The cars you find on Craigslist for less than $1,000 can have interesting backstories, and that’s the case with this rare AMC Ambassador DPL Wagon.
This wagon was listed at $800. It was in the East Bay, just a jump over the bridge from San Francisco. So on a rainy Sunday, I went to check it out.
I was met by the neighbor of the elderly owner, who was running interference with the Craigslist inquiries to help the owner through the process. He was an ex-linebacker-type with a firm handshake and an amiable smile.
Turns out the Ambassador was a one-family wagon, and it was cherished by the owner because it was his father’s. The owner was now just over 80, and he was lifelong artist who used the wagon for hauling his paintings. The house was piled vertically with his modernist oils.
The neighbor led me to the owner, who sat in the screened-in patio that overlooked a thick green lawn, with grass that grew up in a perimeter around a decent late-’80s black Saab, a 900 two-door hatchback. A construction job ended up blocking the driveway that would be its escape, so the Saab was sitting tight until the work ended.
The Ambassador, on the other hand, had been in regular use up until recent times, when the owner realized he wasn’t driving it and didn’t see the point of keeping it.
Interestingly, discussions of the wagon related more of where the owner went in it, rather than anything specific about the car. It was as if the Ambassador had just always been there, a semi-permanent backdrop that Dad had and he then kept.
The interior was moldy and dirty, but a general refreshing wouldn’t have taken much.
But then came the deal-killer: this wagon had been ordered without power steering or power brakes.
The owner related stories of attempting to slow down in the long descents headed into nearby Monterey for his art sales, and I’d already begun replaying my own memories of cars with weak and quickly fading manual brakes. And manual steering, which likely needed five or six turns to go lock-to-lock, would have dribbled out whatever fun remained.
So I passed, and someone else snapped it up the next day. AMC made 8,270 of these mid-level Ambassador DPL wagons – the top-line Ambassador SST numbered 5,270 – but it’s likely that few of any of them were as closely looked-after throughout such a long life as this one had had.