I remember reading a poem as a kid. I’m not sure if I remember this right, but it went something like this:
The past is a strange land, very strange
Wind does not blow there, nor does rain fall
Even if they do, they cannot hurt
The beauty about nostalgia is that we tend to remember only the good bits of events and experiences that have been. Happy times at school, fun times at college and crazy times at a first job. We tend not to remember the bad teachers, the bad heartbreaks and the bad bosses. And that’s a good thing.
In kinda the same spirit, I feel a wonderful sense of nostalgia for the cars that have been. Sure, they were far from perfect, but as I look back, I remember only the good bits. So here’s a list of my 10 favourite discontinued models.
10. Tata Sierra: I first drove a Sierra in 1995 when a friend had just bought one. A two-door SUV that was big and bulky and had large curved glass on the sides was like nothing I’d seen before. The naturally aspirated 68bhp engine was never good enough to pull a heap of metal that weighed more than 1.5 tonnes, but no one cared because it was the coolest car at the time.
9. Standard 2000: I admit, I never drove this car. Why? Because I was nine when it was launched in India. And 12 when they discontinued it. But even sitting in this car was an experience because nothing else felt as refined and as fast. The automobile world in India then comprised Ambassadors, Premier Padminis and tiny Marutis. With a design inspired by the Daytona, the 2000 looked and felt like nothing else. It came with 82bhp, power steering, central locking, and seatbelts. In 1986. In India.
8. Peugeot 309: One of the first few entrants post-liberalisation, Peugeot brought in the 309 to take on the likes of the Maruti Esteem and Daewoo Cielo. What made it special despite the dated looks? The absolutely brilliant ride over our perpetually bad roads. And the excellent TUD5 diesel engine. A number of manufacturers were using that engine – Premier used it last in its Rio – long after Peugeot had left India. A testimony to its brilliance.
7. Hindustan Contessa: Widely regarded as the first luxury car in India, the Contessa with its 1.8-litre Isuzu petrol engine was a blast. Those days, advertisements proudly proclaimed that it had five forward synchromesh gears. But the real reason it was fun was because it had 75bhp and was rear-wheel-drive. My friend Vivek Bhat had told GM it should just put the 1.8L Contessa engine in the Opel Astra if it wanted people to enjoy that car. It was that good.
6. Rover Montego: Sure, Sipani Motors had a dubious history in this country, but the Montego was a beautiful, refined car. Selling for more than Rs 10 lakh in 1995, few thought it’d ever be successful, but its 80bhp 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and elegant looks won many hearts. Mine included.
5. Ford Ikon: Yes, obviously, I’m talking about the 1.6-litre 91bhp version. After the tepid Escort, when the Ikon was launched in 1999, it blew everybody’s socks off. It was fast, it handled beautifully, and was so beautifully designed that it made the competition look dull. Boy racers finally had a sedan they could have fun in.
4. Maruti Zen: The first car that the boy racers really enjoyed though was the Zen. With an all-aluminum engine good for 50bhp, it was a huge success for Maruti. The protruding centre console on the dash looked cool. And some funky colours, like bright yellow, made the youngsters go bananas. You’ll still see many on the road, tweaked and modified for single-purpose use.
Uh... I just realised I’m out of space. I don’t like splitting my column; I’ve never done that. But I guess, this time I don’t have a choice. I’ll be back with my three favourite discontinued cars next time.