The Ambassador car will remain in the hearts of the people forever even after it goes off the roads
The street opposite the bus depot on Bypass Road is no different but for the dozens of ambassador cars tightly parked along the sides. Some rusted and laden with dust wait for a coat of paint, some wait for a repair and some await a buyer. ‘Ambassador workshops’, as they are called, dot the street.
Now with the production stopped, the Ambassador may soon join the line of vintage cars.
There was a time when a car meant just Ambassadors. For its Swadeshi tag, it was sought after by the netas.
The garage of the rich too had an Ambassador parked majestically.
It was the peoples’ car too. Some years later, Ambys became synonymous with taxis.
Many owners take pride on their sturdy car and still claim that it is the best of the cars. Some see the machine as an inheritance from their fathers and grand-fathers, some even consider the Amby as a member of the family! It is a token of remembrance from the good old world.
The Amby makes a perfect car for the jugaad experiments of the desi mechanic. Mechanics praise the versatility and simplicity of its mechanism. “It’s a mechanic’s car and one can do any kind of modification in it,” says Bhoopathy, an Ambassador specialist. Private workshops like his thrived on Ambassadors. “Ninety percent of the vehicles we repaired were ambassadors. People preferred these as the maintenance cost is cheap,” says Bhoopathy, who started fitting Isuzu engines in the car even before the manufacturer introduced it. He compares the car to a quaint village inn. “It’s simple and not extravagantly luxurious. But it is still comfortable and affable.”
After vehicle owners started drifting to other sophisticated vehicles, the mechanics also tried to shift their attention to new models but found it hard. “It is extremely difficult to change. We have been servicing ambassadors for years with trained professionals. Now again we have to start from the scratch,” says Bhoopathy.
The sprawling Thanga Niranjula Automobiles, which once buzzed with Ambys and their owners is now deserted. The owners have sold a portion of the mechanic shed for survival. “Ambassadors were not like the ready-to-use modern cars, even the brand new car needed some welding to fix the front and back seats properly. Most of the mechanical parts were made of lead making the car heavy,” says N. Ashok Kumar, one of the partners of the workshop.
Businessman K. Ganesh is a die-hard ambassador fan. His maroon-coloured 1957-model Mark-I Ambassador is a car with an antique moustache grille. “We were a big joint family and nearly 10 of us kids would go to the school in the car. It so easily accommodated all of us and our school and lunch bags,” says Ganesh, who repainted the car from black to maroon. “I have so many fond memories of the car bought from a royal descendant of Ramanathapuram.”
The ambassador was once a status symbol. It was parked only at palaces, mansions and bungalows. If the Fiat was called the ‘doctor’s car’, the Amby was called the ‘family car’.
“We have shifted houses in this car,” says 25-year-old Sharath Madhav pointing to his metallic gold Amby that his father bought in 2002. “It was my grand father’s wish to buy an ambassador car,” says Sharath. “Each time we returned from our native village in Nagercoil, we used to stack coconuts in the boot. It was huge and we have transported families out of cities.” Though the Ambassador is called the ‘man’ for its masculine and sturdy appearance, it is a car that everyone in the family loved and related to. “My mother never finds any other car as comfortable as the ambassador. It’s a kid’s car too, as there is so much of space for the children to play around and have fun,” says Sharath.
To R. Prabhu, an engineer, Ambassador is a statement. “You stand out when you drive the amby. It’s bulky and big and can never go unnoticed,” he says. In the age of luxury cars, the Ambassador continues to be a fancy among people and many give the credit to its ordinariness. “It’s a very simple and ordinary car. And that’s the beauty about it,” says Prabhu.
Several Amby owners remodelled the interiors and fitted power-windows, bucket seats, air conditioners and power-steering as the car’s ordinariness is also said to have gone against it. “Innovations were hardly introduced in the car. Even basic facilities came much later in the Ambassador. And that’s the reason for the drop in sales in spite of its engine performance,” feels P. Kumarappan, a car valater.
Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador was rated the world's best taxi at the Beaulieu's World of Top Gear motorsport show last year. It started its life in Britain as Morris Oxford and introduced here with a name change to become one of the country's most enduring vehicles. Ambassador saw off rivals from Britain, America, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and Russia to win the award.
R. Sarathkumar, actor and a car lover: It is a durable car and it ruled Indian roads for more than half a century. Though I don’t have one, I love driving this car. The bench seats are accommodative and are comfortable offering good thigh support. It has been the car of the masses then, now and forever. It is a preferred choice even now for its spacious interiors and ability to withstand bad road conditions. Whatever is said the goodwill of the ambassador will never die.