Sentiment—our country is fuelled by it. Cities and railway stations with the slightest Victorian tilt are renamed, every second thoroughfare in the country is an MG Road and we still buy Ambassadors.
The latter is like bringing home a 21-inch, black-and-white television, when you could have had that sexy 42-inch plasma. Defies logic, doesn’t it?
But every month, 2,000- odd Ambassadors are sold, a majority to the Central government and the taxi trade, but also to at least a dozen individuals who think their Rs5 lakh would be better spent on an ageing, hulking relic of the Raj. And apart from sentiment, there’s not one reason I can think of to prompt such a buy.
For starters, let’s shatter the strongest of those pre-conceived notions—that of Ambys being super comfortable. They aren’t. They are noisy, the factory-fitted seats are awful and even a Tata Indica runs very close on interior space while delivering better ride quality.
Then there’s quality, which is frankly a disaster. The air-conditioning takes an age to cool the back seat (if it is fitted with one in the first place), the gearbox wouldn’t be out of place in a truck and you’ll definitely need the biceps of a truckie to manoeuvre an Amby without power steering, which most don’t have.
And not that I’m a harbinger of doom, but believe me you’ll be better off crashing in a Maruti 800. It’s not that the 800 will crumple and absorb some of the impact (it will), but an 800 will actually stop when the brakes are applied. Stopping an Amby requires filling of forms in triplicate, the submission of a Right to Information query and a long, long wait.
As for reliability, remember what your grandpa used to say: “Anybody can repair an Amby!” That’s because Ambys used to break down with astonishing and alarming regularity. As a nation, we had to know how to repair one, lest the country’s wheels stopped turning.
These days with the new Isuzu engine (new being a relative term here), Ambys don’t have a similar appetite for oil, fuel and blowing up its internals, though fit and finish isn’t something you’d be crowing about.
Neither is performance. The 1.8-litre petrol makes 74bhp, but with 1.1 tonnes to haul (and an additional half-tonne with bullet proofing), it makes heavy work of getting anywhere in a hurry. The 1.5-litre CNG version makes just 40bhp, so you can begin to imagine the labour of love taxi drivers put in to get you from the airport. The diesel clocks 37bhp, and it’s noisy, unrefined and best left alone unless you have that desperate urge to save cash every time you tank up.
Good then, the Amby is for not much. Not even nostalgia, considering how Hindustan Motors has transformed the Amby into the ugly and ungainly Grand of today. I say get those chrome bumpers back, put in the wheezy old BMC engine, get your fingers dirty every Sunday and drive her carefully. Once every year.
She belongs in, and only in, a vintage car rally.
Sirish Chandran is assistant editor at Overdrive magazine in Pune. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org