TTAC Salutes The Maruti 800

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

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.

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • NoGoYo NoGoYo on Feb 11, 2014

    Didn't Maruti also make Ladas under license? Maybe I'm thinking of a different company...

  • Scrappy17 Scrappy17 on Feb 11, 2014

    You are thinking of Premier automobiles who used to make the Fiat 1100. They made the 118NE which was a Fiat 124 also sold as VAZ Wiki entry below: Soviet Union/Russia[edit] Main article: VAZ-2101 VAZ-2101 In 1966, Fiat entered into a collaborative agreement with the Soviet government to establish car manufacture in the depressed Samara region of Russia. Fiat was contracted to built the massive VAZ plant in the newly created town of Togliatti, named after the Italian communist leader of the same name. The factory produced an adapted version 124R of the 124, known as the VAZ-2101 "Zhiguli" (sold as the Lada 1200 in export markets), until 1982, and 1200s until 1987. These were based on the 124 but modified at more than 800 points, the major modifications being an entirely different OHC engine developed by Fiat, hydraulic clutch, drum brakes at the rear, modified suspensions, etc. Early modifications include the VAZ-2102 (station wagon), 2103 (Lada 1500), 2106 (Lada 1600) and 21011 (Lada 1300). The updated versions of the 124-based design were produced to September 2012, as the VAZ-2104, 2105 and 2107 – marketed as the Lada Riva (or Lada Classic) in most Western European markets.[citation needed] Production of this line reached 17,332,954 cars, this being the second largest production volume for a car in automotive history India[edit] 1989 Premier 118NE The Fiat 124 was also introduced in India by Premier Automobiles Limited in the autumn of 1985, as the Premier 118NE.[11] The car was very similar to the 1966 version except for a few cosmetic changes to the front and rear. However, Premier incorporated the Nissan A12 (1,171 cc and 52 bhp) powertrain instead of the original Fiat engine along with a Nissan manual gearbox. Added in 1996, there was also a version called the 1.38D which sported a diesel engine, built under license from Fratelli Negri Machine Sud, Italy. At the end of production an improved model called Viceroy was released in collaboration with Peugeot. Production ended in 2001.

  • Vipul Singh Vipul Singh on Feb 12, 2014

    Thanks Derek! Nice to see TTAC recognizing the impact that the humble 800 had on India. When the SS80 series 800 came out (the generation previous to the one shown in the picture, which is SB308), people ridiculed it for looking and feeling fragile. But soon, the market understood that solidity is much more about reliability than bulk and a heavy feel. Here we had a car that would start up every morning - rain, hail or shine; the A/C would work even in 45 degrees Celsius in crawling traffic and you won't be left stranded in the middle of the night due to an electrical failure. I have owned an 800 in the past, after our family moved on from Ambassadors. The 800 was much more of a leap ahead of the Ambassador than (say) today's Polo is over the 800. P.S.: the car shown in picture is from my neck-of-the-woods (UP 31 - Lakhimpur district, all of mine are UP 32 - Lucknow)

  • Niky Niky on Feb 12, 2014

    The 800's successor, the Alto, still sells big. At the top of the charts, last I looked. It's not *quite* as horrid as the 800, but it still gets 70 mpg on the highway with the AC on. I fear, though, that India's plans to align itself with NCAP will kill even that car off.