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Category: 1960s

Junkyard Gem: 1965 Rambler Ambassador 990 Convertible

By the middle 1960s, George Romney had left the helm of American Motors to become governor of Michigan and company president Roy Abernethy had decided that AMC needed to compete more directly against GM, Ford and Chrysler. In order for the Kenosha manufacturer formed from the 1954 merger of Nash and Hudson to do that, a genuine full-size car had to be created to steal sales from the Impala, Galaxie and Monaco. With a wheelbase stretch and a restyling by Dick Teague, the Rambler Ambassador became that car for the 1965 model year. Here’s a once-snazzy soft-top Ambassador from that year, found at a family-owned yard just south of the Denver city limits.

I’ve documented quite a few vintage machines at Colorado Auto & Parts in this series over the past year, including a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere, a 1969 Walker Power Truck, a 1974 Ford F-250, a 1960 Triumph TR3A, a 1947 Dodge Custom Club Coupe, a 1969 AMC Rambler 440, a 1951 Studebaker Champion, a 1959 Princess DM4 limousine and a couple of dozen first-generation Mustangs and Cougars. This Ambassador is now parked between a Chevelle and a Mustang.

The Ambassador 990 convertible wasn’t the most expensive new ’65 Rambler you could buy, because the Ambassador wagon and the sporty new Marlin cost a bit more. Still, its $2,955 price tag ($29,907 in 2024 dollars) was on the steep side for Rambler shoppers accustomed to penny-pinching Classics and Americans.

This car would have cost much more than the base MSRP, though, because it was built with AMC’s biggest car engine at the time: a 327-cubic-inch V8 rated at 250 horsepower. No, it’s not related to the Chevrolet 327 small-block; parts-counter staffers spent many decades dealing with that confusing name mixup (to be fair to AMC, their 327 was first).

Kaiser-Jeep, not yet purchased by AMC, bought AMC 327s for use in its trucks during the mid-to-late 1960s and called them 327 Vigilantes.

The base engine in the 1965 Ambassador was the 232-cubic-inch “Torque-Command” straight-six, the 4.0-liter descendants of which were still being bolted into new Jeep Wranglers in 2006.

The base transmission in the 1965 Ambassador was a three-speed column-shift manual, but this car has the optional three-speed automatic with “Flash-O-Matic” shifter on the center console. If you wanted a factory radio in your new ’65 Ambassador, you could add “Duo-Coustic” or “Vibra-Tone” rear speakers.

AMC sold just under 65,000 Ambassadors for the 1965 model year, including wagons. Meanwhile, Chevrolet sold better than a million of its full-size Biscaynes, Bel Airs and Impalas that year (and GM’s Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick sold plenty of their own versions of those cars as well). As for Ford and Chrysler, there’s no need to rub it in by listing their vast sales numbers for big cars that year. The Ambassador wasn’t much bigger than the competition’s midsize cars at the time, which was a factor in its slow sales.

American Motors had its ups and downs after 1965, but the general story arc was that the Detroit Big Three used their greater resources to continue grinding down their Wisconsin competitor until Chrysler finally bought what was left in 1987.

The last model year for the Rambler marque was 1968, after which all of AMC’s U.S.-market cars got American Motors Corporation badging. The Rambler name lived on for one more year, as the model name on the former Rambler American for 1969: the AMC Rambler.

This car would be worth decent money if restored, but the body is on the rusty side and the interior has been exposed to the elements for many years, making such a restoration a very costly proposition.

The “Sensible Spectaculars” advertising campaign was on the puzzling side.

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Junkyard Gem: 1968 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Custom Holiday Sedan

The 1965-1970 version of GM’s full-size B Platform was one of The General’s greatest successes, underpinning nearly 13 million cars. Each of the U.S.-market GM car divisions (except Cadillac) had their own B-Bodies during those model years, from the proletarian Chevrolet Biscayne on up to the opulent Buick Wildcat. Doing business just one small rung below Buick on the GM “Ladder of Success” in 1968 was the Oldsmobile Division, and the king of Olds B-Bodies that year was the Delta 88 Custom Holiday Sedan four-door hardtop. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a Denver self-service yard last winter.

