Blast from the past – 5 of India’s greatest affordable enthusiast cars

Cars represent luxury for most people in India, and are yet to become merely forms of basic transport. Yes, we’re still a couple of decades behind developed car markets of the world as far as ‘car culture’ is concerned. So, it’s not surprising that very few mass market automakers launch cars aimed specifically at enthusiasts. Over the years, a few such enthusiast cars did get launched in India, spawning huge fan followings. Taking a trip back into memory lane, here are 5 of India’s greatest affordable enthusiast cars, which are no longer in production.

Mahindra Classic

Mahindra Classic

Image courtesy Team-BHP

When Jeeps means pure utility and little else, the Mahindra Classic came along, as one of the first ever lifestyle statement for Mahindra, and the Jeep (off roader) market in India as a whole. The Classic has turned out to be quite a classic among enthusiast circles, and well maintained examples go for hefty packets.

Back in the day (1996) when the Classic was launched, it featured a 2.1 liter Peugeot non-turbo indirect injection diesel engine (62 Bhp-120 Nm) that produced bags of torque. A 4 speed manual gearbox and a manual 4X4 transfer case were standard additions.

The Classic was the first Mahindra vehicle to feature alloy wheels as standard equipment. Based on the CJ3B, the Classic featured a short wheelbase design and could seat four adults in a 2+2 layout. The soft top off roader enjoyed a production for just years, and by 2000, the Classic was culled from Mahindra’s vehicle line up.

Maruti Zen Steel/Carbon

Red Rooster Racing Zen Carbon 1

The original MH410 Maruti Zen was a sporty car right from the outset. While the car made its debut in 1993, its swansong came a full decade later, when Maruti launched three door variants of the Zen, dubbed the Steel and Carbon. While the Steel and Carbon monikers stood for the black and silver paint jobs, each edition of the car had a limited run of 300 units each.

More than anything, this limited run really made the Zen Steel/Carbon enthusiast favourites. The cars used a 1 liter-4 cylinder, fuel injected petrol engine with 58 Bhp-78 Nm. While the engine was known for its smoothness, the quick steering, great handling, light weight and slick gearbox made the Zen an enthusiast favourite.

Honda City VTEC Type II

Honda City VTEC

The Honda City VTEC Type II sat at the very top of the C-Segment sedan’s variant line up. And the engine was the jewel of the package. The 1.5 liter-4 cylinder engine, with VTEC treatment, put out 110 Bhp and 140 Nm. The creamy engine’s red line of 7,200 rpm instantly endeared the car to petrolheads, and soon the Honda sedan was a range among people who wanted a fast yet super reliable car. That the City VTEC sold in South East Asia meant that a steady stream of hop up parts were available. While most of its contemporaries have been resigned to scrap yards, the City VTEC Type II is still bought, modified and run at crazy speeds by enthusiasts who love high revving petrol cars.

Fiat Palio 1.6

Fiat Palio S10 Super Sport 3

The Palio 1.6 was the first Indian hatchback to enter the 100 Bhp club. Dubbed the GTX, the 1.6 liter engined variant of the Palio put out 100 Bhp and 140 Nm. While the motor’s appeal lay in the very strong mid range it offered, poor fuel efficiency meant that only well heeled petrolheads could afford driving the Palio hard.

Solidly built, the Palio’s heft was another plus point. ABS and Airbags were offered, while a special S10 edition with Sachin Tendulkar’s signature was also sold. Typical of most small Fiats, the Palio’s sharp handling was another strong point, and this made the car a very compelling buy for the fast laners.

Ford Fiesta 1.6S

Ford Fiesta 1.6 S

A car aimed squarely at enthusiasts, the Ford Fiesta 1.6S added a new suspension set up that elevated the already good car into the “great” territory. The car’s quick hydraulic steering made driving precisely a boatload of fun. The rev happy 1.6 liter petrol engine with 100 Bhp-145 Nm on tap was another big strength. All in all, this Ford sold well before the “limited edition” tag ended its run quickly. If you find a well maintained, pre-owned Fiesta 1.6S, don’t blink, take it.