was one of the oldest nameplates used in America. The attractive full-sized Ambassador was available as a coupe, sedan, and station wagon. Later there would even be a topless version.
By the fifth generation in 1965 the Ambassador evolved to resemble Ford’s Galaxy in front. Perhaps the most attractive of all Ambassadors were the 65’-66’ models that introduced the trendy stacked quad headlight array. It had become a popular styling convention of the time and continued until 1968. With a 116 inch wheel base, it was the biggest AMC ever up to that point, but somewhat smaller than rivals like the Polara, Galaxy and Caprice. Unlike those cars the Ambassador would come standard with air conditioning, an industry first.
There were three engines to choose from during the mid 60’s.
The first a 3.8L inline 6 produced 140 hp, the other two, a 4.7 and 5.7 liter V8s made 250 and 270 hp respectively. These engines were more efficient than competitors when coupled with another innovation introduced by AMC, the overdrive transmission. Efficient or not, the high-compression V8s were able to move the 2,700lb. Ambassador with some authority. Most buyers wanted power, but AMC tried covering its bases with a six-cylinder that allowed Kenosha to match the standard sixes that came out of Detroit. The automotive press generally concluded that the Ambassador’s powerful engines were matched by equally powerful drum brakes and that the cars were comfortable and pleasant for both driver and passenger. Although a luxury car, Ambassador interiors were pretty straight forward-looking. The thin steering wheel with its chrome ring was a throwback to 50’s designs, otherwise it was quite modern.
Not one to rest on its laurels in a fast pace market, AMC rolled out a sport luxury package called Diplomat (DPL) for its range topping two door coupe and convertible. The new package included a console mounted four-speed manual transmission, revised suspension and a limited slip differential. Although not a muscle car, the DPL models added a bit of performance to the Ambassador line. Diplomat cars were rare, as most Ambassadors came with three-speed automatic. Some sportier optioned cars came with the console mounted Twin-Stick overdrive three-speed automatic transmission. Never one to try being a hot rod, the Ambassador excelled at being elegant looking, especially the convertibles.
The 65-66′ Ambassador was a success. It’s good looks, acceptable performance and relative economy was just what buyers wanted, even if they would not care about economy for a few years. The encouraging sales numbers rose with each year topping 71,000 units sold by 1966. The transformation of AMC from small quirky car builder to more mainstream supplier of luxury cars had begun. Fate would have it that AMC’s decision to abandon smaller cars when it did meant that it was caught with its pants down when the bottom of the cheap oil barrel fell out. The Ambassador did not fare well as time went on in a post oil crisis market. The car continued however, becoming the awkward looking sedan and station wagon only models that most people associate with the trademark AMC look of the 70’s.