Cars that have changed Indian motoring history since Independence

Snapshot – All men aren’t created equal, and so are cars. Like some great men, there are some remarkable cars, ones that leave their imprints on the sands of time. Today, we take a look at cars that have changed Indian motoring history since independence. Each one of these ‘Made-in-India’ cars have been pioneers, so to speak, in terms of carving out new segments, empowering the masses, and making people smile. Here we go!

Hindustan Ambassador

Hindustan Ambassador ct

Why is the Hindustan Ambassador here?

For being a symbol of Indian motoring for decades, for being a relic of the Raj that stayed back long after the Britishers left, and for being the first car that was Made-in-India.

The Hindustan Ambassador is a car straight out from the 1950s. And it remained quite like that until last year, when the last unit of the Amby rolled off the production line at Uttarpara, turbo diesel power and all, and BS4 finally. 56 years or more than five and a half decades. That was the time for which the grand old lady of the Indian car industry was in production. The car stretched along with Indian life expectancy.

Maruti 800

Maruti 800

[Image courtesy BestSellingCarsBlog]

Why is the Maruti 800 here?

For moving generations and generations of Indians, for infusing modernity in an automotive industry that was stuck in a time warp, and for Indians a taste of what fill it, shut it and forget it really meant.

Indians wanted reliability, fuel efficiency and a car to keep with the times. Sanjay Gandhi wasn’t around to deliver what he’d put originally together for the Indian car market. Yet, Maruti Udyog Limited (As Maruti Suzuki was known back then), in collaboration with Suzuki of Japan, gave India her people’s car – the 800.

The Maruti 800 lived on until last year, with the last unit of the car heading to frigid Sikkim. The first one though came along in 1984, and Late. Harpal Singh, the first man to receive the keys of this iconic car, still has DIA-6479 parked outside his kids’ house in Delhi.

Hindustan Contessa

Hindustan Contessa

Why is the Hindustan Contessa here?

For pioneering affordable luxury and a dash of performance in India, a country starved for luxurious cars that also looked good and went fast.

The Vauxhall Victor came to India in the form of the Hindustan Contessa. This car is the grand daddy of all C-Segment sedans you see on Indian roads today. The Contessa came at a time when there was nothing in the Indian car market that could offer a modicum of luxury to the well heeled car buyer in India this side of the German imports. The Contessa was introduced in 1983, and the car stuck it out until 2002, before competition killed it. After the arrival of the Contessa, Standard responded with the 2000, and Premier Automobiles Limited, with the 118 NE.

Tata Safari

Tata Safari 2.2 DICOR

Why is the Tata Safari here?

For being a vehicle ahead of its time, and for introducing Indians to long distance touring in a comfortable, good looking and powerful vehicle.

The Tata Safari was the first Indian luxury SUV, one that combined butch looks with spacious and comfortable interiors. The brand continues to be strong in India, although sales of the Safari DICOR and Storme aren’t on very firm ground currently.

The Safari has been around since 1998, and has evolved over the years. In the years to come, the Safari brand is likely to reach greater heights and Tata Motors distills Land Rover tech and future proofs one of India’s foremost luxury SUVs.

Tata Indica

Tata Indica EMAX CNG

Why is the Tata Indica here?

The Tata Indica was India’s first homegrown passenger car that attempted to challenge the likes of the Maruti 800 and Zen. The Indica didn’t exactly wow personal cars buyers but managed to become a huge success in the cab market.

The Indica made its Indian entry at the Auto Expo of 1998, with Ratan Tata proclaiming that this hatchback would cost as much as the Maruti 800, with the footprint of the Zen, while offering space rivaling the Hindustan Ambassador. Served up in petrol and diesel guises, the Indica was a leap of faith for Tata Motors, until then a utility vehicle giant. The Indica was the first big step that Tata Motors took, on its journey from making the switch from utility vehicles to budget family cars.

Fiat Palio 1.6

Fiat Palio S10 Super Sport 3

Why is the the Fiat Palio 1.6 here?

For being the first car to ingite the hot hatchback segment of the country and for giving enthusiasts a new reason to save up for.

100 Bhp-140 Nm was a territory no hatchback in India had ever ventured into. Well, that was until the Fiat Palio 1.6 made an entry. The car went like stink, and demolished both hatchbacks and sedans when it came to sheer performance numbers.

Built like a tank, the Fiat Palio also handled as if on rails, further endearing the car to the enthusiat brigade. While poor fuel efficiency and the Fiat brand did the Palio in, the car continues to command a cult following among hot hatch enthusiasts in the country.

Honda City VTEC

Honda City Type II 6

Why is the Honda City VTEC here?

For giving India her first real tryst with high performance variable valve technology on a mass market sedan, and for being the first sedan aimed at enthusiast buyers.

The Honda City VTEC (Type II) continues to play a major role in the after market car modifications scene in India, with turbo jobs being the favourite modification that enthusiasts resort to on their City sedans. This car’s 1.5 liter VTEC petrol engine meant that it could rev to over 7,000 rpm in stock guise. The car’s popularity in the South East Asian market has ensured a steady stream of high performance hop up parts, making the City a de-facto choice for the performance car lover on a budget.

Tata Indigo eCS

tata indigo ecs cng emax

Why is the Tata Indigo eCS here?

For imagining the sub-4 meter compact sedan segment, and for showing the world that a sedan squeezed into a sub-4 meter package could be the next big thing in emerging markets.

