Words by Vishnu G Haarinath
“Grandpa take me out for a spin”, was a request I made to my grandfather as a child at every chance I got. I was a typical 90s’ kid , who spent most of my free time with my grandparents. I still remember their white Ambassador, with its huge white digits on the black coloured number plates until they were replaced by the black digits on white plates – MSR 3259. Staying awake in the car after a generous serving of my favourite ice cream was impossible courtesy those huge comfortable seats. I don’t even remember when you’re falling asleep; the Ambassador was the most comfortable car for our Indian roads at the time. There was a time when Hindustan Motors ruled Indian roads, and the Aamby as it was affectionately called, lived all sorts of lives. Be it a Prime Minister’s car, an ambulance, a taxi, a race car – it was a legend. But it couldn’t keep up with the technology or modern era of electronics, and the Ambassador started to slowly fade away.
The Aamby was but one car that held my fancy during my formative years. Let us take a look at some of my other favourite cars from the 90s, some of which might have been yours as well:
My first birthday picture still reminds me of one special moment where I was made to sit on the roof of the Maruti 800. I can distinctly recollect how many of Maruti 800s where there in my street when I was growing up . In fact, we all have our own Maruti 800 story to tell. Time has gone by and things have changed a lot with Maruti Suzuki discontinuing the iconic 800, and the Alto 800 rising out of its ashes. Read our story where the Ed drives all generations of the 800 and reminisces the time gone by.
The Gypsy gave the Mahindras a good run for their money. It gained a lot of popularity with the army, because unlike the Mahindras, it was powered by petrol and it could tackle the harshness of Ladakh without the risk of the fuel freezing in the tank. You’d find the Gypsy pottering about in many forms – hard-tops, soft tops and sometimes no tops! The lightweight structure along with the torquey petrol motor and four-wheel drive capabilities also made it popular amongst rally enthusiats, and it dominates the scene to this day. Maruti Suzuki have stopped production of the Gypsy except to the army. You can still order one, but you will only get it after the next batch is made for the Army.
Back in those days the Esteem was the car to attend all those board meetings held in fancy hotels. But apart from being the go-to car for any self-made man, it also was a superb race car. My uncle took me to the Madras Motor race track to watch a car race once, and it my surprise, I saw a grid full of Esteems with race seats, race exhausts, no headlights or taillights and with huge numbers stickered on their sides. We owned a petrol Esteem and it was so silent that you could barely hear the engine (compared to the Ambassador) but the ones on the track were just opposite, they were so loud. Yes! They are still loud, even today, they are the dominating cars in the Indian National Super Saloon category.
The Matiz was one of the smallest hatchbacks, which had an unique styling compared to the bland Maruti 800 or the Zen. In 1998, the South Korean manufacturer, Daewoo started their sales with Cielo and Matiz. The Matiz garnered a good response and I still remember the days I begged my dad to get me a scale model of one. But as Daewoo went bankrupt, the production was completely stopped.
My childhood days wouldn’t be complete without the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Japanese manufacturer introduced the Lancer in the late 90s. This car filled the gap between sports and luxury. I was quite lucky to get dropped to school in one sometimes. With its DNA based on the legendary Evos, the Lancer was by far one of the most desirable cars around. It’s chassis was really capable and it saw a lot of them be kitteed out for rallying. Due to lack of service support, the Lancer saw its end.
Everyone has their own favourite childhood cars. Mine are special, happy moments that I had with these cars. What’s yours?