A century of people's cars

Almost a hundred years 101 to be exact, if you please separate Henry Fords masterpiece, the Model T or Tin Lizzie, with Ratan Tatas baby, the
Nano which will be launched on Monday. Different cultures aside, both stand for freedom from drudgery and beacons for affordable personal mobility. Henry Ford had strived time and again to perfect the horseless carriage and while there were other great American automobile
names then producing even grander and more technologically proficient cars, the basic simplicity of the Model T, its robust build and its durability helped put not just the worlds greatest nation on wheels but also showed the rest of the world the way to go forward with four wheels and mass motoring for its citizens, reports Adil Jal Darukhanawala

FORD MODEL T | 1908-1927

The Model T Ford started out in 1908 at a $850 price point. About 18,257 cars were sold that year which was a great achievement for that period. However, the beauty of the Model T was not just the car but also the process, the moving assembly line was perfected by Henry Ford based on the four principles of accuracy, continuity, system and speed. It sparked a social revolution in Yankeeland. Fords workers were among the best paid because they produced the most, the profits of FoMoCo (popular slang for Ford Motor Company) went through the roof. By 1925, the Model T was uprated and refined but its price had come down to $260. In 1925, Ford sold over two million Model Ts. The Model T remained in production till 1927 when it was finally replaced by the Model A. It wasnt just about the 15 million plus cars which had been built but the fact that it showed the rest of the worlds car makers the way to go ahead.

AUSTIN SEVEN | 1922-1939

What the Model T did for the US, the Austin 7 did for the UK. Made by the Austin Motor Company from 1922 to 1939, the Austin 7 was considerably smaller and more compact than the Ford Model-T. It was lighter, less than half the Model Ts weight to be specific at 360 kg. While giving it adequate performance was a 747cc engine with a modest 10hp. Again like the Nano, the Austin 7 was the bargain of the car industry for being the lowest priced car on the market. Several Sevens made it to India as did the Model Ts and quite a few of them continue to appear in decent numbers in vintage car gatherings all across the land to this day.

FIAT 500 TOPOLINO | 1936-1955

Designed by the great Dante Giacosa, Fiat 500 Topolino (Mickey Mouse in Italian) that was introduced in 1936, seemed a scaled down version of a large car but so finely detailed were its lines and proportions that it went on to attain instant success. The 500 was produced in three different variants until 1955 with minor mechanical and cosmetic changes.


Unveiled in 1938, the Volkswagen Beetle was the outcome of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitlers vision to give the German masses a really affordable and easy-to-run car, in which a family of five could travel easily, even over tough mountainous roads. The job was handed over to Ferdinand Porsche, who developed a small family car in 1936 which went into production in 1938. The Volkswagen Beetles success was largely credited to its cuddly and endearing appeal and the engineering tour de force of Ferdinand Porsche. The chassis was built in a way that allowed for more than one body type to be fitted on it. Americans embraced the Beetle massively and by the time production finally ended in Mexico, over 22 million units had been made.

CITROEN 2CV | 1948-1990

The 2CV was the original Toute Petite Voiture (thats French for Very Small Car) much akin to Nano. The idea for 2CV came from leader-thinker and Citroen-Michelin boss Pierre Boulanger. Within months of its 1949 launch, the waiting list grew to be three years long. At that time, second hand 2CVs demanded a greater premium than new ones, only because they would be delivered sooner. With a 375cc air-cooled opposed-twin cylinder engine and a very pliant and innovative suspension, the car was capable of a true speed of about 60 km/h while delivering a fuel efficiency of 33 kmpl.

This car was very actively being considered for manufacture in India in the early 1980s by none other than Escorts but the government of India did not want to see any competition to Maruti Udyog and denied Escorts the permission to manufacture it.

AUSTIN MINI | 1959-2000

The original Mini is said to be Britains Beetle by many thanks to its mass appeal. Under the fiercely passionate and iron fisted control of its designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, some may even think that the process was similar to Ferdinand Porsches quest for the German peoples car. Under the skin and in terms of design, however, the Mini was a revolution. No wonder then that it was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century. The car had its genesis in the 1956 Suez Canal petroleum crisis, which gave Issigonis the idea to make a small car that was not only fuel efficient, but also packed the maximum interior space in the minimum possible road space.


Europe and America have had their share of peoples cars in the form of the Ford Model T, VW Beetle, Austin Seven, just to name a fewcars which pretty much changed the face of the automobile industry in their day. So it might be difficult for some to understand how the cute little Maruti 800 fits into the same league as these, considering that it was just a rehashed Japanese Kei (ultra-compact) car built for the Indian market. But what the Model T and the Beetle did for the world when they were introduced was just what the 800 did for India when Maruti launched it back in 1983.

In an era of cars like the Premier Padmini and the HM Ambassador, which embodied a socialist approach to making automobiles just as their names would suggest, the Maruti 800 was a revelation. An edgy compact design that was reminiscent of Japanese car making philosophy at the time, it could easily accommodate four adults and was well suited for navigating through congested city streets, making it the perfect car for India. But it wasnt really till the economic reforms of the 90s that the 800 really became a car for the masses.

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