Cars Time Forgotten: Austin Ambassador

British Leyland. A brand synonymous with failure, rust, strikes, and innovation. That’s right, innovation is one of the ideals that kept the Brits from imploding even further. They’ve already lost an empire so why don’t they try propping up something they should be decent at; motoring ingenuity. The British were the one’s that gave us quirky little cars and exciting sports tourers but that was in the 1960s and before. In the seventies, things were changing in the form of the Japanese invading the ports of Dover. With cars that are reliable (SHOCK!) and cost less than what is offered by the local companies (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?) and not kamikaze pilots.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

By the seventies, British Leyland was failing. Miserably I might add. Along with the words pathetic and did I mention about the strikes earlier. The company was plagued with a horrible reputation with reliability and every day there is news about ongoing workers strikes which affected production. Britain was not the cosmopolitan, hipster, cool country it is today. It was bleak and dark in the seventies. Heck, everything was bleak and dark in the 70s apart from the music and movies which were surprisingly among the most beloved in decades.

austin20princess20180020hl20dl-opt485x339o02c0s485x339

The other issue BL was facing was weak sales. Austin was selling cars dating back to a decade ago and if you think that is bad, wait till you see what Morris decided to do to replace the Minor? Things were going bad but BL decided to launch a new car anyway because as the saying goes, the show must go on! Or at least a pantomime of a show. Enter the Princess. Initially, it was badged as an Austin or a Wolseley but BL decided “Fuck it” and just made a new brand instead.

090302-austin-princess-03

Thus, the Princess brand was born and initially sales were strong. BL finally had the moment of triumph they have been waiting for. But it did not last long. Soon the reliability issue popped in and the car gained a reputation for being a hassle due to its reliability. Then there was the design. BL literally redesigned the wheel with the Allegro, now with the Princess they decided to fuck the whole convention of the word hatchback. The Princess looks like a hatchback, feels like a hatchback but it is anything but a hatchback. The rear window is fixed to the car and boot is placed separately below. In other words, it opens like a conventional sedan, Heck even the designer initially wanted it to open like a normal hatchback but the dumbasses executives in BL thought otherwise for fear it may affect sales of another hatchback from another car company under BL.

austin_ambassador_1_82-880x420

By the time the eighties rolled in, BL went from miserable to just shitfaced. What remained from a conglomerate of nine car companies in the 1970s is just a husk of what remained at the the turn of the 1980s. Jaguar was sold off and as the eighties come towards an end so did almost all the companies in BL and BL itself died out in 1986. The Princess brand did not make it pass the big eight-zero but rather continued on as an Austin. While the Princess received much fanfare when it was launched, the Ambassador’s launch was muted.

image018

At least they got one thing right, the car now has an actual hatch. Even that wasn’t enough to save the Ambassador or whatever reputation the car had when it was a Princess. Many fans of the Princess (and there are some) thought the Ambassador lacked charisma and is merely the same car underneath with a newer, more modern grille and a hatchback. The Ambassador only lasted for two years in production and was not exported overseas.

austinambassadorvandenplas_interior1

As such, the Ambassador is very rare car and by rare, I meant endangered. According to Honest John, a pretty reputable British car buying guide, there are only 73 remaining! Do remember, that almost all 43,500 made were only available in the UK and few were exported overseas. The Ambassador is not meant for long term production as BL were pretty broke and although it has significant changes, this is truly a Car Time Forgotten.

Cars Time Forgotten: Perodua Nautica

Ah yes. Malaysia. My own home country where anything and everything is possible. We always think that the two biggest car companies in Malaysia, Proton and Perodua are the best and we are winners when a Western publication gives a shout-out to either one, especially Proton. Those were the days when they dominated everything in the market but all that changed in 2008 when Perodua launched the Nautica and we began to see the beginning of the change in the Malaysian car landscape.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