The prestige lines between the GM divisions were starting to get a bit blurry by the late 1960s, when car shoppers could get a Chevy Caprice with a list price higher than that of an Olds Delmont 88 and then option it up to cost more than a Buick LeSabre. At the end of the day, though, your neighbors in 1968 would still have known that an Oldsmobile carried more swank than its Chevy or Pontiac siblings, and that the owner of a Buick could look down his nose at an Olds driver.

However, most GM cars in 1968 were still powered by engines made by their own divisions, in those pleasant days before the “Chevymobile” lawsuits (if they had V8s, at least). That meant that when you bought an Olds 88 that year, it came with a genuine Rocket V8 engine under its hood. In this case, the engine is a monstrous Quadrajet-fed 455-cubic-inch (7.5-liter) Rocket rated at 365 horsepower and an awe-inspiring 510 pound-feet. The ’68 Olds Toronado came with an even hairier 455 that made 400 horses, by the way.

Yes, those are gross power numbers and not the more realistic net numbers we’ve been using since the early 1970s, but this was one respectably quick 4,155-pound car for its era. A buyer of a 1968 full-size Chevrolet could get a wild 427-cube big-block V8 with 425 horses as a (very expensive) option, but even Buick’s 430 couldn’t beat the Delta 88’s torque (that changed two years later with the introduction of the 510-pound-foot Buick 455).

Naturally, this car required premium gasoline and probably never saw double-digit fuel economy at any time, but few Oldsmobile shoppers cared about that until certain geopolitical events took place in 1973. If you bought the 1968 Delta 88 with the base three-on-the-tree manual transmission — that’s right, you had to pay extra for an automatic even on a snazzy machine like this — you could get a 310hp 455 that would run on regular gas.

Speaking of options, this car has a bunch that would have pushed its out-the-door cost well above its MSRP of $3,721 (about $34,214 in 2024 dollars). The four-barrel 455 cost $57 ($524 today), the three-speed automatic transmission cost $158 ($1,453), the power steering was $98 ($901), the air conditioning was a heroic $411 ($3,779) and … you get the idea.

The original buyer of this car wanted it loaded, so it even has the optional power windows.

Oldsmobile became very enthusiastic about borrowing names from American fighter jets during the 1950s and 1960s, and the Delta series was inspired by the moniker of the F-102 Delta Dagger. The Cutlass borrowed its name from the F7U Cutlass naval fighter as well, with the Starfire paying homage to the F-94 Starfire. Apparently, Convair, Vought and Lockheed chose not to make a legal stink about their product names being appropriated by a car company for its products, perhaps because that car company was one of the most powerful corporations in the country at that time. In any case, the F-102 suffered from huge cost overruns during its development, the F-94 was obsolete soon after entering service and the F7U was a dangerous, overcomplicated lemon known as “the Gutless Cutlass.” There’s a lot of history in the junkyard, if you know where to look!

Speaking of aviation history, the build tag tells us that this car was built at GM’s original Fairfax Assembly in Kansas City. That’s where North American Aviation built B-25 Mitchell bombers during World War II, selling it to The General in 1945. F-84F Thunderstreaks were assembled alongside cars there by GM during the early 1950s.

Worth restoring? It’s not rusty, but the interior is bad and even hardtop four-doors of this era don’t get the enthusiast love given to two-doors and convertibles.

Oldsmobile for 1968 has something for old and young! 38 years later, the Oldsmobile Division got the axe.

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Junkyard Gem: 1962 Chevrolet Corvair 700 4-Door Sedan

Recently, we took a look at a solid late-production Chevy Corvair coupe in a Denver junkyard, and some readers couldn’t believe that anybody would throw away such a rare classic. Hold onto your hats, Corvair fans, because eight Corvairs just showed up in the inventory of a yard in Colorado Springs. Because we just saw a coupe from the final couple of years of Corvair production, I’ve selected an early four-door sedan from the eightsome to follow it in this series.

