by Michael Ferner
Bill and John Ambler were two brothers from Germantown in Central Pennsylvania, later moving to Philadelphia. Their early days are not entirely clear, but they seem to have started building racing cars and engines in the twenties, mostly based on Model T Fords, one gathers. For the 1930 “junk era” Indy 500, they built a Buick-engined car, but driver Doc MacKenzie failed to find the speed to qualify for the event. A week later, MacKenzie crashed trying to qualify for the 100-mile dirt track race at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, wrecking the car and killing its riding mechanic William Berry in the process, besides sustaining serious injuries himself.
- 1930 #43 Ambler, ?, Buick, J. D. Ambler, Doc MacKenzie (dns Indy, dns Detroit)
The brothers regrouped, and soon fielded a number of cars in Eastern sprint events with drivers like MacKenzie, Freddie Winnai, Al Theisen, Frank Farmer and Harris Insinger. Pretty soon they latched onto the “Hisso” bandwagon, meaning they adapted half of a war surplus V8 Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine for racing usage. The Amblers were amongst the first to build custom made crankcases for the 6-litre 4-cylinder units, and soon made a brisk business of selling complete cars with those engines. By 1934, they were running a “works team” with drivers Vern Orenduff and Malcolm Fox, and began winning main events at some of the lesser halfmiles in the East.
For 1935, they built a pair of beautiful single-seaters for Orenduff and their new driver, Ken Fowler. Both cars were basically identical, except for the fact that one car exhausted to the left, and the other one to the right – perhaps they used the different blocks of the same V8 for the two cars! Orenduff usually drove the “left-hander”, a light-coloured #8 nominally owned by John Ambler, and Fowler the “right-hand” car, a dark-coloured #10 owned by brother Bill. Both drivers had some serious success during the year, winning several races apiece and finishing in the top five in Eastern Circuit points.
The following year, an influx of several new cars in the East conspired to drive the Ambler/Hissos out of the winner’s circle, and with the success went the drivers to seek greener pastures. Orenduff and Fowler were followed by the likes of Floyd Davis, Chuck Tabor, Walt Brown and Frankie Beeder, until the team settled on Roy Lake and Gus Zarka for the fall season. The new drivers qualified easily for the Vanderbilt Cup race on Columbus Day, but finished the 300-mile National Championship race well down the order in 19th and 22nd, respectively.
Ambler 'SC-35', chassis '1'
- 1936 #67 Ambler, ?, Hispano-Suiza ‘HL’, J. D. Ambler, Roy Lake (19th Vanderbilt)
Ambler 'SC-35', chassis '2'
- 1936 #66 Ambler, ?, Hispano-Suiza ‘HR’, W. Ambler, Gus Zarka (22nd Vanderbilt)
For the 1937 edition of the race on Roosevelt Raceway, the Amblers built new chassis for the old engines, with a shorter wheelbase, a short tail section and cross springs front and rear (the older cars had been “three-springers”). With the updated chassis, Zarka and new recruit Ora Bean qualified near the back, and were out of the race before half distance. In September, Zarka qualified for the New York State Fair 100-miler, but again retired, this time in the closing stages. The Grand Prix formula of 1938 rendered the old Hissos useless, and in their place came DOHC Hal engines, apparently. Billy Devore managed to qualify one of these at Syracuse, only to end the Ambler’s career at the top level with yet another retirement. The cars soldiered on for a few years in local events, but apart from a 3rd place finish in a Langhorne 50-miler in May 1939, courtesy of Mike Little, their days of success were over.
Ambler 'SC-37', chassis '1'
- 1937 #66 Ambler, ?, Hispano-Suiza ‘HR’, W. Ambler, Gus Zarka (ret Vanderbilt, ret Syracuse)
- 1938 #66 Ambler, ?, Hal DO (?), W. Ambler, Billy Devore (ret Syracuse)
Ambler 'SC-37', chassis '2'
- 1937 #67 => #55 Ambler, ?, Hispano-Suiza ‘HL’, J. D. Ambler, Ora Bean (ret Vanderbilt, dnq Syracuse)
- 1938 #55 Ambler, ?, Hal DO (?), J. D. Ambler, Doc Keim (dns Syracuse)
Last updated by Michael Ferner on 14 Dec 2009.
All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2009 - 2023.