It may not be the most revered product from Austin-Morris, but this month the Austin Ambassador celebrates its 30th anniversary. Back in 1980 the marketplace was changing. Vauxhall’s next Cavalier would be a hatchback and Ford’s Cortina replacement, the Sierra, would also be a five-door. Austin-Morris realised that the lack of a fifth door in the Princess was costing sales and continuing with the Maxi as its premium five-door product was pointless, as it was completely out of pace with modern designs and was well overdue for replacement, and the new LC10 (Maestro/Montego) launch was almost four years away. A stopgap product was urgently needed.
Launched on 5 March 1982, the Austin Ambassador really was a last ditch attempt to answer all the criticisms of the Princess and its full potential as a family saloon was realised. The restyle, headed again by Harris Mann, sported the new Austin-Morris corporate nose in line with the new Austin Metro and Morris Ital (it shared the Ital’s headlight units) giving the Ambassador a cleaner frontal arrangement than the Princess, but much less interesting. The transformation from Princess to Ambassador was cleverly executed despite the limitations imposed by the budget but Princess drivers noticed that little luxuries like the leather bound steering wheel, the front central armrests and the six-cylinder engine were missing in the Ambassador, but welcomed other touches such as electric windows, central locking and a sunroof, and it was a lot more refined on the move.
The Austin Ambassador was rather pedestrian in its outlook, though it did sell considerably better than the Princess over its two years on sale so the changes Austin-Morris made were inherently the right ones, but once the trendy Ford Sierra came along in late 1982 the Ambassador was faced with a more direct competitor than the Cortina ever was. Mild tweaks were made to specifications during its life and it was always priced competitively and a total of 43,425 Ambassadors left the production line at Cowley over its two-year production run, and the last Ambassador, a Vanden Plas, rolled down the line in February 1984.
The Ambassador wasn’t a complete failure, but it was the least successful of all of the cars produced by Austin-Morris during its time on sale. Unlike the Princess, the Ambassador was indigenous to the UK and was never made available in left hand drive form.
This month, a celebration of the Ambassador will take place at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey on Sunday 11th March, coinciding with the national Austin-Morris day held annually at this fantastic venue. So come along and compare for yourself the differences between the Princess and Ambassador and judge for yourself which one was best.