Been Here Long

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

Hindustan Ambassador, Sumo, Maruti 800, Maruti Omni, Premier Padmini, Tata Sumo, Maruti Gypsy, Tata Safari. Talk about ruling the Indian automotive world, you will have these names flash in front of you. A car surviving generations after generation through all the technological improvements and weak market, creating an identity for itself is something that you don’t see any other car doing. Let’s try and reminisce on each of these names’ journeys.


Hindustan Ambassador:

Politicians, celebrities, landlords, CEO’s, Panchayat Head, Zamindars, name any prominent person in your society or neighbourhood, they have a common identity behind them, THE AMBASSADOR. Your grandparents, parents, relatives all have an ambassador story that puts a pleasant memory flashback. Super Star Rajnikanth has a Rolls Phantom and Ghost but has his love for an Ambassador.

Based on the British ‘Morris Oxford Series III’, Hindustan rebadged it as the Landmaster by 1948 and was sold in India. Fondly called “The King of Indian Roads”, the Ambassador was the first ever car to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Motors from 1957. The indigenously manufactured machine had a few cosmetic improvements and the ‘Ambassador Mark I’ was introduced. After three decades of new grilles the Mark series came to an end with ‘Mark IV’. The Mark series had 1.5litre petrol and diesel variants, the latter dominated the low cost taxi industry in half of the Indian Subcontinent.

With the upcoming series of new ambassador models with changes in the powertrain came Nova and Ambassador 1800 Classic. With the emission regulations becoming stringent the 1.5 litre petrol engine was called off and the new Ambassador was set to be powered by Isuzu’s 1.8 litre engine from Contessa.

The final generation of Ambassador Grand, Avigo and Encore made sure that they stuck to the emission norms and had a few interior design changes as well. However, by 2014 Hindustan Motors decided to terminate the 57 year reign of the mighty Ambassador.


Premier Padmini:

If you have watched Pannaiyarum Padmini’um, you already know what a Premier Padmini means to an Indian Family. The movie shows a beautiful rendition of how a car becomes an integral part of the family.

In 1964 post Independence Premier started manufacturing in India with a selling license from FIAT, introducing the ‘Delight’. In 1972, Premier freed itself from the licensing of the Fiat 1100 and started to produce its own version which was named ‘President’ and was later christened to ‘Padmini’. The Padmini named after the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi meaning “She who sits on a Lotus”, has had its own evolution in the country.

It was the most favourite 4 door family saloon loved by celebrities, actors, children, men, women and everyone around the country defining status of those who own it. It was powered by a 1.1 litre petrol engine which was powerful and more efficient sending Hindustan Ambassador a run for its money.

Not having much change throughout its life the Padmini saw its major change in the engine having a 1.4litre Diesel option and more powerful and refined petrol engine to attract the customers. All good things have to come to an end, likewise the Padmini lost its ground to the up and coming Maruti Suzuki 800 and soon had to shut down its production in 2000. Premier Padmini a beauty and a queen of her time.


Maruti 800:

Up next on the dominating list of cars in the Indian automotive market hails from the country’s very own soils with Lord Hanuman delivering the ultimate machine himself. The 800 factory in India was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the year 1983, set to become the best city car the Indian Automotive industry has ever seen.

The 800 was powered by Suzuki’s F8B and F8D engine that was attached to a four speed manual transmission putting out 37hp. The car was accessible in literally any part of the country and the prospective owners have to wait for over three years post booking to lay their hands on one this beauty.

The original Maruti 800 (SS80) may have started the revolution, but it was its successor, the Maruti 800 SB308 launched in 1986 that went on to put the nation on wheels and dominated the Indian car market for decades. After the Indian roads were filled with this tiny little machine, Maruti Suzuki decided to export the 800 to make sure that the Europeans had a taste of this wonder.

With minor facelift and improvements in the car since 1986, the car remained almost the same like when it was in the beginning. However, due to the emission and engine norms from the government, the 800 was called off by 2014. From the first customer Harpal Singh the owner himself, Maruti sold a whopping 2.7 million units all in the Indian and European markets.


Maruti Omni:

From being the all time kidnap facility in movies to being filled and dumped with whatever you can lay your hands on, the Maruti Omni was the ultimate multi purpose vehicle no brand could ever afford for 2.8 lakhs. Starting as Maruti Van powered by a 796cc three cylinder engine the Van emerged as a commercial purpose vehicle used for ease of transportation of goods.

As for the population and the ‘collective’ thinking of Indian community, Maruti rebranded the Van in Maruti Omni, making it literally ‘Omni’present in almost every workplace and household you can see.

The Omni was the smallest 8 seater available ever. With that smaller of a track the car could literally slip through the traffic and stand right behind a car barely inches away. Omni soon became the best taxi service vehicle carrying more people and more baggage dropping and picking up people at railway stations and bus stands. Some daredevils even took it on the road for a road trip with all the games and booze they could collect.

The car had a spin of changes for the interior with a different colour for the dash, comfy seats, softer suspension for the hard to please passengers. After that it remained unchanged for the rest of its life. With all the good things it had the Omni was everything but safe. Maruti added a disc brake option to it but the small wheels, a tall car and an absolutely zero crumble zone kinda made the Omni fail the crash tests, which eventually killed the car. But it did leave a huge void in the market that could not be filled by the upcoming cars.


Tata Sumo:

The forever Villain transporter in Tamil movies always running in a file across the roads left and right with bad guys hanging out the window swinging their axes and knives and guns ready to rumble, the Tata Sumo was this huge muscle car that had its reign in the Indian automotive collection.

Launched in 1994 the boxy Sumo turned out to be the best 10 seater story of the decade. Powered by a 3 litre diesel monster from the Tata 407 which if you miss it will jump out of your hood. Meanwhile, the regular Sumo was upgraded as well, and it got another facelift in 2004 and was called the Sumo Victa. The facelift came with freshened interiors and some extra features in an attempt to entice private buyers, but that didn’t quite work. Then, in its most concerted effort to take the Sumo upmarket, Tata Motors launched the Sumo Grande which had a more rounded, restyled body, all-new interiors with three rows of seats, a softer ride and improved refinement.

With all the refinements the Sumo still could not meet their customer complaints and dissatisfactions. The tall centre of gravity, small wheelbase, long rear overhang made it unstable at higher speeds and made it hard to maneuver. Also, with the entry of Mahindra’s Bolero in 2000 Sumo lost its market. Tata Motors finally quit the Sumo and discontinued it in 2019 as they found it not worth the investment to have a BS6 engine under its hood. For sheer space and comfort, there was nothing quite like the Sumo in its class, but sadly, it lacked quality, and wasn’t upgraded sufficiently to sustain its early success.


Article by

Arun Sundar


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