Dear readers, please accept my apologies for this unwarranted gap in my posts. We are over with the cars in Tintin series and starting with some personal thoughts till I progress enough with my research for my next series.
I was born in India in the early 1970s. It was a really bad place to be born in if you were enthusiastic about automobiles. The country was in the throes of the implementation of socialists ideals propagated by the ruling elite. If one could afford a car, which was rare in those days, you had this huge collection to choose from, all the companies offered just one trim level for each model.
- The Ambassador Mark II – based on the Morris Oxford of the 1950s.
- The Premier President – a grand name for the slightly more modern car based on the Fiat 1100D of the 1960s.
- The Standard Herald – based on the Triumph Herald
- The Standard Gazel – again based on the Triumph Herald but this one was a four door sedan.
- For the outdoors lovers the only vehicle was a Mahindra Jeep which was based on the Willys CJ3B.
- Yeah, you could also aspire to a retired Army Jonga, based on the second generation Nissan Patrol P60. These were pretty popular on the nascent rally scene of the time. You see motor sports were elitist and so very un-socialist.
If you wanted to buy a two-wheeler; most middle class Indian families of the seventies could afford to buy one of these, you could choose to own a scooter; which most chose or a motorcycle, which few bought. The reason was, the scooter had a footboard, so you could sit on the front seat, seat your wife in the rear seat with the younger child squeezed between the parents. The elder child could stand on the footboard in front of the driver clinging to dear life holding on to the steering handle. Yes, this was the most common form of family transport for the middle class, which include officers in the military or government as well as private firm managers. In case you were not carrying your family, the footboard could be used to carry sacks of grains, an LPG cylinder or the weekly grocery/ green grocery. So what options did you have?
- Bajaj 150 – based on the Vespa 150 and its Public Sector Avtaar, the Priya 150. These were the most popular scooters of the era.
- Lambretta 150 – this was the choice if you had a third child. You see, it had a horizontally mounted spare wheel which acted as a seat for the third child. The Bajaj unfortunately had a vertically mounted spare wheel which reduced the carrying capacity.
- If you were richer and wanted to project a macho image, or if you were from Punjab, the Royal Enfield Bullet 350cc was de rigueur.
- Else, you could settle for a Yezdi 250, which was basically a Java 250.
- The third option was the Rajdoot based on the CEKOP from Poland which in turn was based on the DKW RT 125.
Incidentally, there was a huge waiting list for these vehicles because the Government of India decided which company produced how many automobiles irrespective of the demand. Companies were issued with licenses to manufacture a certain number of vehicles per annum and were not permitted to exceed the licensed amount. The customer; well who cared; the companies had a captive customer base and for the government it was again so un-socialist to care about that despised individual who dreamt of owning personal mobility. Also, all Ambassador, Mahindra and Bullet buyers were competing with the various government departments, the military and the police for buying these vehicles. Incidentally, the wait for a humble Bajaj 150 was a mere six and a half years in 1976.
The commercial vehicles scene was even more exciting, you could choose to buy either an 18 feet truck or an 18 feet truck (lorry). But yes you could order your trucks with either 2X4 drive or 2X4 drive. The 4X4s were reserved for the military.
- You could choose to buy a Tata 1210D based on the Daimler Benz L312 or the Tata 1210 full forward cab.
- Another truck which you could buy new was the Ashok Leyland Comet.
- Though sold in limited numbers, one could buy a Premier Automobiles manufactured Fargo Truck.
- Yes the option of buying a retired Army Shaktiman based on the MAN SE was always there.
If you wanted an LCV; which hardly anyone one wanted as the deft drivers could maneouvre these standard size trucks into any nook or corner; you could bid to buy a retired ex-Army One-tonner based on the Nissan 4W73.
- There was the FC-160 from Mahindra base on the Jeep Forward Cab.
- You could also buy the Dodge Rocket manufactured by Premier Automobiles.
Thankfully all this started to change in the 1980s with the advent of the Japanese. The Maruti Suzuki 800 aka the Suzuki Alto changed the car scene while the quartet of Toyota (DCM-Toyota), Mitsubishi (Eicher-Mitsubishi), Nissan (Allwyn-Nissan) and Mazda (Swaraj-Mazda) changed the LCV scene. On the other hand the quartet of Honda (Hero-Honda), Kawasaki (Kawasaki-Bajaj), Yamha and Suzuki (TVS-Suzuki) introduced the Indians to joys of motorcycling that too available off the shelf.