Vintage Cars :History of the Ambassador Car closely Enmeshed with History of India
The Birla Group
The Birla group has always been nationalist Indian businessmen and industrialist. The patriarch of the group GD Birla was a close confident of Mahatma Gandhi and the great man often stayed at his place. GD Birla supported the independence movement and after India became free in 1947 he thought it fit to launch a fully Indian auto company. He set up Hindustan Motors in 1948 at Calcutta.
The Ambassador was a large roomy car with a 1400 cc engine that generated 50 BHP. It was also sturdy and good for Indian road. It was a car that was loved by the Taxi drivers and thousands were sold. The car was based on the Morris Oxford II series (Landmaster) and was a success. The car was sold as a taxi till 2011 when its registration for a taxi was banned in 2011 as it did not meet the latest emission norms. The car, however, has the distinction to be declared the best Taxi in the world by Top Gear (2002 TV series) in Episode 2 of their 20th Series.
Uninterrupted Run as India’s most popular Car
The car was in uninterrupted production from 1958-2014. The car won the accolade as the Great Indian Car and became the official vehicle for all dignitaries in civil and army including cabinet ministers. Hindustan Motors also produced a bulletproof Ambassador, but it was slow and sluggish with the extra weight, yet many cabinet ministers used it. The India Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri used an Ambassador when he was Prime Minister in 1965-66. The first Ambassador was gifted by Birla to Jawaharlal Nehru the Indian Prime Minister in 1959 and he used it. All the three service Chiefs of the Army, Air Force, and Navy along with the Chief Secretary of the Central government used an Ambassador
Over the years the basic model of the ambassador did not change through the company brought in 4 variants with the Ambassador Mark IV being the last. The original Ambassador used an OHV straight-4 BMC 1.5L petrol engine. But in the late nineties of the last century to cater to all-around competition with Japanese cars the Isuzu 1800 cc engine was introduced.
This 1817 cc/ 75 bhp (@ 5000 rpm), OHC, Isuzu engine, that had 4 in-line cylinders and a max torque of 13.8 Kgm (@ 3000 rpm gave the Ambassador greater juice and power and the car lingered on for another decade and a half. The new car also was given an internal facelift with modern power steering, power brakes, and a new instrument cluster. The car however sold in limited numbers, mostly as a taxi and to government departments as the average Indian bought the new Japanese cars which had flooded the Indian market with Suzuki leading the way.
Swan Song and Demise
The Ambassador held off competition till 2014 when even government departments stopped the use of the Ambassador Mark IV and finally the company had to declare a lockout in 2014.
The ambassador is still on Indian roads. A limited number were exported to England where they sold for their nostalgic value as Morris had also closed. The curtain has come down on India’s most popular indigenous car that ruled the roost for close to 6 decades. Many Indians have a sense of regret that the Amby is it is lovingly called will no longer be on Indian roads, but the market dynamics have made the car uneconomical to manufacture. It is now consigned to history.