The 1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador retained the bodyshell of older models, but styling was markedly different.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

The 1961 AMC/Rambler Ambassador featured a stylized two-tone interior that matched the sculptured exterior.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

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.

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