Nash and Hudson saw more setbacks than successes in the postwar years, prompting the shotgun wedding that formed American Motors Corporation in 1954 and would eventually lead to the 1958-1958 Rambler Ambassador. The car was named after Nash's best, keeping alive the spirit of those two once-great nameplates the year after they were dropped from AMC.
Arriving for 1958, the Ambassador was basically what Nash and Hudson would have been had they continued. Well, not quite, because there's evidence that the Ambassador looked infinitely better than the stillborn 1958 Nash and Hudson.
As something of a rush job, the Ambassador simply borrowed the 1958 Rambler's restyled bodyshell, but spliced in an extra nine inches ahead of the firewall for a 117-inch wheelbase. The resulting longer hood made for better proportions, but nobody was fooled into thinking this was anything other than a gussied-up Rambler.
Still, AMC stylist Ed Anderson did a good job in reskinning the basic unitized structure of the 1956-1957 Rambler. Aside from hood length, grilles, taillights and such, Ambassadors and Ramblers shared the same square-lined appearance, relieved only by trendy canted tailfins that seemed quite modest compared to the wings sprouting elsewhere. Grilles, by the way, were die-cast, not stamped -- more expensive but more durable too.
All 1958 AMC models came with four doors, except for the reborn 100-inch-wheelbase Rambler Americans. Ambassador -- marketed as a separate make, not a Rambler -- offered a single series comprising sedans and Cross Country wagons in Super and Custom trim, plus a pillarless Cross Country and a Country Club hardtop sedan, both Customs.
The Rambler line found itself newly divided into Six and Rebel V-8 series comprising Deluxe, Super, and Custom sedans and wagons, plus six-cylinder Super and eight-cylinder Custom Country Clubs.
Befitting its higher station, the Ambassador carried AMC's new 327-cubic-inch V-8, with higher compression adding 15 horsepower to the 1957 figure. Rambler Sixes went up 3 horsepower, to 138, while the 250-cubic-inch Rebel V-8 also got a tighter squeeze and switched from two- to four-barrel carburetion for a gain of 25 horsepower to 215.
Otherwise, these cars were much like AMC's 1957 products, though there was no lack of technical change. For example, optional GM Hydra-Matic got the boot in favor of Borg-Warner's new three-speed "Flight-O-Matic" transmission, complete with Chrysler-style pushbutton controls (in a panel to the lower left of the steering wheel).
The all-coil suspension went basically unchanged, but rear shocks got revised rates, wheels shrunk an inch to 14, and a front anti-roll bar was made standard for Ambassadors and optional on Ramblers. "Power-Lok" limited-slip differential was a new $40 extra, and a Ford-style safety package (padded dash and sunvisors) also joined the options list. AMC even got in on the air suspension fad with an optional rear-only setup, though few buyers ordered it.
To learn about technology used in the Ambassador, keep reading on the next page.
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Nash, and then its successor American Motors Corporation, had long led the way in automotive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, which were put to use in the 1958-1959 Rambler Ambassador. For 1958, a fully integrated version of the famous "Weather Eye" factory system debuted. Yet another industry first was the new "deep-dip" rustproofing given all AMC cars before painting.
Dunking their bare body/chassis structures in a big bath of special chemicals was claimed to forestall the dreaded tinworm, which can wreak earlier and more damaging havoc to unit-body cars (another Nash/AMC tradition) than body-on-frame construction.
Road-testers gave generally high marks to AMC's new "big one," calling it surprisingly quick, decently roomy, fairly luxurious, and not nearly as thirsty as the outsized Detroiters that AMC president George Rornney kept calling "dinosaurs." It was even fair value at prices in the $2,500-$3,100 range.
But the public literally didn't buy any of this. Though Rambler was one of the few makes to tally higher volume in recession-wracked 1958 -- reaching a record 217,000 units -- only 1,340 of them wore Ambassador nameplates, according to one source (another with production listings by wheelbase suggests that output hit 7,000 units, probably more likely).
The story for recovery 1959 was much the same for AMC as output continued to climb and the corporation enjoyed a record $60 million profit. But AMC didn't separate Rambler/Ambassador production that year, although the proportion likely was about the same as in 1958, with the small American and the Six/Rebel again garnering the vast majority of sales.
Changes that year included thicker brake linings, a gaudier grille, the usual trim shuffles, rear doors recontoured to blend more smoothly with the tailfinned fenderlines, and optional front-seat head restraints.
Though the Ambassador would survive all the way through 1974, it would always be too much like mid-size AMC cars to attract much of a following -- and rather stuffy in the bargain. In that sense, it was very much like the Nash whose name it inherited, a car with little place in an age when it definitely wasn't hip to be square.
Check out 1958-1959 Rambler Ambassador specifications on the next page.
For more information on cars, see:
1958-1959 Rambler Ambassador Specifications
The fledgling American Motors Corporation put its best into the 1958-1959 Rambler Ambassador, but the public failed to take notice as sales lagged.
Engine: ohv V-8, 327 cid (4.00 × 3.25), 270 bhp
Transmission: 3-speed manual; overdrive and 3-speed Borg-Warner Flight-O-Matic optional
Suspension front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Suspension rear: live axle, coil springs; rear air springs optional
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 117.0
Weight (lbs.): 3,456-3,591
Top speed (mph): 105+
0-60 mph (sec): 10.6