In the introduction to his book, A Way into India, Raghubir Singh describes the Ambassador as “an organic part of bird shit-and-cowdung-coated India.”
For many decades, buying a car meant buying an Ambassador and though it is no longer as ubiquitous as it once was, it has reached its half-century of continuous production. That in itself seems like a miracle. And that is part of its mythology.
Singh writes, “In its imperfection, (the Ambassador) is truly an Indian automobile” but its origins aren’t so Indian. It’s a direct descendant of the British Morris Oxford Series II and III. In 1954, the Landmaster — the first made-in-India Oxford — was produced. It was rebranded as the Ambassador in 1957.
Sir Mark Tully, journalist, writer and old India hand, says: “Its relevance in India is as a relic of the past. I’ve driven thousands of miles in an Amby and it got through floods and potholed roads, where other cars struggled. It’s a beautiful car and any mechanic on the roadside could set it right.” Fond memories are what most people have of it. Artist Riyaz Komu, who bought the 2004-launched Ambassador Avigo last year, says, “My dad bought an Amby in Kerala in 1968 and we still use it in our family home there. I bought an Avigo just for the sentimental value.” However, sentiments won’t be enough to keep this icon thriving. There are doubts about how long the car can go on.
Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India, who has driven an Amby from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, says, “It just doesn’t make the cut as far as to day’s safety and technology standards go.”
As Srinivas Krishnan, assistant editor of the Business Standard motoring magazine says, “It was a good car and has served people well, but it’s time for it to drive into the sunset.” However, people have been predicting the death of the Ambassador for years now. But even today, 15,000-odd cars continue to roll out from the Hindustan Motors factory in Uttarpara, a short ride away from Kolkata, every year.
The Central and state governments are said to account for a quarter of the sales. For all you know, this Indian icon will still be around to celebrate another important landmark in its eventful journey.