Feature : Ambassador 25th birthday
Would you believe that it’s a quarter century since the launch of the ill-fated Austin Ambassador. PAUL GUINNESS couldn’t either, and simply had to celebrate the fact…
From an article that appeared in the April 2007 issue of Classic Car Mart.
Silver jubilee special
Can you believe it’s 25 years this month since the Austin Ambassador – successor to the controversial Princess – first hit the streets? Yes, it was back in March 1982 that Austin Rover Group unveiled its new Ambassador, a heavily revamped and restyled derivative of the Princess that brought extra value and a very distinctive look to the family car market of the early Eighties.
Sadly, though, you won’t have seen any major celebrations for the Ambassador’s all-important anniversary. In fact, as far as most classic car enthusiasts in the UK are concerned, the Ambassador is long forgotten; and for enthusiasts in mainland Europe and beyond, it was a model that wasn’t even offered to them.
Yes, the Ambassador was the first – and only – car from its parent company to be built solely in right-hand drive guise. This was very much a stopgap model until the arrival of the crucial new Montego range in 1984, which meant it simply wasn’t worthwhile for Austin Rover to tool up for left-hand drive production. Even so, despite such a major handicap, the Ambassador went on to achieve a reasonably healthy 43,427 domestic sales in just under two years.
Although the Ambassador retained the Princess wedge-shaped profile, the only body panels to be carried over unchanged from its predecessor were – according to Austin Rover – the front door skins. Everything else was either new or substantially altered, which meant it was a far more thorough redesign than the Marina’s earlier makeover to create the Ital. Even so, many buyers saw the age of the Ambassador’s basic design and chose to shop elsewhere instead.
It was a shame, because the Ambassador had a great deal to offer, not least an incredibly commodious interior – aided (at last) by a huge tailgate for true five-door versatility. Engines were the same 1.7- and 2.0-litre O-series four-cylinder units used in the Princess 2, although the slow-selling 2.2-litre E-series was finally dropped.
The Ambassador may not have been the most handsome car in its class, but it was one of the most distinctive. And as a short-term model to keep things ticking over within Austin Rover’s rapidly ageing line-up, it did a perfectly respectable job.
How sad then, that not only is it a rare sight on Britain’s roads, but the Ambassador is also a real scarcity at our classic car shows each summer. So may we be probably the only classic car magazine in the UK to wish the Austin Ambassador a very Happy 25th Birthday. Long may the few remaining survivors stay around!