Essential Indian Rides
Reminiscing the liberating days of Indian Automobile history, team FHM scouts for the best known indigenous cars, scooters, bikes and off-roaders that were produced in India. Referred to as a closed economy at that time, these automobiles brought about a revolution in the automotive industry in their own sense. While the first car hit the Indian roads in 1899, it took another 50 odd years for the embryonic automotive industry to emerge from its shambles. The next 40 years saw the rise of various homegrown and licensed brands trying their luck to make a deeper impact here, with the eventual rise and growth of foreign automobile brands ultimately leading to the establishment of the automotive industry in India.
A lot of you wouldn’t know this fact about Contessa, but when it was introduced in 1983, it was one of the few luxury cars available in the market. Based on the GM Vauxhall Victor FE, which was produced till the year 1979, the Contessa was a hugely popular car amongst the rich and famous of the time owing to its elaborate looks and grandeur outlook. Upon its initial release, the mass market was left awestruck with its roomy interior and plush looks.
Initially introduced with the underpowered 150 HP 1.5 L petrol engine borrowed from its cousin, the Ambassador, the Contessa was later introduced with a high performance 2.0 L turbo diesel engine, which helped rev up its sales and catapult its popularity in the niche segment as a forerunner. The car was and is still considered by automobile aficionados, as the only ‘real muscle car’ of India, owing to its rear-wheel-drive platform and coke-bottle styling that could be perceived as reminiscent of American Muscle cars of the 1960s and 70s. There are still a handful of these mean machines still out there in their original condition, and the lads at FHM are dying to get their hands on one of these.
The Ambassador can be easily addressed to as the ‘Blue Eyed Boy’ of the Indian automobile industry. Ever since its inception in 1958, the car has passed hurdles harder than what Usain Bolt has faced. Based on the Morris Oxford Series II platform, the Ambassador has been a true loyalist to Indian government officials amongst other important personnel. Initially built on the flathead (side valve) engine specs, the car was later improved to an overhead-valve engine, which established it as a much more stable and powerful car. Upon its release, the car was recognised as a big spacious car owing to its enclosed monocoque chassis, which stood out as quite a revolution at that time. The dimpled hood, completely redesigned dashboard and chequered grill became iconic symbols that helped it emerge as a car mass-produced for the longest number of years with minimal design changes and on the same assembly line (Uttarpara, West Bengal) in the whole world. The silver model is still one of our favourites and we are religiously looking out for the same, so in case you spot or find one, do drop us a mail. We shall thank you profusely.
This automobile wonder was quite a sensation with the Indian Army. It was inducted in the army in 1963 under an exclusive license from Nissan. The car soon gained iconic status and was modified to suit several military requirements such as working as a recovery van, ambulance and signal rovers. With high ground clearance and a 6 cylinder 4.0 L powerful engine, the car was a hit for all-terrain performance and was referred to as a ‘bulletproof engine’. Delivering 110 BHP, the engine was one of the most powerful engines of the time with almost zero mechanical problems. The car was also showcased in many Bollywood flicks, often referred to as a family vehicle for hilly terrains. It still enjoys high respect and status in the Indian Army, as till date there has not been a true substitute for it. Ironically, it went out of production in 1999, with the Indian Army then resorting to the Mahindra 550 and Gypsy King.
Touted to become the common man’s car, the Nano dream was conceived with the intent of making the cheapest four-wheeler passenger car of the world. A reluctant price of ` 1 lakh was widely touted for the Nano, which after its launch has continuously risen, albeit still boasting the tag of the cheapest car available. The dream project’s commercial viability came tumbling down after the manufacturing plant controversies, first in Singur West Bengal and then in Gujarat. The car’s relatively large ambitions were to expand the nation’s car market by a whopping 65% after its launch, which still widely remains unachieved. Targetted at the segment of two-wheeler segment riders, the car received an underwhelming response with more misses than hits with the only considerable positive being its toppling of the sales of its closest competitor — Maruti 800 by an estimated 20%. Since its launch, the demand for the car has been steady at 70000 units/fiscal year, which is still miles away from Tata’s ambitious capacity to produce more than 250,000 units/fiscal. Today, the Maruti 800 is gone but the Nano still lingers on.
The Indian automobile industry exploded with the launch of this car. Selling more than 2.5 million units, the car enjoyed immense popularity and success in its close to three decades of functioning. The car was based on Suzuki’s Model ‘796, which was one of the most successful entry-level cars in the eastern part of the world. Positioned as the people’s car, Maruti 800 had a long uncontested pole position and played one of the most important roles in liberating the automobile industry in India. The car was launched in 1984 and underwent many facelifts before coming to a complete halt in April 2012. For those who owned the car, it was not Maruti but ‘Dinky’ —the small car, which changed the automotive landscape long dominated by Ambassadors and Premier Padminis. Owning an 800 became a status symbol and the car became the cynosure of all neighbourhood conversations. When the company decided to take bookings in the 80s, with an advance of ` 10,000, about 120,000 customers put their money in the prelaunch phase. It also brought out a sense of competition amongst the middle class, which was a rarity considering the socialist environment prevalent in the eighties and early nineties. The 800 also replaced the Bajaj scooter as the dream vehicle of the Indian middle.