The Ambassador Diplomat
AMC followed up the success of the 1965 Ambassador with the DPL model in 1966, otherwise known as the Diplomat. The Ambassador 990 remained more or less the same. The Diplomat was a 2-door hardtop that was marketed as a luxury model of a luxury model. Based on the body of Ambassador 990, the Ambassador DPL included ornate lower body side trim and multiple comfort and convenience items including reclining bucket seats that were upholstered in brocade fabrics with an option for vinyl. There was also an option to upgrade the interior to houndstooth fabric which included matching throw pillows.
The 1966 Ambassador 990 featured more responsiveness while accelerating. In addition, the steering was more responsive and folks appreciated new changes to the suspension. The Ambassador line was meant to exude not only luxury but comfort as well. AMC went out of their way to make the Diplomat every bit as comfortable as an easy chair. As such, the interior was among the most striking features of the 1966 Ambassadors.
The concept of exclusivity was important to many of the models that came out that year. The Diplomat had to compete against the Chevrolet Caprice, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Plymouth VIP, and Ford LTD.
Roy Abernathy Rebrands the Ambassador
For the first time in the history of the AMC Ambassador, the company did away with the Rambler nameplate. Abernathy felt that the image of the Rambler was holding AMC back in a market that was primed for big luxury vehicles. It was an attempt to move away from the image of the Ambassador as an economy car and toward the image of the Ambassador as a performance car.
This trend began in 1965, two years after Abernathy had taken over for then-Minnesota Governor George W. Romney. Romney preferred practical economy cars and had built the AMC brand around offerings like the Rambler. In 1965, Abernathy sought to directly compete against the Big Three automakers who were competing in a much larger market. These cars were sold to families as luxury vehicles. Abernathy intended to steer AMC into direct competition with the big names in American auto manufacturing.
His first attempt was successful. The 1965 Ambassador sold 64,000 units. AMC’s flagship offering sold under 20,000 units in 1964. 1966 saw a jump from there to over 71,000 units. Over the next few years, the Ambassador would get bigger and bigger with DPL the highest end of the line.
On the other hand, these numbers were a tiny fraction of the overall market.
By 1967, the Ambassador DPL was a hit in the luxury car segment. AMC began adding more luxury options and continued with favorites such as the factory throw pillows. The biggest upgrade was a safety panel that stashed all controls within convenient reach of the driver.
However, Abernathy’s luxury push began to show cracks in the foundation. The change in direction showed early gains and then came to an abrupt stop. Loyal customers of the brand became alienated. This also happens to be the same year that Chevy released the ‘67 Impala which has earned its place in American iconography forever. Abernathy was let go as CEO of AMC. A new direction for the company seemed inevitable.