Hindustan Contessa : The once Muscle Car of India

It’s my pleasure to write about some cars which are considered as true classics of the Indian automobile history. I have already written about some of those cars which are considered as milestones of Indian Automobile History such as the Esteem and Lancer and now put on your seat belts, as we travel again back to history to have a flick on one of the most luxurious cars of those times. The car which was known as “The Indian Limousine” and automobile enthusiasts call it as “The First Indian Muscle Car”. Any guesses?

Yes it is Contessa which was actually built by our very own Indian Pride – Hindustan Motors. This car has more fame at present, than the olden times. So join me to the journey of exploring some of the interesting facts about this car.

Hindustan Contessa 1800 (1985)

Image Source: automania.be


The car should have a glorious history in order to call it as an antique master piece. Contessa has it all. During late 1970’s Hindustan Motors was searching for a new model, as the only model they launched till that year was the Ambassador. In fact HM searched for a model which will replace the face of the company as till that year Ambassador was considered as the face of the company. It has served the company with over three decades of outrageous success and at that time Hindustan motors wanted to introduce a modern car in the market. That new modern car was Contessa. The Contessa History has total 2 era’s in it.

Contessa historyImage Source: teambhp.com

Acquiring the inspirations from Vauxhall Victor:

This was the first era of Contessa and in this Hindustan Motors had acquired the inspiration and technology from the 1970’s British Made Vauxhall’s Victor. During that time two things happened suddenly and these things made Contessa to beborn. General motors had already bought the British Vauxhall Company during late 70’s and in the same year Hindustan motors was searching for a new generation vehicle. General motors helped Hindustan motors in acquiring the production tooling and technology of the Vauxhall Victor, a car that was phased out in the UK in 1979. After acquiring those, the production line was started in order to make Contessa. After about 5 years Contessa finally arrived with a 1.5 L BMC B-Series engine powered by 4 speed HM manual gear box. Many folks at that time felt gaga around Contessa as it had a luxurious interior which was never seen before in any cars. But due to the lack of good engine aspects, the car suffered from lack of good performance.

vaux contessa

Hindustan Motors Collaborated with Isuzu:

After having a performance glitch, Hindustan motors searched for an alternative to power up the car. Hindustan tied-up with Isuzu of Japan and started manufacturing their 1.8 L 4ZB1 petrol engine. The gear box was also changed from 4 to 5-speed manual. Contessa then faced instant success. With its powerful performance and luxury, Contessa ruled the Indian market. After Herald, Contessa was the second car to future full independent suspension system. After 1.8, Hindustan motors started manufacturing 2.0 L Isuzu 4FC1 diesel engine. It faced the same success too. After some years, turbo diesel variant was also introduced.

Contessa engine

Image Source: teambhp.com


There are many achievements achieved by this car in its 25 years of career. Its fame wasn’t decreased from then and until now. The achievement made by this car includes

  • Contessa Classic was a very popular choice for government limousines due to its luxury.
  • It was considered as the first Indian muscle car.
  • Due to this, Hindustan motors ruled Indian automobile for about 25 years.
  • Now it is considered as one of the antique automobiles of India.
  • It is one of the few old cars which have the body that suits for modern modifications.


Contessa production was shattered in 2002. The downfall mainly occurred due to the advent of new companies like Tata, Toyota, and especially Maruti Suzuki on the Indian market, which had captured a maximum amount of shares in the Indian market. The Fuel efficiency vehicle idea of Suzuki worked and it has made Maruti a strongest competitor to defeat.

There is also another reason for the cause of downfall of this car. It was the fuel efficiency itself. The car suffered from low fuel efficiency rate and also the cost for maintenance of this car was also very high as its spare parts were available at only higher costs which made many people to opt away from choosing this car.


These are some of the  technical specifications of this car. Have a look.

Contessa  tech specs


There are only two words to describe the Contessa exteriors- Classy and Aggressive. While being an old car Contessa has good and decent exteriors. These are some of the exterior features of Contessa

  • Side impact protection body.
  • Twin head lamps.
  • Trunk compartment.
  • Radial Tires.
  • Large Crumple Zone.
  • Front muscular black grille.
  • Elongated exterior body to accommodate more spacious interiors.


Likewise interiors, the exteriors were also amazing, besides being an old model, this car featured some of the interiors which are used at present. These are some of those interior specs of this car.

  • Power steering.
  • Powerful Air Conditioners.
  • Power windows.
  • Central locking system.
  • PU moulded seats.
  • Non slip jackard upholstery.
  • Plush carpeting
  • Central arm rest on seats.

