Kolkata’s Hindustan Ambassadors

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.

Kolkata’s streets are full of Ambassadors, Bajajs, Tatas and Royal Enfields. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

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.

5451920360_839f30247d_zStill, 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.

9 thoughts on “Kolkata’s Hindustan Ambassadors

  1. Iconic ! Equally iconic are the black and yellow taxis of Mumbai (premier padmini or Fiat as it is more popularly known) that are going to be swept away from the streets soon owing to pollution concerns. Good for the environment, but bad for nostalgia stricken old timers.

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