(first posted 10/30/2013. Author’s Note: Going to car shows in many areas brings the same worn out, ear-splitting songs nearly every time. So I’ve re-written a few songs you likely would not hear at any carshow.)No one looked as I drove by, Just a little nod would have been just fine, I slowed again, just for them, They all scoffed that I ran.
– Sort of Stevie Nicks
This terrific old Ambassador was being so thoroughly ignored at the monthly car show here in June. Surrounded by a plethora of F-bodies and jacked-up 4×4’s, it was as out of place as a ukulele player at a flutists convention.
While any Ambassador in water heater white isn’t the most exciting car imaginable, one shouldn’t judge a book by its sour cream colored shell. The Ambassador played such a critical and overlooked role in AMC history. Before anyone gets distracted with that absurdly tall F-150 in the picture below, let’s take a walk around The ‘Bass.
Well, I was born a white ‘Bassador, In a factory in old Kenosha We were poor, but we had love That’s the one thing Dick Teague made sure of He designed cars to make a poor man’s dollar
-Quasi Loretta Lynn
George Romney had stressed quality of materials, solid construction, economy, and the unique features of the Rambler brand. With improvements such as the introduction of dual circuit master cylinders in 1962, American Motors had come a long way in a short time. The work of Romney and American Motors culminated in sales climbing steadily from 1957 to a peak in 1963. Rambler was on a roll while Romney and Company had worked hard for American Motors to become associated with economical, compact cars.
Upon Romney’s departure to run for governor of Michigan in 1962, Roy Abernethy was named as his replacement.
Roy Abernethy had grown up in the car business, starting at Packard and later becoming vice president of sales at Willys. His philosophy was vastly divergent from Romney’s.
Yearning to shed American Motors of its economy car image, Abernethy’s strategy was to have a full-on assault on the Big 3 by meeting them model for model. His thought process, however mistaken, was that correct and effective marketing would make American Motors much more competitive with the Big 3. Never mind that AMC had struggled to produce multiple platforms in the same factory; never mind that his ambitions to have the ’67 model Ambassador and Rebel made over would cost $60 million with a comparable cost in quality loss.
Perhaps Abernathy’s philosophy could be better described as terminally misguided. Having caviar tastes on a SPAM budget will invariably create issues.
AMC hit bottom (that time) in 1967. Fiscal year sales were down nearly 54,000 units; maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot for General Motors, but when your sales total was only 346,000 to begin with, that’s a hit (as a point of reference, Ford sold just a few more Mustang coupes that year). Mixed into that number were sales of the new for 1967 Ambassador.
There was a fair amount of surprise within the market by the Abernethy driven redesign of a platform that was only two years old. He had instructed Dick Teague and company to create a larger Ambassador for 1967. Teague delivered with a very attractive result, but it was to no avail. Even with the 3,745 Ambassador’s sold to the U.S. Postal Service, Ambassador sales were still down nearly 9,000 units from 1966.
The year of 1967 would leave AMC with a loss of $75.8 million, or just under $322 per car. Likely hearing the music playing just before the train wreck, the board at AMC rewarded Abernethy by terminating him early in the 1967 model year. He was replaced by Bill Luneburg, a Ford veteran.
-Somewhat Isaac Hayes
As one of their moves to better their corporate fortunes in 1968, AMC hired the advertising firm of Wells, Rich, Greene, Inc. to create a fresh ad campaign for the model year.
If you are going to reinvigorate your advertising campaign, aim big. Working with its connection to Kelvinator, the 1968 AMC Ambassador earned the distinction of being the first American car to offer air conditioning as standard equipment. While a small number of Ambassador’s may have been built without air conditioning, it was a delete option for those up north or those watching their dollars. AMC had outfoxed the competition, proving their willingness to take a risk.
AMC was also one of the first American car companies to break the old gentleman’s agreement of not making direct comparisons to competitors. Yet anyone who seriously thinks an AMC is competing with a Rolls Royce was simply not acclimated to reality. Perhaps this advertising did pay off as AMC realized a 13% increase in Ambassador sales plus a profit for 1968 – they just did not pay any dividends to their stockholders.
1968 also marked the beginning of what could be considered a hallmark of AMC products forever after – the flush mounted door handles.
– Vaguely Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter, Clarence Carter
For 1968, the Ambassador came in three trim levels with the DPL (what does that stand for?) in the middle and the SST at the top. From what I can tell, the example you have before you is one of the 8,788 four-doors produced in the base trim level. Don’t think that’s bad; with a 343 cid V8 pulling around just under 3,200 pounds, this isn’t the six-cylinder Rambler your grandmother drove.
This little darling was being offered up for sale. While I sometimes fear I could easily become the automotive version of the person who wants to take home every stray puppy, this Ambassador was a true delight to behold. A car this age that has always been garaged and has only rolled up 67,000 miles is always an attention getter, plus you know it has a lot of life left.
An Ambassador like this is the type of car you buy to drive. You are aware that it might get a scratch or a dent, but it simply isn’t fodder for a museum. An AMC like this is a car you can put the kids in and not have convulsions if they spill their ice cream. This is the car you buy, love, use, and fix as needed. Plus, you just keep driving it the entire time.
Isn’t that what it was made for?