“The new Ambassador hits not only the target but the bullseye.” Steve Cropley. Editor, Car magazine. February 1982.
Launched in March 1982, and with changes to the Princess radical enough to warrant a name change, the Austin Ambassador really was a last ditch attempt to answer all the criticisms of the Princess. Most importantly it was at last available with a rear hatchback, something the car buying public had been crying out for since 1975. The new car now sported an unintentional Austin-Morris corporate look similar to the new Austin Metro and Morris Ital (the Allegro and Maxi were also still in the price lists!) and the new lower bonnet line was possible due to the deletion of the E6 2200 engine - the 100bhp twin carburettor 2-litre O-Series now being the most powerful unit.
The lack of a tailgate in the Princess was seen as a major drawback but the other major weakness of the Princess - that of its performance - still wasn’t properly addressed with the Ambassador. The Ambassador was certainly more versatile and had much better packaging than its forebear but it was no performance car when compared with its rivals. Nevertheless, Autocar - though under whelmed by its performance - were enthusiastic about the Ambassador and gave it the thumbs up; their road test of 10th April 1982 said of the 2.0HL, “The Ambassador’s strengths are its ride, good (for most people) seating, its frugal-for-two-litres economy, all for a very good price, which makes it exceptional value for money.”
The Ambassador was competitively priced when launched; £5106 would get you and entry level 1.7L, whilst £8500 would see you in a Vanden Plas, but it would also buy you a Ford Sierra 2.0 Ghia, which was the family car to be seen driving in 1983. And if you wanted performance and versatility then the storming hatchback Vauxhall Cavalier 1800SRi was an absolute bargain at some £500 less than a VP Ambassador.
This modern, stiff competition meant that the Ambassador never reached the sales targets Austin-Morris had hoped for and only 43,427 were sold during its two-year production run - not a disaster but hardly a success.
Like the Princess, the Ambassador was more or less left to its own devices and no effort was made by Austin-Morris to spice up the range, leaving Ford and Vauxhall the niche markets to themselves. Add to that its watered down Princess styling in lieu of versatility and the combination wasn’t a winning formula. Austin Morris may have gotten away with the Marina/Ital restyle, but the typical purchaser in this sector was a little more discerning and for them the changes weren’t enough; the competition was simply more interesting and desirable. The Ambassador can best be summed up as the car the Princess always could have been.
The conventional Austin Maestro and Montego range replaced the Ambassador in 1984.
The Ambassador’s 2 year production run and its lack of popularity means these cars are quite rare now. Vanden Plas versions are the most desirable.
Next page: Ambassador Development Story
The Ambassador’s front view was smoother and was similar to the Morris Ital, but the unintentional Austin-Morris corporate look, brought about by designers having to use Morris Ital headlights meant the character of the original Princess was lost, and some argue that it was an unnecessary change.
At last, 5-doors meant the potential of the Princess was fully realised. With the 13-year-old Austin Maxi about to gasp its last breath it was hoped that the Ambassador would increase its market share with its newfound versatility.
The top-of-the-range Vanden Plas. Only available with the 2-litre engine it is identifiable by the standard alloy wheels, front fog lamps, wider side-rubbing strip and bumpers with bright capping, along with a bright capping above the front grille. It also sported VP decals on its rear flanks.
The big news was the large rear tailgate, allowing access to 54.7 cu ft. of luggage space with the rear seats folded down.
The seating arrangement was more versatile with the fold down rear backrest but the quality seems to have suffered, a point now proven, as the material used on these cars doesn’t seem to have lasted as well as that on older Princess cars. Electric front windows were now available as was a sunroof and central locking; the ashtrays were neatly incorporated into the rear door grabs. This is an HLS interior.
Unfortunately, the drivers view wasn’t so good. This HL shows the cheap looking 2-tone dash and the nasty steering wheel; even the Vanden Plas didn’t get a leather bound wheel! And still no rev-counter. Even so, the ergonomics were an improvement over the Princess, as was the general build quality. Later Ambassador Vanden Plas received wood door and facia cappings to bring it into line with other VP models from Austin-Morris.