Ambassador Turbo – review

Words: Ouseph Chacko

Photography: Gaurav S Thombre

I’ve never met Bob, but apparently he’s a very nice guy. A while ago, he was in India on a project and fell in love with the Hindustan Ambassador; more specifically, he fell in love with the shape. Bob is British, you see, and I think he liked that the Ambassador finds its roots in the Morris Oxford which was, ages ago, made in the ’Ole Blighty. Bob didn’t like one thing –the Ambassador’s wheezy engine and, so, began his hunt for someone nutty enough to turn a dinosaur into a faster dinosaur. That’s when he met Karanraj Shah of KS Motorsports. I’ve known Karan for a while now and I’ve driven his Mitsubishi Evos, and I know he’s a bit unhinged in a nice way. He loves taking on unlikely projects, so Bobs idea of a 300bhp Ambassador was right up his street.

Finding a donor Ambassador Grand wasn’t too hard (plenty of those around, aye?) and work began in earnest. It’s not an easy job transplanting 280bhp into an old car and Karan decided the nicest way to do it was to give it a heart transplant and new muscles to keep the 200bhp upgrade on the road. He looked around and found a 1994 Nissan Sylvia S13 and, interestingly, its wheelbase was almost identical to the Ambassador – a few modifications were all that was needed to make the driveline fit in the Ambassador’s shell. New engine mounts were fabricated and the 2-litre turbo petrol four cylinder SR20 DET engine was dropped into the Amby’s vast engine bay.

The challenge then was to ditch the Ambassador’s leaf springs and somehow make the Sylvia’s suspension bits fit under the body shell. The Ambassador doesn’t have mounts for modern suspension struts, so KS Motorsports fabricated entire box sections that fit under the old body and serve as supports for the new suspension, drivetrain and axles.

Bob was insistent that the Ambassador look absolutely original – he didn’t want big wings or bulges to make the donor parts fit (see I told you he’s a nice guy!), so the only visual clues that show this car is nuts is the small chin extension that hides the intercooler, a Nismo exhaust as big as the Holland tunnel and wider alloys and tyres.

Getting in takes me straight back to my dad’s first car. Thumbing the door handle to open it brings back forgotten muscle memory and from then on, everything’s different. Slide into the seats donated by a Mitsubishi Lancer, get comfortable behind the wheel and wince at the horrid dashboard of the Ambassador Grand. The interiors wear a shade of red suede that wouldn’t look out of place in a dance bar and it’s the only detail of the car where Bob and I don’t see eye to eye.

The Sylvia’s gearlever sits a bit further back than the Ambassadors (if yours was a floorshift car) so, I find first gear where a regular car’s second gear is, second gear where the seat belt buckle is and so forth. It is something I have to get used to. The engine has lots of lag (the original turbo was swapped out for a bigger Garrett GT28), there is no rev counter, Karan says the limiter is set to around 7600rpm and it is an absolutely nutty thing to drive. You give it some gas, slowly release the heavy clutch and wait a bit. The Haltech ECU feeds fuel in, the exhaust gases pick up speed and the Ambassador will never be the same for you again.

Boost is strong and the exhaust makes very uncharacteristic Japanese sounds and spits great big flames as your head gets thrown back and your teeth appear involuntarily in all the photos. We didn’t measure it on the VBOX because it seemed like quite the undignified thing to do and in a car like this, does it really matter? All I know is that it is quick enough to startle everyone else on the road. They simply aren’t prepared to see an Ambassador do “The Fast and The Furious” thing. It’s like seeing your 80-year old bed-ridden grandfather get up and run a sub ten second 100m dash –it boggles and confuses the mind.

The box section chassis brings with it welcome stiffness to the Ambassador body, so it goes around corners flat and stable. You have to be careful though – there is no modern ‘save ass’ electronics on board and when you really corner it, the inside rear wheel spins up. When it finds grip again, it tends to snap the car the other way and that’s when you thank the Sylvia for donating its quick steering. You’ll also thank the D2 Racing disc brakes all around because they are full of feel and well up to the task of bringing the Ambassador’s new found momentum to a quick stop. Oh, and there’s no ABS, so you’ll have to go back to the history books and re-learn threshold braking.

Karan says he will never build another one like this because of the massive headache he had finding old Ambassador parts. The Grand comes with power windows and regular inside door handles and since Bob loves old bits, Karan had to source those parts from Kolkata. He says it took him more time to get bits like the original chrome grille, the old door handles and the old-school window winders than it did for him to think of, make, and upgrade the chassis.

This story ends on a bit of a sad note unfortunately. Old Bob passed away just before his car was finished and so this is an Ambassador without a cause. Bob’s colleagues, who now own the car, want to sell it and Karan’s already thought of his next project. I ask him what that could be and he says he wants to save old Merc W124 E-Classes by transplanting Toyota Supra engines into them. Did I mention he is a bit unhinged?

Like this car? Contact Karan at +(91) 9833666333 and maybe you can convince him to build one for you.

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