I have a real love for the 1965-66 Rambler Ambassadors. Part of that may be due to my chance encounter with a metallic lilac ’65 sedan back in the ’90s (a story told once before; I’ll share it here on RG eventually) but the plain truth is I find them very clean and elegant. It was 1965, the Big Three were at the top of their game, BUT even little Wisconsin-based AMC fielded an attractive line. The arguably frumpy cars of the late Fifties were banished, and clean, smooth lines were in evidence throughout the line. The luxury Ambassador convertible was the top of the heap. And if you happened to have one in Woodside Light Green with a white top and green interior? Holy cow! I’m in.
Many years went by before I discovered the 1965 Ambassador and Classic were not all-new, as I had previously assumed, (blame over-the-top Sixties braggadocio and advertising) but were in fact heavily facelifted 1963-64 models. While it can be seen in the rooflines–particularly on the two-door hardtops (damn, how did I not notice that?!), the middle-tier Classic and upper-crust Ambassador both looked new, modern and attractive. I especially like the Ambassador’s stacked headlights and peaked fenders. Did the top-tier wonks in Kenosha know Cadillac was going for quad stacked headlamps in ’65, or was it just a happy coincidence? At any rate, they looked great.
Yes, the stacked quad headlamps, first introduced on the 1963 Pontiacs (although the true pioneer was the 1958 Lincoln and Continental Mark III, albeit with slanted spotlights rather than strictly vertical) was getting extremely popular in Detroit by 1965. Members of the brigade included, as one would expect, the Rambler Ambassador, but also the full-size Ford, full-size Plymouth, Pontiac (well, duh) and Cadillac. They all looked good too. With the slab sides and clean, rectangular lines, ushered in by the ’61 Continental and widely copied thereafter by all manner of manufacturers.
Ambassadors were available as a four-door sedan, two-door sedan, two-door hardtop, wagon (with or without Di-Noc, depending on the buyer’s whim and pocketbook), and, of course, the highly attractive topless variant. Two series, the 880 and 990, made up the Ambassador’s trim choices, but if you wanted a drop top you were just going to have to plump for the flossy 990, the sole choice for al fresco motoring, and WAY better looking than the somewhat cheaply-trimmed 880s. Not nearly enough chrome, in your author’s opinion. If the $2955 base price was a bit too dear, you could always get the very similar Classic convertible, but you’d lose those most excellent stacked headlights. And the snob appeal (at least among Wisconsin cognoscenti) of having the very top-drawer AMC product.
The 990 convertible was the flashiest Ambassador, but the station wagon actually had a higher price–$2970 compared to $2955. You must really have needed the extra space (or had way too many kids, haha!) to spend fifteen bucks above the beautiful convertible for the Badger State Estate Car! And this one not only has a green interior, but also the optional Flash-O-Matic Shift Command automatic transmission (don’t you love the old, cool names car features used to have?) with bucket seats and a center console. It cost $227.30 with the 155-hp 232 Six and $234.50 with the 250-hp 327 V8. It was only available with the console and buckets; non Shift-Command Ambassadors with the automatic got a column shift. And let’s face it, if you were getting the top-drawer 990 convertible, it would be a crying shame for it to not have a V8.
Only 3,499 1965 990 convertibles were built, and I imagine those with the buckets and console were probably in the hundreds at most. This car, on display at the AACA Grand National in downtown Moline a few years back caught my eye immediately, with that lovely color. When I peered inside and saw the buckets and floor shift, I was in love. A stunner, for sure! Were the redesigned (and costly) all-new 1967 Ambassadors really necessary? I think this car was clean and attractive enough to last at least into 1970 with only minor changes. And how might this car have done when the gas crisis hit? The exaggerated Coke-bottle 1970-78 Rebel/Matador were bigger, and certainly bulkier looking compared to this car. It is so clean and elegant.
1965 really was a banner year for domestic rolling stock, and not just in terms of sales. The excess of the Fifties had been tamped down, and the regulations of the late Sixties and early Seventies had not yet marred the aesthetic appeal. A damn good year for automobiles. Even at little old AMC, eclipsed by the Big Three in terms of sales, but with an appeal all their own.
