Tribute To Old Indian Cars With Soul: 9 Indian Big-Hearted Old Cars

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They sure don't make ‘em like they used to. In the effort to constantly up the ante, manufacturers today are trying to combine slick, hi-tech, efficient and ultra-easy-to-drive values in their products, which are lapped by the millions in our market by increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable buyers.

But there was a time when things were very different. In the eighties and nineties, cars were nowhere near as advanced or refined, and customer choice was very limited. We would pick a car and stick with it for years and years, and as a result often grew a special bond with our transport. Unlike nowadays, where we grow a bond with the smartphone dock and climate control.

That's why we thought we'd reminisce over 9 cars that had that something we truly miss in today's world—soul.

1. Hindustan Ambassador

The Amby was the longest running production car in the country with a lifespan of 56 years! Based on the Morris Oxford, the Ambassador was a superlatively comfortable vehicle, with sofa-like seats that appealed to the whole nation, from a Calcutta cabbie to the top rung of government. Our Grand Old Lady stayed with the family for over 25 years—figure out how to work the hard-shifting gearbox and you could easily drive anything else after...

Picture credit: Flickr

2. Premier Padmini

If you were born during the latter half of the last century, chances are you would have owned, driven, or at least ridden in a Premier Padmini, or Fiat, as it was affectionately called. Some not-so-normal people have even had the guts to race these slow braking, column shifting machines in Chennai and Kolkata. But it's definitely one car that brings a smile to your face, because its such a soulful experience travelling in one.

Picture credit: ninadsp via Flickr

3. Mahindra MM540

Developed from the CJ5 Jeep from of the 1950s, the Mahindra MM540 brought with it terrible highway manners, poor steering and an extremely hard gearbox with the throw of a boundary fielder-shifting boulders were easier. But despite the crudeness and lack of refinement, very little would go wrong with the MM540, and you didn't need to worry about where you drove it. As a result, any off-roader or estate owner will still swear by the good ol' MM540.

Picture credit: Abdulla Al Muhairi via Wiki Commons

4. Maruti 800

The iconic Maruti 800 was In the market for an amazing 30 years, the second longest production run of any Indian car. It changed the face of Indian motoring when it was introduced in 1983, because it gave Indian buyers never-seen-before refinement, efficiency and reliability, combined with very low maintenance and running costs. The Maruti 800 taught the joy of driving to millions of Indians in our generation, and this soldier got soul.

5. Maruti Omni

The Omni van was one of the few vehicles that could meet the needs of everyone from caterers to joint families, such was its versatility. During the course of its lifetime, the interiors had various seating arrangements, and removed altogether in panel van variations. The ride was bumpy, safety was iffy, and the front seat occupants sat on top of the engine, but all this was forgiven by our country, with the vehicle being almost er, omnipresent on our roads at its heyday.

6. HM Contessa

Based on GM's Vauxhall Victor FE, and loved for its roomy interior and great ride, the Contessa was one of India's first luxury automobiles, and the country's only ‘muscle car' to date. True at least in Contessa Classic guise, with the 75 hp, 1.8-litre Isuzu petrol motor under the hood and a 5-speed manual transmission. The long bonnet and downward-angled boot gave it a stately and unique road presence that was lapped up alike by those in power, and those that weren't.

Picture credit: D'Costa's Contessas via Wiki Commons

7. Daewoo Cielo

The Cielo was available in India between 1994 and 1999, and sold rather well in the beginning of its life cycle. Buyers liked the large car's interior space, huge boot and that it could seat five adults in comfort over short and long distances, with a brilliantly plush ride. The Cielo went around like a cruise liner with happy passengers, and that's why it made this list. Incidentally, it had features like driver seat height adjustment and a tiny turning radius of 4.9 metres too.

8. Tata Sumo

If you saw a big white and black vehicle crammed with passengers on our roads in the 1990s, it was usually a Tata Sumo. A favourite with holidaymakers, fleet owners, big families, the Sumo had an amazing run in the country, and is still being produced today. Tata sold over 100,000 units of the vehicle within its first three years, because despite the Spartan furnishings and rattle-prone body, this MUV was responsible for the mobility of hundreds of thousands of Indian folk. And often with little or no maintenance...

9. Hyundai Santro

The extremely popular Santro had a long and glorious run in the country between 1998 and 2014, and why not? India accepted its Tall Boy styling, because translated into an extremely useable and spacious interior, which made it one of the most comfortable hatchbacks available in the country. You also could thrash it for years, and not pay much attention to it, but it would always get you home, and that's why we think this car had a very special personality.

Continue reading:

  • Hindustan Ambassador Tribute: The Journey Ends
  • Premier Padmini Tribute: Our PAL Leaves Us

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Story first published: Friday, April 10, 2015, 13:04 [IST]
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