Dropping the respected names of Nash and Hudson led to the development of the 1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador. It probably wasn't the smartest thing George Romney ever did, but it wasn't that important, either. The crucial decision -- made after AMC president George Mason died in 1954 and Romney took the helm of the newly christened American Motors -- was to quit competing across-the-board with the Big Three.
Romney did this by concentrating heavily on the Rambler, which had carved out a niche for itself with economy-minded buyers. For 1956 he had restyled and expanded the Rambler line, and by 1958's unexpected recession he looked like the Wizard of Oz: Sales of big cars bottomed, and Romney was left gloating over his sudden success. It was a case of brilliant timing. All over the country people were getting into Ramblers.
American Motors, which had bumped along at the 100,000-car level for its first three years of life, suddenly found its sales doubled. A year later they doubled again. By 1960, Rambler was number three in the industry, displacing traditional third-place Plymouth. It was the first time an "independent" had scored that high since the 1929 Essex.
The decision to drop the Nash and Hudson brands was made not to kill off two fine old names, but to emphasize AMC's departure from previous practices. Indeed, up until almost the last moment, a large Rambler-based car called the "Ambassador" (the old Nash model name) had been in clay model form bearing Nash and Hudson badges.
When this model finally emerged in production as the 1958 "Rambler Ambassador," it was found to be only modestly downsized from the previous big Hudson and Nash. It lost four and one-half inches of wheelbase and a hundred-odd pounds, but it was still powered by the AMC 327 V-8 and had even more horsepower than the '57 big cars. That made it livelier, but without stretching your imagination too much, you could call it a kind of gas-guzzling dinosaur -- the type of car Mr. Romney said he wasn't building anymore.
"It was a hedge -- a kind of failsafe," remembered former AMC chairman Roy D. Chapin, Jr. "If the small car gambit went bad, we had the Ambassador shell and could expand on it. As it happened, the small cars didn't go bad, so the Ambassador kind of hung around as a sidelight." A valid summation indeed, as in model year 1958, the Ambassador's first year as a Rambler, they managed to sell exactly 1,340 examples.
Go to the next page to find out about the styling and sales success of the 1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador.
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1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador
There were only three body styles for the 1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador, all four-doors: a sedan, hardtop, and hardtop wagon, though some wagons were available in six- or eight-passenger configurations. There were also three trim levels: Deluxe (with cheap trim for fleet use only), Super, and Custom. This all combined to give nine permutations, among which several are exceedingly rare: only 302 Deluxe fleet-sedans, 637 Super eight-passenger wagons, and 435 Custom hardtop wagons.
Customs differed from Supers in minor items of body trim and offered a clock, full wheel discs, foam rear seat cushions, padded dash, and padded sun visors as standard equipment. Base prices started at $2,395 for the fleet model Deluxe, and rose to about $3,200 for the Custom hardtop wagon. Typically equipped, an Ambassador Custom sold for $4,000, or about $300 more than a comparable Nash Ambassador back in 1957.
Styling was confined to a facelift, but it came off well on the 1960 model: a full-width eggcrate grille, surmounted by stand-up letters spelling AMBASSADOR. One new feature was a compound windshield, which wrapped around at the top as well as the sides. A full-width bodyside molding, enclosing brushed aluminum on Customs or painted two-tone color on Supers, added to the impression of length and further distinguished the Ambassador from the much shorter Rambler. Performance, with the 327 delivering 250 or 270 bhp, was decent but not exciting; these were not hot rods that would offer any challenge to the big-block Chevys, Fords, or Plymouths.
American Motors had a banner year in 1960, building nearly half a million cars. It was by far the largest volume on record, and for the first time in AMC history, sales topped $1 billion. But it is important to remember (and AMC did) that the Ambassador was very much a peripheral product, and that prosperity largely depended on the Rambler.
With that in mind, perhaps, a rather different array of models was offered in 1961. The public's fascination with four-door hardtops was waning, so these were given the ax. Sedans and wagons with conventional B-pillars were all that remained.
The fleet-series Deluxe stayed on, though it saw just 273 copies (the Ambassador was hardly a fleet-type car). A new entry was the five-passenger Custom 400, a luxury Custom with front bucket seats selling for $200 more than the standard version. The idea was to take advantage of the new fad for bucket seats and stick shifts, but AMC had no floorshift, and its column shift was notoriously clumsy.
The '61 retained the old bodyshell but was radically facelifted, the front fenders extended to a prowlike front end that looked like an old Spanish-American War battleship. The quad headlamps were now placed outboard of a smaller, horizontal-bar grille that peaked in the center, repeating the sharp-nosed theme. Side trim and interiors were shuffled; the drivetrain was unchanged.
It wasn't a sparkling year for anybody -- sales were well down from 1960, and AMC's small cars were faced with potent competition from the new Big Three compacts. The Ambassador accounted for less than 19,000 units, and ran up another handful of ultra-rarities: The eight-passenger wagons barely made 1,000 sales, and the Custom 400, introduced late in April 1961, found only 831 buyers.
For 1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador specifications, go to the next page.
For more information on cars, see:
1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador Specifications
The 1960-1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador's performance was acceptable, but no match for the big-block Chevys, Fords, or Plymouths of the era.
Engine: ohv V-8, 287 cid (4.00 × 3.25), 250/270 bhp
Transmissions: ohv V-8, 287 cid (4.00 × 3.25), 250/270 bhp
Suspension front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Suspension rear: live axle on 4-link trailing arms, coil springs
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 117
Weight (lbs): 3343-3592
Top speed (mph): NA
0-60 mph (sec): NA