ROSE AMONG THE THORNS: The evergreen Morris Oxford family car continued to be built for nearly 60 years in India after production ended in its native England, endearing itself to the masses. Image: Dave Fall
Heritage Day 2014 celebrations across the country included (among all the braai competitions) a vintage car meet with participants congregating at Cape Town’s Rondebosch Common car-park in the early morning before departing downtown to the the show venue at Cape Town Castle in the city centre.
A perfect opportunity for classic-car enthusiasts to drool over their favourite brands of yesteryear.
On view were lots of Jaguars, Armstrong Siddeleys, Sunbeams, Morrises and MG’s, Rolls-Royces, Rileys and Auntie Rovers from the UK; Studebakers, Chevs and early Fords from the US; and early Volvos and Mercedes-Benz from Europe.
'BEST TAXI IN THE WORLD'
Whatever, the car that commanded my fullest attention that day was a Series III Morris Oxford with its original patina (seen alongside this article) – a car that until a few months earlier was still being assembled in India, albeit rebadged as a Hindustan Ambassador.
That’s right, the folk responsible for the ‘Amby’ (Ambassador) - which the Top Gear guys declared “The best taxis in the world” and after 57 years of production, Hindustan Motors decided to pull the plug on the car. Goodness knows how many of them were actually built - records were never kept).
Initially, the car was assembled from components supplied by the British Motor Corporation but when BMC restyled the Oxford for the fourth time agreed to sell the earlier car’s tooling to Hindustan.
These are solid cars, with solid-looking mudguards and curvy styling that hides a really tough suspension system that’s built to take Third World road and would have cushioned fare-paying passengers (and most likely their vast amounts of luggage) for millions of kilometres during a vehicle’s lifetime.
DESIGNED BY MR. MINI
Even the original Oxford back in the 1950’s was noted for its comfort, something that did not change during the life of the vehicle. Something of a “time-capsule car”, with the exception of a Morgan perhaps, the Amby has no equal.
A recent statement issued by Hindustan Motors said production had been halted at its plant outside the city of Calcutta in West Bengal and cited numerous problems, among them low productivity and a lack of demand for its core product that meant they would no longer be able to manufacture the Amby at a profit.
The Oxford was designed by one Alec Issigonis (later to gain real fame as the creator of the original Mini) and based on the 1950’s, British built-and-designed Morris Oxford and the only new car available in far-away India at the time.
The one place where the Ambassador does remain strong is in the city of Calcutta where more than 33 000 do sterling service as taxis. Many are ancient and have been repeatedly repaired. Owners and drivers reckon because of the vehicle’s relatively simple design they are easy to fix and parts are usually readily available.
MORRIS OXFORD SPECIFICATIONS
Engine: 1489cc, 41kW BMC B-Series
Gears: Four-speed manual
Body-style: Four-door sedan
Assembled in India from 1957-2014