Curbside Classic: 1965 Rambler Ambassador 880 – Kenosha Cadillac?

(first posted 10/10/2012)      I became really interested in AMC in the late ’90s, due in large part to my purchase of Pat Foster’s American Motors: The Last Independent. I was driving somewhere on a snowy January day a when a metallic lilac ’65 Ambassador sedan headed the other way went past me. Now even 13 years ago, around here it wasn’t exactly common to see a metallic lilac 1965 Ambassador, and the in the heavy snowstorm it seemed even more surreal. It was almost as if I’d slipped back into Rock Island County during the winter of 1965-66. Since I was most definitely behind the wheel of my 1991 Volvo, I’m pretty certain there was no time-travelling involved.

The ’65 Amby was all-new—or at least as much so as continually strapped American Motors could manage—and   was distinguished from the Classic series primarily by four-inch-longer front fenders and vertically stacked headlights. The top trim level was the 990 model, which is shown above.

As you’d expect, the 990 provided quite a nice interior; I particularly like the aqua color of this one. And just in case you forgot what kind of car you were driving, AMC thoughtfully provided a gigantic “AMBASSADOR” script across the middle of the instrument panel.

AMC’s top-of-the-line Ambassador series also included a cheaper 880 model, which had less chrome and a plainer interior. Still, it didn’t sell as well as the 990. Production of  880 four-door sedans totaled 10,564, vs. 24,852 990 models, which makes sense: Why would anyone buy the allegedly fancier Ambassador 880 over a top-trim Classic with more chrome and a nicer interior? What doesn’t make sense is why AMC offered the cheaper Amby in the first place. They might well have been better off offering only the fancier and more-profitable Ambassador 990.

Naturally, there were station wagons. Buyers could choose either the reduced-chrome 880 version (pictured above) or a 990 model sporting a narrow strip of wood grain along its flanks. AMC still called their wagons “Cross Country”, one of the best station wagon names I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, that classic name went away after 1968; starting in 1969, Ambassador and Rebel wagons were known simply as “Station Wagons.” That’s original.

For the first time since 1956, Ambassador offered a six-cylinder engine, in this case the 232 cu in, 155-hp Torque Command straight six. Available were two optional V8s: buyers could choose between a 287 cu in, 198-hp two-barrel version or top-drawer, 327 cu in, 270-hp four-barrel mill. In addition, front disc brakes were available for buyers who opted for extra-cost power brakes .

As for our featured car? Well, I’d been keeping an eye out for this Ambassador. I was determined to find it and eventually I did, parked in the Watch Hill neighborhood in Rock Island and looking very solid. As a less-expensive 880 model, this one has beaten the odds to survive, especially since AMC sold over twice as many 990s. I stopped my car, took the two photos you see here, and then went on my way. I never saw it again. Hopefully it’s still around, even though the survival rate for 1960s sedans is nowhere near that of comparable coupes and convertibles. Farewell, and fare well, lilac AMC—here’s hoping you’re still out there.