Curbside Classic: 1970 AMC Ambassador SST – The Patriarch of Kenosha

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It recently occurred to me that my frequent picture taking of cars and pickups is answering the hunter-gatherer element within my DNA.  All men have it to varying degrees and we all answer it in our own way.

For those who answer the hunter-gatherer call, there are times when you get pretty excited about a catch and realize that while your latest catch is pretty tempting, there may not be as much meat on its bones as you had anticipated.  Such seems to be the case with this AMC Ambassador.

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Don’t get me wrong; I rather like this Ambassador.  For that matter, I must like all Ambassadors as this is the third one I’ve written about.

Growing up, AMC was an enigma comparable to an albino rhinoceros and I was always trying to figure them out.  There was an AMC dealership nearby, but their generally having about three cars in stock facilitated neither a better understanding nor frequent sightings.  It was pretty obvious AMC wasn’t exactly anywhere near the top of the automotive food chain in the United States.

About the only time I would see an AMC was when my father would occasionally drive home a pool vehicle from where he worked.  If it was not a pickup, it was always an AMC in some form of plain vanilla sedan.  No wonder a young, impressionable me thought that AMC existed primarily for fleet buyers.  Like when jumping to most conclusions, my assessment was proven to be incorrect.

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Back in the mid-1960s, Roy Abernathy had the grand vision of going hunting for big game, namely GM.  This foolishness of trying to bag the infamous thirty point buck that was General Motors resulted in a misfire as AMC figuratively put Abernathy out of his misery in 1967.  Abernathy’s wanting to score some big game is understandable, but this snipe hunting venture would have instead been more productive had he spent this time goosing butterflies.

It might appear AMC’s fortunes were on the upswing by 1970.  For 1970, AMC would field more models than it would at any other time, with the Hornet, Rebel, AMX, Gremlin, Javelin, and Ambassador.  Again, there wasn’t as much meat on those bones as would be expected as AMC would lose $58 million on sales of just over $1 billion.

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As had always been the case, the Ambassador was the granddaddy and patriarch of the AMC family with the highest trim level being the SST.

Ads for the Ambassador poised it as a rich looking car that was highly affordable, a car that even appealed to actor Robert DeNiro’s certified public accountant character, a choice of profession that likely was not arbitrary.  I can think of a number of other professions that might inadequately convey or simply fail to deliver the intended message of this commercial.

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While base level Ambassador’s still had an available straight-six, the mid-range DPL and top-dog SST had a 304 cubic inch V8 engine and automatic transmission as standard equipment.  For those wanting more pounce in their Ambassador, a choice of 360 or 390 cubic inch engines were also available.

Air conditioning had been made standard in 1968, making the Ambassador the first American car having that distinction.  While the Ambassador sat on a 122″ wheelbase, the extra length was in front of the firewall with a cabin identical to that of the Rebel.

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When one is low on money you don’t waste ammunition and you seek various financial efficiencies.  If you look closely, AMC took one well-aimed shot with its brochures.  None of the Big Three would have contemplated putting English, Spanish, German, and French verbiage within the same brochure in 1970. Yet AMC did.  Was the word “quad-lingual” even used in 1970?  Maybe this shot-gunning of languages tells us what the nanny and butler were teaching the children while they were crammed in the backseat headed to the grocery store.  It’s doubtful the fluffy canine would be able to help in any hunting for food endeavor as it likely couldn’t sniff out much more than a few gophers.

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The Ambassador nameplate had had a long and colorful history by 1970 but, like a gray bearded turkey, its days were numbered.  Production of the Ambassador was over 76,000 for 1969; sales dropped to less than half that by 1971 and continued the downward trajectory through the end in 1974 when only about 25,000 trickled out the door at Kenosha.  Production of the two-door SST as featured here was 8,255.

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This drop in sales even accounts for the time period when AMC was sniffing the trail for new sales prospects, hawking Ambassadors to police departments to supplement the relatively more popular Matador.  The State of Missouri purchased the Ambassador, along with Chryslers and Mercuries, for the highway patrol from 1971 to 1973.

Police departments weren’t the only receivers of AMC’s fleet output; a former neighbor of mine had been a maintenance superintendent with the Missouri Department of Transportation.  At one point in time his assigned car was an olive green Ambassador, hardly the odd duck in a rather sizable fleet.  Having sales decline while fleet sales increase aren’t the ingredients for a very tasty sales stew.

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With sales of the Ambassador and highly related Matador dropping like a lame duck, it was evident AMC’s continued foray into larger cars was not going to be their most successful expedition.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, George Romney had targeted smaller cars for AMC’s efforts.  By the early 1970s, the market was bluntly reminding AMC of its small car lineage, nudging it back towards it roots.  Quite arguably, AMC was slowly evolving into a niche manufacturer.

It was during 1970 when AMC purchased the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation, making it the largest builder of four-wheel drive vehicles, itself a niche market in 1970.  This move would serve AMC quite well in the long haul.  The profitability of Jeep would keep them afloat and the four-wheel drive technology would later be applied to their car line.

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The Ambassador in 1970 was a car appearing to send mixed messages.  It’s 122″ wheelbase was one inch longer than that of a full-sized Ford while its interior size was in Torino territory.  The base price of our two-door SST was $400 higher than that of a comparable Ford LTD two-door hardtop; however, once a person equipped that LTD with air conditioning, its price was right in line with the Ambassador.

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To its everlasting credit, the AMC Ambassador was a reasonably successful hunter to have captured the sales it did for as long as it did.  It was simply unorthodox in its targets and in its lures to buyers.  And it also appears there is more meat on the bones of the Ambassador than what I initially realized.

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Related Ambassador reading:

1957 Nash Ambassador

1968 AMC Ambassador

1968 AMC Ambassador SST