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Family cars in India are generally smaller than the world average for dimensions in this segment, but there was one very special (and really tiny) automobile that played this role in India for over two decades. No surprises with this one, it was the iconic Maruti 800.
The 800 set the stage for one of the most remarkable market dominations in the history of the international auto industry, when Maruti Suzuki taught Premier Ltd. and Hindustan Motors the moves on and off showroom floors.
The much-loved hatchback will remain timeless to the majority of our generation, so let's take a short trip down memory lane and look at why this seemingly unassuming vehicle became such an important piece of our motoring history.
1. One small Suzuki to go
Despite it being suited to the city, the small 796cc engine could comfortably propel the 800 to around a 100 clicks without too much complaint if the car wasn't fully loaded. Also, it was nippier than its 38 horses and an 18 second time for the 0-100 km/h dash would suggest, because of its extremely low weight of 650 kilograms. In addition, the direct steering gave you fairly precise inputs, and the car was even able to handle hill station driving environments with ease, because of a nicely matched 4-speed gearbox. There was a 5-speeder available too for a short while, as the loyalists will remember.
2. Moolah miles
The M800 was not just cheap to buy, but extremely affordable to run and maintain. The little hatch would easily provide up to 16 kpl in city traffic, and in the 20s on the highway, if it wasn't pushed too hard. Also, even in its last iteration, you could drive one home for little over INR 2 lakh, which was the main reason why over 2.5 million units were sold!
3. Cute looks
All those straight lines look very boxy today obviously, but the 800's classic late-1980s Japanese styling remained suitably appealing to the Indian buyer for over two decades. Big windows and thin pillars meant great visibility, and the compact profile was nicely proportioned with short front and rear overhangs. Styling details like headlamps, tail lights, and the grille were constantly tweaked over the years, and the rear license plate moved from the boot lid to the bumper on later models.
4. Small space but big heart
The little Maruti's interior was more spartan than Poonam Pandey's dress sense, and you needed to hire a planner if you had to overtake with the air con on. In addition, three in the back meant they needed to be very good friends, but these things never prevented the 800 from being the first choice of transport for anything from Saturday's grocery round to a week-long family road trip. While safety did end at seatbelts and a handbrake, it was more than the competition could brag about, that's for certain.
5. Memory maker
The Maruti 800 was the car that gave India its freedom from the clutches of the Amby and the Fiat, literally. It was so easy to drive and supremely relialbe, like we said earlier, which made it possible for our family's innumerable impromptu weekend runs from Kodai to Bangalore or Chennai. Our 800 even served as a wedding ‘limousine', so it's no surprise that we, like so many other families to the day, wish to preserve our precious white example for plenty time to come. Long live!