SHE is on TV every day. Political news or a popular serial, she is a permanent fixture. You have seen her ferrying leaders and transporting tourists. No arterial road in Chennai is free of her kind, sporting the roving red light. This matron of automobiles, the old guard of Indian cars has successfully withstood competition to do what she does best - bumping over potholes at an affordable cost to her passengers. She is the Ambassador car, `Amby' for short.
The brochure from a tourist car operator proves her janata status. Hiring an Esteem will put you back by Rs. 700, Ford - Rs. 800, Cielo - Rs. 750, Lancer
- Rs. 1000. But ask for apna Amby and you pay a mere Rs. 350 if it is AC and Rs. 230 for non-AC!
Like a flexible suitcase that expands on stuffing, Amby has an accommodating nature. Officially she is allowed to take only five people. But come to the beach and count those emerging from her interior. Not less than 15. Well, Amby is the quintessential extended family car.
Cars on the Indian roads before (1957) are now in museums (if they have not been stripped in bazaars) or trundle in vintage car rallies. The ones that came after are like models on the catwalk - here today, gone sooner than expected and replaced by another trendier set. But she has stayed on, looking much the same with only cosmetic changes for comfort.
Foreigners stepping out of the airport marvel, "This car, it is still around!'' Earlier you could detect a hint of gibe in their tone. Now there is an open admiration and a nod of approval. India is in. And the Ambassador is a celebrity crossing signals on the roads - from Surrey to Suva, from Colombo to Cologne. So stop haranguing about her unchanged design. Think. Along with the sari, festivals and the paan, she symbolises India. She is from Hindustan Motors.
You can label her a survivor. She is at ease gracing plush tree-lined avenues or ploughing muddy, narrow gullies, which her flashy successors will fear treading.
Rain, river, potholes, sharp-edged speed (read engine) breakers, good old Amby can ride them all. True, she is afflicted by ailments a machine is prone to, but it is nothing that the friendly fellow in the tinker's shop at the street corner, with greasy tools spread on the ground, cannot set right. If she could talk, she would boast what a travels owner said: ``The Ambassador is an all-weather, all-terrain car. An ordinary mechanic can reset its simple mechanism. I run other cars too. A little wheeze, they need to go to five-star garages that don't believe in repairs. They transplant a new organ and send me a whopping bill. A few such visits and I would have spent enough to buy a new Ambassador. Amby's spares are easily available.''
She is also safe. Her bumper and her big front engine act as collision barriers. The steering wheel sits below the chest level. In other cars the wheel will plunge into your upper torso in a head-on. The latest model comes with a holding bar above the windshield for the passenger in the front. Convinced?
As for the comfort, most call taxi services have a fleet of mobile diplomatic corps. So do many tourist operators.
"The high seats make long-distance travel easy", says Mr. Muthukarruppan, GM of an industrial unit. He has been an Amby loyalist for 30 years.
"Among diesel cars she is the cheapest, offering more room for your legs and luggage. If you have a driver go for the Amby.''
If in the face of stiff competition, she is still preferred, it is because she enjoys political patronage and clout. While khadi-clad politicos rush in and out of government offices, it is this modest emissary who lies in wait. The next time you come across a minister's cavalcade, count the number of Ambassadors crossing the yellow line with impunity.
Ambassador she truly is, standing as a metaphor for the country itself. Solid, unchanging and trustworthy, she smiles patiently at the Johnny-come-lately as she negotiates the cruel
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