I became really interested in AMC in the late 1990s, due in large part to my purchase of Pat Foster’s American Motors: The Last Independent, at Brentano’s at North Park Mall in Davenport circa 1996. I also subscribed to Collectible Automobile around the same time, whose “Car Spotter” feature prompted me to carry a camera in my glove compartment. Yes, a real camera, just a camera, that used film.
I was driving somewhere on a particularly snowy January evening, when a metallic lilac (UPDATE: It’s Barcelona Tan, according to my buddy Jim Smith) ’65 Ambassador four door passed me on Blackhawk Road, near the nature preserve. Even twenty years ago it wasn’t exactly common to see a 1965 auto in traffic, in wintertime. Factor in the heavy snowstorm that day, and it seemed even more surreal. I thought I was daydreaming when I first spotted it. Surely not! But there it was. And don’t call me Shirley. It felt like I’d momentarily warped back to the winter of 1965-66 in my ’91 Volvo 940SE. Far out, man!
Anyway, ’65 Ambassadors were redone for the year. Or at least as much as perpetually-strapped American Motors could manage. Ambassadors distinguished themselves from the lower-priced Classic series via a four-inch stretch to front fenders, vertically stacked headlights, vertical taillights and a chrome molding running from the front fender tips to the rear deck. The top trim level was the 990 model, which is shown above on the top of the line convertible. The 990 was also available as a two door hardtop and pillared four door sedan.
As you’d expect, the 990 provided a very hospitable interior environment. And just in case you forgot what kind of car you were driving, AMC thoughtfully provided a gigantic “AMBASSADOR” script across the middle of the instrument panel.
For those who wanted an Ambassador but didn’t quite have the cash for the top of the line, there was 880 model, which had decidedly less chrome trim and a plainer interior than the more uptown 990s. Despite the lower price, it didn’t sell as well as the 990. Production of 880 four-door sedans totaled 10,564, vs. 24,852 990 models. It makes sense. This was AMC’s nicest, best-equipped car line, so most folks who wanted an Ambassador wanted a fully-equipped model with the nice upholstery and extra chrome.
Station wagons were also available in Ambassador trim. Buyers could choose either the cheaper 880 or a 990 model, which sported a narrow strip of wood grain along its flanks. AMC still called all their wagons ‘Cross Country’ in 1965, one of the best station wagon names ever, in my opinion. Volvo wasn’t the first to use it with their late ’90s ‘SUV’d up’ all wheel drive wagon, that’s for sure! Unfortunately, that classic name went away after 1968. Beginning in 1969, Ambassador and Rebel wagons were known simply as Station Wagons. How original!
For the first time since 1956, Ambassador offered a six-cylinder engine, in this case the 232 cu in, 155-hp Torque Command straight six. Two V8s were optional: a 2 BBL, 287 CID V8 with 198 horsepower or the top of the line 327 CID, 270 hp bent-eight with four barrel carb. Power front disc brakes were also available.
As for our featured car? After the initial sighting during that snow storm, I kept an eye out for that Ambassador. I was determined to find it! Eventually I did, later that year, parked in the Watch Hill neighborhood in Rock Island. It was no show car, but appeared very solid. As the less-expensive 880 model, this was a fairly rare find, especially since AMC sold over twice as many 990 sedans. I stopped my car, took the two photos you see here, and then went on with my day. I never saw it again. I have no idea whether it survived to the present day, or if it broke down and was crushed, or whether it and its owner got tired of the Midwestern winters and moved south. The odds are against it, but I like to think it’s still running around, somewhere.