Buy­ing Guide

Austin Am­bas­sador

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Front Page - WORDS Richard Dredge PHOTOGRAPHY Magic Car Pics

hen Bri­tish Ley­land launched the 1975 range of Austin, Mor­ris and Wolse­ley mod­els that would even­tu­ally be­come the Princess, one of the crit­i­cisms aimed at its rad­i­cal de­sign was that it wasn’t a hatch­back. De­spite the wedge shape nat­u­rally lend­ing it­self to such a for­mat and de­signer Har­ris Mann fully in­tend­ing it to have a fifth door, it wasn’t un­til Austin’s Am­bas­sador re­vamp came along in 1982 that this prac­ti­cal fea­ture made a be­lated ap­pear­ance at last.

Shar­ing only its doorskins with the Princess, the Am­bas­sador looked very sim­i­lar to its pre­de­ces­sor but the pan­el­work was al­most all new. With a fresh set of head­lights ( bor­rowed from the Ital), new bumpers, and an over­hauled, moreup-to-date in­te­rior, the changes were more far-reach­ing than might have been ini­tially ap­par­ent.

At launch in March 1982 there was a 1.7-litre L or HL along­side a 2.0 HL and a twin-carb HLS. Posh­est model of the lot was the Van­den Plas (al­though it didn’t have leather and ini­tially there was no wood ei­ther). All edi­tions could be spec­i­fied with a four-speed manual or three-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Power steer­ing was op­tional but from July 1983 this be­came stan­dard. At the same time the ex­te­rior was adorned with plas­tic pro­tec­tive mould­ings and the in­te­rior was spruced up with fil­lets of wood on the doors and dash­board. But by Novem­ber 1983 it was all over, with the Mae­stro and Mon­tego pick­ing up the ba­ton.

The key prob­lem you’re go­ing to have is find­ing one; just 43,427 were built and the sur­vival rate is abysmal. But there are some re­ally good ex­am­ples around, and de­spite its rep­u­ta­tion, you do want an Am­bas­sador. Yes, re­ally!

WSTEEL YOUR­SELF

The Am­bas­sador’s all-steel mono­coque doesn’t rust as badly as some of its con­tem­po­raries but cor­ro­sion can still be pretty bad. As a re­sult you need to check ev­ery­where, es­pe­cially the sills, whee­larches, valances and the bot­tom of each front wing. Less pre­dictably the roof cor­rodes badly to­wards the rear of the car, above the C-pil­lar, and re­pairs are com­plex. Rot­ten A-pil­lars are com­mon too, along with cor­ro­sion in the seams. As you’d ex­pect, find­ing re­place­ment pan­els isn’t easy al­though front wings are avail­able. Wind­screen rub­bers har­den and per­ish then let wa­ter in, rot­ting the car­pets and floor­pans. Rub­bers are cur­rently un­ob­tain­able al­though the Ley­land Princess club is look­ing into get­ting them re­man­u­fac­tured.

FUEL’S ER­RAND

The fuel pump is po­si­tioned in­side the petrol tank, which cre­ates ac­cess prob­lems. In the­ory you can get to the pump by re­mov­ing a panel that’s held in place by a lock­ing ring but in re­al­ity this ring rusts along with the tank and the panel. As a re­sult, re­mov­ing the ring can dam­age it and it never seals prop­erly when it’s put back. So if there are fuel pump is­sues your best bet is to by­pass the orig­i­nal unit and fit a se­condary pump out­side of the tank, to feed the en­gine.

SUS­PEN­SION OF DIS­BE­LIEF

Any car with its orig­i­nal sus­pen­sion bushes will have very vague han­dling; it was never pin-sharp any­way. Re­place­ments are avail­able through the club; fo­cus on the front bushes as they’re the ones that have the hard­est time and failed items will put the Hy­dra­gas dis­plac­ers un­der even greater pres­sure. You also need to en­sure the rub­ber re­bound straps for the rear sus­pen­sion are still in­tact, be­cause if these have failed the car will dive un­der brak­ing. Any failed straps will mean an MoT fail­ure but it’s al­ways worth keep­ing an eye on things be­tween tests. Fi­nally, the Am­bas­sador’s tyres were de­signed to be part of the sus­pen­sion, so they need to be kept at the cor­rect pres­sures: 27psi at the front and 24psi at the rear.

TRIM SHOP

None of the in­te­rior trim is es­pe­cially durable, es­pe­cially if left in the sun. The seat backs will turn to dust if they’re not cov­ered up and the car­pets get holed all too eas­ily. That’s why any car­ing owner will have kept ev­ery­thing cov­ered up. Pre­dictably, find­ing any orig­i­nal re­place­ment trim is un­likely, es­pe­cially if you want it to match what you al­ready have.

HYDRA POWER

The Am­bas­sador wal­lows in bends but the trade-off is fab­u­lous com­fort on the straights. It’s all down to the Hy­dra­gas sus­pen­sion which works bril­liantly and isn’t in­her­ently un­re­li­able or com­pli­cated. But the dis­plac­ers are scarce. If ev­ery­thing is work­ing prop­erly you should be able to get four fin­gers be­tween the front tyre and whee­larch

and four or five fin­gers be­tween the rear tyre and whee­larch. If the car is lop­sided or sit­ting low gen­er­ally, the sys­tem is down on pres­sure. A DIY fix is pos­si­ble with the right tools, which you can buy for £100. Fluid should be changed ev­ery five years; af­ter this, the cor­ro­sion in­hibitor loses its ef­fec­tive­ness. Dis­plac­ers can be over­hauled by The Re­gassing Ser­vice for about £100 apiece.

CARB DIET

Top-spec cars came with twin SU car­bu­ret­tors with an au­to­matic choke sys­tem. As is com­mon with most of these set-ups, the bi-me­tal­lic strip that con­trols ev­ery­thing has a habit of fail­ing, which is why many of these twin-carb sys­tems have been re­placed by a sin­gle carb op­er­ated via a manual choke.

EN­GINE ROOM

All Am­bas­sadors came with an over­head

cam O-Se­ries en­gine in ei­ther 1698cc or 1994cc forms; there was no six-cylin­der op­tion as with the Princess. An oil and fil­ter change ev­ery year or 6000 miles is key to keep­ing the en­gine in rude health; a diet of 10W/40 oil is prefer­able. The O-Se­ries en­gine needs a re­place­ment cam­belt ev­ery five years and it’s an easy DIY job. All en­gines can run on un­leaded with no prob­lems; valve seat re­ces­sion doesn’t seem to be an is­sue. There’s a steel pipe which goes from the bot­tom of the ra­di­a­tor to the wa­ter pump. It rusts through and re­place­ments are no longer avail­able, so new ones have to be fab­ri­cated, al­though it’s not a com­pli­cated part.

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