Free Press Journal

End of the road, for the beloved Ambassador


In this poignant obituary to the India’s most loved auto brand, Boski Gupta outlines the legacy left behind by the majestic Ambassador

The writing was on the wall. We all knew this day will come, but it’s not easy to say goodbye; especially when the connection is so strong and old. As soon as the news broke that Ambassador has been sold to French auto company Peugeot, poignant messages started flowing out of social networking sites. The grand old lady of Indian roads has been loved generously, and deeply, by one and all.

Amby, my love
Ambassador, or Amby as it was called lovingly, has come a long way. The Hindustan Motors started its production in 1957. The Ambassador was based on the Morris Oxford series III model, first made by Morris Motors Limited at Cowley, Oxford in the United Kingdom from 1956 to 1959.  The last Ambassador rolled out of its Uttarpara, West Bengal, factory in 2014, after which the plant was shut due to mounting debts and declining demand. One of the most iconic brands of socialist India, sadly the Ambassador was sold for a measly Rs 80 crore, an amount which will be used by the Indian company to clear salaries and dues. In its life of almost six decades Amby hardly saw any improvements and changes in its design or technology.

Rich and famous
Mostly associated with the bureaucracy and politicians, Ambassador became a synonym of power after independence. The white Amby with beacon light was both a thing of awe and envy. If you had an Ambassador during the 60s and 70s, you were supposed to be rich. But that’s not all. Amby was also a family car. Be it a family of four or eight or 10, Amby can fit in as many people as desired. It was quintessentially an Indian car made for Indian terrain and roads. No doubt, the defence forces have always been in love with this stout winged woman in white.

And, the decline
The car was phenomenally successful till the Maruti Suzuki 800 came into the scene. This we can say was the start of the end of the mighty Amby which till now had no rival. Moreover, post liberalisation the Indian economy opened up and with it came a flood of everything imported. It became difficult to survive with so many new models, sleeker designs, and better technology. One can’t survive only on love! Though Maruti Suzuki too was facing these problems, the company brought in a series of changes including innovative design and technology. Our dear Amby, on the other hand, continued to live in the bygone era.

Though Hindustan Motors gave it a few upgrades to meet emission norms and some features too were added, they were too insignificant to arrest the decline of the brand. Eventually, new Ambassador could be seen only as taxis in West Bengal. And even there, the Amby created a record! The old hag beat international brands like Volkswagen Beetle and Black London Cab to win the title of the best taxi in the world by Beaulieu’s World of Top Gear motorsport show in 2013. Such was the charm of Ambassador that the kaali-peeli taxis are still sometimes called Ambassador taxis in many metros of India.

And though the operations have been folded and the deal’s signed, many optimists are still hopeful of Peugeot relaunching the Indian brand with better design and improved technology. But the naysayers are too sentimental with the original car they loved. For them, the Amby is dead and with it an era too has come to an end.

Amby Trivia

  • The Ambassador’s make is based on the old Morris Oxford Series III, produced by Morris Motors Limited in Oxford, UK. The production for the car began in 1957; however, under British Raj, the then Morris 10 was being built as Hindustan 10 at a plant in Port Okha, Gujarat.
  • In 1948, the production of the car was moved to Uttarpara, West Bengal. In 1954, after taking licence, the Morris Oxford Series II was built there, and it finally rolled out in 1957 as the Hindustan Landmaster.
  • The vehicle sourced its prower from a 1489cc. BMW B-series diesel engine, becoming the first diesel car in India.
  • 16% of the total sales of the Ambassador came from Government officials as it was the first choice for politicians and bureaucrats.
  • In 1984, Hindustan Motors was producing nearly 1 lakh units of the Ambassador. In 2004, the company set a record of over 9 lakh units.
  • Despite full deprecation achieved by Hindustan Motors’ Uttarpara Plant in the year 2000, the company did not cut the price down of the vehicle. Many experts believe that if they had done so, the car would have survived.
  • In its 57 years of production, the Ambassador was barely updated.
  • The Ambassador taxi was voted the best in the world by Beaulieu’s World of Top Gear motorsport show in 2013, outclassing major international brands like Volkswagen Beetle, Russian limousine, and Black London Cab.
  • In later years, diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) versions were introduced to combat soaring petrol prices.
  • When the Ambassador was exported to the UK briefly in the 1990s, it had to be fitted with “luxuries” such as a heater and seat belts.
  • There is a town called Hindmotor in Hooghly District, West Bengal, near Serampore. The town is popular because Hindustan Motors