The AMC Ambassador 990
The year was 1965. The Ambassador, AMC’s top-of-the-line offer, was introduced in 1958. While the Ambassador model had achieved widespread success, Roy Abernathy remained convinced it could do better. He believed that AMC should venture forth into direct competition with the Big Three. The key to this was forgoing his company’s image as the producer of great economy cars, and tapping into the luxury market.
For Abernathy, this meant developing a strategy that is still employed today: competing in segments. Roy Abernathy had astutely intuited that the niche market for smaller cars had put his company on the map, but that was all. He also realized that AMC would never be a major competitor of the Big Three without offering a luxury full-size model.
That model was the AMC Ambassador 990. The Ambassador 990, unlike other AMC vehicles, expanded the wheelbase. It was bigger, faster, and more powerful. Fuel efficiency was no longer a primary consideration. This was not an “economy car”. It was not ashamed of its size. It was built to draw eyes.
Listed at $2955, the Ambassador was only $12 more than the ‘65 Chevy Impala. On top of that, it looked like a completely new car. AMC offered a convertible model as part of the lineup. The Ambassador 990 came standard with a 6-cylinder engine. Why not? That’s what Chevy was offering with their Impala. Ford and Plymouth were also offering 6-cylinder standard for their full-size model. In order to directly compete with those models, Abernathy wanted to duplicate the success of the “big car”.
The Ambassador 990 also offered two wildly popular V8 models that boasted HP ratings of 198 and 270 with torque of around 280 and 360 feet/pound.
The result was that sales for the re-tooled Ambassador nearly tripled.
America’s Love Affair with Large Vehicles
Americans like to think of themselves as a pragmatic people, but when it comes to cars, they’ve always wanted bigger, faster, and more powerful. AMC’s footprint in the market up until 1965 had been to create economy cars. When George W. Romney took over the governorship of Michigan in 1963, Roy Abernathy changed the direction of the company forever. It set off a trend where future incarnations of the Ambassador would grow larger and larger.
The Ambassador sparked this trend by increasing the wheelbase of AMC’s Rambler Classic from 112 to 116 inches. By 1967 it was up to 118 inches. By the time the line was retired in 1973 it had grown to 122 inches. It took an oil embargo and fears over the cost and supply of gasoline for America’s pragmatism to kick back in.
Abernathy’s decision to go big or go home played well with American consumers in 1965. Sales skyrocketed when Americans laid their eyes upon the Ambassador 990. The model was featured as a sedan and coupe with hardtop or convertible options as well as a cross-country station wagon.
AMC continued to offer sensible alternatives to the Ambassador while marketing the Ambassador as its flagship luxury model. It was so successful that the 1966 model was basically identical. Future models would be patterned on the success of the 1965 model and helped AMC rival the Big Three in the American auto market.