Despite an ailing presence in North America, Suzuki has been a pioneer in the Indian marketplace, with its Maruti Suzuki subsidiary selling over 10 million vehicles since inception in 1981, with the Maruti 800 serving as its core product.
Based on the tiny, Japanese-market Suzuki Fronte, the 800 used the Fronte’s chassis, with the body of a second-generation Suzuki Alto and a diminutive 800cc engine. For a low cost car in a developing country, this was fairly advanced, given that the Fronte was powered by a two-stroke engine at one point in its life.
By Western standards, the 800 is laughably spartan, packing just 37 horsepower and devoid of air-conditioning, power features, an automatic transmission, side mirrors or any hope of surviving a traffic accident. But it was the 800, not the Hindustan Ambassador, that mobilized India’s middle class, with many 800s serving as driving school vehicles, family transportation and in many cases, a step up from motoring on two wheels. Before the Datsun Go and Dacia Logan, the Maruti 800 was the original low cost car.
Like many other antiquated designs, the Maruti 800 has fallen victim to stricter standards, specifically emissions regulations that would require expensive upgrades to its powertrain. Given the substantial amount of road deaths in India, the chance for a safer alternative to take its place isn’t such a bad thing either.