Harpal Singh was the first customer of the Maruti 800 in India and won the purchase via a lucky draw and received keys from Indira Gandhi, making the car extremely special.
There was a time when India drove with the Maruti 800. The icon of the Indian automobile industry, the Maruti 800 (SS80) was the efficient, frugal and better-looking alternative to the Fiats and Ambassadors of its time, and was truly the first car that the masses shared a bond over. While production may have been seized in February 2014, the Maruti 800 is still capable of taking you on a trip and back to nostalgia-land via feels-ville as every Indian young or small has some connection to the small car.
The Maruti 800 came to life in India back in 1983 and was one of the most anticipated products for the then growing country. The huge demand ensured that the automaker conducted lucky draws to select customers, a system relatively inexistent of in modern day car sales practices (save for the Mahindra XUV500’s initial launch phase). It was through this lucky draw that luck favoured Harpal Singh the most, who is titled as the first owner of the Maruti 800 in India.
For the time, the Maruti 800 was a privilege and Mr. Singh was nothing short of a noble from ancient rome. On 14th December 1983, he received the keys to the car from Indira Gandhi and the exclusivity was enough to catapult the Singh family to celebrity status. The crowd coming together to admire your newest possession that was a shining example of modern India, the M800 managed all of that for Singh and then some. The hatchback was available at an official value at Rs. 47,500/- back then, but production restraints meant supply was limited. In fact, Harpal was offered over Rs. 1 lakh for his M800, twice the actual amount which he refused to accept. Ever thought why a Maruti’s resale value is so good, this is your answer.
Based on the Suzuki Fronte (SS80) sold in Japan, the Maruti 800 had a well thought out design that maximised space on the inside while keeping the proportions compact. Power came from an 796cc F8B petrol engine that belted out around 37 BHP and 59 Nm of torque, paired to a 4-speed manual tranny (upgraded to a 5-speed later but rolled back to a 4-speed box again). The structure was basic and modern day features only made it to the later models. At some point, almost everyone has managed to squeeze 6-8 passengers in the car at a time, which it did so successfully accommodate.
The Maruti 800 remained maiden owner Harpal Singh’s prized possession till the very end of his life. Singh never upgraded to a new car. Not even to newer Maruti models or otherwise. At one point, Singh did say that he wouldn’t leave the car till he was alive, words he stuck to, till the very end. Last we heard, Harpal Singh and his wife had passed away in 2010 and 2012 respectively and the Maruti 800 was still parked outside their residence in Delhi. However, given the heritage status, the Singh family now survived by two daughters insisted Maruti Suzuki to take the car as part of their office museum.
Nothing concrete we believe has come out of that yet and for the present, the first M800 of India continues to die a slow death. This particular example is a landmark for the country and the revolution of the Indian automotive industry. This Maruti 800 needs to live, survive and tell the tale for the future generations that come by.