Joey Shelby’s ’63 AMC Rambler Ambassador

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We all name our cars, right? My family has Bo, Marlene, Henry, and Red Rover (don’t ask), and many others through the years.

But not many cars have a name with as much research and history behind them as Jackie, Joey Shelby’s 1963 Rambler Ambassador 880. And Jackie’s a really cool car too. 

In 2018, Joey and his wife Danielle took a trip to Dallas, Texas. “I enjoy history,” Joey told me, “and my wife is a history buff too.” While they were there, they got to see Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and the Texas School Book Depository where the fatal shot was fired. Just eight months later, Joey found his 1963 Rambler.

Joey and Danielle thought with such a unique car, they had to find just the right name for it. He did some research. The car’s blue paint color is called Cape Cod Blue Metallic. The Kennedy family estate is on Cape Cod. Joey found a posting on an AMC forum that mentioned an AMC connection with Cape Cod. And in 1963, the Rambler, and its Cape Cod Blue paint, were very stylish. The car was built in 1963. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Dallas. Cape Cod. Style. Elegance. The answer was obvious. They named the car for the President’s very elegant wife Jackie. 

Joey’s been into cars most of his life. He’s got a long-term project going on, a frame off restoration of the very first vehicle he owned – 1968 true short bed C-10 he bought while he was in high school. He’s going to restomod the C-10, but it’s got a ways to go before it will be ready. (“The challenge I’ve had is life,” he told me.) Joey got impatient to have a hot rod he could take on the road.

“The last few years I’ve gotten to the point where I realized that if I don’t find a classic car that is driveable, the years are going to go by and I’m not going to have an opportunity to enjoy something,” Joey said. “I was looking for a classic car that I could drive, and just have fun with and take to local shows. I wasn’t sure about what I wanted, just something presentable and driveable.”

Joey looked for a few months, and found the Rambler on the Boise Craig’s List, in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho where he lives. It was almost all original and in great shape. I’ve never been to Idaho and I asked Joey if it was unusual to find an older car in such good condition up there.  

“It’s not unusual,” he told me. “There’s a lot of people who find classic cars out here. We have sunshine over 200 days per year, and kind of a dry climate. This car though, it’s unusual. It appears to be a true survivor – all original. It’s kind of unique because it shows no rust or corrosion. The undercoating on the car from the factory still looks brand new.” A few upgrades have been done, but by and large, the Ambassador is very stock.

The Rambler was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1963. (Joey found an original of the February COTY issue at a swap meet held annually at the famous Firebird Raceway in Emmett, ID.) One of the big reasons was the car’s unibody construction, what Motor Trend at the time referred to as a “body/chassis unit”, which was still pretty new technology at the time. 

The Motor Trend article said: “In the field of unitized bodies, which American Motors (then Nash-Kelvinator) pioneered, this latest design represents a real advancement and the biggest single reason we chose Rambler Car of the Year. Not only does this new construction method save approximately 150 pounds over the older design, but it results in a unit so strong it’ll take punishment longer and naturally hold its resale value. All this adds up to greater customer appreciation, in which, incidentally, Rambler has never been lacking.”

Jackie’s body/chassis unit has the famous Rambler trunnion front suspension. In the back is the factory coil spring suspension, with a set of upgraded coilover shocks. Jackie has the factory four wheel power drum brakes and factory power steering. Joey reports that she “rides really well – the thing glides, the steering is effortless.” 

Joey wanted to add a bit of a muscle car look to the Rambler, and started to check out some wheels that might do the trick. In his research, he found that American Racing founder Romeo Palamides designed the Torque Thrust II D series wheel in… 1963. Of course those were the wheels that needed to go on Jackie, in the 15 inch size with classic white letter BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires. 

When people learn that Jackie has a 327 cubic inch V8, the most common question Joey gets is, “A Chevy 327, or an AMC 327?” Which is exactly what I asked him. It is, in fact, the original AMC 327.

The Ambassador was the top trim line for the Rambler model, and in 1963 the 327 was the only engine offered. The motor is almost completely stock. A Holley 2300 2-barrel carburetor and open element air cleaner, Petronix electronic ignition, and MSD spark plug wires are the only exceptions. With just 62,000 miles on the car, it’s running great.

Joey is a car buff, and pays attention to details, so when he went to look at the car, he noticed something was not right. “I could tell from the intake design that this was an AMC engine,” he said, “but the valve covers had stickers on them for a Corvette 327. Some previous owners might have thought they were the same engine. Joey found the correct stickers at Galvin’s AMC Rambler Parts and fixed that problem.

The exhaust is also largely stock, running through the factory manifolds and single pipe. The only change to the exhaust is the MagnaFlow muffler at the end. On the Rambler, the muffler is located between the rear end axle housing and the gas tank. A standard oval muffler won’t fit, so Jackie has a round MagnaFlow that gives the exhaust a great sound.

