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Hindustan Ambassador (1957 - )

Last updated 9 January 2014

 
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Model Timeline

January 1959
Morris-derived Hindustan Ambassador goes on sale in India

The Hindustan Ambassador, or 'Amby' as it is affectionately known in India, has carved an enviable niche for itself with the country’s car buyers. In fact, it transcended the whole motoring icon thing, and appealed to the hearts of the entire nation. Its sheer ubiquity in India’s cities and towns, and its widespread use as an all-purpose vehicle (ranging from taxi to family car) meant it was prevalent across the entire subcontinent. Limited competition from rival manufacturers meant that the Ambassador’s success was unchallenged.

The Premier Padmini (nee Fiat 1100) and various other licence-built cars from Europe never made as great an impact on the market. Hindustan was certainly eminently comfortable with this situation, and consequently the Amby was never replaced, or even significantly updated: there was simply no need because the car sold in such enormous numbers.

January 1991
Imports to the UK begin

In 1991, the first Hindustans returned to their roots when exports back to the UK began. The Ambassador was supposed to appeal to nostalgic people and expatriate Indians who longed to drive their own piece of India. Despite optimistic sales forcasts, the reality was somewhat different. An average of just six Hindustan Ambassador GLXs per year were sold throughout the early-to-mid 1990s. The cars had a basic specification and the list price was low at £7150, but its market was simply too tiny for exports to the UK to make any kind of financial sense.

The 1.8-litre, 74bhp Isuzu engine was reasonably spritely and could propel the old car to a 90mph top speed. In terms of dimensions, it was an identical length to the 5-door Honda Civic – more compact than first appearance would have you believe.

The Hindustan importers in the UK changed their name to Fullbore Motors, and the Ambassador was renamed the Mark 10. The basic price shot up to £11,425, reflecting the fact that the Ambassador was almost rebuilt on arrival in the UK. These changes included a respray with higher quality English weather resistant paint, a catalytic converter to comply with the European emmissions laws and the installation of a heater. New seals, tyres and a front anti-roll bar were also fitted. Following this refurbishing work, the unusual step of draining all the water from the radiator and washer bottles was taken, as a precaution against contraction of any water-borne diseases, which were commonplace in India.

As before, the Fullbore’s specification remained low-tech, with basic all-round drum brakes, rear leaf spring suspension, no power assistance for the brakes or steering and a caburettor-fed engine. The floor-mounted, foot-operated ‘foot-o-matic’ windscreen wiper served as a reminder that this was a car of the 1950s. A wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel was fitted and a long list of accessories and options enabled the purchaser to go for that period look. These included the centrally-mounted fascia at £545, which covered up the rather cheap-and-nasty Indian plastic. An authentic-looking leather interior was available to replace the Indian seats, which incidentally are said to be very comfortable.

Even so, few Mark 10s were sold from Fullbore Motors’ base in Kensington, West London, and as a consequence, they are likely to be an expensive rarity in the future. This is despite the fact that the MINI and re-born Volkswagen Beetle have become so popular in recent years. The Fullbore provided relatively modern running gear wrapped up in a genuine – not retro – bodyshell.

However, one local Fullbore customer is ensuring that the car remains visible on West London’s streets: no other car fits the bill for Tobias Moss’s Notting Hill-based minicab company Karma Kabs. As if the Ambassador’s shape wasn’t distinctive enough in itself, Moss has treated each of his cars’ interiors to an individually-themed makeover in silk and flowers, and the cars’ bumpers can also often be seen liberally garlanded with flowers. In order to gain a ride (accompanied by the smell of incense and the sounds of Hindi music) prospective customers are required to pass a “karma test” to ensure that they won’t upset the carefully created ambience; obviously not a problem for the several celebrities which Moss can count amongst his regular customers, including model (but no relation) Kate Moss and actor Ralph Feinnes.

December 1998
Imports to the UK cease

Fullbore motors faded into history in early 1998, and took with it the Ambassador and Mark 10 from the UK. Back in India however the Amby remains a much-loved part of the urban landscape across the country. The Ambassador’s popularity as a taxi and with government departments remains testament to the design’s innate robustness, its low purchase and overall reliability. The basic design has remained substantially unaltered, although a facelift in 1999 freshened the design and introduced modern touches such as 1.5 and 2-litre diesel engines and the option of LPG (CNG) engines.

The Ambassador’s declining share of its own market and negligible exports were not nearly enough to save Hindustan, so the company expanded with the release of the Pushpak, Porter and Trekker off-road vehicles. A new partnership with Mitsubishi Motors enabled ushered in Hindustan-produced Lancers for the Indian market. This venture later blossomed and Hindustan now builds Lancers, Galants and Pajeros (Shoguns) for Mitsubishi. It looks as if the cute Indian relic manufacturer’s fortunes are on the up!

Latterly imported and sold by Merlin Garages at from £9500 new. Tel: +44 (0)1550 777029.

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