Engine Specs and Performance:

At first the car was powered with the same engine of ambassador, but later after forming ally with Isuzu, Contessa was provided with a 1.8 and 2.0 Isuzu engine. The new Isuzu engine type 4 OHC piston had a displacement range of 1817cc. It can churn maximum power of 75Hp @ 5000RPM. The five speed synchromesh gear box is used to control the speed of the car. It can reach maximum speed of up to 145mph at an acceleration rate of 0-60 in 7 seconds.

These are some of the engine, exterior/interior and technical specs of this car and now lets look into certain things which made this car unique than all the old cars.

More Chance for Modifications:

Unlike the other old cars, Contessa body is in a way suitable for modifications. Many automobile enthusiasts call this car as the “Best Modifiable Car”, as this car has huge scope for medications. Elongated body, muscular appeal, and spacious interiors are some of its qualities which made this car to give a wide scope for modifications. While surfing the internet about it, I felt very fascinated to see the way the car was modified to give it a Trendy look. I also came across a project which is under development stage by some students which deals with the modification of Contessa. The project was named as “Bring back Indian muscle”. There are also some videos which show the modification of this car like Camaro Contessa in which the Contessa is changed to Camaro & Contessa Dodge in which Contessa is changed to dodge challenger.

Contessa Club:

People have already formed a club which has owners of Contessa as its members. These folks meet every year at some place to celebrate the Contessa of being an Indian pride and to flaunt the new modifications done by them on that car.

Related articles: Classic Automobiles Of India

The raise & fall of Iconic automobiles in India

What is that common between Me, Birlas, Morris Motors Limited, Kolkata and Oxford (United Kingdom)?

Its the Hindustan Ambassador car or Amby as it’s fondly called as.

Automobile Icons:

Hindustan Motors Limited (HM) was setup in 1942 before Indian independence by B.M.Birla. The initial operations started in an assembly plant in Gujarat. Later the assembly plant was shifted to Kolkata, West Bengal. Hindustan Ambassador car was based on Morris Oxford model manufactured by Morris Motors Limited in United Kingdom. Another great car manufactured by Hindustan Motors was the Contessa. Hindustan Ambassador car and Contessa both was popular among government officials and politicians. Both the cars at their time were all about Status, Style and Prestige.

Bajaj Auto Company started its Bajaj Scooter production from 1972. The first model was 2 stroke engines with 150cc named as Bajaj Super. The original design of Bajaj super was based on Piaggio’s Vespa. Later Bajaj Chetak was produced and it was named as Chetak, after the Indian warrior king Rana pratap singh’s horse.

Bajaj Scooter_Ambassador Car

Ride to a Dead end:

Hindustan Motors finally suspended their production of the Ambassador Car. The reasons cited were, not much demand from the consumers and lack of funds to continue their production. Bajaj Scooter was stopped more or less for the same reason. Both these vehicles lost their dominance in the market. In the dynamic market place, consumers have more options, their tastes kept changing and aggressive competition came from Indian, global manufacturers. They slowly started to vanish in the recent decade before it perished.

The modern motorbike/car/scooter buyer wants latest technology, safety, comfort and lower emissions. Companies like Maruti, Royal Enfield read the mindset of the buyer to manufacture vehicles like Maruti Alto, Royal Enfield Classic 350 cc and Classic 500 cc etc.. These vehicles are retro styled with latest technology advancements. This made them to survive in the market and to score in their sales chart.

The general opinion is that Hindustan Motors, Bajaj Auto’s lack of interest, to improve the quality and add technology advancements was the foremost reason for the declined sales which eventually lead to complete halt. The same happened to Contessa or Conti which was manufactured based on General Motors Vauxhall victor FE. The Bajaj Auto Company should have tried something in the lines of Honda Activa and Piaggio Vespa, considering the fact that every 4th two wheeler sold in India is a Scooter. Scooter is a 2 wheeler but carried 4 souls (entire family). Both the Ambassador Car and Chetak scooter enjoyed a loyal customer base that was built in their heydays which span more than a few decades. An opportunity was missed by the manufacturers. Many car and scooter enthusiasts started to remodel these vehicles for their value. I used to drive my cousin’s old remodeled Ambassador Car fitted with an Isuzu engine. It’s absolutely fun, riders pride and collectors favorite. Most of the latest cars of this price range cannot match with the Ambassador car’s seat comfort.


Classic cars/motorbikes/scooters are simpler to work on, made for pure driving experience, rider’s pride, have character and soul. It can’t be explained in words or paper. As an enthusiast, coupled with our nostalgic memories, most of us feel to voice our opinions about our favorite marque. Our thoughts are “the Company should have done this or they should have build that” instead of stopping the production once and for all. At the end of day its business and they would have discarded it considering various factors too. Whatever the case maybe, there is a proclamation in few countries when new monarch’s accession to the throne “Long live the King”. I would echo the same for Amby and Chetak which has now became old classics. Vacuum created by them can never be filled.