Cohort Classic: 1963 Rambler Ambassador 990 Cross Country Wagon – Peak American Motors; Revisited

Photos from the Cohort by Hyperpack. 

Today, let’s look at some luxury fittings American Motors style. No, I’m not saying this Ambassador 990 Wagon is the equivalent of an upscale brand from the period á la Buick. At least in terms of its cachet with the public’s perception. But still, this was American Motors’ top trim of their Ambassador line, the carmaker’s priciest models.

And you know what that meant; the convenience and options of others at a more accessible cost. Add to it that for ’63 the Rambler Classic and Ambassador arrived with new modern bodies, offering up-to-date styling and new technology; including the first use of curved side glass.

A previous installment at CC on a ’63 Classic 770 Wagon made the case that these Ramblers were perhaps American Motors’ last great cars. I can certainly see that being the case. Or was the company’s peak in 1961? When it climbed to a never enjoyed 3rd place in the US market again.

For those not fond of clicking old links, a brief recap is in order. The ’63s encapsulate a significant transition at American Motors; in some ways, remnants of the previous George Romney era, with changes under the new Abernethy regime pointing to the company’s future.

1962 Rambler brochure. 

Basically, with American Motors’ failure to gain market traction with their larger Ambassador line in the late ’50s, Romney’s management decided to drop the effort. The new plan came to be in 1962, with the Classic and Ambassador lines sharing wheelbase and bodies. The main difference between the two being engine sizes, trim and options. Classics were to be for the frugal-minded, carrying solely 6-cyl. engines. Meanwhile, Ambassadors would be fitted with V-8s; plus as many accouterments as AM could stuff in them.

Starting in 1960, the Big 3 had stepped into American Motors compact action, wounding their dominance. With the new ’63s, the Kenosha folks were aiming to retake the mantle.

As such, big changes arrived in ’63, with the wholly revamped Classic/Ambassador lines. The new Ramblers had dumped their dated ’50s styling and carried innovative unibody construction that used large one-piece steel panels simplifying assembly, reducing costs, and aiding body integrity. As press materials of the period stated: “Stronger, safer, longer-lasting.”

The new styling, along with the modern ideas on its execution, earned the new Ramblers Motor Trend’s COTY for ’63.

As in ’62, the Classic and Ambassador were pretty much the same vehicles body-wise. Never again would the Classic and Ambassador share as much with each other as in ’62-’64. Cracks on the Romney logic were starting to appear, however, when a V-8 was offered on the Classic by mid-’63. A move done under Abernethy’s new tenure. More were to come as the company went chasing after the Big 3.

For the most part, the ’63 Ramblers were up-to-date and modern, dropping the frumpiness of their previous ’50s stylings. Not that their shape was exciting, but they were certainly attractive and functional.

The new designs were the product of Ed Anderson, who never caught a break in the recognition department. Denied an official VP of Design title at American Motors, he left in a huff to be replaced by Dick Teague.

Teague would clean for ’64 the ’63’s curiously distinctive concave grille. Not that Teague would be exempt from quirky flourishes later on, as is well known.

So what we’ve today is another find from Hyperpack posted at the Cohort. It’s a 1963 Rambler Ambassador Cross Country 990 Wagon, the Ambassador’s top trim; this time in 2-seat 6-passenger version. One of 6112 built for that year.

As such, this 990 comes with American Motor’s 327 CID V8, providing either 250 or 270 HP depending on state of tune (2-bbl. vs. 4-bbl.).

By the way, what’s the deal with that white wagon sticker on the lower part of the side window? Has this Ambassador gone hunting down other wagons? Outrunning them? Or what?

Generally well-preserved plastic in the interior, with separate seats up front. The dancing Hawaiian ballerina was not a factory option if you must wonder.

(Though I can see Rambler owners favoring Hawaiian shirts.)

None of that exotic sporty Twin-Stick on this 990. Instead, it’s the automatic with a column-mounted shifter. Plus a lot of controls and ergonomics from the era. Being a 990, all as chromey-looking as an American Motors product could be.

The seats, however, seem to be refurbished. The earlier Classic 770 find shows that in regards to color and material combinations, Rambler options were wide and tasteful.

Neat-looking hubcaps.

Original dealer info still barely noticeable; Williams Motors, in Covington Kentucky.

Some car makers have clear peaks, others, not quite so. Was the ’63-’64 era peak American Motors? With new Classic/Ambassador and American lines arriving and giving all the carmaker could for one last push? Or the earlier market share peak of 1961? Or the quirky attention-grabbing and memorable later cars like the Gremlin? The latter era, with admittedly aged mechanicals, but the models most people talk about?

Whichever the case, these ’63s were quite the effort by American Motors.


Related CC reading:

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1963 Rambler Ambassador 990 Twin-Stick – Only Rambler Offered A “5-Speed Manual”

Curbside Classic: 1963 Rambler Classic 770 Cross Country – The Last Great AMC Car?

Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1963 Rambler Classic 660 Cross Country Wagon – So Uncool, It’s Utterly Cool