In late 1970s, Hindustan Motors wanted to enhance its lineup after selling Ambassador for almost three decades. They saw an opportunity when Vauxhall was phasing out the VX series and Contessa was born. Contessa was primarily based on the Vauxhall VX Series – rather based on the Vauxhall Victor, which was the last model in the VX Series. The Victor briefly was Britain’s most exported car during its time! It was exported to markets as far flung as the United States (sold by Pontiac dealers), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Asian right-hand drive markets such as now Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Hindustan Motors acquired the production tooling and technology from Vauxhall and the production line was set up alongside the Ambassador at Uttarpara near Kolkata and the first test cars were ready by 1982. Series production was under way by the spring of 1984. To keep the costs under check, HM Contessa was introduced to the Indian market with the 50 hp (37 kW), 1.5 L BMC B-Series engine which also powered the Ambassador, in a slightly modified form along with the Hindustan four-speed gearbox. Contessa boasted of a roomy interior and plush ride, but was criticised for the underpowered engine and primitive gearbox. The car had a Top speed of around 125 km/h.
Things changed in the late 1980s, when Hindustan Motors tied up with Isuzu and started manufacturing their 1.8 L 4ZB1 petrol engine and matching five-speed gearbox for installation in the Contessa. The new car was called the Contessa Classic with distinctive “CLASSIC” and “1.8GL” badging on the trunk lid. 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. The car could now achieve an increased top speed of 160 km/h. In the 1990s, Hindustan started manufacturing the 2.0 L Isuzu 4FC1 diesel engine that came to power the Contessa Diesel. It as well was an instant success. A turbo diesel version was also introduced a few years later.
We present the reasons why the HM Contessa makes an entry in the ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ series –
- Though the basic design of Contessa remained the same throughout its life, it was the closest to a Muscle Car Indian customers ever had! Even today a Contessa on roads will garner sure shot head turns and has a sexy appeal.
- Contessa still enjoys a cult status and has a big fan base for its long hood, clean surface and straight lines.
- The interior of the car was surprisingly quiet and the seats were extremely comfortable for the passengers.
- HM introduced 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.
- Though owning a car itself was a luxury in India at that time; Contessa featured under ‘Premium/Luxury’ car category. It will be fair to term it as the Luxury Car before the likes of Mercedes, BMW or Audi stormed the Indian market. The car was actually launched at a price of Rs.83,437 and the booking amount was Rs.15,000!
- The Performance of the car was among the best in India. With the Isuzu engine; the car boasted a top speed of over 160 kmph.
- The only competition Contessa had during its time was Standard 2000 and the Premier 118 NE. Contessa undoubtedly was the best of the lot.
- It was an erstwhile Bollywood and Politicians Favourite car in India. It was just not a car, but a Status Symbol!
- It is a still a dream for many of us to purchase a used Contessa and modify it as per our taste. A lot of Contessa’s already have been tastefully modified by many enthusiasts.
- Unfortunately we do not have its historical sales data and isn’t presented here.
Contessa has also been imagined as an electric car and we love they way it has been done by Mighty Seed.
Every auto enthusiast in India has a nostalgic memory reserved for the Contessa and will always be remembered for its evergreen retro looks and enthusiastic performance.