Childhood memories are funny thing! It is interesting to think of how road travel has evolved and one of the key motivators, is the advancement of the motor car in India. Ever thought about the cars that most millennials grew up with? Do road trips depend on the vehicle you travel in? Or is it about the emotion? We take a look at some cars that were dream cars in yesteryears. I have had the good fortune to travel in some of them, during younger days and for some of them, I would still salivate !!
Evolution of the Indian Car
This list has to start with the iconic Ambassador. The big daddy of the Indian car of the 70’s 80’s and maybe a bit of the 90’s. The car of choice even today for many bureaucrats in India. The Ambassador was a spacious and multipurpose car. The earlier models with the hand gear came with a bench seat up front for 3, including the driver. It would also seat upto 4 at the front and another 3-4 in the back seat.
Completely mechanical engine, the repairing of these behemoths was a cinch and could be done by most local mechanics found along the road. I remember our leaking radiator being fixed with nothing more than a chewing gum and soap! A good thing too, because they would break down at will. The diesel version would spew out so much of smoke that one would be covered in a thin layer of soot by the time the trip ended. Comfy and big, this was my first road tripping partner.
Highlights – the small quarter window on the front that would open up sideways and allow that little extra air inside the car. The slight angle that the steering wheel was placed at and the immense boot space!
Contessa Classic and Standard 2000
These were the dream cars. The cars that were a petrol head’s fondest memories. The Contessa Classic was an even bigger car than the Amby. One of the first cars to feature floor-shift gears and bucket seats. This powerful fuel guzzler was a speed demon. Fashioned after the Vauxhall Victor, the Conty, as its known amongst its users and lovers, had an air-conditioner! This was a very unique feature in those days.
The Standard 2000 was a looker! Originally a Rover 2000, it was a guzzler, luxury car, and a hot rod to boot. This was a teenager’s dream car. The car could touch speeds in excess of 150 km/h, in times when 70 km/h was a feat by itself. With a 4-speed manual gearbox and 2.0-litre engine, the car seems small as per todays standard, but was a power house in those days.
Highlights – The way you would sit in the car as a driver. You wouldn’t sit, but almost sink into the front seat. The gear was positioned on the dashboard and voila, you were automatically the king of the road. The road presence and the comfort in the back seat was unparalleled.
The third of the triumvirate, this was the small car! Based on the Fiat 1100, the Padmini was manufactured with a bench style seating, with hand gears earlier before it upgraded itself to the floor gear, bucket seat models. This was a perfect family car and also an enthusiast’s delight. You can still catch a ride on the roads of Mumbai, where the taxis still are this iconic car. This itself is a testament of how sturdy this car is. The Premier Padmini stopped production in 1998, 19 years ago, and they still ply on the roads today.
Highlights – More reliable than other cars of its era. This cool car was made popular by most film personalities of the time, including Rajnikanth!
This has to be my all time favourite. Originally a Fiat 124, this had a typical boxy and simple design. The performance of this car was enough to catapult it to this list. I would term this as the driver’s car. This was luxurious then, with the fantastic ride comfort it offered. The lovely steering (there were no power steerings then), the AC, the absolutely dream gear shifts, roomy interiors and sufficient power, when you ask for it. This defines the 118NE.
Highlights – the gearbox. One of the early cars to feature a fully synchromesh gearbox, it felt butter smooth! The car was very spacious as well, seating a family of 6 pretty comfortably.
The first off-roader that was an average Indians pin up car! Before the Gypsy, there were the Willy’s or the Mahindras, but this car with its 2 seater cabin and open back, just captured the imagination of the adventure junkie. This is one car that is available even today, in the used car market. Most military vehicles are the Gypsy and you can see them zooming around mountains even today. People would easily forgive the lack of comfort in the vehicle.
Highlights – the fun factor! You could finally understand why a dog puts its head out of the window when in a car. The offroading capabilities and the fact that you could also look super cool when you drove this to work!
If you notice, most of these cars have been waylaid and are no longer in production. Emission norms, better and more stable designs have taken over the market. But even today, if you get behind the wheel of one of these beauties, they will bring a smile, for sure. Road tripping is much more convenient today, thanks to the evolved cars, service support and better roads too. Road tripping culture is surely evolving much more now.
The author – Deepak Ananth has over 25 years of experience of road tripping, and he drives a Skoda Superb he fondly calls Lucifer and a Royal Enfield Classic 500 he calls Thea. He is the co-founder and CEO of ScoutMyTrip – a community driven planner for road trips in India.