The Freedom Drive 2018: A Rally of Ambassador Cars Organized by Chavakkadby Opinion Express September 2, 2018 0 comments
Chavakkad, popularly known as Kerala’s Little Dubai, has recently showcased the rally of Ambassador Cars. The drive from Chennai to Chavakkad in Thrissur district of Kerala gave one an experience of a journey to the past.
While the National Highway stretch from Chennai to the border of Coimbatore was reasonably safe and peaceful, the moment we crossed the Tamil Nadu border and entered Kerala, it turned out to be all cacophony and disorder. The private buses plying between Palakkad and Coimbatore as well as the tipper trucks speeding with sand and live cattle to the slaughter houses in Kerala offer a feeling of nightmare to the pedestrians, two-wheeler drivers, and those travelling by small cars.
The journey was to watch the Freedom Drive 2018, a rally of Ambassador cars organised by the young car enthusiasts of Chavakkad, popularly known as Kerala’s Little Dubai. What took one by surprise was the unprecedented number of the now-defunct Ambassador cars which were plying on the roads of Coimbatore, Palakkad, and Thrissur. While most other cities and towns in Tamil Nadu and Kerala are full of the modern hatchbacks, sedans, and SUVs, these districts are a study in contrast because of the presence of the number of well-maintained Ambassador cars which offer a distinct visual pleasure.
Though Hindustan Motors, the manufacturers of the Ambassador cars, had shut down operations in 2014, it has not dampened the spirit and enthusiasm of the owners of these first Made in India cars. “There were many modern cars which made an appearance on the Indian roads after the opening up of the economy in 1991. Many of them faded into oblivion and most of the car buffs might have forgotten about these vehicles. Do you remember the Standard 2000s, Cielos, Daewoo Matiz, or the Peugeots?” asked C Velayudhan, a proud owner of seven different models of Ambassador cars.
CK Birla, the owner of Hindustan Motors, may be surprised to see the love and affection commanded by Ambassador cars in these regions. Despite the heavy floods and torrential downpour, nearly 50 cars turned up for the rally scheduled on August 15. “The year 2018 happens to be the shashtipoorthy (60th anniversary) of the Ambassador car. The first model was manufactured and marketed by Hindustan Motors in 1958,” said Vijayanand, who owns an Ambassador as well as a Baby Hindustan while welcoming the delegates to the Freedom Drive.
There is something which makes the Ambassadors and Hindustan models unique and different from other passengers cars. Each car owner gives a different reply when asked why they love the Ambys (as they are lovingly called by the collectors). Velayudhan, the eldest among the Amby owners, points to the vintage but stylish body shape of the cars. “The sturdy material with which the body is built stands out. The 1962 model in my collection is heavy because of the metal body. Even if you stand on the bonnet or the mudguard, nothing will happen. The body weight made these cars durable and sturdier than others,” explained Velayudhan while meddling with the switches on the dash board.
Sajeeb Wahab, who braved the heavy rains and drove down from the temple town of Guruvayur with his beauty (a 1996 model Ambassador), is a typical Amby lover. “Who will not love this car? Who can ignore this model? Whenever I come out of my house driving this car, all attention is on my car, and that itself is an indication of the love and respect commanded by Ambassador cars,” said Sajeeb, who has made a number of changes in the interior of the car.
“The freedom you get to make such alterations is the uniqueness of the Ambassador. I have made modifications not only in the engine but even on the body and upholstery,” said Sajeeb. It was his passion towards anything antique that made him an Amby lover. “We had an Ambassador car in our house and I grew up watching how my father and brothers maintained the vehicle. If you handle the Amby in a proper manner and maintain it nicely, no other car can match it in durability and strength,” he said.
Sajeeb is of the opinion that had the Hindustan Motors taken the customers into confidence and made suitable changes in the models, Ambassadors would still have ruled Indian roads. “It is the car meant for connoisseurs and a price difference of Rs 1,00,000 would not have made any difference in the approach of the customers,” he said.
H-14, a Baby Hindustan owned by Raveendran, a Thrissur-based businessman, made many a head turn during the rally held along the National Highway 17. The 1954 model car was the queen (or king?) of the show. Raveendran had revamped the interior with ultra-modern fittings even while maintaining the purity of the body and “soul”. “A diesel Matador 301 engine powers her. I have incorporated power steering as well as five speed gear box,” disclosed Raveendran.
What is discernible is the vibe between him and the machine. “I can feel any jarring note made by the car and immediately attend to it. At no point of time she has let me down and the car is getting younger by the day. My children also treat her like a member of the family,” said Raveendran. Adarsh, his son, who follows the H-14 like its shadow, said the feature films are promoting old and vintage cars among the new generation. “Scenes featuring vintage cars have inspired youngsters to compel their parents to go for old motor cars despite the markets getting flooded with sleek and sporty limousines,” he said.
Vijayanand attributes flexibility as the reason for the never-ending love for Ambys. “You can do any kind of experiments, modifications, and alterations with these cars to suit your convenience. There is also a kind of elegance and aristocracy associated with the Ambassadors. I may not be able to explain it through words; you have to experience it,” said Vijayanand.
The ideal example is Sajeeb, who does not allow anyone in the family or his friends to touch his Ambassador. “I never allow others to touch my car. The family has two more cars and I lock this one in the garage when I leave for the UAE after my vacation,” he said.
The Hindustan Motors Club at Chavakkad functions like the Austin Club. Owners of Baby Hindustan, Ambassadors, Land Masters, and Contessas can exchange a lot of ideas and spare parts through the club. “All modern cars are the use-and-throw-away models but not the Ambassadors or Hindustans. Owners who love their cars would take them to the mechanic (in Chavakkad, they are addressed as meistry) who are specialists of Ambassadors. We do not throw away the damaged parts or components. The mechanics restore these parts for us. It is a kind of craftsmanship which needs a lot of patience,” said Velayudhan.
The rally, which is an annual event, also honoured mechanics in the region. Vijayanand said some of them broke down when they were honoured by the celebrities. “It is for the first time that they got recognition from society. This act of honouring them has inculcated a sense of belonging in their mind. They attend to each vehicle with the care shown by family physicians when we go to them with some ailment,” added Sajeeb.
To enliven the rally, there were a dozen Contessas, the first of its kind modern cars built by HM in the 1980s. What caught the eye was the number of Ambassadors which were seen even as we returned from Chavakkad to Ernakulam via the National Highway. Yes, Ambassadors are still in demand in this part of the world.
As the saying goes, old is gold. “We will have another rally soon to compensate for this one, as many car owners could not make it because of the downpour. This kind of rain has been unheard of in the recent past and that’s why we arranged an event like this,” said Vijayanand.
Mr Birla, are you listening?
Writer: Kumar Chellappan
Courtesy: The Pioneer