America had V-Aids & India had 800; that arguably had put India on wheels. However, the history it has created in the Automobile industry is a success story. How this Japanese model became people’s enduring sweetheart, for which the car was sold for three decades and literally called as “India’s first household car”.
While collecting the details from various sources, it reveals that in early 80’s the then Director of Suzuki motors was on a visit to India, & he read about Maruti Udyog limited, as they were looking for a partner for manufacturing & modelling in the automobile industry. And it was 1982 when Suzuki started its joint endeavour with Maruti Udyog and aimed to manufacture a smart & sleek car. And a few months later the first slot under a model name “Maruti Suzuki 800” was rolled on.
The first slot of booking was on an advance payment of Rs 10,000 and at about 1,20,000 customers made the bookings immediately, even some deliveries had a wait time of three years, which made this model a “Status of Symbol” for the middle class section. A lucky draw was made to select the first customer and it was 14 December 1983, when the former prime minister of India Late Indira Gandhi handed over the key to an Indian Airline employee Harpal Singh with the total cost of Rs 47,500.
This all started with (SS-80) in 1983. A pristine example-everything with perfection. Apart from that it got everything that the original car had, including 12 inch cross ply tyres. The spindly steering wheel horns, and such a joy at that time to drive such a simple car. Back then it was quite a radical machine with better performance in its Mechanical stability & control, including 3 cylindrical 37 horsepower engine, four speed gear-box and moves all time quite well. This iconic car had a front-wheel drive system which made it lighter, unlike other cars of that time like Ambassador and Premier Padmini. It has been revealed that the market shot up that time, because the car was affordable, well designed, and mechanically sound, besides it was also perceived to be a car that women also could drive, after which “800” became India’s best-selling car with sales higher than all its predecessors.
This model lasted for 3 years and then “All New model 800” was rolled on which lasted for 11 years – remained completely unchanged, with same 4 - speed gear-box, however, the gear shift in this new model shifted with more slickness, besides with a new steering wheel, a new dashboard, and new seat slots. It was such a car that the driver can reach out to all four doors to unlock, that shows it was really small and sleek. Really a new model for which a large number of car lovers fell completely in love with this model.
Maruti didn’t do anything to it, but maintained the same quality, the same service support and that was it, and people just kept buying the All New 800 – with no questions to ask! Meanwhile 11 years after this model, a second update of this car rolled on with new Headlamps, & Tail-lamps. The new “Bumper” seems to be a styling Breeza, with the same engine and gear control. However a lighter shade of grey on Dashboard, which makes it more attractive. The speedometer also got a little modification with silver grey packing, with same service operations and people just bought it in droves.
In the year 2000, this car was upgraded for 5 - speed Gear-box & the fuel injected engine of 45 Horsepower, however, they were rarest 800 cars, because very few of them were sold, due to some emission norms, after it moved quite well with same 4 - speed gear control, but with a fuel injected engine to meet emission norms. The car was running smoothly even better than the earlier engine. However, the company has stopped its manufacturing, not because there was no demand, but because it failed to meet new emission norms laid down by the Government.
Large number of the population were emotionally attached with 800. The car was not built to be the cheapest car, however, it was manufactured so that people could buy it and do an entry in motoring. During my school days I have also grown up with this car, as I see the stereo, the locks on the doors, the AC, which make it marvelous, gliding on blacktopped roads during all seasons. I was really obsessed with absolute beauty, and a lovely drive. The dream car of countless car lovers, including some top politicians, & sportsmen, which many automobile journalists call it “The cutting edge of its time”.
However there were no power windows, no central locking system, no ABS technology, no power steering, despite that the car was often called as “Coolest Cat in Town”. Finally in January 2013, the production was completely stopped. According to print media reports, as many as 2.87 million cars were manufactured in India, out of which 2.66 were sold within the country & rest was exported. The last car was sold in 2014 to a dealer in shillong. I have my personal emotions with this snow leopard of the automobile industry, if you have any emotion or chastise - share your reflection.
Some years back, some media outlets reported that the first model of 800 has been lying unattended at Green Park in New Delhi for a couple of years, after the death of its owner Harpal Singh in 2010, and after his wife two years later. The couple instantly rose to fame after they got the keys of the car from the then PM of India. Chorus has been growing for its preservation as the car lying outside the locked house of late Harpal Singh has no takers. His daughters who live with their families in south Delhi are not able to maintain the car. However, the members who are emotionally attached with the car don’t want it to rust down and desired that the prized trophy should be kept in a museum for the future generations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.