Six decades, many avatars later, a workhorse is put out to pasture

Jun 01 2014, 01:26 IST
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No car in the world has survived as a road vehicle for 57 years. No car in the world has survived as a road vehicle for 57 years.
SummaryThe Ambassador’s Diary: Last week, HM said it was stopping production of the Ambassador. It spells the end of a true motoring legend

or was it the other way around? So rugged and indestructible was the car that it’s difficult to tell.

It was, ultimately, the sarkari car. Government ministers and bureaucrats were its biggest customers, often fitting out their cars with interior fans, curtains and a flashing blue or red light on top, as the ultimate status symbol. Till recently, it shuttled around thousands of chauffeured government bureaucrats and military brass nationwide. Blue vehicles for the air force, black for the army, white for the navy and for politicians. The ultimate tribute is that the Ambassador has been mass-produced for the longest number of years, with minimal design changes, on the same assembly line (at Uttarpara in West Bengal). No other car anywhere in the world can match that record. Today, in most metros like Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, the Ambassador is still very visible, the ultimate workhorse taxi.

Despite its British origins — the car is based on the Morris Oxford made in the UK from 1956 to 1959 — the Ambassador is considered the definitive Indian car. When the Birlas started operations as carmakers, they renamed the then Morris 10 as the Hindustan 10. Production continued till 1954, after which the Landmaster based on the Morris Oxford Series II was introduced. In 1963 it underwent a minor frontal facelift and was named as the Ambassador Mark II. The first ever produced Mark II in black was gifted to the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1975 another minor facelift with a new all black dashboard and rounded parking light was turned out as the Mark 3, the most popular face of the Ambassador. A year later, the Ambassador Mark 4 made its appearance. It was the first diesel car in India and was well received. Thanks to the patronage of successive Congress governments, technological stagnation was the hallmark, with little willingness or need to innovate.. For decades, the Ambassador had no power steering, no side mirrors, no power brakes, no stick shift gears, no seat belts. The seating resembled two sofas placed one in front of the other, except that these sofas smelled of low-quality rexine.

The first major upgrade came with the Ambassador Nova launched in 1999. It had a newly designed steering wheel, new steering column, better brakes and electricals. It also included a new radiator grille. The badly needed engine upgrade was delayed till 1992, when another version was released —

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