Austin Ambassador Buying Guide
It was the super-practical hatch that the Princess should have been, and now the Austin Ambassador makes a great left-field classic – if you can find one...
How much to pay
• Project £200-450 • Good £600-1500 • Concours £1700-1900 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Few cars polarise opinions like British Leyland’s 1970s models. Whether it’s the TR7, Allegro, Marina or Princess, each one has a reputation that’s, er, less than positive. However, while there’s no denying that each of these cars represented a missed opportunity for various reasons, they also have a certain charm.
As the 1970s became the 1980s things improved only marginally, with the Maestro, Montego and various Rover models struggling to gain acceptance. Stuck somewhere in all of this was the Ambassador, a 1970s model updated for the new decade.
Sharing only its door skins with the Princess, the Ambassador was little more than a hatchback version of its predecessor but the panelwork was almost all new. Throw in fresh headlights (borrowed from the Ital), bumpers and an overhauled interior, and the changes were more far reaching than initially seems apparent.
Whether or not all of this makes the Ambassador desirable is a moot point. However, if you’re looking for a seriously affordable classic that’s guaranteed to be the only example at any show you go to, we’d say the Ambassador is worth a closer look – if you can find one to look at.
Your AutoClassics Austin Ambassador inspection checklist
All Ambassadors came with an overhead-cam O-series engine in either 1698cc or 1994cc forms; there was no six-cylinder option, unlike with the Princess. An oil and filter change every year or 6000 miles is key to keeping the motor in rude health; a diet of 10W/40 oil is preferable.
The O-series needs a new cambelt every five years, and it’s an easy job to replace on a DIY basis. All Ambassador engines can run on unleaded with no problems; valve-seat recession doesn’t seem to be an issue.
There’s a steel pipe that goes from the bottom of the radiator to the water pump. It rusts through, and as replacements are no longer available, new ones have to be fabricated. It’s not a complicated part, though.
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bi-metallic strip that controls everything has a habit of failing, which is why many of these twin-carb systems have been replaced by a single carb operated via a manual choke.
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. Consequently, 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.
Austin Princess Vdp limousine
A large and Regal, Princess, bodied by Vanden Plas. Drives well and mechanically good. Ideal for wedding and special occasions. Fitted with occasional seats and seats 7. Column gear change.For Sale | 09 Jun 2018 | Bicester Heritage, Launton, Bicester OX26 5HA, UK£ 14,000
1930 AUSTIN SWALLOW SALOON COUPE
It can be said that the Austin 7 was Britain’s equivalent of the Ford Model T. Of course, the little 7 came along a bit later than the Ford, in 1922 to be exact, but nonetheless it put Britain on wheels like no other motorcar before it. In essence, the 7 replaced virtually all other competitors offering compacts and cyclecars. The 7 was tiny at just 6 foot, 3 inch in wheelbase, 40 inches wide anFor Sale | 12 May 2018 | 2310 Chaffee Drive, St. Louis, MO 63146$ 48,500
AUSTIN MINI SEVEN 850 LHD IN A MINT RESTORED...
Austin Seven Mini from 1967 in MINT condition. Has been fully restored and mechanically rebuilt into every detail into the highest level. Beautiful green interior, tinted glass, the original wheels etc. etc. Mechanically in a perfect working and driving condition. Rare original LHD version in the best possible condition!For Sale | 09 May 2018 | ARNHEMSESTRAAT 47, 6971 AP BRUMMEN, THE NETHERLANDS€ 24,750
Austin Sprite Sebring Evocation 1965
The Austin Sebring Sprite was introduced to the public at the London Racing Car Show in January 1961. Only six cars were produced, two of which travelled to the United States to be raced at Sebring in the hands of Stirling Moss and his sister Pat, Britain’s most successful female rally driver. The Sprite was continually developed over the next few years culminating in the most iconic and successFor Sale | 11 Dec 2017 | Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom£ 20,950
Austin Big 7 4-door saloon
This very nicely restored Big 7 has only just been finished and to a very high standard. Total restoration. Drives very well indeed. Sunroof. 900cc engine bored to +30. Good file of bills and history. First registered early 1940, one of the last built in 1939.For Sale | 09 Jun 2018 | Bicester Heritage, Launton, Bicester OX26 5HA, UK£ 9,750
1977 AUSTIN Mini Cooper
* THIS CAR IS LOCATED IN SYDNEY, NS This is a Rare and very nice 1977 Austin Mini Cooper that has 56,199 miles on the odometer. It is finished in a Blue metallic with a complementary Black vinyl interior. The paint, the chrome, the engine compartment and the interior are all in very good condition and overall this is a super example of the 1977 Austin Mini Cooper. Check the undercarriage pictures!For Sale | 19 Apr 2018 | Turnpike St North Andover, MA,01845$ 12,900
Import rechtstreeks vanuit Amerika. Betreft een zeer geschikte basis voor restauratie. Complete motor is beschikbaar. EU importuty paid in Holland, with USA title, comes with compleet engine. Prijswijzigingen, druk- en zetfouten voorbehouden. Altijd ruim 500 auto`s op voorraad, check de actuele voorraad via www.hofman.nl. Volg ons ook op facebook.com/HofmanLeek. Prijswijzigingen, zet en drukfoutenFor Sale | 16 Apr 2018 | Rodenburg 1, 9351 PV Leek€ 8,900
1959 Austin A40 Farina MKI De-Lux
This sensational Austin A40 Farina MK 1 De-lux was built on the 2nd of April 1959 and despatched on the 3rd of April 1959 to L.F.Dove Ltd of Croydon. The car was supplied new in Horizon Blue with a Black Roof and beautiful Pale Blue interior and optional extras include a heater, reversing light and windscreen washers. This special car had been with one owner for 40 years, prior to that the car belFor Sale | 16 Apr 2018 | Corner Farm, West Knapton, Malton, North Yorkshire, UK, YO17 8JB£ 13,750
