British By Proxy: The Cyclops Eye and the Crown Vics of Calcutta

It’s no secret that British culture has embraced the trappings of their former colony India in a way that would make Mangal Pandey flip his lid. From curry, which is the sort of cheap Asian fare that’s to the British what Chinese all-you-can-eat buffets are to our MSG-laden posteriors, to the comical and ironic Indian ownership of such vaunted companies as Jaguar and Royal Enfield, the cross-cultural relationship between Great Britain and India has made long-lasting impacts on both nations. And if it wasn’t for this promotion of trade and cuisine, India would have never seen the likes of the one car that’s helped them achieve mobility through the 20th century.

Reader TMcA sent these pictures from Calcutta of the Hindustan Ambassador, the giant tortoise of the automobile world. It would have surprised even Alec Issigonis, original designer of the Morris Oxford III, to see that the Ambassador’s basis has lasted for even longer than his other famous creation. As India’s “king of the road,” the “Amby” has attained iconic status. And as a Calcutta taxicab, it mirrors another icon of public transportation—the equally iconic, equally enduring Crown Victoria, of New York taxi fame.

But what’s more, McAndrew spotted this rare Rover P4 down on the Calcutta street. Dating back to between 1949 and 1954, the P4 was known as the “Cyclops Eye” because of its bizarre third eye smack-dab in the middle of the grille (which makes it predate 1952).

It’s a rare sight on English roads, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s still kept alive and ticking in India, like many a British institution.


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  1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    Magnificent badgework on the nose of that 'Auntie'. Art deco twenty years too late.
    My favourite Indian ex-Brit relic is the Rover SD1, sold until recently there as the Standard 2000.
    <img src="; width=400>
    As Top Gear once mentioned, apparently it has such a foul reliability record that they call it the Stranded 2000. Still makes me howl with waves of barely controllable laughter every time I hear that.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Standard also made an India-only four door version of the Triumph Herald called the Gazel. Apparently someone in Standard had a sense of humor as they painted in pupils to the owl-eyes on the Gazel's brochure.
      <img src="; width=400>

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        Love it! That's new to me. Thanks.

  2. Black Steelies Avatar

    This makes me think of the taxi scene with Bill Murray in Darjeeling Limited.
    Oops! My inner hipster is showing.

    1. scroggzilla Avatar

      Let he who is without a goatee and horn-rimmed glasses cast the first stone.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        it's full beards again now.

  3. facelvega Avatar

    Those of us older than 30 remember that the iconic New York cab was the checker, not the lame grandpa car Crown Vic that replaced it.
    But yes, India is the last vestige of the old colonial mentality, in some bad ways, but mostly in good ones. Don't forget the Premier Padmini (1955-2000), which was Fiat 1100 tooling, and usually considered one notch below the Ambassadors for snob points, because the ambassadors are used for limo duty (always painted white), while the Padminis never were. But greatest of all, don't forget the Royal Enfields!
    <img src="; width="600">

    1. chrystlubitshi Avatar

      that's pretty. (though i do actually like crown vics…. especially the LWB platform/version… and well… all the Panther cars)

      1. facelvega Avatar

        Well, we've come around on the Crown Vic since then, largely because of the direction new cars have taken in comparison, but at the time I remember everyone thought it sucked to replace the distinctive Checkers with an ordinary car your uncle Bob might also drive. I mean, these guys drove Checkers:
        <img src=""&gt;

    2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

      you see, I wanted to "thumbs up" you, because of the Checker comment, which is what I was going to say, but work keeps encroaching on my Hooniverse time, but then you added the "lame grandpa" comment, and it was hard to click that button.
      The checker does rightfully belong in at least any reference to the American taxi fleet, but the Crown Vic has very faithfully filled the gap left in it's absence.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        As I said in the second comment, the Crown Vic was lame grandpa car to us back when they started showing up against the checkers. It's still a grandpa car, I'm just old enough now not to think grandpas are lame. Hey, my current beater is a LeSabre.
        But back in the late 80s and early 90s as the Checkers started to disappear, I remember that there were Caprices and Crown Vics both on the street as NYC cabs for a while, and the Caprice seemed cooler to us kids at the time because there were fast versions of it and it was then more common as a police car before it was discontinued and the Crown Vic took over the whole traditional full-size sedan turf. If memory serves, nobody including car guys thought a panther was cool until around 1997.

  4. Lotte Avatar

    Behold! The Hindustan Ambassador 1800, the fastest Indian car at its time!
    <img src="; width="500">
    It is what a Mercury Marauder is to the Crown Vic, or the Toyota Comfort GTZ to the regular taxi version. So it seems every taxi chassis has a lesser-known performance version made in limited numbers. And why yes, I was trawling Kijiji for Impala SSes…

    1. tonyola Avatar

      For 20 years, Hindustan also built a version of the 1970s UK Vauxhall Victor called the Contessa.
      <img src="; width=400>

    2. chrystlubitshi Avatar

      your words and picture are like magic to me.. i love the marauder and am now learning about the GTZ….. i always wanted to cut a marauder rear bumper to fit my T-bird… the name is just so bad-ass…..

      1. Lotte Avatar

        These things have their charm, don't they? The GTZ would be in my imaginary 10-car garage if I didn't always forget about it 😉

      2. Lotte Avatar


  5. Black Steelies Avatar

    "i hate it when my style gets trendy"
    "i don't really care"
    "i'm not a hipster"
    You sure sound like one of 'them'.

  6. jjd241 Avatar

    Apu mobile!
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