The best selling car in the country is an 800 and has always been an 800 now for the better part of 27 years, a feat not very many cars can lay claim to. And surprisingly it has all to do with the fact that the 800cc legacy and tradition has all come from Maruti-Suzuki. The very first Maruti 800 which debuted in the mid-1980s to get put the nation on Suzukis was indeed the first generation Alto albeit named 800 in India. This angular tiny terrier impressed one and all, not just because of its price but also because of the previous antecedents of Sanjay Gandhi’s ill-fated Maruti programme. Everyone wanted to see how a PSU outfit (which in turn had made so many other top performers in diverse other sectors saw them get nationalised) could set out to deliver the goods and when the tiny humdinger of an automobile began to hit Indian roads and run rings around the combined opposition, it marked the beginning of the modern day Indian automobile industry.
One remembers the low list price, Rs 45,000 or thereabouts for the first models before they started gyrating higher and higher. What wasn’t to be faulted was the fact that it dawned on the majority that small wasn’t puny, lightweight wasn’t weak and Japanese was not longer a bad word! In one fell swoop it completely obliterated pre-conceived notions of the automobile in the minds of Indians.
Maruti Udyog didn’t sit still and within a couple of years went in for the first complete model change, bringing in the latest Alto which was again badged the 800 in India. This began a very long run and truly put affordable motoring in the hands of the masses. This car was also the one which began to tell strongly across all spectrum of Indian society and like the Bajaj Chetak scooter of the same period began to command long waiting lists and high premiums.
If someone was waiting to up the game and take on the 800, Maruti Udyog brought in yet another slightly grown up, larger and bigger engined Alto into the Indian automotive-scape. No prizes for guessing that this came badged as the Maruti Zen and was a terrific success from the word go. Sporty and spunky but also with true mass market appeal, it was the first Indian hot hatch if ever this title could ever be applied but then the Zen thoroughly deserved this. It was also the first Alto to be exported to Europe and certainly did much to enhance the built-in-India story.
Fast forward a few years and next came the Alto 800 which we all know it to be today. In fact, this was the first time that Maruti Suzuki had ever badged the 800 as the Alto but then with the original earlier generation 800 and the Zen already being the two other avatars of the Alto in production and selling very well, the Alto nameplate had finally to be ushered in. The new Alto had some tough going initially but as the simplistic appeal and its giant killing capability emerged, it began its upward climb into the production and sales record books. In fact, yours truly along with three other drivers set a host of Indian speed, distance and time records by driving a stock standard Alto 800 continuously for 24 hours around the NCAT speed bowl of the VRDE at Ahmednagar in August 2003, clocking 3030km in the process!
The Alto truly rocketed up the pecking order and it began to eat into sales of the original second gen Maruti 800 before finally reaching and holding on as the best selling car in the country to this day. It was no mean feat but the Alto package was impressive and continued to be so.
In the meanwhile Maruti Suzuki had an all new Alto for the rest of the world but given the badge was doing so well in India; it came in with the A-Star model name. This was the fifth Alto model to be made in India and India was and remains its only manufacturing base with the bulk being exported to Europe and other major small car markets. This is the most modern Alto in Suzuki history with an abundantly strong body structure and vital underpinnings, a host of great small motors and a cutely-angry misdemeanour about it.
The new engines earmarked in the A-Star were too good to be kept away from the Alto though and a revised version of the Alto 800 was developed to take the K10 motor. This Alto continues in its impeccable form to this day.
And from mid-October 2012 we will have the revised from the ground-up Alto 800, the seventh in the line-up and probably the one to carry the successful lineage of not just its immediate predecessor but also of the original 800 which got Maruti Suzuki off the ground in the mid-1980s!
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