1965 Rambler Ambassador 880: How To Go Brougham in Kenosha

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.

7 Replies to “1965 Rambler Ambassador 880: How To Go Brougham in Kenosha”

  1. Carmine

    Is the generic “2 pilots talking to a woman” one of the most commonly used brochure backdrops from the 60’s and 70’s? It seems to have no socioeconomic boundary either, cheap cars, expensive cars, all used a the pilots.

    If we could combine the “2 pilot and the woman” background with my other favorite car brochure and ad theme, the car parked in a place were cars shouldn’t be, like next to a pool or in the middle of stream we might have the ultimate brochure non-sense photo.

    • Tom Klockau Post author

      SCENE: Chrysler Cordoba parked in the middle of a shallow stream in the middle of nowhere, two pilots and a stewardess standing next to it. “Well, thank goodness we had our parachutes, ha ha! Hey, where the hell did that car come from?”

  2. dejal

    Never owned one.
    Never sat in one.
    But, I have this strange like for AMCs especially of that vintage.
    Maybe because they were able to keep their head above so long using so little.
    Or maybe I’m a sucker for Richard Teague designs.
    They just seem like honest cars.

  3. stingray65

    Sensible sized in an era of 25 cent per gallon gas and “longer, lower, wider” sculpted bodies by competing Big 3 stylists was not the ticket to success in 1965.

  4. Tony LaHood

    These are very well-styled cars that still look good today. IIRC, miracle worker Dick Teague was the chief stylist at AMC.

  5. George Denzinger

    About ten years ago, right before the annual 28th Street Cruise or now known as the Metro Cruise (which doesn’t) sound like anything to do with cars…) I ran across a 1965 or 66 Amby two door like the red one shown in the first ad. Except it was yellow. A slick top with a black bucket seat interior, it was largely bone stock. I think you would have loved it, Tom.

    A local guy in the racing scene here had liberated this car from “Up North” as Michiganders like to put it. For non Michiganders this means anywhere north of US-10, so that’s a lot of ground to cover. He was asking $7500 for it, and I would have liked to put in a bid, but that was the summer that I lost my job, so no go.

    Normally, I wouldn’t really care about an AMC that wasn’t a Javelin, Hornet or AMX, but that car had presence. Maybe it was the rational styling, the sensible 327 V8 backed up with the BW automatic, the wire wheel covers that didn’t look like bad copies of wire wheels, but the car charmed me. But, it was bad timing and I’ve never seen it again…


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