Surprisingly driving a well-maintained classic is a breath of fresh air in this world of overly modernised automobiles. Not that modern is bad or anything, but some of the character — that is abundant in old cars — is lost in the process. We look at a few oldies and try to justify why they still deserve a space in your garage, and how you can enjoy them, even in the slightly odd world we live in today.
Starting with the car that helped Indian open themselves to the frugal yet world-class motoring:
Maruti 800 (SS80)
Used car prices: Rs 50,000
The first ever Maruti 800 to be introduced in the country was different from other mass market cars — there weren’t a lot of those anyway. First, it looked completely different from everything else, had a more modern approach towards the interior, and was easy to drive. The latter meant even without the luxury of a power steering, the SS80 remains driveable even today. Small footprint meant it didn’t take as much space as either the Padmini or the Ambassador — a point that holds so much more relevance in the present day. And the Japanese-engineered engine is a gem of a unit, both in terms of power delivery and longevity. The SS80 is becoming rarer, so if intend to pick one up, start doing and research and seal the deal quickly.
Used car prices: Rs 80,000
Moving up the ladder (and a few years later) and you have the Maruti Suzuki Zen. Also sold as Alto in other markets, the car was positioned as a more premium offering to the comparatively barebones 800. Finding one today isn’t a problem, and a well-restored example will keep you happy even it’s parked alongside modern alternatives. The 1-liter engine has enough poke while the low driving position makes being behind the wheel such a pleasurable experience. To further sweeten the deal, the prospects of upping the Zen’s mechanicals open a lot of avenues for those seeking better performance from the cute yet potent hatchback.
Used car prices: 1 lakh
Even with its British origins, the Ambassador went on to become an India as Indian as one could get. And there’s a lot going for it, beside its cult status. If you’re keen to the idea of being chauffeured, then the ‘Amby’ is almost the last word in rear seat comfort. There’s substantial space and the rear bench is almost like a sofa. In fact, the way the car drives is like it’s a sofa on four wheels. There are plenty of these around and with multiple engine options (including the respected Isuzu ones), finding a good one for yourself isn’t going to be difficult. Parts are available, so that’s also sorted. But what stands out in particular about the Amby is its class; no one has that, and no one will.
Honda City VTEC
Used car prices: Rs 2 lakh
Performance petrols are all about turbocharging these days, and while that’s not a bad thing per se — we love the TSIs, the T-Jets, the EcoBoosts, etc. — there was a time when you needed to really wriggle the engines to make decent progress. That consumed a lot of fuel even when you weren’t gunning the engine. Honda, among other manufacturers, had this very successful way of varying the engine’s valve timing so that it consumes less fuel when not going fast but offers power when you want it. The mechanism or VTEC was addictive to drive, and today more so. The Honda City Type Z that featured the engine is very reliable, looks good, and has a huge potential for modifications. It’s a modern classic that can go compete with and beat a few hot cars in the future.
Used car prices: Rs 2.5-3 lakh
Turbocharged petrols might be in today, but the car that brought the technology to the mass market was the generation-1 Skoda Octavia. With slightly boxy but very likeable styling, the Octavia went on to win in the design department, but with sublime handling — easily one of the best FWD cars you could buy — and the aforementioned 1.8-liter turbo petrol engine, the Octavia turned out to be a proper collectible. The only grouse is parts (both spares and replacements) can be expensive, but good things in life don’t come for free, do they?