AMC’s 1963 cooling system, with its original radiator and belt-driven fan, is still working just fine. A few years ao, the radiator developed a leak and was welded by a radiator shop in Garden City, Idaho. Joey’s amazed that in today’s throw-away society there was still a shop that would weld up the 57 year old part. Since summer temperatures in Idaho can get up over 100 degrees, Joey is looking to install a shroud to help the fan when he’s idling at stop lights. But even without it, he says the temperature indicator stays at 12 o’clock all day long.

Although some AMCs at that time came with the Chrysler 727 Torqueflite automatic, Jackie’s running a Borg-Warner 3-speed. Joey selects his gears via the column mounted shifter, which was also new in 1963. Prior years Ramblers had push button shifters. The Borg-Warner turns the solid axle rear end through a torque tube. The torque tube is an older drivetrain technology with a stationary tubular housing between the transmission and rear end that encloses the drive shaft. It’s designed to help keep the rear end located.

Jackie’s interior is 100% original – completely untouched. Joey says that when he cleans the vinyl upholstery, it looks brand new. His Ambassador has the Custom Trim option package according to the car’s build codes. That includes Rambler’s famous front seats that fold flat. If you fold down the rear seats as well, you basically have a bed inside the car. The original AM radio still works, although Joey has wired up a classic looking FM radio to the cigarette lighter to provide additional tunes.

As you probably can guess, the Rambler’s body is all original too, with the exception of the driver’s side quarter panel having been repainted at some point. The sheet metal and that beautiful Cape Cod Blue Metallic and Frost White paint are all factory stock. Joey told me that AMC did not use lacquer, as was more common at the time, on the 1963 Rambler. They applied a single stage acrylic enamel. And that makes it a little more challenging to take care of the paint. 

Joey relies on lessons he learned from his own experiences, his auto shop and body days back in high school and tips from Mike Phillips, who has posted some online classes about working with single stage paints. Phillips used to work at Meguiar’s, so he’s got some credentials in taking care of paint. One of those lessons is that Joey doesn’t wash it with soap and water very often. He uses a rinseless wash and microfiber towels. He’s a big fan of supporting local business, so Joey uses products from The Rag Company, a local Boise company that sells microfiber towels.

“You have to be more careful when you’re polishing or compounding,” Joey said. “You have to use a lot of the older methods. It takes a lot of elbow grease, that’s for sure, but when you spend 3 or 4 hours rubbing it by hand it really shines up. And it’s a good stress reliever.”

Regarding his future plans for Jackie, Joey would like to put on a four-barrel carb (if he can find the rare AMC 4-barrel manifold), dual exhaust, additional gauges in the dash, and AMC front disk brakes. But that’s about it. “I don’t intend to do a lot of modifications to it,” he said. “My intent is to keep it looking original – to preserve the history and that time period.”  

From his research, Joey has a strong appreciation for the Rambler’s history. He knows it was built on AMC’s West Line plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was then shipped to the Warwick Motor Company dealership in New Mexico. You can still see the Warwick dealer sticker in the photo above.

He’s got the original owners manual, signed by the person who bought the car, and all the other stuff dealerships used to give you when you bought a new car: the little envelope that the keys came in, an AMC Owners Identification card, the Rambler’s warranty card, and even a warranty card for the AM radio.

“I really enjoy this stuff,” Joey told me. “It seemed to me like a time capsule. I’m going to keep it and enjoy it.”

But the thing Joey enjoys most about Jackie is driving her. From May to September he drives the Ambassador at least once a week. One of his routines is to drive it to work on payday. And he likes to take it to local car shows.

“The best way I can describe how it drives,” Joey said, “is that it’s fun, but it’s also relaxing. The ride is smooth. The exhaust is noticeable, but It’s not obnoxiously loud. It’s a lot of fun.”

And in this time of high technology, hyper connectivity, and now COVID, the simplicity of driving a 1963 Rambler Ambassador is something Joey treasures.

“It’s something I appreciate,” he told me. “It’s nice to get in your car and do nothing but enjoy the drive. Literally take your hands off your phone, put them on the steering wheel, pay attention, and just drive. Think about the car, instead of everything else. I’m sitting there in my ‘63 and it’s idling and I can hear the engine.

“With the way society has changed, if you get in the car and just enjoy the drive – it’s something that’s simpler than everything else. I still like some of the simpler things in life.”

That’s history we all can enjoy.

Photos courtesy of Joey Shelby
Click here to see more pictures of Jackie
You can follow Jackie on Instagram via @63Ramblerjackie

One Reply to “Joey Shelby’s ’63 AMC Rambler Ambassador”

  1. Pretty neat. Our first family car that I remember riding in was a 1963 Rambler Ambassador wagon in the same color or close. Very familiar (different wheels, thou)

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