The Nautica was not Perodua’s first foray into SUVs and 4WDs. Perodua is essentially seen as a younger brother to Proton. While Proton was supposed to be Malaysia’s pride and joy in engineering, Perodua is seen as the cheap and cheerful carmaker. Their first car was the Kancil which was based off a Daihatsu Mira and this was followed by the Rusa (Daihatsu Zebra), Kembara (Daihatsu Terios), Kenari (Daihatsu Move), Kelisa (Daihatsu Cuore), Myvi (Daihatsu Sirion), Viva (Daihatsu Mira AVY), and then this, the Nautica. You may see a pattern in the cars Perodua produced and what they are based on. Beginning with the Myvi, which was launched in 2005, Perodua became a serious contender for Proton and moved their focus from being cheap and cheerful to a legitimate car company who wants to show big brother who’s in charge.

peroduamyvi3

Perhaps Perodua went a little too overambitious when they launch the Nautica. Even if Perodua was still seen as a company that makes rebadged Japanese kei cars with unfair import tax regulations that makes Malaysians buy local cars even if they are shit affordable prices, the main emphasis here is affordability. As mentioned before, the Nautica is not Perodua’s first try in an SUV market. The Kembara was well loved by many Malaysians with its quirky size and off-road attitude. It was on the market for nearly ten years with minimal cosmetic changes. To many off-roaders who wanted something cheap to bash around with, it’s either this or a used Suzuki SJ.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When news got out that Perodua is bringing back an SUV into its lineup, Malaysians couldn’t control their excitement. The Kembara was well-received and popular and ever since the Myvi was launched, every Perodua that is launched became a golden egg for the company. By this time, Perodua was the number one carmaker in Malaysia. It was the best-selling car manufacturer thanks to their affordable cars, overtaking big brother Proton. Malaysian car nerds who are well versed in Perodua’s product strategy knew that the new Kembara would be based off the second-generation Daihatsu Terios, making this a successor to the original.

aetv20263494_1

At this point, people were holding their breath. People are getting excited for the new Kembara. And so, came May 2008. Perodua announced the all new Nautica. HURRAY! It will be imported from Japan. ALRIGHT! And it will cost RM89,000 (around USD21,000, a high spec Perodua Myvi at the time costs around USD12,000). WAIT! WHAT THE M#^*$%##*&&%F***K?! The main cause of panic is not the price. At RM89,000, that is a lot for a car with a small size and also with a badge that screams out AFFORDABILITY. Also, we forgot to mention it will only be available in automatic. OH THE HUMANITY!

perodua_nautica_4wd_51

 

Being imported from Japan means that quality is not of the issue here. The main issue is the price that could gauge someone’s eye out. It is also not true that Perodua executives did not know that the car would not sell out in huge volumes like the Kembara which took a 60% market share in the SUV class a year after it was launched. They knew the price is of concern but perhaps they went a little to optimistic in sales figure. Perodua is an established brand and they figured “Hmm…Perodua will have no problems moving sales up despite of the price. We predict 150 to 200 Nauticas will be sold monthly”.

perodua_nautica_teaser_site_1_large

Boy, were they wrong! In its first year of sales, only 489 were sold. That’s right, less than 500 of these cars were sold. And that was that. Perodua quietly discontinued sales of the Nautica citing insufficient Approval Permits (AP) for importation. Essentially, the reason for Perodua and Proton to succeed well in its home country bit off the back of the instigators. Oh the sweet irony that plays upon them! The Nautica was not really a bad car to begin with. The reason for its failure isn’t the importation permits but rather the price.

colors_rush_champagne

For around the same price, Malaysians could get a Toyota Rush that is A) able to fit in seven people instead of just five in the Nautica and B) is actually available in manual if you want to rev that 1.5 liter engine off-roading. Put this into consideration and you could see which would be a logical selection between the Nautica and the Rush for around the same price. Also, further disclosure, the Rush and the Nautica are essentially the same except the Rush is an extended wheelbase version. Obviously, Toyota is seen as the winner here.

perodua_nautica_4wd_2_large

Perodua learned its lessons. Now it continues on to make affordable cars and maintained its position as the best-selling car brand in Malaysia. But many things have changed in the past nearly ten years since the Nautica came and quickly left. For one, the car landscape in Malaysia has become more varied. What used to consist of mainly Protons and Peroduas are now dwindling. Perodua holds the top position for best-selling automaker but Proton is slowly losing its edge. What used to hold nearly 90% of the Malaysian car market is now behind Honda. The importation tax that the government used to support Proton and Perodua is now relaxed as Malaysians are spoiled for choice on the cars they wished to get. Cars are now priced so closely, you could actually buy the brand of your dreams instead of a Proton or a Perodua. Perodua’s recent offerings, the Bezza saloon and the Axia hatchback have their very own style that is different to the Daihatsus they are based on. The Nautica though has been quickly dusted off and became a Car Time Forgotten.

