KOLKATA, India — The quaint 1950s automobile stylings of the Indian-produced Hindustan Ambassador were one of the first things I noticed upon landing in Kolkata and finding a taxi.
An ample backseat that rivals the spaciousness of a small sofa makes it perfect for ferrying passengers across the city’s cramped, dusty streets, like a smaller, more modest cousin to the Checker cabs of New York’s past. No surprise that they have long been used to chauffeur Indian dignitaries.
Yet if it seems like you’ve time-traveled when a car with curvy corners, chrome accents and a rugged steel exterior crosses your line of sight, that’s because the automobile began life as a copy of the British-designed Morris Oxford Series III — in 1956.
My first cab ride in India helped temper my brief infatuation with the Amby, as it’s commonly known. Tough as a tank, the car held a reputation for being tough enough to handle the anything-goes nature of Kolkata’s roads and drivers.
The interior, however, left a lot to be desired.
“Seriously, I’ve seen Happy Meal toys with more refined construction and materials,” wrote a Jalopnik reviewer.
Still, there was something comforting about the familiar, beetle-like throwback on wheels — “the grand old lady of Indian motoring.”
In the end, our era of electric cars, self-driving vehicles and hybrid SUVs — the modern automobile industry, both foreign and domestic — proved too great a challenge for the Hindustan Ambassador to overcome.
In May 2014, following a run of more than a half-century, its final iteration rolled off the assembly line in West Bengal , and I picture it not going gently into that good night but rather rattling, squealing and honking into the sunset.
So long, Amby. Glad to have made your acquaintance.