U-Pull-&-Pay got the model years wrong for most of these cars in their system, probably because deciphering serial numbers and build tags from the pre-17-digit-VIN era requires manufacturer-specific knowledge. All eight of these Corvairs are coupes and post sedans; none are hardtop sedans, wagons, pickups, convertibles or vans.

Corvair production came to about 2 million from the 1960 through 1969 model years, and there are still plenty of project Corvairs sitting in garages and driveways, so they’re not particularly hard to find in American wrecking yards nowadays. I’ll run across two or three per year during my junkyard explorations, but finding this many at once at a U-Pull facility is a new experience for me.

The U-Pull-&-Pay employees I asked about these cars told me that a man brought them all in at once and told them that he had quite a few more Corvairs. I’m guessing that this is the result of a Corvair enthusiast with a storage lot purging unneeded parts cars.

The Corvair, with an air-cooled rear-mounted engine, was a radical design by the Detroit standards of its era and remains the most controversial American car ever made. Sales peaked in the 1961 and 1962 model years, began a gradual decline after that, then collapsed in 1966. Production continued through 1969, but by then hardly anyone was paying attention. Perhaps you blame Ralph Nader, or GM’s clumsy attempts to squash Ralph Nader, or the government regulations inspired by Ralph Nader, or the comfortingly traditional Chevy II/Nova, or even the Renault Caravelle.

I recommend that you read Aaron Severson’s exhaustively researched and annotated Corvair history — which begins with the development of a small-car concept at GM during World War II — in order to get the full story.

This car was built during at the Oakland Assembly plant in California, where production of the Chevrolet Four-Ninety kicked off in 1916. Oakland Assembly shut down in 1963, to be replaced by Fremont Assembly (which became NUMMI in 1984 and is now the Tesla Factory) about 25 miles to the southeast. The site of Oakland Assembly is  Eastmont Town Center today.

The engine is a 145-cubic-inch (2.4-liter) air-cooled pushrod boxer-six with dual carburetors and the distinctive “around-the-corner” fan belt system that looked funky but worked well. Horsepower was 80 if you got the three- or four-speed manual transmission and 84 on cars equipped with the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

This car does have the Powerglide, which was shifted via a little lever under the dash, to the left of the radio.

The optional AM-only radio was a $57 option, which comes to about $596 in 2024 dollars (and was worth it in order to listen to the top hits of 1962 on a scratchy mono dash speaker). Note the scary triangle-in-a-circle Civil Defense symbols at 640 and 1240 kHz; those indicated the CONELRAD stations that would give instructions in case Tupolev Tu-95s were on their way bearing thermonuclear bombs.

Below the AM radio is a Pace CB-143 23-channel CB radio of mid-1970s vintage. This unit was sold around the time that C.W. McCall’s CB-centric song “Convoy” was #1 in the music charts. By the way, you can download free MP3s of C.W.’s advice to truckers crossing the Rockies on Interstate 70 — called out via mile marker — via his website.

It appears that about three decades have passed since this car last saw regular use, based on this 1992 West Coast Gas magnetic dash calendar. Just by chance, the 1992 and 2024 calendars are the same, including the leap day in February, so a junkyard shopper who gets this one would find its remaining months relevant for current use.

The 700 was the mid-grade Corvair in 1962, sandwiched between the base 500 and the sporty Monza 900. The MSRP for today’s Junkyard Gem with automatic transmission would have been $2,268, or about $23,704 after inflation. A 1963 Ford Falcon Futura sedan with two-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic started at $2,377 ($24,843 in today’s money), but it was a bigger car with a real coolant-fed heater.

At some point, the owner of this car proudly belonged to both the Pikes Peak Corvair Club and the Corvair Society of America.

This “VAIRFIGNEWTEN” sticker must be some Corvair Society inside joke from decades past.

Worth restoring? There’s very little rust-through plus you’d find a lot of parts donors nearby, but I think it would take at least $20,000 to turn this into a $15,000 car.

Claws at trails through the glue-like ooze of Withlacoochie Swamp! Do you think the Falcon (or Valiant) could have handled that?

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