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Austin Ambassador (1982 - 1984)

Last updated 4 April 2013

 
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Model Timeline

February 1982
Ambassador was launched, replacing the Princess

When the Ambassador appeared in March 1982, the extent of the changes took most BL-watchers by surprise; most people expected that such a low-budget makeover would result in only cursory changes to the car – something similar to the transformation that had taken place on the Morris Marina to become the Ital in 1980. But what they actually got was a car that had every body panel changed (barring the outer front door skins), monocoque changes at the rear to accommodate the addition of the tailgate and a vastly different front-end appearance.

One of the significant contributors to the new look was the bonnet line, which had been lowered. Harris Mann‘s styling studio was responsible for the tidy restyle, but what is less known was that there were plans to radically alter the marketing of the car: “Serious consideration was given to re-introducing it as a Wolseley rather than an Austin – and Ray Horrocks was quite keen at one time on an illuminated front badge, whether Wolseley or the Austin-Morris chevron… There was an abiding memory at Longbridge that the Wolseley ADO71 sold better in its 6-month life than the subsequent 2200 HLS ever did…”

The lower bonnet-line was made possible by the fact that there was no need to accommodate the tall E6 series engine. It resulted in an improvement in aerodynamic penetration, but it did mean that the cleverly concealed wipers of the Princess were now lost. Some of the undoubted character of the Princess styling was absent, but it was certainly an effective facelift – and the extra ãlightä in the C-post eliminated a huge blind spot and contributed to a new and airier interior ambience.

The interior makeover, however, was disappointing. Whereas the 1975 Wolseley Six had superb, multi-adjustable front seats that sported the extravagance of front seats that could be adjusted through 240 positions, the Ambassador made do with far more ordinary cut-priced chairs. The Princess also had a traditional looking, but well-planned dashboard, which was discarded in favour of a low-cost Allegro-esque item in the Ambassador, which not only managed to look and feel cheaper, but also conveyed less information to the driver – even the top of the range VDP version lacked a rev-counter.

Ambassador managed to look different to the Princess, but like just about all end-of-term facelifts of ageing cars, it did not improve on the original. The addition of a hatchback made a vast difference to the practicality of the car and overall, the Ambassador was a useful improvement over the Princess. But by 1982, did anyone care?

Ambassador managed to look different to the Princess, but like just about all end-of-term facelifts of ageing cars, it did not improve on the original. The addition of a hatchback made a vast difference to the practicality of the car and overall, the Ambassador was a useful improvement over the Princess. But by 1982, did anyone care?

The lack of such a basic item as a tachometer reflected the fact that the people behind the car’s facelift seemingly did not understand the needs of their clientele. Most professional drivers wanted a car that felt quick and firm to drive – and the Ambassador was neither. One of the biggest criticisms of the Princess was its lack of go and this criticism was not addressed in the Ambassador – its most powerful version was now the twin-carburettor version of the 2-Litre O-series engine, and that could only muster 104bhp.

The intended main seller, the 1.7-Litre version could not crack 100mph and its 0-60mph time (always important in bar room conversations) as claimed by the manufacturer was 14.8 seconds. Compare that with the all-conquering Vauxhall Cavalier 1600′s 107mph and 10.8 seconds and one can see why people were ignoring the Ambassador in such large numbers.

Luckily, small improvements were made to the suspension system – and if nothing else, the sheer comfort and ride-absorption qualities of the Ambassador demonstrated that Alex Moulton’s Hydragas system could be made to work most effectively and the car would stand as a monument to the effectiveness of Moulton’s system.

April 1984
Ambassador ceased production

When the Ambassador was discontinued in 1984, to make way for the Austin Montego, it had been in production for barely two years and such was its lack of popularity, that it was not even produced in left-hand-drive form.

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