1968 AMC Ambassador SST: The Kenosha Cadillac
Ambassador. What a great name for a luxury car. And in the late 1960s, it was independent AMC’s way of saying Brougham. The model name had been inherited from the Nash half of the Nash/Hudson merger that created American Motors in 1954; Nash Ambassadors had been the fancy model going all the way back to the late 1920s.
By the mid ’60s, however, it was a smooth, sleek—albeit bargain-priced—Wisconsin-built car available as a sedan, coupe, or station wagon. In today’s terms, it would have been considered a “near-luxury” car. But with the car’s vertically stacked headlamps and ample chrome trim, particularly on the flossier DPL and SST trim levels, AMC wanted you to think Cadillac-level Broughamage.
But the biggest news was that now each Ambassador model came with standard air conditioning. As the 1968 brochure extolled, “The only American car with air conditioning standard. Ambassador is the only car in America, and maybe the world, that has its own air conditioning at no extra cost. (And that goes for every Ambassador, regardless of price.)
“Because American Motors is convinced that air conditioning is the best thing going in a car. If you live or drive where summers are hot or winters are cold, you need it. But if you buy your car on a nice day, you may not think about it—until it’s too late on a baking road in bumper-to-bumper traffic.”
At least, that’s what my copy of the deluxe AMC full-line brochure said. But apparently AMC marketeers were a teensy bit too excited to fact check before the brochure was published. Whoops.
As my Chicago buddy and vintage brochure/Brougham guru Jim Smith said, “1968 ushered in the first year that AMC made factory installed air conditioning as standard equipment. The only other American car with standard air conditioning was the Cadillac limo.”
And apparently AMC either was told or figured out the very same fact, as evidenced by this ’68 ad with a Judge Smails-approved Rolls Silver Shadow.
But it was a great marketing coup for plucky little AMC. Let’s face it, most Ambassadors were likely ordered with A/C anyway, so why not make it standard and bombard magazines, newspapers, and factory literature with the fact that its top-of-the-line model had standard air? Little cost, big impression.
The 1968 Ambassadors were only slightly updated from their all-new 1967 forebears. Sadly, the convertible model available in ’67 was gone, never to return. Basic Ambassadors started at $2820 ($24,052 today) for the sedan and $2842 ($24,239) for the coupe. A total of 8788 sedans and 3360 coupes were built.
Next up were the DPL models, with the same sedan and coupe versions available, for $2920 ($24,239) and $2941 ($25,084), respectively. As one would expect, nicer upholstery and more chrome exterior trim were in evidence, and 13,265 sedans and 3696 coupes sold.
But for those Brougham fans who lusted after brocade upholstery, power everything, and chrome chrome chrome, only the top-of-the-line SST would do. Coupe, sedan, and wagon models were available.
Displaying much more luxury trim and comfort features, the SST models also had as standard equipment a V-8, something lacking on the nice (but not top dog) SST models—although they did, of course, have standard air conditioning!
Again quoting the brochure, “Could that SST stand for Sensational Straight Through? Look what’s included in the base price (besides air conditioning): a 290-cubic-inch V-8, choice of expensive upholstery, individually adjustable reclining seats, interior wood-look paneling, an electric clock that works, and a gismo that buzzes if you leave the headlights on after you turn the ignition off.
“Two 343 V-8s (two- or four-barrel), ‘shift-command’ transmissions (column or console), and four-on-the-floor are options.” SST sedans had a $3151 ($26,875) base price and weighed in at 3476 pounds; 13,387 were built. The SST two-door hardtop started at $3172 ($27,054); 7686 were sold.
This gorgeous example, finished in Calcutta Russet metallic, was spotted and shamelessly gawked at by yours truly at the 2018 Des Moines Concours d’Elegance in 2018. I’ve always loved AMCs, admire their plucky effort—despite near-overwhelming odds that favored the Big Three at the time—and I always smile whenever I see a Pacer, Matador coupe, or Gremlin at a show. At the time that I saw it, this car was owned by Emily Worthington of Des Moines and is equipped with the optional 343-cu-in V-8. The placard indicated that only essential repairs had been performed to keep it operating as originally intended.
I absolutely loved it … If you couldn’t tell already.