The Hindustan Contessa was a model of car manufactured by Hindustan Motors (HM) of India. It was based on the GM Vauxhall Victor VX that was made till 1979. When introduced in 1983, it was one of the few Indian manufactured luxury cars in the market. A noteworthy competitor was the Standard 2000 that was based on the Rover SD1. It was a popular choice amongst government officials. Contessa production ended in 2002.
By the late 1970s, HM was ready to introduce a more modern car in the Indian market after producing the age old Ambassador for 3 decades. They were successful in acquiring the production tooling and technology of the Vauxhall Victor that was phased out in the UK in 1979. The production line was setup alongside the Ambassador at Uttarpara near Kolkata and the first cars were ready by 1982.
To keep the costs under check, HM Contessa was introduced to the Indian market with the 1.5L BMC B-Series engine that powers the Ambassador in a slightly modified form along with the Hindustan 4-speed gearbox. The press was upbeat about the roomy interior and plush ride, but was critical about the grossly underpowered engine and equally primitive gearbox. In a matter of months, Hindustan tied-up with Isuzu of Japan and started manufacturing the 1.8L 4ZB1 petrol engine and matching 5-speed gearbox to install in the Contessa. The new car was called the Contessa Classic with distinctive 1.8L badging on the trunk and fenders. The car was an instant success and set a new standard for refinement, power and luxury in the Indian market. The BMC engined model was phased out in short order.
Even though the Contessa was based on a 1970s Vauxhall Victor, the interior was surprisingly quiet and the seats were extremely comfortable for the passengers. It is to be noted that it was the second Indian made car to sport fully independent suspension after Standard Herald. The basic design of Contessa has remained the same throughout its life, though HM made minor updates throughout the life of the model. Numerous features like fuel injection, power windows, power steering, fat bumpers, upgraded headlights, air conditioning etc. were introduced in phases to keep the car appealing to the premium customer.
In the 1990s, Hindustan started manufacturing the Isuzu 4FC1 2.0L diesel engine that came to power the Contessa Diesel. It was an instant success as well. A turbodiesel version was also introduced a few years later.
However, after the advent of more modern cars from GM, Ford, Fiat, Tata etc. , the demand for the Contessa began to wane. Maruti Suzuki has grabbed the lion’s share of the market and the intese competition between the new auto manufacturers brought modern fuel efficient cars to the Indian marketplace in the late 1990s. The constant rise of petrol prices was the final nail in the coffin for the Contessa. It was phased out in 2002. Towards the end of production, there were three versions of this car; 1.8GLX (Isuzu petrol), 2.0DLX (Isuzu diesel) and 2.0T (Isuzu turbodiesel).
There are a handful of enthusiasts that maintain Contessas in original condition. To them, only Contessa can be hailed as a true “Indian Muscle Car” owing to its RWD platform and edgy styling that is reminiscent of American Muscle cars of the 1960s and 70s. Many Contessas were scrapped due to unavailability of spares and so the surviving cars have begun to fetch healthy prices nowadays. It sure is destined to become a collectible classic in the future.
HM Contessa Technical Specifications –
The specifications of the petrol engined Contessa is as follows:
Engine (1800 Isuzu)
- Type- MPFI with 4 Cylinder OHC;
- Fuel- Petrol;
- Capacity- 1817CC;
- Bore / Stroke- 84/ 82 mm;
- Compression Ratio; 8.5 : 1;
- Max. Power- 75 HP at 5000 r.p.m.;
- Max. Torque- 13.8 Kgm at 3000 r.p.m;
- Cooling- Water cooled;
Clutch Type- Dry Disc;
Gear Box- All synchromesh; 5 speed gearbox; including overdrive;
- 1st – 3.737:1;
- 2nd – 1.963:1;
- 3rd – 1.364:1;
- 4th – 1.000:1;
- 5th – 0.776:1;
- Reverse – 3.402:1;
Suspension was the major cause of concern in this car. The soft rear Suspension despite giving a good ride had a problem of bottoming out on sharp bumps. The multi-link set up was highly prone for misalignment and changing the suspension arms is still a headache for mechanics.
- This is the first indian made vehicle to have vacuum assisted disc brakes
- Type Hydraulic, dash mounted, tandem master cylinder with Servo assisted front disc 228.6 mm dia, drums on rear wheels.