MG is a senior service officer and now a senior corporate advisor. A prolific writer with varied interests and hobbies
The Birla Group
Everybody loves vintage cars. One such vintage car that ruled the roost in India for close to 6 decades is the Ambassador. The Ambassador was a clone of the Morris British car. Sadly the company has closed now and got a new master from China.
In India, The name of the Ambassador car is closely linked with the Birla group. The Birla group has always been a nationalist Indian businessman's house. The patriarch of the group GD Birla was a close confidant of Mahatma Gandhi and the great man often stayed at his place. GD Birla supported the independence movement and after India became free in 1947 he thought it fit to launch an Indian auto company. He set up Hindustan Motors in 1948 at Calcutta.
GD Birla can be considered the pioneer of the auto industry in India. The Indian auto industry has expanded greatly to its present state. The credit for reaching this stage goes to GD Birla.
GD Birla was able to get the license to manufacture Morris, the iconic English car in India. Those were the days of the license- permit raj and once Birla got the license to manufacture the car under the aegis of Hindustan motors he had no competition whatsoever. No other license was given for any other car and thus Hindustan motors had a near-monopoly.
The first model of the Morris was named Hindustan- 14. The engineers at Hindustan motors made some innovations and converted the Hindustan- 14 to the Landmaster. Further development of the Landmaster led to the launching of the Ambassador. This was a large roomy car with a 1400 cc engine that generated 50 BHP. It was also sturdy and good for Indian roads.
It was a car that was loved by the Taxi drivers and thousands were sold. The car was based on the Morris Oxford II series (Landmaster) and was a success. The car was sold as a taxi till 2011 when its registration for a taxi was banned as it did not meet the latest emission norms. The car, however, has the distinction to be declared the best Taxi in the world by Top Gear (2002 TV series) in Episode 2 of their 20th Series.
Uninterrupted Run as India’s most popular Car
The car had an uninterrupted production run from 1958-2014. The car won the accolade as the Great Indian Car and became the official vehicle for all dignitaries in civil and army including cabinet ministers. Hindustan Motors also produced a bulletproof Ambassador, but it was slow and sluggish with the extra weight, yet many cabinet ministers used it. The India Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri used an Ambassador when he was Prime Minister in 1965-66. The first Ambassador was gifted by Birla to Jawaharlal Nehru the Indian Prime Minister in 1959 and he used it. All three service chiefs of the Army, Air Force, and Navy along with the Chief Secretary of the Central government used an Ambassador.
Hindustan motors in the state-controlled economy had a monopoly as no other cars were being allowed to be manufactured and import was restricted. The Company made no provision for any research and development and the same model with minor cosmetic changes continued to be made for six decades.
Over the years the basic model of the ambassador did not change through the company brought in 4 variants with the Ambassador Mark IV being the last. The original Ambassador used an OHV straight-4 BMC 1.5L petrol engine. But in the late nineties of the last century to cater to all-around competition with Japanese cars the Isuzu 1800 cc engine was introduced.
This 1817 cc/ 75 bhp (@ 5000 rpm), OHC, Isuzu engine, had 4 in-line cylinders and a max torque of 13.8 Kgm (@ 3000 rpm gave the Ambassador greater juice and power and the car lingered on for another decade and a half. The new car also was given an internal facelift with modern power steering, power brakes, and a new instrument cluster. The car however sold in limited numbers, mostly as a taxi and to government departments as the average Indian bought the new Japanese cars which had flooded the Indian market with Suzuki leading the way.
Swan Song and Demise
The Ambassador held off competition till 2014 when even government departments stopped the use of Ambassador Mark IV and finally the company had to declare a lockout in 2014.
The ambassador is still on Indian roads. A limited number were exported to England where they sold for their nostalgic value as Morris had also closed. The curtain has come down on India’s most popular indigenous car that ruled the roost for close to 6 decades. Many Indians have a sense of regret that the Amby is it is lovingly called is no longer on Indian roads, but the market dynamics have made the car uneconomical to manufacture. It is now consigned to history.
In 2018 an attempt was made to relaunch the Ambassador with a modern transmission and engine. However, the boxlike structure of the Ambassador went against it and the program has gone into cold storage. There appears to be very little hope of its revival. Despite this, the car will forever remain an iconic car in the history of the automobile in India.
© 2014 MG Singh
MG Singh (author) from UAE on July 19, 2020:
Thank you James for commenting and an appreciative comment.
James A Watkins from Chicago on July 19, 2020:
I love this article. Thank you for writing it. Well done all the way round. Quite a car too.
MG Singh (author) from UAE on July 12, 2014:
Thank you grand old lady for a wonderful comment
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 12, 2014:
Vintage cars are very interesting, but your articles help me to appreciate more than how they look. It is so interesting, for example, that a car has such a close affiliation to the history of India. This is a great hub, full of fantastic information.
MG Singh (author) from UAE on July 11, 2014:
Thank you Nell for reading and commenting
Nell Rose from England on July 11, 2014:
Hi, I should show this to my partner, he is totally mad about cars! lol! voted up!
MG Singh (author) from UAE on July 08, 2014:
Thank you Aŕun for a nice comment. Yes the Ambassador will go down as a great car in the Indian enviornment.
ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE from KOLKATA on July 07, 2014:
Putting the brakes on its Uttarpara, West Bengal factory Hindustan Motors have stopped production of Ambassador Cars possibly bringing to an end to the legendary car . With Small and sleek Indian and foreign cars rolling on to the Indian market the spacious car which brings back fond memories to many Indians was ill equipped to contest the challenge.Thank you for a timely hub well presented. Have a great week.