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Old 5th June 2018, 11:37   #1
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Default Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

Much has been discussed over the years of the various oddball automobile projects that were attempted in India, especially in the nascent years post Independence. The topic was broached in the Scootacar thread here, but not in enough detail. This thread is merely an attempt to collate most of the priceless data already spread over many places into one, primarily to educate; and preserve for posterity these mostly whimsical contraptions. More often than not these are cars that barely made it past a prototype phase - sometimes stopping there, sometimes making a 2 digit production figure, and almost never going into full-scale mass production. The details I share below are of course subject to correction, and confirmed only to the best of my ability. And yes, many of them are relatively modern but still archaic in concept and execution, so lets not worry too much about labelling them as classic/collectible or not. Just enjoy the eccentricities


Many stories are already mentioned here. Let us start with one with some of the older attempts, pre-independance.

Morvi
At this wonderful page, we have seen mention of Morvi cars as far back as 1912-1914. Going by the name, they were likely to be an outcome of the Royal garages. Then again a little digging threw up this page - which has a mention of the name Ralph Ricardo. A quick search on him shows that he was a pioneering engine designer in England - and that he moved to India in 1911 - that does seem to add up
Unfortunately nothing more is known, at least to me, and I look forward to more on the subject from the stalwarts.

Super
Prototype from the late 1930s, that is all that is known. