10 timeless cars we want back on Indian roads

…And suggestions on how they could be resurrected!

A year and a half ago, we had put up a few timeless cars we thought should make a comeback in India, and many of you agreed. Not just that, you also suggested a few more cars that you would love to see back on the road.

Well, here’s putting out that wishlist once again in the hope that someone with passion in these companies is rooting for them as well, and would love to see these brands drive the streets again, in a more modern avatar. In no particular order, here are the cars we would like to see back from the dead.

Tata Sierra

The Tata Sierra was a really good-looking SUV, but one that came in ahead of its time in the early 1990s and that didn’t make it into the next decade for a variety of reasons. It had its practical flaws – like only two doors, making it difficult for people of robust proportions to squeeze into the rear seat, and non-openable huge rear windows that looked great,  but also meant that the AC had to work overtime. Towards the end of its existence, it was turbocharged from the original 68 bhp 2-litre engine to a 90-bhp variant, and also came with a 4×4 option.

Suggestions for a rebirth: The platform on which the Tata Sierra was based continues even today, forming the underpinnings for the Tata Sumo Grande and Tata Xenon. All Tata needs to do is take a shortened Xenon chassis, bolt on the Sierra body, add 4×4 where needed, and power it with the 2.2 Dicor engine. It would stand out among the current crop of SUVs. Trouble is it may take some of the thunder out of the Storme.

 

Hindustan Contessa

Hindustan Motors Contessa was the quintessential Indian muscle car. It did pretty well as a luxury ride for its time, staying alive from the mid 1980s until the turn of the century. It was hugely spacious and comfortable, let down by poor build quality and shoddy service. The Isuzu engines that powered it continue even today in MPFI and diesel guise in the Ambassador.

Suggestions for a rebirth: Bring out the old Vauxhall Victor mold, refurbish it and put the car back on the road with some modern amenities. Add ABS and airbags for good measure along with side impact beams and other features. It can still run with the Isuzu 1.8 litre power plant in Euro IV or Euro V, which in the hands of a good tuner could easily be made to churn out over 100 horses. Lighten the body by using fibre glass for the bonnet and boot lid and perhaps the fenders, which would make it more fuel efficient as well. For a diesel, tie up with an engine supplier (like Sonalika, which supplies the 100 bhp diesel engine for the Tavera).

Chevrolet Forester

The Chevrolet Forester (known as the Subaru Forester globally) was a pretty capable SUV and one that would have easily continued to sell well today had it been around. This was the perfect crossover type SUV, allowing car like handling with the high ground clearance and all-wheel drive capability of an SUV. However, when GM sold its stake in Subaru’s holding company, it also lost the rights to sell the vehicle in India. It sold between 2002 and 2006.

Suggestions for a rebirth: This one will be a pretty long shot. Someone has to convince Subaru to look at the Indian market. It is one of the few global car companies that really don’t have India on its plans, except for bringing their rally cars (the Impreza) here from time to time to take part in rally championships. If Subaru comes into the country, this should be one of the vehicles it should bring in straight away.

And now back to the previous seven classics we had listed: (See: Seven Timeless Cars We Want Back On The Road)

Hyundai Getz 1.5 CRDI

The Hyundai Gets 1.5 CRDi was India’s original hot-hatchback! The Getz weighed just over a ton, but this tiny car got the old Hyundai Verna’s engine transplanted into it. This made it a fantastic performer. The car put out 110 bhp of power and 240 Nm of torque from a 1.5 litre four-cylinder diesel engine. It was discontinued in 2010.

Suggestions for a rebirth: Hyundai may not be able to bring in the Getz, but it could give us another hot hatch in the form of the Hyundai i20 with the Verna’s 1.6 litre diesel engine. Think about it Hyundai. 126 bhp in a diesel hatchback, will really get enthusiasts interested. Of course, do work on the suspension and steering if you are even thinking of this.

Maruti Baleno

The Maruti Baleno was one car that could have given the Honda City a run for its money. Unfortunately it was pulled from the market just when things were getting interesting with the Baleno, because the newer Maruti SX4 had to be introduced. The Baleno was introduced in 2000 and discontinued in end 2006. The Baleno was a favorite with rally drivers owing to its sporty handling.

Suggestions for a rebirth: Maruti is now even considering replacing the SX4 with the new YL1 that is just around the corner. Could the YL1 be as good a car and will it suit enthusiasts? We’ll have to wait and see. Bringing the Baleno back in its old body shell is not really feasible, given the modern safety requirements.

