Your Cars : John Shuttleworth’s Austin Ambassador Y-reg

Here’s one that needs no introduction. You’ve watched the documentary, heard the song, now it’s the time to read the story.

The brilliant John Shuttleworth spills the beans about his Y-reg Austin Ambassador in the AROnline comments. You’ll be pleased to learn he still has it!


Don’t keep asking me why, Reg

Austin Ambassador Y-Reg

I was so happy with my Austin Ambassador that I wrote a song about it. One of my best, according to my next door neighbour and sole agent, Ken Worthington (also known as ‘TV’s Clarinet Man’ on New Faces in 1973).

Maybe you’d like to look the song up? I made a lovely pop video of it, using some borrowed video editing equipment, back in the mid 1990s. It’s been uploaded to YouTube by my son Darren a few years ago.

I remain a proud Ambassador owner, though I’m onto my second one now. If you’ve ever watched the Rockumentary 500 Bus Stops you’ll know that Ken rashly scrapped my first Ambassador after a minor breakdown. That led to a lot of tension on the tour, which Ken put down to my artistic temperament.

Finding another

All was forgiven though when he sourced another beige Y-reg model for me in Huddersfield, and gave me a lift to view it in his Nissan Micra Wave. It needed a bit of work, but its purchase allowed me once again to become a proud Ambassador owner.

I had to obtain a few parts from a scrapyard such as a parcel shelf and number plate light to obtain a fully functioning vehicle. While I was there I treated myself to a natty set of wheel trims from a Maestro Clubman, which I think look better than the original steel wheels that had started to go a bit rusty.

That car can be seen in my travelogue It’s Nice up North, where I venture to the northernmost parts of the UK, to test a theory that people get nicer the further north you go in this country. The Ambassador needed some repairs on that trip, but these were undertaken by a very reasonably priced and pleasant rural garage – further evidence indeed that it’s nicer up North.

It’s not grim up north

I made a few minor improvements to the vehicle as I went. My wife, Mary, was always remarking on how much time I spent on the vehicle, when there were household DIY tasks stacking up. The temptation to upgrade when presented with a wealth of other Austin Rover vehicles to obtain parts from in the various scrapyards of the wider Sheffield area was often too much for me.

For instance, I upgraded the stereo to a Philips one I found in a scrap Rover 213 – it only needed the head cleaning with some rubbing alcohol on a cotton bud to restore it to full working order, and had a lovely sound due to the Dolby noise reduction system, its facility to detect chrome tape and also a very handy auto reverse feature that played both sides of the tape in a continuous loop.

This allowed me to make quite long journeys accompanied by a mix tape of contemporary music such as Erasure, Crowded House, and the Lighthouse Family without having to swap tapes. Use of a C120 gave maximum benefit in this regard, but they are more prone to snapping as they’re a bit thinner than the usual C90s I tend to use.

Austin Ambassador Y-Reg

A fabulous long-distance companion

The only hindrance to long journeys in the Ambassador was the lack of a fifth gear, which hurt the economy a little, and made the Ambassador a little noisy above A-road speeds.

Anyway, there I go again. Mary’s always saying people won’t be interested in that sort of thing so I better stop. All in all, though, it’s safe to say I was very satisfied with the vehicle.

It’s my sad duty to report to the good people of AROnline though that the Ambassador was retired from daily driver duties just before the pandemic – I just couldn’t keep it on the road any longer.

It’s been replaced with a lovely Jaguar X-Type, which I’m very pleased with. It’s the estate version with plenty of room for my keyboard in the back, and heated leather seats for cold winter mornings. Ooof! Decadence! The Ambassador still lives on for filming purposes, and is kindly stored for me by my friendly local garage.

Austin Ambassador Y-Reg

Post script

After the whole debacle of Ken scrapping my first Ambassador as we embarked on a nationwide tour I was left without a vehicle. I must admit to being sorely tempted by a rather nice Renault 21 at a local car lot. A hatchback, naturally, as I’d become accustomed to this useful feature of my Ambassador.

When Ken managed to find another Ambassador, in the same colour no less, and offered to take me to view it, the scene was set for the return of a Y-reg Ambassador to the Shuttleworth home. I’ve always admired the Austin Maestro, but never actually driven one.

During my extensive research and test drive process when choosing my current daily vehicle I did briefly consider a Skoda Octavia estate, but when Joan Chitty remarked ‘a Skoda, give over!’ I knew I would face constant ridicule from my fans, who would similarly reference a line from Y reg. Plus, I do like to buy British where possible, and X-Types were made near Liverpool.

However, it’s not all been smooth sailing with the Jag. At its last MoT, extensive corrosion was found in the passenger side sill, and had to be repaired at some expense. I now find myself in the position of having to apply Waxoyl (suitably warmed prior to application) to a relatively modern vehicle, but I’m used to that with the Ambassador and several prior vehicles which were AROnline related. Immediately prior to my first Ambassador, I had a natty bronze metallic Maxi HL for a number of years, and before that I had a blue Morris Marina estate.

