Almost every single Indian has atleast one great memory of the Maruti 800. It literally put the masses in India on 4 wheels! And although there were a fair few cars to choose from before the humble 800 came along, the reliability and refinement of the 800 was unmatched. Launched in Delhi by Indira Gandhi on December 14, 1983, the first ever Maruti 800 was delivered to its owner Harpal Singh and today marks the 35th birthday of the humble commuter car that all of us have come to love and the car that laid the foundations of what Maruti Suzuki is today.
Also Read: Maruti Suzuki to discontinue iconic Gypsy.
The Maruti project - or what was then Maruti Ugyog Limited was the brainchild of Sanjay Gandhi, who himself was a thorough petrolhead through and through! After the likes of the large and comfortable but frankly rubbish to drive Hindustan Ambassador and the nimble Fiat 1100, which by then had already become the Premier Padmini, the Maruti 800 was a guaranteed to win formula. A small and nimble monocoque body, a high revving and ridiculously smooth 796 cc engine with a fuel efficient dual barrel Mikuni carburettor and enough space for 4 adults, the Maruti 800 instantly won the hearts and minds of most Indian car buyers.
Like with most things in that era, the allocations for the Maruti 800 were on a lottery system, unless you personally knew someone in high places. The actual cost for the car was Rs 52,000 on road in Mumbai in early 1984, (that is what my grandfather paid for our car - MAF 720) wealthier individuals approached almost all customers with exactly double the amount in cash in order to bypass the system. Of course, if you did consider the offer and sell the car, you were guaranteed a visit by the Income Tax department. In fact, it was common practice for the income tax people to visit owners of Maruti 800s back in 1984 to verify how they bought the car too.
The first generation Maruti 800 was codenamed the SS80 and that is how it is still known today in enthusiast circles. Eventually of course Maruti expanded its range of cars with the launch of the Maruti Van in 1984 - which in essence is still being built today and the Maruti Gypsy in 1985. All said and done though, it is the first generation Maruti 800 that is the most loved and honestly, considering the fact that it is absolutely fantastic to drive, im not surprised!