 

Cars Time Forgotten: Isuzu Oasis

When I mention the name Isuzu, what is the first thing that pops up in your mind? For many of us it could be this, this, this, or even this. If you grew up in the States in the 80s and 90s you remember Isuzu as a man. But Isuzu wasn’t just only about selling commercial vehicles and trucks (and occasionally lying to people to buy said trucks). Isuzu was a small car company and actually sold passenger cars. Granted, the company was more famous in selling pick-up trucks and light commercial vehicles but in the 1990s, Isuzu struck a deal with Honda to produce some of its cars under the Isuzu badge.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

Under this agreement, Isuzu will build the Domani/Civic, Accord, and the Odyssey as the Gemini, Aska, and Oasis respectively and Honda will badge the Rodeo and Trooper as the Passport and Acura SLX respectively. But of all the three Isuzu rebadges, why is the Oasis is of significance here? Well, the Gemini had its nameplate since the 1970s and the Aska had a tuner version in the 1980s. Speaking of the Gemini, Isuzu made what is possibly the most beautiful art of car ballet seen in a commercial ever.

Isuzu made a few cars prior to the Honda agreement. There was the Piazza sports car, the I-Mark/Gemini, the Bellett, and what is probably the nicest looking coupe that is built by a company you never thought would make a car like this, the 117 Coupe.

isuzu-117-coup-04

In truth, why focus on the minivan instead of the 117 Coupe? It is after all a car that not many people may have known it was an Isuzu. Well, the reason for that is the 117 is now a sought after collectible and once a car has become so rare that prices shoot up, it is not forgotten by time but merely revived again by sight. The Oasis is rare now but it is truly forgotten. The Odyssey it was based on is currently in its fifth generation and there are two variants too. One for North America and the other for international markets.

pictures_isuzu_oasis_1996_1

Unlike the Gemini and the Aska, the Oasis is imported into America while the Gemini and Aska remain only available in Japan. Meaning it is the only Isuzu based-Honda to be sold outside of Japan.  Isuzu made another rebadged Honda that time has completely forgotten besides the three, the Integra-based Vertex and this one is sold in Thailand. Oh and when I mentioned Integra, you thought it’s gonna be the coolest looking Isuzu that is not a jacked-up truck on ‘roids? Sorry to break it to you but this is more Civic-based as seen in the picture below.

4187070812150816

You can check out more on the story of the Vertex in this article here except I have to point out that this car is apparently only available in Thailand not Indonesia. I don’t see records of it being sold in Japan other than as a Honda Integra. Kinda cool, Thailand! Then again, as I research a bit more on the Vertex, I came across the Honda Tourmaster, a pick-up truck based off a, drumroll please, Isuzu Faster. Again, this is a Thailand exclusive truck. So, that makes the total badge engineering between Honda and Isuzu to seven.

1996_08_honda_tourmaster_03

We seem to be straying off track here a bit on the car we’re focusing on this week. Back to the Oasis. Essentially, everything about it is similar to the first-gen Odyssey it is based on but it has better warranty and is sold at a cheaper price. Kinda like what Proton did with the Inspira when it was sold alongside the Mitsubishi Lancer it is based on, except just with a cheaper price. Unfortunately, Americans aren’t like Malaysians. The Oasis was hampered by poor sales because Isuzu was not as well known as Honda. Despite offering a lower sticker price, brand recognition trumps here. The car sold poorly with less than 3000 units sold each year from 1996 to 1999. To put that in perspective, Honda sold 27.025 units of the Odyssey in 1996 ALONE. That’s essentially more than twice the number sold by Isuzu.