From memory I’ve also owned an early Ford Escort, a Vauxhall Victor that someone wrote off by driving into the back of at a roundabout near York, a Hillman Hunter, and two Minis.

I also drove, during my time as a security guard, a selection of vans such as Escorts, HA Vivas, Chevannes and a Metro van. I always coveted the Maestro van driven by my Team Leader, Norman Jenkins, but never even got to sit in it as a passenger – let alone drive it.

So, there you go, good folks of AROnline – a bit of rock star car history.

Y reg…

My Austin Ambassador Y reg, Y reg, Y reg
My Austin Ambassador Y reg is a car that I revere
My Austin Ambassador Y reg, Y reg, Y reg
Don’t keep asking me why, Reg
It just happens to be that year

Now you may covet a Clio
Or a Mondeo
Marvel at the Montego
Fine but not me, no

Now you may be utterly sold on
Your Peugeot, your Proton
Your Mitsubishi Shogun
But I’ll always dote on

My Austin Ambassador Y reg, Y reg, Y reg etc

I’d even say no ter
A Rolls with a chauffeur
A brand new Toyota
A Skoda? Give over!

I’ve got an Austin Ambassador Y reg, Y reg, Y reg
Don’t keep asking me why, Reg
It just happens to be that year

Lyrics © 1997 Graham Fellows

19 Comments

  1. Ooof! I have spilled the beans a bit, haven’t I?

    I sometimes get a bit carried away, like when I wrote the song Eggs and Gammon, where I recall a distressing incident that occurred during one of my next door neighbour, and sole agent, Ken Worthington’s camping trips with his ex-wife. It’s a little bit cheeky that song and, despite him eventually being persuaded to perform backing vocals on the track, I’m not entirely sure Ken is ever comfortable with it being performed in public while he’s present. As Ken’s always telling me though, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

  2. Not sure a 5th gear would have worked that well on a 1.7 Ambassador, as BL claimed a very optimistic 96 mph (On a Princess Mk2 road test I recall one tester commenting that performance could be improved by slipstreaming milk floats), the reality of the late 70s early 80s minimum 85 mph motorway cruising speed (how good life was before the invention of the speed camera) for rep cars the Ambassador 1,7 was effectively always being driven flat out as where the 1.6 Cortina Mk4, 1.6 Cavalier Mk1 and the single choke cooking versions of the Solara 1.6. Why the arrival of the 90hp Cavalier 1.6 Mk2 was such a step up in performance for most reps.

    • Were the problems with the passenger side of the X type caused by the Cuban heels that Ken favours?

      You’ve missed out by not having a Maestro, a reliable and great value car.

      • Gareth! I’m surprised you’re championing the Maestro – I’ve heard you favour a sporty Ford.

        • John,
          you’re aware of my youthful experience of being a Ford owner. After a series of mishaps I left the blue oval behind.
          As I’ve aged the need for speed has diminished and the practicality of being able to take used electricals to the tip without drama trumps a go faster stripe. Ease of egress from rear seats is also a factor. I am a believer in fifth gear economy though and it is a shame the Ambassador lacked this.

  3. I don’t think John is the kind of chap who would want to run his Ambassador flat out on the M1, more likely keep to 60-70 mph as the car would use less petrol and he’d be able to hear the music on his after fit radio/cassette. The Amby is a car that’s built for comfort not speed and ideal for just sitting in the left hand lane of the motorway. John would probably tell you 60 mph is a mile a minute and fast enough.

    • From my own recollection of driving the Ambassador, John would be lucky to get much more than 65 out of it – they were a little on the sedate side……in any case, the lack of a 5th gear would mean that his Def Leopard cassette would be drowned out by the engine noise. At least the ride would be comfortable, and plenty of room for the keyboard in the vast boot (in fact, that’s what my father, also a versatile keyboardist, albeit not a songwriter, would often carry in the back of the 2 he owned). There is a reason why my dad and myself nicknamed them the ‘Ambassador Sprint’…..

    • Glenn. Good to hear from you – you come across as quite a sensible chap. The US speed limit in some states was famously 55 miles per hour, and so I deem this to be an adequate cruising speed for a tour bus on a US tour, as well as an Ambassador on a twisty A road. Don’t go mad!

      • As the most sensible rock star I know of, I thought you would have driven on the motorway at the most economical speed of 56.5 mph.

  4. I’m having a similar issue this afternoon John, following an unwise decision to have some slightly exotic bean and butternut squash soup for lunch…..I might need a Rennie or two later….

    • Simon, can I recommend a decent glug of Gaviscon? It’s a little bit pricey, but always seems to do the job.

