India, the World’s largest democracy will observe its 69th Independence Day this year on 15th August. The whole nation will celebrate this occasion by unfurling the national flag and paying tributes to the valiant fighters who fought for our freedom. There is one car which we would like to memorialize for serving India through all these years, a car which has been a symbol of power and pride, the default transport for the country’s politicians and bureaucrats. It is still in use as a taxi in many Indian cities and was also given the title of the World’s Best Taxi. You must have guessed it by now. We are talking about the iconic Hindustan Ambassador, a true relic of the Indian automotive industry.
Modelled on the Morris Oxford Series III model and manufactured by Hindustan Motors of India, Hindustan Ambassador first went into production in 1958 in the company’s Uttarpara plant near Kolkata, West Bengal. The story behind its inception is that the Birlas, who owned Hindustan Motors, wanted to replace the older Hindustan Landmaster (based on the Morris Oxford Series II) and decided to bring the Morris Oxford series III to Indian shores. The car initially came with a 1476 cc side-valve petrol engine which was later replaced by a 1489 cc overhead-valve BMC B-series petrol engine. In 1962, the Ambassador went through some improvements and was introduced into the market as the Mark II. Interiors including the dashboard were redesigned with the mica sheet being replaced by wood grain coated plywood and aluminum bezel. In the mid-60s the model went through some minor changes with the tail light getting integrated indicator lenses and a smaller chrome metal stopper.
The Mark III was introduced in 1977 with another front facelift. The front grill now included horizontal louvers giving it a modern look and the dashboard was again redesigned. By 1978, this model was available in Standard and Deluxe versions. Deluxe version had a dashboard with four meters and a speedometer. Also, Mark III models have had a common direction sweep configuration for both of the front windscreen wipers.
In 1979, Mark IV was launched with a major front facelift. The front grill was now much smaller in height with a larger, chequered grill and square park lamps with separate amber indicator lamps being incorporated below the bumper. Further, a diesel variant of the existing petrol version was also launched, making the Ambassador the first diesel car to be launched in India with a 1489 cc, 37bhp BMC B-series engine. Ambassador Nova then debuted in 1990 with a new steering column, better brakes and a new radiator grille. This 5th generation model came in two variants – a 55bhp petrol powered Deluxe version and a 37bhp diesel powered Diesel DX version.
To attract more people, Hindustan Motors launched another version in 1992 — the Ambassador 1800 ISZ. It featured a five-speed manual gearbox and a 75bhp 1800 cc Isuzu inline-four engine. The entire dashboard was redesigned and instrumentation panel was shifted to the right of the dashboard behind the steering wheel. With Isuzu 1.8L engine replacing the old BMC B-series 1.5L petrol engine, this car became the fastest production car in India, beating the Fiat and the Maruti Suzuki cars of the time.
After the renovation project at the Uttarpara plant, the Ambassador Classic was launched. This model featured a redesigned dashboard, polyurethane seats, pull-type door handles, floor shift gears, servo assisted disc brakes and power assisted TRW steering. In 2003, Ambassador Grand was launched with 137 changes to its early classic model. Some changes included body colored wrap around bumpers, camel colored interiors, fabric seats, remote shift gear lever, Salisbury axles, bigger rear wheel drums, improved suspension, central door lock, factory fitted music system and an optional sun roof.
Ambassador Avigo was launched in 2004 with more classic interiors including seats with dual tone beige colored scheme and wood grain interiors. The front bonnet was revamped with inspiration taken from the original Landmaster design. A factory fitted 6CD Kenwood audio system and new air-conditioning system was also installed. This model was priced higher than other models. The Ambassador Encore was the last model of the unchanged Ambassador line. It was launched in 2013 to match the BS IV standards of the metropolitan cities and looked similar to Ambassador Grand.
Ambassador was a popular car until it began losing its dominance in the mid 1980’s when Maruti Suzuki launched its 800 cc hatchback. The production of this iconic car was suspended last year in May due to the worsening conditions at its Uttarpara plant including the fall in demand and lack of funds. Sure, international car manufacturers have succeeded in attracting a lot of people with their aggressive and sharp cars, but this curvy, iconic Ambassador car, which once ruled the roads of India, will still remain close to our hearts.