Everyone knows Maruti 800 because it was one of their first cars in the family. It was also the first affordable car that people were interested to buy. Maruti was able to price the 800 less than the competitors because it was the first front-wheel-drive car in India. The 800 was a joint effort between the government and the manufacturer. But did you know that there were other manufacturers also that approached government? They wanted the government to view their car as a potential candidate to become the first car of India. One such car was Lloyd LP 250.
The Llyod LP 250 belonged to Germany but it was made to serve similar needs. It was made to be the first people’s car. It was derived from Lloyd LP400. But where the LP400 was a four-seater sedan, the LP 250 was a two-door car measuring just 3.4-metres. For reference, the Maruti Suzuki Alto measures 3,495 mm.
The car was designed for personal transport and was first manufactured in 1956. As the name suggests, the LP 250 had a small 250 cc, air-cooled, two-stroke, parallel-twin engine. The engine would generate 11 bhp of max power which does not look enough as modern standards. The engine was mated to a three-speed manual transmission.
To keep the costs down, the LP 250 was a very basic car. It did have backrests for the rear seat occupants and air conditioning. It had suicide doors which we nowadays see on Rolls Royce. The vehicle weighed only 500 kgs because it missed many features.
The LP 250 was priced at 3,000 Deutsche Marks in Germany which roughly translates to Rs 1.3 lakhs at the current exchange rate. It was aimed at young people and it could’ve driven without a driving license too.
Despite not being India’s first people’s car, a few units of LP 250 did make it to India. Sanjay Gandhi shipped three units of the LP 250s to our country. Two out of which were disassembled for development and design work so that they can suit to Indian environment. However, the project was shelved midway for unknown reasons.
The last LP 250 still lives today. It was auctioned by the State Trading Corporation to the then-president of World Tamil Congress, Janardhanam. Currently, the car belongs to GD Gopal who restored it. You can see the last LP 250 is parked at the Gee Car Museum in Coimbatore. It is a very rare car to find. Llyod only made 4,000 units of the LP 250 out of which only a few have been able to survive.
There were many other manufacturers too who wanted to offer the people’s car. One such example was Aravind Model 3 which was made in India. It was made by a self-taught mechanic, Kunnath Ayyath Balakrishna Menon, who was known as K.A.B. Menon. You can read more about the Aravind by clicking here.
Finally, the car that was allowed to manufacture was the Maruti 800. At that time the hatchback was priced at Rs. 50,000 and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi handed over the first car herself to the customer. The first owner of the Maruti 800 was Mr Harpal Singh.