When you think of American Motors you probably think of sturdy but uninspiring compact cars. Oh sure, there was the occasional high performance variant to try to bring a little halo to Kenosha’s number one car maker but its reputation was built, for the most part, on producing boring economy cars.
You would never expect to find an AMC pulling up to a rope line to deposit a celebrity onto a red carpet, ferrying an executive to an airport or shuttling a diplomat to an embassy. This 1969 AMC Ambassador may actually have done some of those things and it even appeared in a television show. It may also be the only Ambassador stretch limo in existence.
AMC flourished under the leadership of George Romney and his plan to focus the company’s resources on compact cars. Romney’s successor, Roy Abernethy, wasn’t as enamored of small cars and proceeded to shift toward larger cars when he took over the company in 1962. By 1969 the top-of-the-line Ambassador had grown nearly as large as the full sized offerings from GM, Ford or Chrysler. It had grown rather luxurious, as well.
The company’s fairly audacious 1969 full line brochure depicted Ambassadors surrounded by all the trappings of modern American wealth including horse stables, private airplanes and yachts. One might even be tempted to hire a chauffeur to drive one’s new Ambassador – if only AMC offered a limousine.
Enter one Robert Estes, president of the Chicago based Trans World Leasing. According to an October 2008 article from Hemmings Classic Car, Estes contracted with Armbruster-Stageway coach works to build a small fleet of 1969 Ambassador limos. Hemmings cited a 1969 Milwaukee Journal article describing Estes’ plans to lease the cars to AMC dealers for use by their “corporate customers”. Estes bragged that he had orders for a dozen of the Ambassador limos but no Armbruster-Stageway records regarding the cars seem to exist so just how many were built may never be known.
The Ambassador limo started out life as an SST four-door sedan with a 390cid V-8 and “Shift Command” 3-speed automatic transmission made by BorgWarner. Armbruster-Stageway added a full 36 inches to the wheelbase and engineered a set of I-beams to bridge the gap created by slicing the unibody car in two. In examining the car, it also appears to have an auxiliary air conditioning system in the trunk.
Notice that the original car’s rear doors have been welded shut and access to the back seat is by way of center-mounted doors. The seemingly awkward arrangement was also used on an Armbruster-Stageway conversion of a 1966 full sized Pontiac.
Almost nothing is known about the history of this car but former Wisconsin governor Warren Knowles is believed to have used it for his official travels around the state. (At the time, AMC products were often included in fleets for various Wisconsin state government departments, the University of Wisconsin and even the State Patrol.) An Ambassador stretch limo (probably this one) also appeared in an episode of the television series Mission Impossible.
The car was spotted at a car show last weekend in Elkhorn, Wis., sitting in a remote corner of the show field.