1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador

On February 12,1962, George Wilcken Romney resigned as president and chairman of American Motors in order to seek the governorship of Michigan -- successfully, as matters developed. It was a fateful day for AMC, and in some ways a pivotal time for the entire American automobile industry.

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1965-1966 rambler ambassador
Roy Abernethy took over as president of American Motors Corporation in February 1962, replacing George Romney. See more classic car pictures.

American Motors Corporation had come into being on May 1, 1954, with the merger of the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation and the Hudson Motor Car Company. Masterminding the merger, and serving as chairman and president of the new company, was the dynamic George W. Mason, president of Nash-Kelvinator since 1937 and the "father" of the Nash Rambler, America's first successful postwar small car. A one-time Chrysler Corporation executive, Mason was widely recognized as one of the most far-sighted men in the industry, serving at that time as president of the Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Prospects for the future looked good. But less than five months following the merger, stockholders' hopes were dashed -- at least for the time being. George Mason had died, suddenly, unexpectedly. To take his place, the directors elected George Romney, who had been AMC's executive vice-president from the time the company was formed.

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
The 990 ragtop was priced at $2955, $12 more than a 1965 Chevy Impala convertible. A total of 3499 were built.

Romney had been associated with the industry since 1939, but his experience on the production side of automobile manufacturing was limited. Some within the industry, notably Packard president James Nance, predicted that he would be unable to handle the job. According to Governor Romney's statement in an interview with this writer several years ago, Nance went so far as to suggest that Romney "would be out and American Motors would be picked up by Packard within a matter of months!"

Instead, George Romney led the company to a succession of new sales records. Production for 1958 nearly doubled the previous year's total, making American Motors the only domestic automaker to post a sales increase during that recession year. AMC's market share reached 4.66 percent that season, up from 1.91 percent just three years earlier.

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Creating the early Rambler Ambassador

The Rambler continued its climb, reaching third place in the industry during both 1960 and '61. Meanwhile, sales of the big Nashes and Hudsons had faded rapidly, until -- in a decision that rocked the industry -- Romney determined that both of the veteran marques must go. They were thus phased out in early 1957, meaning that American Motors would henceforth rise or fall with the Rambler.

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
The price leader of the ’65 Ambassador line was the 880 two-door sedan, but even at $2512 only 1301 found buyers.

To fill the gap created by the elimination of the Nash Ambassador and Hudson Hornet models, American Motors introduced a stretched version of the Rambler for 1958. Borrowing a familiar name which had been applied since 1927 to top-of-the-line Nashes, AMC called this nicely-appointed automobile the Rambler Ambassador. It was built on a wheelbase of 117 inches, a full nine inches longer than the compact Rambler's. Power came from a 327-cid V-8 originally developed for the larger cars. Rated at 270 horsepower, this engine provided the 3500-pound Ambassador with a more than adequate power-to-weight ratio.

At the same time, the original 100-inch-wheelbase Rambler was brought out of mothballs after a two-year absence, and reintroduced as the Rambler American. With prices ranging from $1775 to $1874, it ranked as the lowest-priced American-built car.

Convinced that the compact car was the key to his company's continued success, Romney undertook to act as his own pitchman. With the fervor of the missionary that he had once been, he traveled as much as 70,000 miles per year in order to carry his small-car message to the nation. Pulling a china dinosaur from his briefcase, he would hold it up to his audience and explain, "It's called a triceratops. It kept getting bigger and bigger until finally it could no longer hold up its head. . . . The dinosaur perished because it got too big." Then, pausing dramatically, Romney would challenge his audience: "Who," he would inquire rhetorically, "wants to have a gas-guzzling dinosaur in his garage?"

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
Two Ambassador hardtops were offered for 1965. The 990 listed at $2669, but for $2837 a buyer could opt for the 990-H seen here. It sported buckets seats and a special interior.

With the coming of compact cars from the Big Three in 1960, AMC no longer had the field to itself (along with the new-for-1959 Studebaker Lark), so it was obvious that competition would become increasingly fierce. Yet, the Rambler had carved out a respectable niche for itself-and prospects looked good for its continued success.

Styling, up to that point, had never been the Rambler's forte, but at the time of George Romney's departure a handsome line of all-new 1963 models was on the drawing boards, cars that would win for AMC the coveted Motor Trend "Car of the Year" award. Romney's plan was to cut costs by sharing as many stampings and other components as possible among AMC's three car lines: Ambassador, Classic, and the small American. Commencing in 1962, in fact, the Ambassador and Classic series shared the same wheel-base-108 inches in 1962, and a longer 112-inch span in 1963-64. It was planned that much of the new sheetmetal would be shared as well by the American series beginning in 1964, at which time the smaller car's wheelbase would be increased from 100 to 106 inches.

