Racetrack Capsule: 1969 AMC Ambassador DPL Wagon – “What’ll You Have, Hipster?”

Depending on how much you pay attention to liquor trends, you may or may not know that Pabst Blue Ribbon has enjoyed an unlikely resurgence as a favorite beer of people who apparently enjoy their beer ironically (and inexpensively).  No offense to those who enjoy a PBR or thirteen, but I’ve had a pint or two myself and, well, its taste doesn’t leave much of a fence on which to sit.  Less offensive to one’s sensibilities might be this neat ’69 Ambassador, which happens to be adorned with a license plate promoting the owner’s favorite brand.

The Ambassador itself could very well be a favorite model among hipster types, whose ownership of such a vehicle could be enjoyed in the same manner as the libation that originally hailed from Milwaukee.  Considering that I found this really solid version of a car you never see in the parking lot of the drag strip, however, I’ll guess the owner is simply a car lover who prefers AMC products, and for good reason.  This wagon was one of my “best in show” for the day.

There’s unfortunately no getting around the name.  The “DPL” in the car’s title evokes an unfortunate trend toward laziness in 1960s automotive nomenclature.  First came the LTD in 1965 (at least it was the first), then the VIP in 1966, then the DPL in whatever that year came along.  “PBR” is at least an easily deciphered acronym.

The DPL was a step up from the regular Ambassador (which was only available in a four-door sedan), but a step down from the equally bafflingly-branded SST variant, which cost almost 500 dollars more than the DPL.  This version of the wagon is fittingly luxurious for a brand name that was aiming at an upper-class buyer; in fact, AMC went so far as to make air conditioning standard equipment on all Ambassadors, which makes the base model’s under-$3000 base price seem like an absolute steal if you are the kind of person who wants to drive an Ambassador.  Nobody, however, will assume you’ve raided your Jaguar parts car for the wood grained dashboard, but it’s standard issue for a premium-ish 1960s land cruiser.

Not standard was the V8, and I can imagine that an air-conditioned Ambassador wagon loaded down with the base six led to a white-knuckled game of chance in the passing lane on a hot day with a brood of kids and a dog in the back.  Fortunately, our featured Ambassador was 343-equipped for the job of pulling around whatever its original owners bought it for.  One could buy the 343 in two-barrel or four-barrel configurations, with 235 and 280 horsepower respectively.  A truly adventurous buyer could choose the 390, which was a reasonably priced option at $168 (according to my Krause Publishing Standard Catalog of Independents).  Still, a loaded Ambassador SST wagon would have retailed for well over $4000, which may explain why only 16,000 or so Ambassador wagons were sold in 1969.

Nevertheless, none of that matters today, when the vagaries of automotive business decisions have become little more than abstractions to be argued about on the internet.  The paint on this car is too rough for it to be called a “clean original,” but too nice to repaint (other than perhaps the hood and fender cap).  It’s honestly perfect.  I love it.

The owner has wisely chosen to keep the standard DPL wheel covers and use the ubiquitous Hankook Optimo tire.  I have a set on my T-Bird and would have a set on my Mustang if they weren’t backordered last spring.  Unfortunately, 14-inch whitewall tires have become a little thin on the ground, so everyone uses one of two or three brands, if not a pricy set of Coker reproduction bias-plies.

The roof rack offers a place to tie down the water skis along with a starting point for a hard-to-find water leak for subsequent owners.  But it’s simply another box checked on a list of equipment that would make the Ambassador a practical choice as a collector car.  It has plenty of room, plenty of power, and it looks interesting if not beautiful.  People won’t leave you alone if you buy one (not that that’s a good thing necessarily, unless you’re an exhibitionist).  There were perhaps better choices than an Ambassador back in ’69, but if you want a full-size wagon, is anything really all that much better today?

It’s not a stretch to say that few classic car buyers start their online search with “1969 Ambassador DPL,” but how many of us would turn one down today given the financial and storage means?  Looking at a beer list and choosing a PBR has become a thing again.  Maybe the Ambassador is next.