Call it an Ambassador, the King of Indian Roads, or Amby as it’s affectionately known across India, the iconic sight of this workhorse automobile is still as common in daily life as when first introduced in 1948. Originally a staple among the Indian Government, today you’ll see the updated design more often carrying everyday passengers for hire or Army officials.
Today’s political elite have moved on to western luxury car brands, but tourists, travelers and locals can still catch a ride in the spacious backseats rolling the streets as taxis. Outside, the stodgy, distinctly British designed body carries no fanfare ornamentation unless refitted by a proud owner. Bright paint coupled with regional phrases, horns, tassels and more can be seen adorning the metal body. And inside, passengers may be treated to an interior fit for a maharaja. Curtains (specially made to fit) drape dutifully over the side and rear windows with small tie backs. When privacy is required, a simple drop of the tie backs block out the street action. Beautifully upholstered rear bench seats are as simple or vibrant as the owner’s imagination sees fit. Plain, solid colors to whimsical multi-colored paisley designs in crushed velvet fabric are par for the course in an Ambassador.
Born from the Morris Oxford III and built in the United Kingdom, operations were brought to India in the mid 1950’s by Hindustan Motors. And although the car is etched in British style, Indians embraced the vehicle from inception due to the size, comfort and ride afforded it’s passengers. Through the years the name has undergone minor changes, most notably as Mark I, II, III and IV, but today it’s simply sold as the Ambassador. Interested historians or curious fellows can still see new models rolling off the assembly line in Uttarpara, West Bengal, near Kolkata.
India’s Army has had a long affection to the strong performance of the Ambassador, specifically it’s ability to handle the tough terrain of Indian roads. Yet with the healthy competition both domestically by TATA and a wealth of foreign manufacturers, Hindustan Motors’ market share has dropped significantly from the heydays of yesteryear. The growing middle class has turned to smaller, more nimble and fuel efficient models. And taxi fleets once fiercely loyal to Hindustan Motors have switched to the workhorse designs of Toyota & Honda. Roads that were once narrow, bumpy and unpredictable have been replaced by super-highways, flyovers and smooth pavement allowing the Japanese models to perform brilliantly.
Yet, a visit to India isn’t complete without a ride in the backseat of an Ambassador. Five star hotels are generally stocked with waiting drivers and their counterpart vehicles. Major metro cities of Kolkata, Delhi, Bombay and Bengaluru are ripe with the classic rides. Take note of the interior(s) and spark a conversation with the driver over his design choices. You’ll never see a more interesting car for hire as the Ambassador, ruling the Indian roads for more than 50 years.