The delightfully retro-looking sedan, based on the British-built Morris Oxford of the 19505, is the prime minister's official car-as it has been for virtually every prime minister since independence in 1947.
The prime ministerial motorcade consists of a string of cream Ambassadors and the more than 4O-vear-old workhorse remains the official vehicle of senior politicians, top civil servants, judges, generals and taxi drivers.
One of India's best-known cartoonist RK. Laxman, has driven an Ambassador for years. Oscar-winning Indian director Satyajit Ray immortalised the car in many of his films. "It's a car identified with the masses and the rulling class. It gained access into parliament because of its symbolic value and the power it connotes." says Soni Shrivastav, a spokeswoman for the group that makes the Ambassador.
The government has a fleet of more than 5,000 Ambassadors. whose rounded contours, big bonnet and bulging headlights have remained virtually unchanged since it first rolled off the production line in 1957.
In some ways, the Ambassador is to India what the Chevrolet is to the United States. In many ways, the clatter and bang of the simple Ambassador, which is built by one of the country's oldest carmakers, Hindustan Motors, is the heartbeat of India. For years, you could buy any car in India-as long as it was an Ambassador.
There are more than 26 car models available now ranging from the best-selling compact Maruti to luxury cars such as the Mercedes- Benz S320L with a price tag of a staggering Rs 6.4 million.
The company, which has invested Rs 1.25 billion in engine, transmission and assembly facilities in recent years, hopes to tap the Indian yuppie's growing taste for classic cars. "It will be like the return of the Volkswagen Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser and BMW's Mini... The idea is not to create brand awareness but to bring about a brand perception change."
The Amby has a lot of home-ground advantages. Every neighbourhood mechanic knows how to repair it and most problems can be fixed with a hammer and wrench. Spare parts are widely available, even in the remotest village...