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India@75

1983: First Maruti 800 car rolls out

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

1983: First Maruti 800 car rolls out

Maruti 800 cars at the company’s Gurgaon factory, in December 2008.

Maruti 800 cars at the company’s Gurgaon factory, in December 2008. | Photo Credit: PRAKASH SINGH

It was a giant leap for the collective aspirations of the Indian middle class.

When Harpal Singh of Delhi, an Indian Airlines employee, received the keys to the first Maruti 800 car from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on December 14, 1983, it was a giant leap for the collective aspirations of the Indian middle class.

Car ownership was no longer the preserve of the rich and famous once the first Maruti rolled out from the company’s Gurgaon factory. It cost Rs.47,500 then, and there was no stopping the middle-class Indian from aiming to acquire it: the company actually received orders for more than 1.35 lakh units in just two months.

For 31 years, until January 18, 2014, when the last unit rolled out of the assembly, the Maruti 800 nurtured the desires of a changing society and launched a car revolution in the country.

Also read: 1985: Assam Accord signed

Today the auto enthusiast is spoilt for choice and the landscape is littered with dozens of models and variants. But much before terms like hatchback, sedan and SUV became commonplace, the only term known to Indians was car, and that usually meant either the Ambassador or the Fiat. Overnight, the Maruti 800 threw out those two workhorses.

During its long and eventful lifespan, the car sold over 26 lakh units in India alone and thousands of units were exported to nearby countries and even to Europe.

The first car for millions of Indian families, it was their first affordable chance to transition from two-wheelers to four-wheeled comfort.

Also read: India at 75: Epochal moments from the 1980s

Started as a collaboration with Suzuki of Japan, Maruti’s journey can actually be traced to the early 1970s when Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay Gandhi started a venture with the dream of building a small car, but it was soon mired in controversy amid allegations of favouritism. After Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she handpicked the bureaucrat V. Krishnamurthy to revive the project and build a “people’s car”. His efforts paid off and on Sanjay’s birth anniversary in 1983, the first Maruti was handed over.

Maruti did not just transform the Indian auto industry: it unlocked the country’s manufacturing potential and introduced world-class best practices in production and quality control. Maruti Suzuki India Ltd was sold to Suzuki Motor Corporation in 2003, but for those first three decades, the Maruti 800 was a symbol of pride for a people who could finally believe that it was possible to make in India, not just for India but for the world.