And then Romney left. Roy Abernethy, a former Packard executive, was appointed president and chief executive officer. Unlike Mason and Romney, Abernethy didn't particularly care for small cars, nor was he at all convinced that AMC's future lay in concentration upon that narrow segment of the market. Under his leadership, over the next few years American Motors invested $300 million in new tooling and plant facilities -- an enormous outlay for a company of AMC's comparatively limited resources.

For more information on the design of the 1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador, continue on to the next page.

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Design of the 1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador

Abernethy's ultimate goal was to meet the Big Three head-to-head, matching AMC's much larger rivals model-for-model by producing big cars as well as small ones. By 1969, the Ambassador's wheelbase would grow to 122 inches, an inch longer than that of the Ford LTD! Overall length would expand to 208 inches, up from 189.3 inches in 1963, and its weight would increase by some 350 pounds.

1949-1954 allard j2 and j2x
After the successful launch of the 1965 Ambassador, there seemed little need to change it much, and indeed the 1966 model was a virtual look-alike.

But it would take several years for the larger cars to come on line. In the interim, Abernethy and AMC styling chief Dick Teague undertook to draw as sharp a distinction as possible between the 1965 Ambassador and the less prestigious -- and more mainstream -- Rambler Classic. They began by extending the wheelbase of AMC's luxury line from 112 to 116 inches. Body shells continued to be shared with the Classic series, with the four-inch difference appearing in the length of the Ambassador's impressive-looking hood.

A number of styling studies were prepared. One of these bore some resemblance to Chrysler's 1963 experimental Turbine car. Another featured a flat grille with seven or eight horizontal ribs. Yet another sported bridgework that might have been inspired by a giant waffle iron. In keeping with AMC's conservative image, none could be considered radical in any sense.

In the end, Teague settled on a bold yet pleasing extruded aluminum grille design, with a number of horizontal ribs vee'd slightly forward and bordered by stacked, quad headlamps. Full-length chrome trim capped the crown of the side and fender panels, extending from the V-shaped profile of the front fenders to the full-height vertical taillights, silhouetting the car's striking new profile. The roofline was crisp, and the mildly sculptured side panels served to further accentuate the appearance of length. Chrome trim around the wheel openings was standard on hardtop and convertible models. AMC, obviously pleased with the results, talked up the 1965 Ambassador's "impressive new long-lived styling." Motor Trend agreed, calling it a "strikingly handsome automobile."

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The 1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador's amenities

But there was more to this new Ambassador than just a pretty face. Consider, for example, the power teams. For the first time, a Rambler Ambassador was available with six-cylinder power. This was a brand new engine, although it would not be totally inaccurate to think of it as an updated version of the overhead-valve six that had been used for many years by the Nash Ambassador. Of modern, short-stroke design, and featuring a seven-main-bearing crankshaft with eight counterweights, it had a displacement of 232 cubic inches. With a two barrel carburetor, it developed 155 horsepower. AMC proudly referred to this engine as "the world's most advanced Six."

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
Sharp eyes, however, noted a minor trim shuffling, as well as a mildly restyled grille on the 1966 Rambler Ambassador.

Far more popular in the Ambassador, however, were the two V-8s, with displacements of 287 and 327 cubic inches. Horsepower ratings were 198 and a "zestful" 270, both at 4700 rpm, while the torque figures came in at 280 and 360 pounds/feet at 2600 rpm. Differing only in their bore, compression ratio, and carburetion, the V-8s traced their origins to the original AMC-developed "V-8 first introduced in mid-1956.

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
The most noticeable feature for 1966, however was the “egg-slicer” trim at the leading edge of the front fenders; this theme was repeated on the taillights.

Several transmission choices were offered. Standard was the usual three-speed manual with column-mounted lever, but not many Rambler Ambassadors were so-equipped. Options included a Borg-Warner overdrive, controlled by means of a knob mounted below the dash; "Twin-Stick," which provided two shift levers on the console, one for the three-speed gearbox, the other for the overdrive; and Flash-O-Matic, a three-speed automatic supplied by Borg-Warner. The last could be purchased with either the traditional column control, or-for cars fitted with bucket seats-the console-mounted "Shift-Command." And at mid-year, yet another option joined the list: a Warner T-l 0 fully synchronized four-speed manual gearbox. Something for everyone!

Other options included All-Season air conditioning, very competitively priced at $327.65; power brakes, either drum/drum or disc/drum-the latter a brand-new feature; tachometer; speed control; Adjust-O-Tilt steering wheel; Duo-Coustic or Vibra-Tone rear-seat speakers; and the usual array of power equipment -- plus the famous (or infamous!) reclining seat/twin bed conversion that had been a Nash feature for many years. In addition, the new station wagon could be purchased with a side-hinged rear door, and two extra passengers could be accommodated if the optional third seat was ordered.