150338_1477998066799_1139160515_31079765_3355487_n

To compensate for the low sales, some Oasis (or should I say Oases?) were used as NYC taxicabs. That brings a bit of recognition for the car, right? Well, it didn’t really muster up anything but it did change the whole landscape of the NYC taxi scene. In the 90s when a program was launched to seek out alternatives for the Caprices and Crown Victorias, the Oasis (and the Odyssey) made waves as one of the first non-American carmakers to hold the famed medallion in decades and it was also unthinkable to see minivans being used as taxis back then. Nowadays, it is common to see Toyota Camrys and Siennas used as taxis in New York City ever since they phased out the Crown Vics.

2510354128_d73227b924

In the end, the Oasis was quickly forgotten after three unsuccessful years in production. Isuzu called it quits and left the American market in 2009. The last passenger car model was the Aska which ended production in 2002. Isuzu now focuses more on commercial vehicles as its bread and butter. The company is still in partners with General Motors but the relationship between Honda ended after the final Aska left the production line. The Oasis on the other hand, despite having a cheaper price for what is essentially the same car as its far more popular twin, became a Car Time Forgotten.

 

Cars Time Forgotten: Opel/Vauxhall Signum

The Opel/Vauxhall Vectra is seen by many Europeans as their version of the Toyota Camry; a boring but useful car to bring one from A to B. It was common but bland and it did its job well as a white goods on wheels. So imagine when the head honchos at General Motors Europe decide to spice things up by launching a hatchback version of the Vectra. Thus, in came the Signum

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

opel-signum_3-0_dti-2003-1024-07

Like most cars at the turn of the 21st century, the Signum started life as a concept, the Signum2 in 2001. Most of the design elements from the Signum2 was brought into the production Signum which was launched two years later in 2003. The Signum was initially billed as a luxury hatchback. It was based on the Vectra Caravan, an estate/station wagon version of the Vectra, which is why it looks bigger than the car it is initially based on. The Signum was also priced significantly higher than the Vectra, thus cementing it as a “luxury” car.

opel-signum_3-0_dti-2003-1024-11

Most of the parts and design are similar to the Vectra except for the rear which is completely different. Opel rebadged this as a Vauxhall for right hand drive (RHD) markets like the UK and Ireland and even sold in the States as a Chevrolet. Weirdly enough, the Americans called this a station wagon instead of a hatchback. Then again, as a hatchback it is pretty large and for once the Americans have a point when it comes to classifying these cars.

chevrolet-malibu_maxx-2004-1024-07

The Signum’s engine variations are similar to the Vectra which ranged from a 1.8L Ecotec to a 3.2 V6. Nothing much to shout about it. Pretty decent for a car like this. Since it is European, it does come with a manual or automatic option and there is diesel option available too. Interior wise, the car is similar to the Vectra with the added feature of Flexspace which allows the rear seats to be folded easily, similar to the features seen in the Zafira or other Caravan variants in the Opel/Vauxhall model range.

opel-signum_v6_cdti-2003-1024-15

Three years into production, Opel launched a facelift for the Signum. The car now has a sharper front…and that’s about it. There are a few minor cosmetic changes but everything else feels and looks the same. Same engine displacements, same interior design, same practicality. Unfortunately, a sharper image did not help push sales further and the Signum died after 2008 with no direct replacement. The Vectra also stopped production in 2008 and is replaced by the Insignia. Whereas the Vectra continued on with its soul now in the form of a new car, the Signum was wiped out and became a Car Time Forgotten.

Cars Time Forgotten: Efini MS-8

The 1980s. A decade of decadence, overspending, and lots and lots of coke. Also a new Coke was introduced and people hated it. In terms of cars, everything went turbo, sprouted new wings or traveled through time once it reaches 88 mph. In essence, the 80s was a decade that ushered in flamboyance and riches in culture and in business. This is also seen in one nation, Japan. The 1980s was a booming decade for Japan and almost everything to come from that nation sold well and it turned the country into one of the richest nations in the world. At the end of the 80s, Japanese carmakers went full-on hilt by competing with the Europeans and Americans at their A-game in terms of car production. Honda launched the NSX which humiliated Ferrari. Toyota launched Lexus which struck fear to Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. Amidst all these technological advancements and launches of new market, one carmaker decided to jump in the bandwagon and tried to do both with very mixed results.

