Friday, June 13, 2014

Amby – Mechanic`s delight; Owner`s nightmare!

The news from Hindustan Motors regarding the stoppage of production of Ambassador Cars has led to a host of people writing about this old war horse which ruled the passenger car market in India for over five decades. Let me add my bit of nostalgia about this `Hold All’ of a car!

Yes, the first thing that struck you about the car was the sheer space – both for passengers and for their luggage.  In the model I had, with the gear stick attached to the steering wheel, there was space for three adults in the front (including the driver) and four adults in the back, apart from any number of kids.  The moving space on the rear side was such that old people could literally walk into the car as against struggling to get into the modern day car with its low seat and limited space!  As for luggage, the dicky could easily hold 3 to 4 large suitcases, apart from a host of other small bags.  Amby was truly a `Hold All`.

I remember once while on a visit to a water fall near Arkonam my Amby had 15 passengers including my cousin`s family whom we picked up from their home in Arakkonam! On another occasion four kids were accommodated in the open dicky of the Amby, while driving a short distance from my home to a nearby marriage hall.

While in terms of capacity it scored high as compared to any other car in the market, on all other parameters it failed miserably.

The old fuddy-duddy look of the car which the company never changed suffered heavily in comparison  with the sleek  contemporary looks of the new generation vehicles which were naturally preferred by the younger generation.

Speed was a limitation in the car.  On highways it behaved well as long as you were driving at 60 kmph or less but the moment you stepped on the accelerator to take it beyond 60 kmph, the engine would start protesting, the vibration was  so bad that the passengers would feel very insecure. Due to the speed limitation, it naturally took longer to reach its destination.  Though the company tried to address this problem by offering a version with Isuzu engine, but that could not match the fuel-efficient-maintenance-free engines of the modern day vehicles.

The hard steering wheel was another sore point of the car.  For those who take power steering for granted, driving an old Amby could be a nightmare.  One needed a lot of energy to steer the steering at turnings! Unless you were used to the vehicle you would find it difficult to even change the gears in an Amby, (that was an art by itself!).

During long distance travels or while climbing hills, the engine would become so hot that one had to stop the vehicle at periodic intervals to replace the boiling water in the radiator with cold water. During our trips to Tirupathi in the good old days we had to stop atleast three to four times on the way to perform this ritual.

Similarly during rains, you would find maximum number of ambassador cars stuck on the flooded city roads as water would have  entered the carburetor located at the lower end of the engine.  In such situations the driver had no choice but to wait patiently for the water to drain and the carburetor to dry before he could  start the engine, while watching with jealousy as the small Maruthi-800s’, waded nonchalantly through the flooded streets!

Amby was a favourite of all the `hole in the wall’ roadside mechanics- because they had enough Amby owners ambling along with some problem or the other. As long as Ambys’ were ruling the roost, the mechanic`s life was good. Yes, Ambys’ were the mechanic’s delight but owner`s nightmare!

My first car was a 1956 model `Morris Minor` which I acquired in 1969 and which belonged to the Morris Oxford family, the parent of Ambassador car. I bought the vehicle for Rs 3500/- and after driving it for two years sold it for Rs 5000. Morris Minor was such a popular car those days that inspite of my being the fourth owner,   my 15 year old Morris commanded a good resale value!

The first official car I got was an Amby with a driver attached  when I became the Dy CEO of an ad agency I was working for in Delhi in the early 70s.  I bought my own Amby -my first airconditioned car in life-a couple of years after I started my agency in 1986. I progressed in life and in due course could afford to buy Maruthi Esteem- with all the advantages of a modern day vehicle. I was proud of my new acquisition, but my parents thought otherwise.

I distinctly remember my parents` comments after I took them on a joy ride in my new vehicle- ` “What kind of a car is this? It is so difficult to get in and get out! Your Ambassador was any day a better car than this!”

And I am sure that a lot of senior citizens of that generation would be inclined to agree.