Remember this Peugeot 206 commercial from 2003? Giovanni Porro and Euro RSCG made this hilarious advertisement about young Indian man trying to rebuild an Ambassador. It actually won the Gold Lion for best advertisement then. Forget about the underlying stereotyping about India. Let us explain why it is ultimately a deeply tragic story.
Old classics can be still found on Indian roads (Photo: John Hoey)
Want to make an adventure of an everyday event? There are people who iron on tightropes, or cook in a mast main top, but that’s just silly. What about something that tens of millions of people do every day? Are you up for, say, driving in India?
Wanna look awesome driving an exclusive 1950s ride? Let’s assume you can’t afford a Jaguar XK150 or a gullwing Mercedes. You may want something more exotic than a Volkswagen Beetle. We’ve got just the right solution for you: The Hindustan Ambassador!
Perhaps more emphasis on the exotic and less on the exclusive part. The Morris Oxford III the Ambassador was based on was never really an exclusive model to begin with. Hindustan Motors made the construction even more simple, if possible. There have been over 4 million of them made over 50 years. Until the late 1980s they represented the overwhelming majority of all cars in India. So what’s cool about them? Well, the feeling. They just are!
Driving a Hindustan Ambassador gives you a sense of accomplishment, for a start. Forget power steering, soft pedals. You have to struggle to force your will on it. It couldn’t even dream about stars in an NCAP crash test. Everything on it is crude and simple. I imagine it is what riding a dragon to battle must feel like. Except the power.
Wheels for the Masses
The model’s characteristics were acceptable in 1956, but 50 horsepowers for a ton-and-half car weren’t quite cutting edge then, either. You needed a high fever to be dazed by 0-100 km/h in 32.5 seconds, not to mention then stopping with the crude brakes. But it was easy and relatively cheap to produce. Fifties cars were really designed to last. Everything could be repaired.
Between 1958 and 2014 the model was manifactured continously. The 6 generations of Hindustan Ambassadors only got minor facelifts and less obsolete engines over time. This might actually be more than just stinginess: Parts were interchangeable, therefore always available. A reliable, mass produced simple car, perfect for a developing country. As India’s economy gradually surpassed this stage, the Hindustan Ambassador was slowly phased out.
Decline of the Amby
There are still millions of it on the road, but production was stopped in 2014. By then the competition was just too much. Sales had been dropping since the mid-eighties, when market-protecting legislation was lifted. The last Hindustan Ambassador models were a desperate attempt to go with the times, but quality and competitive price just didn’t work with the 60-year old design.
Indian state officials using Hindustan Ambassador cars is a commendable support of home industry, but.. The car’s neither comfortable, nor was ever a luxury model. The Morris Oxford was a middle-sized family car to begin with. Why do we say it’s still a cool car?
Why You Will Fall in Love with the Hindustan Ambassador
The Hindustan Ambassador has a certain dignified elegance to it. It was designed when „beautiful” design was meant in a lot more timeless, conventional sense. Nice curves, chrome – style will never go out of fashion. It’s a man’s car – a beautiful, but whimsical and stubborn lady. You’ll love her with all her faults. And the best thing about it: You can drive it in India!
Pulling up in Indian traffic with a Hindustan Ambassador most be like riding on one’s first rodeo. You’ll be terrified at first. But as you are getting used to it, sore muscles will ease up (with a Hindustan Ambassador that’s not only a figure of speech!) it’s a rush of adrenaline that causes strong addiction. Side effects may include:
-You’ll want to go back and do it again, right away
-You’ll want your own for home
-You won’t shut up about it, driving everybody mad
-You keep showing everyone photos about it
You’ve been warned.