It is interesting to think why 1965 was such a peak for the domestics. I would agree with your theories Tom but I would add a mention about being the last cars designed before the JFK assassination. That sucked so much of the optimism out of the country. With the economic and personal sacrifice of Vietnam and the way the youth culture spat at the establishment from then on, it was inevitable that the work output of the establishment car makers decline in quality.
Another fine article Tom; I’m really enjoying this series.
I was 13 when this Ambassador was new. As I approached driving age I too was smitten by the whole AMC line, including the somewhat later Ambassador SST with the wheelbase streched ahead of the cowl (doing this from memory; please excuse any inaccuracies). And of course, the ’69 Rambler Scrambler!
You’re absolutely correct about mid-sixties American sedans. The clean stying and elegant proportions exhibited by all four US manufacturers (plus Studebaker, for as long as they lasted) have certainly stood the test of time.
The 1965 Mercury Comet also rocked the vertical headlights.
That was a great write up about a most unappreciated car. I will admit that I overlooked them, even dismissed them back in the day. Today their design absolutely shines, too bad they couldn’t have sold in larger numbers. I really don’t recall seeing that many Ambassadors, but a fair number of Classics. Anyway, thanks for featuring this one!
I have the Ambassador 990 Cross Country (aka station wagon) my parents purchased new in 1965. It is still a stunningly beautiful car, and is painted Barcelona Taupe metallic with a Frost White top. I suspect that may be the color you mentioned earlier. There was a more lilac shade, but it was Marquesa Mauve and was a 1966 only color.
I owned a 1966 Ambassador 990 4 door sedan in the 80s. I treated it as an old beater daily driver, unfortunately for it. I kept it washed & kept up on maintenance, but I let the rust on the fenders go. It served myself & also a friend well for about 5 years before friend ran it over a curb and broke the front end. That was its end.
Driving impressions –
The very smooth and quiet 232 six and automatic transmission was plenty powerful for daily driver duty, and iirc it got about 20 mpg, good for the time. Balky automatic transmission would not downshift to first gear unless you came to a complete stop, and as a result it was doggy picking up from slow speeds. Selector was PRN21L. ‘2’ would start you off in 2nd, ‘1’ in first. ‘L’ would lock you into low gear. (Something I learned here online recently, I think going into ‘L’ at highway speed would drop you into 2nd and not 1st gear. Not sure about that, I never tried it.)
Front end seemed to plow around corners, no feel through the overboosted power steering. It had cheap bias-ply tires on it. With radials, maybe it would’ve done better. Needed a smaller steering wheel and quicker ratio in keeping with the power steering.
Over bumps, the car seemed to quiver and hop twice. I think it was mainly due to the unsprung weight of the torque tube and its struts shaking. A bit disconcerting.
Overall, it did not impress me as being on par with (what I remembered about) my parents’ 68 Bel Air wagon. The ’67-’78 big AMCs were much better, but still had their shortcomings compared with the competition.
Handsome car. The interior is beautifully done. The perfect car for cruising at this time of year in Virginia. Thanks, Tom.
“Yes, the stacked quad headlamps, first introduced on the 1963 Pontiacs (although the true pioneer was the 1958 Lincoln and Continental Mark III, albeit with slanted spotlights rather than strictly vertical) was getting extremely popular in Detroit by 1965.” I beg to differ. Let’s go back to another AMC product – the 1957 Nash. I’d post a photo – the one I have is in the same nice green color! – but I see no capability for doing so.
I learned how to drive on our bought-new 1965 990 4DR sedan, and have owned two 990 convertibles since. (One with the buckets, console and floor shifter. My girlfriend, now wife, and I preferred the second one with the split bench, air conditioning and automatic on the column for obvious reasons. 🙂 )
Perhaps at least a link to the photo would suffice ~
Yes, you’re correct. 1957 Lincolns had the appearance of quad lamps too, but they weren’t true high beam/low beam units like the Nash.