Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

The Ambassador: India's car of authority and aggression

The bullet-proof Ambassador is capable of withstanding rounds from a 9mm handgun up to an AK-47, along with blasts from handgrenades  

NEW DELHI, India -- Witnesses to the Indian parliament attack on December 13 said the attackers simply exploited a deference to authority in driving into the building's compound in a vehicle similar to that used by officials.

The car chosen for the murderous attack was no ordinary automobile but a 1950s-vintage style, white Ambassador.

The grand old man of Indian roads suddenly went from being a vehicle of authority to one of terror.

The unsuspecting metallic symbol of power will now be forever questioned in the world's most populous democracy, its uniqueness and style sullied by an act of terrorism.

"It's a car identified with the masses and the ruling class. It gained access into parliament because of its symbolic value and the power it connotes," Soni Shrivastav, a spokeswoman for the group that makes the Ambassador, told Reuters news agency.

Productive talks between India and Pakistan are still at a stalemate. CNN's Tom Mintier reports (January 2)

Play video
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)
Message Board: India and Pakistan 
India-Pakistan standoff 

The white Ambassador that carried the assailants and their armaments on that day also bore the trappings of authority: a flashing red roof light and the appropriate security sticker.

It looked identical in color and form to the thousands of bulbous sedans used by Indian officials, and therein lied its effectiveness.

The Ambassador was and still is the vehicle of choice for politicians, judges taxi drivers and the military.

Government fleet of 5,000

In some ways the Ambassador is to India what the Rolls Royse is to the British or the Chevrolet to the United States.

The government seems to think so; according to Reuters their fleet of the oddly shaped cars numbers 5,000.

On any day during a parliamentary session the road outside of the parliament down from Rasahtrapathi Bhavab, in the heart of New Delhi, is a sea of white Ambassadors.

Some are equipped with bulletproof glass and armor plating, yet the original design, based on the British-built Morris Oxford of 1948, still stands out.

For those who mix in questionable company, a new fully armoured Ambassador 1800 ISZ has been released that is capable of withstanding rounds from a 9mm handgun up to an AK-47, along with blasts from handgrenades.

It is the prime minister's official car -- as it has been for virtually every prime minister since independence over fifty years ago.


The white ambassador
The white Ambassador used by five gunmen in the attack on parliament  

Nobody knows why this oddly shaped car is the vehicle of choice for the current administration.

Apart from the region's taxi fleet, few customers are willing to buy it, a reality that threatens the existence of its makers Hindustan Motors (HM).

The New Delhi company was one of the country's three original car manufactures and saw it lead the trade up until the mid 1980s when it was selling the Ambassador in a largely protected market.

However, disappearing trade tariffs brought fresh competition from foreign companies making smaller, cheaper, more contemporary cars.

Even today HM's main product is still the 1950's vintage Ambassador albeit with a Japanese Isuzu motor, with sales of only 11,000 cars expected in the second half of the year ending March 2002 according to Reuters.

Although it has only a few percent of the automobile market this relic from another era is an Indian legacy.

With few fans amongst the general populace, a die-hard administration, even after the December 13 attacks, is still keen to keep the Ambassadors rolling.




Back to the top