Cars Time Forgotten will be a weekly article which focuses on cars that were completely forgotten by time. Some are bad, some are pretty good, and a few that are bonkers.

While the Big Three of Japan launched a new brand that aimed towards luxury (Honda with the Acura, Nissan – Infiniti, Toyota – Lexus), tiny little Mazda, based in good ol’ Hiroshima went a few steps further. The company launched not one but four brand new marques under its belt. There was Autozam which focused on small kei cars, Eunos which is perfomance-oriented, Efini (or to put it more correctly ɛ̃fini) which focused on luxury, and Amati which is similar to Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura and is supposed to be made for Americans. I mentioned “supposed” because Amati failed to take off and the reason for that comes up later in the story.

So you could imagine why would Mazda suddenly decide to launch four new car brands under its belt. Unfortunately for the times, the 1990s was not a good decade for Japan. The housing bubble burst and Japan has not recovered since. Sure, Japan may look like it is thriving and stable economically but things has not been the same since 1991 when the housing bubble in Japan burst and the nation underwent what some economists called The Lost Decade. Unfortunately for Mazda, the timing was not that right to launch four new car brands in a decade where things aren’t as peachy as before. Amati barely made passed the production stages. In fact, they were planning to launch a car which has a W12 engine which is supposed to be the car’s flagship model and based off the existing Mazda Sentia. The Sentia was already a big car and was sold in some markets as the 929, so imagine fitting one large engine into it.

mazda_929_hd_ser1_03

Back to the main car of this story, or rather the brand of it. Of the four brands, you may have most likely recognized Eunos the most as it has the Roadster (MX-5 to you and me, Miata to the Americans) and the Cosmo. Autozam has the AZ-1 and Amati is dead in the water. Car nerds may know Efini’s name on this car though.

cbb45e44e9666d646da60b97b67cb825

That’s right, the badge was plastered on an FD RX-7 and as I mentioned before, Efini is supposed to be a luxury arm for Mazda and that could mean the RX-7 is seen as a grand tourer in the eyes of the marketers and not some tuner car you see on the road. However the main star of this article is not the RX-7. No one forgets a legendary car like the RX-7. Efini actually sold a few models under its brand, all of them are rebadged Mazdas, except one, the MS-8.

p1

The MS-8 was launched in 1992. As far as looks go, the MS-8 looks like your standard Mazda from the 90s, all curvy and actually it does look like something that people forgotten it existed. Heck even from the back you may have mistaken it for a 90s Ford Taurus. Except it does not look like a pile of blob on four wheels. The MS-8 is based slightly off the 626 or as they call it in Japan, the Cronos. People who are interested in getting one had to pay a higher road tax as it exceeded dimension regulations in Japan.

mazda_efini_ms-8_a1170232228b1142929_orig

It has pillarless doors, kinda like the ones you see in a Subaru Legacy. It has a more rigid body work to compensate for the lack of pillars. The car’s interior looks unique. The gear shifter is mounted on the dashboard which allows the front to feature bench seats and the display for audio and temperature is located on a slit in the dashboard. You could have an option of having buttons on the steering wheel and the sunroof extends all the way to the rear seat footwell, big even in its day.

efini-ms-8-25i-v6-01

Power comes from a 2.0 or 2.5 V6 and is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission which is angled weirdly.

ea075au-960

Options for this car range from Bose speaker upgrades to four-wheel steering. Sadly the car and the brand did not last long. While other Efini models die off and continue on to become Mazdas (like the RX-7), the MS-8 ceased production in 1997 along with the brand itself. Mazda went a little too overambitious by launching four new sub-brands but the experiment did not last long or well. At the same time, the company was having financial difficulty in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, so Ford took control and propped Mazda along. While some of the cars from these sub brands continue to become legends in their own right, the Efini MS-8 is truly a Car Time Forgotten.