INDIA @75: How the 800 reshaped mobility

by Mayank Dhingra 15 Aug 2022


The people’s car that changed the motoring landscape in India and also marked the birth of what has today evolved into being a thriving automotive industry of global recognition, was launched in December 1983.

The keys to the first car rolling off the then Maruti Udyog facility in Gurgaon, Haryana, were handed over to Delhi-based Indian Airlines employee Harpal Singh by the incumbent prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

The first-generation Maruti 800 or the SS80 was a big departure from what India was used to thus far with the likes of the heavyweight Ambassadors and Padminis. The four-door, four-seater model had a significantly smaller footprint, was nimble at its feet, and played a vital role in the urbanising, industrialising and transforming India. It was radically modern in its own accord too and introduced a floor-mounted gear lever to the Indian car buyer, and came with many firsts, for instance, front-wheel drive, bucket seats, plastic injection-moulded dashboard and front disc brakes as well. The flat-surfaced dashboard was a hit among customers, allowing them to place their religious deity in the centre, and stow away other knick-knacks without the fear of falling off.

The 800 as it’s fondly remembered to date, came equipped with Suzuki’s 796cc, three-cylinder petrol engine, one that has stood the test of time, powering over 2.7 million of the Maruti 800 cars over its three generations, and still continuing to be in picture nearly 40 years into service, now in its modern avatar, in the Maruti Suzuki Alto – the company’s most-affordable offering in the present day.

The early-stage Maruti 800 came in the form of completely-knocked-down kits from Japan, with local assembly at Gurgaon, before the production was entirely transferred to India to cater to the growing volumes. The car wooed owners with its sheer reliability and frugality – attributes that have remained associated with the Maruti Suzuki brand even today, and have, in a sense, become the guiding principles of the company. The ease of repair, low cost of maintenance, and the process-oriented nature of the Maruti service centres back in the day was also nothing short of an engineering revolution for India’s automobile sector, and set precedence for the handful of competitors in the space who were quickly losing market share.

The massive waiting periods did not discourage customers from staying put in the queue for this little wonder, which went on to mobilise masses and also gave wings to the Indian woman, who found its ergonomics and easy-to-operate nature confidence inspiring to take over the wheel and put the country on the global map of economic growth.

The 800 evolved over time and became more modern in its demeanour, receiving technological upgrades in the form of multi-point fuel injection as well as a five-speed gearbox, but stuck to the core principles of offering safe, economical, fun and reliable motoring for the entire family. Owners cherish their fond memories with their beloved 800s, and many have still kept their cars in pristine condition, maintaining a true relationship of trust and companionship.

 

 


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