Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Hindustan Ambassador Folly

For the Ant who is nagging at me to post and is probably bored with my recent rugby diatribes.

I do go off on tangents and get a little obsessed with collecting stuff. As my profile says I do treasure old stuff. I also love the whole retro aspect of new stuff that is modeled on old ideas. Or old stuff that still works really well even if there is a bit of ritual and effort involved in getting the thing going. My old vinyl turntables would be a case in point. Normally these obsessions last a few weeks and then fizzle out. My current one however is lingering like the bout of bronchitis I have.

My current obsession relates to a car. The Hindustan Motors Ambassador.
(Official Site)

This car, which Hindustan Motors began building in 1954 using the tooling from the defunct Series II Morris Oxford is still in production over 50 years later.

It now has a new Isuzu engine and comes with the options of power steering and aircon. One can also obtain it with bucket seats in front (ie 2 separate seats) but the long bench seat in the front is still the de rigueur choice to pack in the whole family. But all in all it is pretty much the same vehicle that was churned out 50 years back. A kind of motoring time capsule.

It remains the Indian taxicab of choice and the yellow and black cabs abound in the larger cities. There are some 60,000 in Mumbai alone. They have been converted to run on cheaper and less polluting compressed natural gas. (Them cars below huddled under the tarpaulin are topping up their CNG tanks).

This is the great Mumbai tourguide (Khan telephone +91 982 139 1916) that Dave referred me to standing alongside his trusty Amby.

It is also the primary mode of transport for government and military officials.

Why on earth I want one I do not know, and quite what it will mean in the in the
Clint Eastwood philosophy of “You are what you drive” , I am equally unsure. Perhaps is just the maverick in me that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a typical car driver.

What I do know is that I do want one and that it’s going to be one mighty expensive and bureaucratic nightmare to get it here.

I cannot find anyone who has imported one into South Africa, and with our strict vehicle import regulations designed to protect our own manufacturers this is going to be a hell of a process. The Ambassodor’s currently sell in India for the equivalent of about US $10,000. So that’s about R80,000 and climbing daily. Add at least 70% import duty & VAT. Add the costs of getting SABS clearance to import. Add the costs of shipping it here. Add the costs of licencing. Add the chore of insuring the car and putting in some decent sound. Etc etc. But I guess I’m going to look at about R160,000 for my folly. Trade in my trusty Isuzu long-wheelbase bakkie for maybe R45,000 and I’m still a few bar short, and I fear I’m unlikely to convince Wesbank to finance the difference.

That means that I’m going to have to convince someone in my family to lend me the cash (on reasonable terms for sure) and this means that I have to get one of the few members of my family who have deep pockets to buy into my folly. So far they all think I’m mad. They also think my idea of buying a car from India is mad. So the arm twisting on this could be fun.

By all accounts this is an uncomfortable, clumsy handling, noisy and not-too-fuel-efficient piece of classic engineering. Just my cup of tea.

Some more articles and reviews here.

guys are the UK importers and have some good reviews on their site.

Austin Rover site

Cars that time forgot.

50 years of the Amby


Third World Ant said...

I pester for something, then take ages to look at it... thanks for being obliging, though :)

Add to your expense list the fact that servicing the 'mobile is going to be a pricey pain in the ass, too!

During my CT stint last year, I almost bought an MG A - cherry tomato red with a beautiful walnut steering wheel. My colleagues eventually convinced me not to take the plunge, given that Internet research showed this model's frame is particularly prone to rust, and being a CT car, the engine would probably have fallen out the moment I rode the beauty out the shop. I still look lovingly at the photo's of me in it...

VallyP said...

Absolutely precious! This would be the car for me too....can't wait to hear if your arm twisting gets further than the dream and speculation phase. the other wonderful machine they still produce in India is the classic Royal Enfield motor bike. I've seen a couple here recently, brand new, out of the box, but looking as if they've emerged from under wraps in some fifties garage in the karoo. I drooled! Not too expensive either by all accounts.

Anonymous said...

Why buy a brand new 1955 Morris Oxford, all the way from India, when you can have a brand new 1965 Fiat 124 all the way from Russia, or a brand new 1975 VW Golf I all the way from...oh, never mind :)