Austin Heale Sprite 1968
1968 Austin Healey Sprite looks great! fun to drive! 4 cylinder, 4 speed lots of new suspension work done recently, sway bar, shocks, control arms and bushings, new brakes, fresh tune-up, rebuilt the carbs, fixed all the electrical issues, it has a newer top that is completely removable, newer carpets, seats are in Great shape, tires are like new. Nice stereo with great speakers. I also havFor Sale | 16 Apr 2018 | Milwaukee, WI, USA$ 5,000
Austin A60 Cambridge 1966
1966 AUSTIN A60 CAMBRIDGE FARINA AUTO 4 DOOR SALOON 38000 miles only from new with full history. This motorcar is very smartly finished in snowberry white and cardinal red side strip and wheels with full red leather trim. Affectionately known as Bobby, the car was supplied by Hilldale garage, Seven Sisters Road, London to Mr A Glynn or Hornchurch Essex in 1966. The car was subject to a bareFor Sale | 14 Feb 2018 | Poole, UK£ 9,995
All Ambassadors were fitted with a four-speed manual gearbox as standard; there was no five-ratio option, although a Borg-Warner Type 35 automatic transmission could be specified. The manual ’box is essentially the same transmission that featured in the Landcrab and Princess, although the Ambassador got a higher final drive for more relaxed cruising.
The automatic ’box is very reliable and, once it’s worn out, getting it rebuilt by a specialist is no problem, as all the parts are readily available. The manual will notch up 100,000 miles between strip-downs, but even when in mint condition the gearchange is pretty horrible, with first proving very difficult to select when cold. It’s all part of the charm of Ambassador ownership.
Suspension and brakes
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. However, the displacers at the heart of the system 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 arch. If the car is lop-sided or sitting low generally, the system is down on pressure. It’s possible to sort this on a DIY basis with the right tools, and the fluid should be replaced every five years, because after this point the corrosion inhibitor loses its effectiveness. The displacers can be overhauled relatively cheaply; doing so will transform the ride and handling.
Any car with its original suspension bushes will have very vague handling, although the model’s dynamics were never pin sharp anyway. Replacements are available; 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 that 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.
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.
The Ambassador’s all-steel monocoque doesn’t rust as badly as some of its contemporaries’, but the corrosion can still be pretty bad. As a result, you need to check everywhere, especially the sills, wheelarches, valances and bottom of each front wing. Less predictably the roof corrodes badly towards the rear of the car, above the C-pillar, and repairs are involved. 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 readily available. Also, the windscreen rubbers harden and perish, then let water in, rotting the carpets and floorpans. Rubbers are currently unobtainable, although the Leyland Princess Enthusiasts’ Club is looking into getting them remanufactured.
None of the cabin 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. Predictably, finding any original replacement trim is unlikely, especially if you want it to match what you already have.
- 1982: The Ambassador takes over from the Princess with a choice of 1.7 L or HL editions alongside a 2.0 HL and a twin-carb HLS. Poshest model of all is the Vanden Plas, which doesn’t have leather even as an option and initially there’s no wood trim, either. All editions can be specified with a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
- 1983: Until now power steering was optional, but from July this becomes standard across the range. At the same time the exterior is adorned with plastic protective mouldings, while the interior is spruced up with some fillets of wood on the doors and dashboard. However, by November it’s all over, with the Maestro and Montego picking up the baton.
The comfortable and refined Ambassador is astonishingly practical, thanks to its roomy cabin and hatchback configuration. Thanks to excellent club support you’ve got plenty of knowledge and enthusiasm at your fingertips, but you might have to bide your time for the right car to come up for sale.
The key problem you’re going to have with purchasing an Ambassador is finding one that’s worth buying; only 43,427 were built, and the survival rate is abysmal. However, there are some really good examples around, and prices remain eminently affordable when they do come up for sale.
Many of the survivors are the posher editions, which is no bad thing. Assuming that any Ambassador you buy will be used only sparingly, it's essential that you snap up the best you can afford rather than setting out to buy a specific variation on the theme.
|Ambassador 2.0 HLS|
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It can be said that the Austin 7 was Britain’s equivalent of the Ford Model T. Of course, the little 7 came along a bit later than the Ford, in 1922 to be exact, but nonetheless it put Britain on wheels like no other motorcar before it. In essence, the 7 replaced virtually all other competitors offering compacts and cyclecars. The 7 was tiny at just 6 foot, 3 inch in wheelbase, 40 inches wide an
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The Austin Sebring Sprite was introduced to the public at the London Racing Car Show in January 1961. Only six cars were produced, two of which travelled to the United States to be raced at Sebring in the hands of Stirling Moss and his sister Pat, Britain’s most successful female rally driver. The Sprite was continually developed over the next few years culminating in the most iconic and success