Tata Motors pioneered the sub-4 meter compact sedan segment of the world, with the Indigo eCS. A car whose design was dictated by a budgetary accouncement by the then-Union Finance Minister, P.Chidambaram. The Indigo eCS kicked off the trend that has now become a deluge in the Indian car market.

While the Indigo eCS could never really leverage its first mover advantage, compact sedans such as the Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire, the Honda Amaze, the Hyundai Xcent and the Tata Zest have caught the car buyers’ fancy.

Fiat Linea T-Jet

Fiat Linea Sedan Facelift 1

Why is the Fiat Linea T-Jet here?

For being the first made-in-India turbo petrol car, and for being ahead of the times, and for giving Indian car enthusiasts an affordable, high performance sedan.

The Fiat Linea T-Jet was ahead of its time. Turbo petrol engine had already been introduced in the Skoda Octavia vRS but that car was very niche. The Linea T-Jet tried to take affordable performance to C-Segment sedan buyers, and didn’t succeed though.

However, it did manage to carve out the turbo petrol car segment among budget cars sold here. If India now has petrol cars such as the Tata Bolt, Zest and the Volkswagen Polo, Vento, and the upcoming Fiat Punto Abarth, the Avventura Abarth and the Maruti Suzuki YRA, the pioneering Fiat Linea needs to be thanked.

Tata Nano

Tata Nano Twist XE in Gold

Why is the Tata Nano here?

For putting India on the global map as far as innovation in the auto sector is concerned, and for being the most affordable set of four wheeled transport in the country.

The Tata Nano was born out of a legend and the car instantly put India on the global automotive roadmap in terms of innovation, manufacturing expertise and creativity. The Nano, which is still the world’s least priced car, showed that India could come up with the chops required for a people’s car.

India’s very own Volkswagen Beetle, the Nano continues to make progress in terms of offering the car buyer more-car-per-car. The latest variants of the car have many firsts too. The Nano GenX AMT is the cheapest city runabout that has premium features such as an AMT option and a Bluetooth stereo.

Ford Ecosport

Ford Ecosport

Why is the Ford Ecosport here?

For pioneering what is one of India’s hottest growing segments – the Compact SUV class. Though the Premier Rio was the first real compact SUV of the country, the Ecosport managed to be the first accessible vehicle in this segment.

The Ecosport is the best selling compact SUV in India, and the biggest reason for the Ford’s success here was sharp pricing, a surefire recipe to give a car its first good run in India. After the initial oost though, the Ecosport’s solid engineering attributes meant that the crossover has managed to hold its own in the market.

Mahindra Thar

Mahindra Thar

Why is the Mahindra Thar here?

For being the first diesel powered, off road oriented lifestyle vehicle that blends modernity with vintage looks, and for making off roading popular as a weekend activity.

Did you know that the Mahindra Thar was a Bolero is a Jeep’s body shell. Well, this was one of the many measures that Mahindra engineers took while giving India her own iteration of the iconic Jeep Wrangler. The Thar is easily the best looking Mahindra vehicle in the country, and this is perhaps because the design has been untouched by the automaker’s design department, which is notorious for overdoing things. The Thar brings an infusion of modernity to the Civilian Jeep (CJ) platform, and is the best set of wheels a budding off roader can buy here.

DC Avanti

DC Design Avanti Sportscar 4

Why is the Avanti here?

For being India’s first sportscar that’s relatively affordable.

The DC Avanti is the first sportscar designed and built in India. DC Design puts this car together at its Talegaon factory and production of the first batch is already on. Sales of the DC Avanti have already commenced and this low slung sportscar is a fetching looker on the road. A price tag of 35 lakh rupees for this head turner ensures that it is relatively accessible to sportscar enthusiasts whose other options are priced at least twice as much.

Maruti Suzuki Celerio AMT

Maruti Suzuki Celerio

Why is the Maruti Suzuki Celerio here?

For pioneering affordable automatic cars in India, on the back of AMT technology. If more and more of the Indian car scene goes automatic, you now know the car that started it all.

India’s not America, and we still vote for fuel efficiency over convenience. Yet, one car played it like how car buyers here want it, by marrying convenience and fuel efficiency. We’re talking about the Maruti Suzuki Celerio, which introduced the affordable automated manual transmission technology to the Indian car scene.

An automatic car, that matched it manual counterpart as far as fuel efficiency goes, the Celerio AMT opened up floodgates. The Tata Zest and Nano AMTs followed. The Celerio has upped the ante in one more area, in the affordable diesel space. We’ll leave that out for later.

Volkswagen Polo GT TSI

Pete's Tuned Volkswagen Polo GT TSI in Red

Why is the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI here?

For reinvigorating the hot hatchback territory in India, and for opening the floodgates for many more such cars from a flurry of car makers.

The hot hatchback segment in India has gotten its second wind in the form of the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. The car uses its 1.2 liter TSI turbo petrol engine (103 Bhp-175 Nm) to stunning effect and is the most powerful, sub-10 lakh rupee petrol hatchback in the country.

The 7 speed twin clutch automatic gearbox is another class leading feature that gives the Polo TSI great performance across the rev band. In the coming months, the Polo GT TSI’s rivals will include the Tata Bolt Sport and the Fiat Punto Abarth, cars that have been inspired by the Volkswagen hatchback’s success here.