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The 1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador

AMC's decision to upgrade the Ambassador and make it larger for 1965 paid off -- output more than tripled from a meager 18,647 units in 1964 to 64,145 in 1965. It certainly seemed that president Abernethy's strategy was right on target, so the Ambassador cruised into 1966 offering more of the same.
Two trim levels were offered. The Ambassador 990, priced head-to-head with the Chevrolet Bel Air, proved to be the more popular, outselling the less expensive 880 series three-to-one. The 990 was offered in four-door sedan, two-door hardtop, Cross Country station wagon, and convertible body styles -- plus an additional upscale hardtop, the 990-H, which featured bucket seats and special interior appointments. The 880, priced about $90 lower, came in two- or four-door sedan and station wagon guises.

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
The 990 four-door sedan continued as the best seller in the Ambassador lineup in 1966

American Motors billed its entire 1965 Rambler line the "Sensible Spectaculars," with the Ambassador being hyped as "the longest, the most luxurious, the top performer of the three great new Ramblers." Motor Trend, which road-tested a Twin-Stick overdrive-equipped Ambassador convertible, found it sensible enough, but not particularly spectacular. To Technical Editor Bob McVay, the car was commendably economical, averaging 16.4 miles per gallon over a 1000-mile test run. "Traveling comfort was the Ambassador's biggest selling point, along with its exceptionally powerful Bendix duo-servo drum brakes," he wrote. "With the thin bucket seats that recline, driver and passengers can enjoy a high degree of riding comfort. . . . Ride and handling cater to comfort rather than control. . . . Many passers-by commented on the car's good looks," McVay recalled, adding: "Our summary: a nice, comfortable, quiet, well built family automobile that rather neglects the performance market."

There wasn't a lot of visible change in the 1966 models, although the grille texture was modified slightly and the leading edge of the front fenders and the taillights adopted "egg slicer" trim pieces. Engine choices remained the same, except for the addition of a two-barrel-carb, 250-horsepower version of the 327 V-8. Also, a new luxury hardtop known as the DPL (as in Diplomat) replaced the 990-H. In any case, John, road-testing a 1966 Flash-O-Matic-equipped DPL for Motor Trend, did find some significant differences. "From driving previous cars of this make," he wrote, "we'd developed a habit of ringing down to the engine room for plenty of steam just to get under way in a normal manner. This time there was healthy wheelspin from both rear wheels [because of the Twin-Grip limited slip differential]. Although AMC publishes the same power and torque figures for their "327' as last year, the 1966 engine definitely has snap we hadn't felt before."

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
The 990 wagon outsold the 880 two-to-one: 8852 units versus 4791.

Ethridge continued: "Subtle changes in this year's suspension, which include longer shocks and different springs, have a pronounced effect on the way the car feels and handles. Most welcome is the improved steering response. The car has a new feet-on-the-ground feeling, and body lean seems to have been reduced. The ride remains very good.
"As before, the interior's the outstanding feature of the Ambassador. Its quality is such that other luxury cars, even higher priced ones, could well imitate it. . . ."

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1965-1966 Rambler Ambassador Performance Statistics

The 1965 and '66 performance statistics make for an interesting comparison. Bear in mind while interpreting these figures that the 1965 car was fitted with the manual transmission/overdrive and a 3.54:1 axle ratio, while the 1966 model came with the automatic and a 3.15:1 axle:


1965 Cvt
1966 Htp

0-30 mph (sec) 3.84.0
0-45 mph (sec) 7.97.0
0-60 mph (sec) 12.010.4
Passing times/distances

40-60 mph (sec/ft)5.4/394.25.0/366
50-70 mph (sec/ft)6.3/553.4 6.7/588
Standing 1/4-mile

Time (sec)19.017.8
Speed at end (mph)75

Presumably, a 1966 model with the standard transmission could readily out perform either of these test cars, not to mention what a car equipped with the four-speed might do. Unfortunately, no test figures are available, so we can only guess.

1965-1966 rambler ambassador
At $2404, the 880 two-door sedan was again the price leader, and the poorest seller: 1493 units.

Sales of the newly formulated 1965-66 Ambassador reflected the car's more important status in the AMC hierarchy. One ad during the 1965 model year boasted that "You'll soon see why we've had to increase Ambassador production by four times to meet demand!" And indeed, output soared from 18,647 units in 1964 to 64,145 in the 1965 model year. That was a Rambler Ambassador record (the previous being 37,811 in 1963), but it lasted only one year, as 71,692 Ambassadors were called for in 1966 -- a far cry from the 14,570 built when the Rambler-based Ambassador bowed in 1958. Further, the Ambassador, which would be dropped after 1974, would never better the 1966 results.

For 1967, the Ambassador (no longer billed a Rambler, by the way) continued to grow. Wheelbase was increased by another two inches, overall length by three and a half inches. Weight increased by nearly 300 pounds, and even the styling looked more massive (many would also say even more attractive). Roy Abernethy was about to resign as AMC president, but his influence was just really commencing to be felt. As Abernethy had intended, the Ambassador would continue to grow until it eventually rivaled the full-sized models from the Big Three. In the meantime, the handsome mid-sized 1965-1966 models could best be thought of as "interim Ambassadors" enroute to becoming as big as the Big Three's full-size cars.

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