One day I got a call from Promit Hazra, a young boy residing
in Kolkata. He wanted to be an auto journalist. I tried to dissuade him from
joining a profession that makes no sense today. He told me his father is a car
restorer. I immediately asked him to join his father’s profession, learn as
much as possible from him and try to make his father’s business a profitable
and rich venture.
Yet, young Promit insisted I guide him so that he
could pursue his dream of becoming a good auto journalist. I gave him an assignment which, I must say, he
completed fairly decently. I asked him to get his hands on an old Ambassador
with column mounted gears and do a video showing how an Ambassador looks and
feels, compared to modern cars. He said he was good with a camera taking still
pictures, but had never done a video assignment. I gave him some tips. Do watch
the video on the Motown India
At one point the Ambassador car was manufactured by
Hindustan Motors, a CK Birla company from their plant in Uttarpara in West
Bengal. Did you all know that Hindustan Motors has a railway station named
after it in Uttarpara? How many auto companies can boast of this honour?
The Ambassador brand is now part of Citroen brand
which is part of PSA Group of France and is again part of the overall
Stellantis group which was formed with the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
and PSA Group.
The Hindustan Motors Ambassador was based on the
Morris Oxford series III model. The Ambassador car which is fondly called Amby,
went through seven generations throughout its production and till its fourth
generation had column mounted gears which cannot be seen in modern cars. Modern
cars today have floor mounted gears that can either be manual or automatic.
Some top end cars have column mounted gears but these are automatic.
In column mounted gears, the gear level was mounted on
the steering column behind the steering wheel. The gears were changed by
shifting the gear lever up or down. Reverse could be engaged by pushing the
gear down and then shifting it to one side. These column mounted gears had
their own problems.
Here is what Tutu Dhawan, a Delhi based car restorer,
former motorsports rallyist and one who has lots of hands-on experience with
cars says about these column mounted gears. Let’s hear him out.
“Floor mounted gears last longer and it’s a
sure shift. In column mounted gear shifts, there are lots of linkages in that.
And each of the linkages there are bushes. In the good old days there used to
be rubber and metal bushes, which within a year or two they used to get worn
out. One had to fight with the gears in the column shift, especially in the
Ambassador car. For manual there is
100pc floor shift. For automatics there is a stick shift on the column.”
his experience with column mounted gears, Tutu says, “When I used to drive cars
with column shift, they were not quick. Especially for motorsport, you need
quick gear shifts. Column shift gears were not the ideal system for changing
gears when it came to motorsport. It was never a swift change. There used to be
a lag. For racing and rallying you require a sure shot slotting of gears.”
The new generation may not be able to comprehend how
vehicles and its technology have evolved in the last few decades. Compared to
modern cars, the old erstwhile Ambassador car was quite boxy looking with
sparse interiors, archaic technology and limited engine finesse.
But during its heydays, the Ambassador had its own unique
characteristics and temperament. It was fun to drive, comfortable and quite
spacious. In fact, it was never a dull moment with the Ambassador.
Inputs from Promit Hazra. Promit has completed his graduation
from St Xavier's University (B.A. Mass
Communication) in December 2021. He is a petrol head and a motorsports
enthusiast. His areas of interest are Formula One , World Rally championship
and Formula E . He considers himself to be a complete "car nerd".
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