the Ambassador 1800 ISZ, featuring a 75 bhp 1,800 cc Isuzu engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. It also had the option of bucket seats, as opposed to the earlier bench seats. The instrumentation panels were shifted from the centre of the dashboard to behind the steering wheel and seat belts became mandatory. However, the Amby’s ancient technology and basic design proved a huge advantage; it was the only car that could break down in the middle of nowhere and there would be a local mechanic who could fix everything, from a leaking radiator to an overheated engine and modified parts. Not that it needed too much care. It was rugged, sturdy and could go anywhere without too much trouble or maintenance. Before the Maruti 800 came along in 1983, it was everyone's first car. Says RC Bhargava, Maruti Suzuki chairman: “My first car was a lime-green Amby bought in 1960 in Lucknow. I still remember the price, it was for R12,600. When I got married in 1961, we used the car for our honeymoon when just the two of us drove down to Gopalpur beach in Odisha... The car was absolutely first class, there were no break downs. I sold it to another colleague who kept it for many years more after that. It survived only because it was the only car with a diesel engine at the time and it received patronage from the government and taxi operators. There was no way to modernise the Amby for HM, which neither had the money or the technical know-how.”
Things radically changed with political developments, namely the threat from terrorists to the PM and other VIPs. This compelled the carmaker to shop for a more powerful engine that could effectively propel the car with the added weight of armour plating, with bullet-proof glass and air-conditioning as essential add-ons. The Isuzu 1,817 cc engine made the cut, and was also introduced in civilian models. The Ambassador was re-engineered and renamed the Ambassador Classic. The new model featured a redesigned dashboard, polyurethane seats, pull type door handles and the steering column gear lever was replaced by floor-shift gears and had a tweaked suspension. The higher-end models featured servo-assisted disc brakes and power-assisted steering. The Ambassador Grand was launched in 2003, with 137 changes compared to its predecessor, including central door locking, factory-fitted music system and an optional sun roof.
The Avigo was the most