This curious inversion of marque and model was a deliberate attempt to bring cachet to the top-of-the-range car from American Motors.
The Rambler name dates from 1900, when cars built by Jeffery, Nash’s forerunners, were first sold. The name fell dormant from 1914 to 1950, when it was revived with the launch of the Nash-Rambler, a small inexpensive car designed for the post-World War II economy.
In 1954, American Motors Corporation (AMC) was formed from the merger of Nash-Kelvinator and the Hudson Motor Car Company. Following the merger, 1955 and 1956 Ramblers were badged as both Nashes and Hudsons, with no visible difference between the two. By 1957 the redesigned Nash Ambassador and its Hudson Rebel equivalent were ready for launch, but the CEO George Romney saw that consumer confidence in the Nash and Hudson names had collapsed. He decided to end both names, and registered Rambler as a separate marque in 1957.
The Ambassador was a compact luxury car that competed with the high-end full-sized machines from the Big Three, and with some success. The compact size of all the cars in the Rambler range made them internationally competitive, and between 1961 and 1965 American Motors opened thirteen foreign assembly plants, from Costa Rica to the Philippines.
The model hit the market late in 1957 with a 327 cu in (5.4 litre) V8 with a 4-barrel carburettor and dual exhausts, rated at 270 bhp. It had a BorgWarner 3-speed automatic transmission with push button gear selection. It had an excellent power-to-weight ratio for its time and achieved a 0-60 mph time of less than 10 seconds. It was offered in a single high-level trim level and, to distance it from the small economy cars that customers associated with the Rambler marque, “Ambassador V-8 by Rambler” was used in publicity – but it wore “Rambler Ambassador” badges on its front wings.
Ambassador sales improved considerably over 1958, reaching an output of 23,769; nearly half of which were Custom four-door sedans.
For 1960 the Ambassador was totally reskinned in the style shown in our Snapshot. In particular, the roof was lowered, and the tailfins were reduced in height and canted to either side. Together, these gave the car a fresh, modern appearance. The 1960 model also gained a unique compound curved windshield that cut into the roof. This improved visibility and strengthened the unitised structure.
The Ambassador was the only American midsize, luxury high-performance car offered in 1960, and the publicity made much of this. An advertisement in the July 1960 issue of Fortune stated:
“Now bulk is out-of-date in luxury cars too…”
Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive