‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!’
Guest writer, MAC, says goodbye to jolting good times inside the Indian Ambassador (no pun intended).
Hindustan Motors Ltd, the manufacturer of the Ambassador, the car modelled on Britain’s Morris Oxford and favoured by officialdom and taxi drivers in India alike, have announced that they have halted production of the iconic car after almost six decades of manufacturing.
In a rare example in the car world of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ the Ambassador remained largely unchanged for nearly sixty years and became one of India’s much loved icons. I am sure there will be some out there that will lament the passing of such a classic, that is unless you had the misfortune of riding in an old Ambassador taxi; then the bone-shaking lack of suspension would leave you in need of a chiropractor’s appointment (‘at your earliest convenience possible!’). But it would seem that its final journey into the automotive history books will prove a lot smoother.
The demise of the legend was announced by the owners, Hindustan Motors, who said that the last model had already rolled off the Uttarapara plant’s production line. The owners cited falling demand and lack of discipline at the West Bengal plant for its decision. Sales of the approximately US$8,800 Amby, as it was known in India, dropped from 24,000 in the 1980’s to less than 2,200 in the year that ended March 2014, which is a tiny share of the 1.8 million cars sold in India in the same period.
‘The suspension of work will enable the company in restricting mounting liabilities and restructure its organisation and finances, and bring in a situation conducive to reopening of the plant,’ the company said in its statement.
The downfall of the Amby of course coincided with the advent of the Indian motor industry, spearheaded by the likes of Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra and, of course, Tata, who have strived to produce world-class cars. The new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has in fact picked a Mahindra Scorpio SUV to be his official car.
Despite its dwindling sales, the distinctive car with its bulbous design and roomy interior has many admirers, and was last year named the world’s best taxi by the BBC’s popular Top Gear television show; but, as you may have gathered, not this particular writer who had the misfortune on numerous occasions to travel in one of the 33,000 that still work as taxis in Kolkata alone.
For others, the car became a bit of a joke. A popular TV advert for the Peugeot 206 showed the owner of an Amby trying to sculpt his car into a 206 by driving it into walls before having an elephant squash the bulbous nose.
There is no doubt genuine and lingering affection for the ol’ Bullnose, but for a nation that is trying to flaunt its technological prowess, the existence of the Amby was a source of embarrassment and a symbol of backwardness.
‘There’s no need to rescue the car and we should cherish the end of the classic era of the Amby with a smile on our face,’ said a well-known cultural commentator, Pavan Varma.
‘We are manufacturing world-class cars now and the Amby didn’t raise its standards. But everyone will be nostalgic. We have grown up seeing and using this car. It is the end of an era,’ he added.
The Oxford Morris III that became known as the Hindustan Motors, also known as the Bullnose, was an updated version of the Oxford MO and came off the drawing board of Alec Issigonis, the designer of the MINI. The car was launched in 1956 and had a wheezy 55bhp engine that powered it to an anaemic top speed of just 74.4mph and a zero to 60mph of 30.5 seconds. The basic design remained relatively unchanged as the Ambassador, although the powertrain was updated.
images: productioncars.com, conceptcarz.com, indiacarnews.com, classiccarportraits.co.uk