Posted on: Feb 17, 2013
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Cars That Won't Die: Hindustan Ambassador

It may not have popular in the UK where it originated, but the Hindustan Ambassador went on to become a hit in India.
Sometimes a car comes along which doesn't follow the normal retirement plan for cars which have become obsolete and will take on a whole new life in another market. One of the best examples of this is the Hindustan Ambassador, a car which originally had the name Morris Oxford in 1956, and has changed almost not at all since then. The current car is made in India, and is one of the most common cars on the roads there to this day.

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The Ambassador is based on the third generation of the postwar Morris Oxford. The third-gen model began production in 1956, but was little different from the model which had debuted in 1948. The Oxford was originally a British car, and would stay in production until 1971, although with two more generations after the Oxford III, including the greatly-improved Oxford V. The Ambassador, built by Hindustan Motors under license from Morris, began production in 1958. No second generation has ever been built, although there have been a few necessary changes made.

Interestingly, there was a different model, the Hindustan Landmaster, based on the Oxford II. So instead of bringing out a second-gen Landmaster, Hindustan made the new car a completely different model, but then never changed the second one. The company was founded by B.M. Birla, who always refused to actually drive anything built by his own company. That’s not a great sign, but it in no way kept the cars from becoming hugely popular anyway. The plant where the Ambassador is built was opened in 1948 in Uttarpara, in West Bengal.

Although the car might not have changed much, this plant has evolved quite a bit, and has brought many manufacturing firsts to India. The plant also makes parts for the also-British Bedford trucks, and since Bedford went out of business in 1986, the Hindustan parts are how so many of the trucks are able to continue to operate. The Ambassador started off with a 1.5-liter side-valve engine, but this was replaced in 1959 with an overhead-valve design which produced 55 horsepower. A diesel version was launched in 1979, and thus became India’s first diesel car.

This too proved to be quite popular. In the early Nineties, a decision was finally made to phase out the ancient British-designed engines that powered the Ambassador, replacing them with Isuzu four-cylinder engines instead. There are currently three different diesel engines offered and one gasoline engine. When introduced, the 1.8-liter 75-horsepower gasoline engine made the Ambassador the fastest Indian car available for sale, and there still isn't much to rival it. Several different versions of the car have been made, including a stretch limo version, although this has never been particularly popular.

Probably the most amusing version is the one which was exported to the UK in 1993 as the Fullbore Mark 10. These were retrofitted with safety equipment to make them compliant, but as you might have guessed, they never caught back on with the British public. The biggest departure from the original is the Ambassador Avigo, essentially a facelifted version which debuted in 2004. It didn't replace the original model, and is still definitely an Ambassador, but it has a revised front fascia and interior which have a slightly more modern look as a result.

You’ll see some other cars in this series which were such massive hits in their first life that they were given a second chance at life in a smaller market. But the Hindustan Ambassador is different from other cars in its niche in that it has been much, much more popular than the original. The Morris Oxford would be all but forgotten outside of the UK today if it weren't for the Ambassador, and Hindustan Motors could definitely be said to understand the needs of its market and to know a good thing when it sees it.


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by Jacob Joseph
Cars That Won't Die: Hindustan Ambassador
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