The Hulk ‘Amby’ Sedan still Strong and Sturdy to Haul Heavy Loads, if NOT People?

The Hulk ‘Amby’ Sedan still Strong and Sturdy to Haul Heavy Loads, if NOT People?

Mangaluru: Even though many car owners have said goodbye to the good old Spacious, Safe, Sturdy and Comfortable Ambassador car, nicknamed as “Amby”, many who still love and miss the grand old lady of Indian road, after India’s oldest car factory has abruptly suspended production of the hulking Ambassador sedan a few years ago, but there are quite a few of them still plying on City and Highway roads, though not carrying passengers, but hauling heavy loads of fruits, vegetable, fish and what not? One sugarcane juice vendor has converted the back portion of the Amby car to install his juice machine {See Pic}

The load an Ambassador could carry would easily put your pansy new car to shame. Can your Maruti car handle that kind of load? Amby has a boot the size of Buckingham Palace? Take an early morning trip to Central Vegetable Market, you’ll find a bunch of these Amby’s with bulbous chassis and spacious inner space ready to haul around 300 to 400 kgs of produce from the market. For nearly seven-decade history as the car of the Indian elite, the Kolkata-based Hindustan Motors stopped manufacturing these cars a few years ago, due to heavy car’s large size and poor gas mileage which had driven customers to cheaper competitors from abroad.

The company began making the Ambassador in 1948, modelling it after the British Morris Oxford III. Also known as the grand old lady of India’s pot-holed and pitted roads, the Ambassador has remained largely unchanged for more than five decades in ferrying the elite including prime ministers and high-society celebrities. It recalls an era when India’s policy of economic self-sufficiency meant domestically produced cars were the norm. Although no new cars are made, many in rural India still view white Ambassadors as the de-facto vehicle of officialdom.

Amby began losing its dominance in the mid-1980’s when Maruti Suzuki introduced its low-priced 800 hatchback. It lost further cachet and market share when global automakers began setting up shop in India in the mid-1990s, offering models with contemporary designs and technology. The Ambassador has remained the choice of a dwindling share of bureaucrats and politicians, usually in white with a red beacon on top and a chauffeur at the wheel. While Congress senior leader Janardhan Poojary still moves around in his white Amby, the Bishop of Mangaluru Dr Aloysius Paul D’Souza, still uses his white Ambassador for his travel.

Any road, any terrain, the Amby is “The Rock”?. When any other car gives up on an incline the Ambassador takes it as a challenge. That car has the heart and tenacity of an ox. It is learnt that the Ambassador taxi was once the ultimate in comfortable travel across the roads of the cities. The interior was spacious and the seats wide and deep, easily seating four, five with a bit of a squeeze. But you would have noticed Amby taxi drivers used to accommodate 10-12 people, sometimes even more {with the driver seated like he is about to fall out of the seat?} and stuff them like Sardines in the car, for trips between Mangaluru and Farangipet/Bantwal and beyond. But with the intro of Toyota Innova’s, Bolero’s and large SUV’s, many taxi owners have ditched the ambassador, going in for the new vehicle brands.

Call it an oil guzzler, but the Ambassador’s dashboard was how humans were meant to have dashboards – with lots of space for knickknacks and personal stuff. While a light drizzle is capable of stalling any of your modern cars in the middle of the road, the Amby was meant to survive the Biblical floods. An Ambassador would see you through flooded streets, cough up a bit of water and might need a push or two, but it would be all right in a bit and get along just fine. The Ambassador was once the lifeblood of a city’s middle class dependent on cheap travel to go about in relative luxury.

I still remember my college days in the 80’s and 90’s- and the weekend trips to Summer Sands-Ullal or Panambur Beach. Did I mention the romances on the back seat of an Ambassador taxi? It was the getaway car for eloper’s the meeting point for lovers desperately looking for privacy in a city of teeming thousands and the witness to hundreds of heartbreaks. And I still remember my favourite Amby taxi driver Kanthappa, with a thick moustache, and clad in white mundu, always ready to take us for a long ride, with reasonable fares. He’s no more, dead at the age of 73- Many His Soul Rest in Peace, but his Amby is still running, with his grandson using it for transporting grocery items. Kanthappa’s Amby has put almost 1 lakh 63 thousand Kms on road.

The Ambassador taxi was literally the friendly neighbourhood Rescuer-in-Chief for people stranded with shopping, or women who want a lift out of a deserted place, office-goers returning home late at night or students returning from partying during the wee hours. The Amby was the SOS vehicle! The Amby was THE family car. It could fit in three generations, pet and luggage effortlessly. It was usually the first car the newly-affluent bought in India, till the time Maruti grabbed the market with the economic Maruti 800. Because of annoying nostalgia, plain and simple. How many times were you stranded in a broken down Amby or gasped at the monthly expenses of maintaining the damn oil guzzler? It was like a pet you loved too much but wished at least once in your life (in a moment of weakness) that you gave it away while it was still in good health.

The boot of an Ambassador deserves a separate post. It was a magical world that perfectly housed your trunks, boxes and an assortment or crap that you would not imagine any of 2014’s fancy cars holding. It was vast and you could always depend on hiring just one taxi, instead of spacing out your luggage in two or three when you needed to shift house. It WAS a house. Sniff. Gone are those nostalgic days of Amby, where now you see them only carrying huge loads of veggies, fruits, fish etc- and for that matter, a sugarcane juice vendor has gone too far, in altering the back portion of the car, to fit his juice making machine. Wow- look what an Amby can do for you, unlike Maruti?

1 Comment

  1. The early editions of Ambassador cars (Morris Oxford to be precise) used to come with unhinged sofa set for the back seat. A head-on collision would throw out the passengers along with that “sofa set” to offer a nice catapult ride to the Wenlock hospital.

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