Al Lane’s 1965 AMC had an incredible story to tell, if only he could learn its secrets
When Al Lane attempted to insure his just-purchased 1965 AMC Rambler Ambassador 990 in February 1978, he was surprised to learn that it didn’t exist. Oh sure, Lane clearly owned an AMC automobile. The light blue convertible in his garage wasn’t a figment of his imagination. It’s just that his insurance company couldn’t find any records to confirm that the car was what Lane said it was, explaining that American Motors Corporation didn’t make a convertible version of its five-passenger 990 that year.
Except that it did, didn’t it? This we know: Lane’s ’65 wasn’t supposed to leave AMC’s plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin—unless, of course, it was on display at a show, or designer Richard Teague was driving it home. Teague, who planned to take ownership of the car upon completion of its introductory tour, never got the chance to park it in his garage. And the reason seems too incredible to be true.
[UPDATE: Since publishing this story, we’ve heard from several members of the Hagerty community with knowledge of AMC in the 1960s. We have added an addendum to the end of this story to reflect our ongoing search for clarifying information.]
Lane, of Fairfield, Iowa, is the third owner of the mysterious convertible. He bought it from business associate Mike McFadden, who had purchased the 990 from its original owner, Roy Stoddard Jr. Lane says McFadden hinted that there was “an unusual story” behind the car, but McFadden didn’t know any details.
After the two agreed on a purchase price, Lane immediately called his insurance agent Kenny Pfaff to get the car properly covered. After Pfaff ran the information through his company’s home office, however, he called Lane to report some puzzling news: There was no such car. Perhaps the model year was incorrect? Or maybe there was an error in the VIN?
Lane drove the six-cylinder 990 to a nearby dealership, and the manager helped him out by taking photos of the car and rolling carbon paper over the VIN number to prove it was accurate. A few months later, Lane was issued an insurance policy, even though the car’s true identity remained a mystery. Eager to get to the bottom of it, Lane mailed the information to AMC headquarters along with a note asking how many 990 Series cars had been built in 1965 and, most importantly, how many of them were convertibles? He received the note back, with these figures written in red pen:
4-door sedan — 2893
2-door hardtop — 1410
Station wagon — 584
Convertible — 1
A week later, AMC followed up with a phone call. “They offered me and my wife any American Motors car that we chose, plus $10,000, in exchange,” says Lane, now 70. “I told the guy, ‘First you have to tell me the story behind it.’ He left the phone for five minutes, probably to discuss it with one of the higher-ups, and then he came back on the line and said, ‘I can’t tell you.’ So I told him no deal.”
Lane says he still hasn’t fully deciphered the car’s build sheet, and he welcomes any input that might lead to a breakthrough (641-469-5419 or email@example.com). Years ago, however, he learned more about the car’s origins from the original owner’s widow and from T.S. Vance, whose father, Stuart Vance, was AMC’s manager of engineering from 1964–81 and oversaw the creation of all company prototypes. The younger Vance, who also worked under designer Dick Teague in the 1960s, told Lane in an email that the 1965 Rambler Ambassador 990 convertible is indeed a prototype and it was sold by accident. Seriously.
Stoddard, of Oskaloosa, Iowa, took possession of the car in November 1964. Earlier that year, Stoddard went to McKnight Motors in Keokuk, Iowa, and asked for an Ambassador convertible, but he was told that he couldn’t get one, since AMC didn’t offer that body style. “Roy said, ‘Order it anyway, the most they can tell you is no,’” Vance wrote. “When the order got to Kenosha, someone said the car was out front [referring to the prototype, which matched Stoddard’s order]. They loaded it with an MSO [Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin] and off it went to Iowa.”
Lane still finds the story incredible. “I’ll bet Teague was furious,” he says. “Can you imagine walking out and wondering, ‘Where did the car go?’ Somebody definitely lost their job over that one.”
Lane says Stoddard’s wife later told him that when AMC realized what had happened, company reps called Stoddard repeatedly to get the car back, increasing their offer every time. Mirroring Lane’s experience, AMC refused to explain why the convertible—which shows a build date of August 1, 1963—was so important. Finally, Stoddard just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Roy was stubborn,” Lane says. “It wasn’t about money, it was about the principle of the thing. He finally told his wife, ‘If they want one like it, they can make one.’”
AMC did just that and began offering a 990 convertible with a slightly different design than Lane’s prototype.
Although Lane says he isn’t actively trying to sell the car, 13 years ago he created a blogspot titled “Classic Convertible for Sale,” which includes photos, history, and images of original documents, including a 1978 appraisal for $8850. Of course, that appraisal was done long before Lane knew exactly what he had. He says he has since had the car appraised for a value well into six figures; he claims he has been offered more than $400K for it.
Still, he says, “I’m in no rush to sell it. I’ve owned 30 cars through the years, but I’ve hung onto this one. Not everyone has a prototype in their garage.”
[Editor’s note: Thank you for trying to help Mr. Lane learn more about his 1965 AMC Rambler Ambassador 990 convertible. Knowledgable readers from the Hagerty community have pointed out other Rambler Ambassador 990 convertibles believed to be from 1965, and some sources have even placed an exact number on how many were built that year. However, the reference books in our library are not definitive on this point. According to Hagerty valuation expert Greg Ingold, “Until 1966, AMC VINs were simply serial numbers with a letter to denote the model/engine combination. After that, the VIN revealed the setup right down to the transmission.”
With that in mind, Mr. Lane provided documentation from AMC that he believed suggested only one convertible was built for ’65, and he said AMC contacted him and wanted the car back—the same scenario described by the wife of the convertible’s original owner, Roy Stoddard. Mr. Lane also provided correspondence with T.S. Vance, who worked for designer Dick Teague and whose father, Stuart Vance, was AMC’s manager of engineering from 1964–81. Neither AMC nor Mr. Vance corrected Mr. Lane’s account, nor did either suggest that perhaps his car was simply one among hundreds of ’65 convertibles.
At Hagerty, our goal is the build a community of people who love cars and their stories. Please join us in respecting Mr. Lane’s decision to share his story with us, and if any of our readers can provide resources that can clarify these discrepancies and help Mr. Lane further, we’re sure that he would appreciate it. His email address is included in the story. Thank you for your assistance!]