Maruti Zen

The Maruti Zen created a revolution of sorts when it was launched in 1993. It was a sporty little hatchback that sold in decent numbers. The car got various updates to it, till it was discontinued in 2006. The light weight 750 odd Kg Zen was powered by a four-cylinder 1-litre engine that put out 60 bhp of power and 79 Nm of torque with a 5-speed transmission. Its successor, the Zen Estilo was not even worthy of the Zen badge.

Suggestions for a rebirth: Maruti needs to think this one through before slapping the Zen badge on to just any car. The upcoming YL7 could be one car that could carry the badge. This badge would otherwise need to sit it out, until Maruti can get in a sporty looking car to take the name forward. The upcoming Celerio could have been another choice.

Fiat Palio

The Fiat Palio was the car resurrected Fiat in India along with the Fiat Uno. The Palio when introduced in 2001 won the “Car of the Year” award. It was a spacious hatchback compared to its competitors – the Indica and Wagon R at that time. The standard Palio was powered by a 1.2 litre petrol engine that put out 72 bhp of power. But the car that really thrilled Palio buyers was the 1.6-litre variant of the car that put out 100 bhp of power. This was a car loved by enthusiasts, and Fiat even got their brand ambassador of the time, Sachin Tendulkar, to bring out a limited edition S-10 variant. The car went through a few more transformations to resurrect sales mainly due to a poor service network. Fiat tried a 1.1 litre variant, a 1.9 litre diesel variant and a 1.3 litre multijet diesel variant, the last one coming with the same engine that the Punto, Swift, Vista and several others have. The car was phased out in 2010.

Suggestions for a rebirth: The Fiat Palio is not dead. It has been resurrected in South America and the same car could be considered for India as well. The new Palio takes a lot of cues from the Punto, and it would do well in India, if launched here a notch lower than the Punto.

Ford Ikon

The Ford Ikon was the predecessor to the Ford Fiesta / Ford Classic, and the car that replaced the Ford Escort in India. The Ikon was a very popular car with enthusiasts particularly for the way it handled. It had an excellent suspension setup and the hydraulic power steering was precise. It came in three engine choices – a 1.3 litre petrol that put out 74 bhp of power, a 1.6 litre petrol that put out 94 bhp of power and a 1.8 litre diesel engine that put out 60 bhp of power. It was phased out in 2011.

Suggestions for a rebirth: As enthusiasts love the Ikon, this is a badge that could be brought back. With Ford considering getting in a compact-sedan version of the new Figo, the car could easily take the Ikon badge. Ford just needs to ensure that it sticks to its roots with good handling and power delivery, and of course, position it right (like it has done with the EcoSport and Figo). Put the “josh” back in the “josh machine”, Ford.

Mitsubishi Lancer

Photo Courtesy: Autopsyche 

The Mitsubishi Lancer is a global success story, but in India the car just faded away owing to the poor dealership and service network of the Hindustan Motors-Mitsubishi alliance. Globally, it is an acclaimed rally car. The Lancer was launched in India in 1998. It came with a 1.5 litre petrol engine that put out 87 bhp of power and was to compete with the Honda City and Opel Astra at that time. The car was discontinued in 2010.

Suggestions for a rebirth: Mitsubishi needs to get its house in order. Right now the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport is about the only product from the company that is selling, while almost all the others have been axed. If it has a roadmap for the Indian market, the new Lancer that is on sale in global markets would do nicely if positioned against the Honda City here, with the right power train choices.

 

Toyota Qualis

The Toyota Qualis is revered among cab drivers for the sheer efficiency, low running cost, durability and easy maintenance that it offered. Even now there are Toyota Qualis’ running on the road that have done over 4 lakh km without any major issues. The Qualis wasn’t that hot for individual buyers, but was a great multi-utility vehicle for those looking for a reliable vehicle that could seat 7-9 passengers. In the used car market a 2003-2004 model year Qualis still sells for about Rs. 3.5 lakh to Rs. 4 lakh!

Suggestions for a rebirth: Toyota does not have a good people mover now that can effectively compete with the Mahindra Bolero or Tata Sumo. Relaunching the Qualis in its old body style would be out of the question, but Toyota could consider a vehicle like the Avanza as a suitable replacement.