  5. Some have been commenting on the corrosion issues experienced on my Jaguar X-type. I suspect this may have arisen due to a previous owner not adopting a correct jacking technique. You should always follow the instructions in the manual to the letter, and yet I have detected creased metal to the floorpan, inboard of the designated jacking point. Ooof! I also found, during a post-purchase once-over a severely deflated spare tyre – a sure indicator of lax maintenance. Fear not though, good folks of AROnline, for I have instituted a rigorous maintenance regimen which now includes, in light of the corrosion issues, a weekly visit to the jet wash at my local Shell garage (tour commitments notwithstanding). The X-type is in good hands. If it lasts as long as my (second) Ambassador though I’ll be glad – the Austin seems built of strong stuff, and belies its age. I might wander up to the garage tomorrow if it’s fine out, and take it for a run to the reservoir to check the level.

  6. The X-Type sills are nothing to do with jacking and all to do with design. Call it a fault, or built in obsolescence. It’s a well known fault and it would take longer to read all the articles about it online than to walk past 500 bus stops!

    Most X-Types were scrapped because of sill corrosion.

    They are fine until advisories on MOTs start appearing, then welding is required, then you need to replace, or buy repair panel kits. A man in the North (where it’s better) produces the repair panel kits, and they are a cost effective way of solving the problem permanently.

  7. Lucy. Good knowledge there! Sound like Jaguar would have been better copying the Ambassador’s sill design.

  8. Hullo John!

    Today would have been a great day for you and Mary to go out for a nice relaxing drive in the Ambassador to see how high the water is in the reservoir. I would think it would be high given the recent inclement weather.

    The weekend’s dry roads do mean you would have no need to give the Ambassador’s bodywork a dry-off with a Chamois-leather when you got home.

    In times-past I would have imagined you and Mary counting the dead badgers at the roadside on your journey, then pulling off the A-road into a convenient Little Chef or Happy Eater for a cup of tea and – just as important – a toilet-break.

    Sadly, such convenient roadside emporia are no more – so would Mary be preparing Tupperware containers of egg-and-cress sandwitches (wrapped in red-and-white checker-pattern serviettes) and a Thermos for your journey?

    If you were really looking to push the boat out, maybe individual Pork Pies could have been included for your impromptu lay-by dining!

  9. MOWOG, hullo there! That sounds like a company making industrial fasteners or something, does MOWOG. Perhaps I’ll buy one of your products some day?

    Anyway, your post brought back many happy memories of picnics and trips off in the Ambassador. Or should I say Ambassadors? – there were actually two. These days though the X-type is used for such duties and is very handy indeed. Mary and me tend to sit on the edge of the boot, with the tailgate up over our heads in case of any light rain. There are also handy little compartments either side of the boot, where you can store your provisions, and lashing points in the floor that allow you to securely harness your thermos and picnic basket with bungee straps; thus preventing any damage to the load in the event of any unexpected heavy braking or cornering. There’s also a 12v socket in the boot which, when combined with a (PAT tested) in-car cool box I bought in a local branch of Age Concern, allows for cakes and cream on-the-go. Lovely with a bit of Yorkshire tea! It’s the ideal picnic vehicle, really. Though there’s nothing you can really do about jaspers on a hot day – they’re a constant picnic pest.

  10. Nowt to do with the Ambassador but I replaced a Rover 75 estate with an X-Type Estate and found the X to be a very poor replacement indeed. The X was eventually replaced with an Octavia Estate which was sooo much better in every respect. Mind you, it should have been ‘better’, being a much later development and, as we all know, things move on. Each of those cars was 2l diesel.
    The X-Type did all that it should, nothing essentially wrong with it but a shadow after the Rover. The Skoda was just so refreshingly easy to drive, more comfortable and about identical in performance (a generation younger) than the Jag. Of the three, right now, I’d have the Rover back in a minute. So, John, find one (a 2l 75 estate) while you still can. It had the smile factor – I literally grinned every time I got into it. Lovely.

    • Thank you for the advice. I did consider a 75, but after struggling to find parts for the Ambassador I feared that due to the demise of Rover I might be in the same boat with a 75 – especially as I tend to keep my cars for a long time. Well, as long as someone doesn’t scrap them (looking at you, Ken Worthington!).

      The 75 did indeed seem a very good option though and, as I’ve said, I did almost purchase a Skoda Octavia. My pronouncements in “Y reg” have painted me into a car buying corner though, and I have to bear in mind what my fans might say if I am seen around Sheffield in a vehicle mentioned in the song. I have to consider my public image, or so Ken tells me.

      I’ve got to say though that I’m very happy with my current vehicle. I don’t think it’ll be getting a hit record written about it like my Ambassador did though. “Jaguar X-type ‘09 reg” just doesn’t quite scan the same way – I just can’t craft a decent song out of it.

  11. Oof! Mr Adams! I’ve just noticed that the lyrics you’ve posted are incomplete. You’ve missed off the coda at the end, where I pondered the merits, or otherwise, of a Morris Ital.

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