"It used to be the Benz of our generation," my dad would fondly recall, referring to the Maruti Suzuki 800. This humble car, which made its mark in the 1980s, was more than just a mode of transportation. It was a symbol of transformation for the middle class, turning them from dreamers into achievers.
Before the Maruti 800's reign, Indian roads were dominated by the sturdy Ambassadors and premium Padminis. However, these cars had a reputation for being challenging to drive, with stiff gears and brakes. The 800 changed that narrative, replacing even the iconic Bajaj scooter as the dream vehicle of the Indian middle class and setting the stage for other car companies to follow.
Although it may appear unremarkable on today's roads, in its heyday, the Maruti 800 sparked envy, excitement, and a profound sense of achievement. For the middle class, it became the fourth pillar of the great Indian dream — "roti, kapda, makaan, and meri Maruti" (food, clothing, shelter, and my Maruti).
The dream of Maruti Suzuki was initially conceived by Sanjay Gandhi, the eldest son of Indira Gandhi. He envisioned a car that could provide moments of escapism, allowing people to experience the joy of driving. Sanjay, who interned at Rolls-Royce, gained invaluable knowledge about cars and presented the idea of a stylish, efficient, easy-to-operate, and affordable Indian car to his mother, then the Prime Minister of India.
Tragically, Sanjay's untimely death in a plane crash in 1980 halted the project. However, two eminent technocrats, V. Krishnamurthy and Dr. D.V. Kapur, took up the mantle to make the dream a reality. They worked tirelessly to create a car capable of withstanding the challenging Indian conditions, drawing inspiration from various imports.
During a visit to Japan, Dr. D.V. Kapur stumbled upon a small, cute car on the Japanese roads — a Suzuki 800. He realized that this was the car India needed. With a new name, Maruti Suzuki 800, the dream was set to be manufactured in India.
The government played a pivotal role in keeping the car affordable for the aspiring middle class. They introduced incentives tied to the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, helping to maintain a competitive price. The Maruti 800 was not just reliable, smooth to ride, and fuel-efficient; it also had a sleek design and deceptively spacious interiors. It became the preferred choice for Indian families.
The 800 made car ownership, a significant step up for most middle-class families, a reality. And even after more than three decades, Maruti Suzuki was still going strong, holding a special place in the hearts of practical Indians.
Today, an archival Instagram page called 'Maruti 800 Fossils' is dedicated to preserving the memories of this iconic car. It showcases photos of Maruti Suzuki 800s still scattered across the country, a reminder of a bygone era. The Maruti 800 wasn't just a popular car; it was a cultural icon that captured the zeitgeist of a changing nation.
Although it was discontinued in 2014, the Maruti Suzuki 800 remains omnipresent in India, carrying the dreams and memories of countless individuals. To this day, when we look back at the Maruti Suzuki, it evokes a wave of nostalgia and a cascade of personal anecdotes, connecting us to a time when this car symbolised the aspirations of an entire generation.
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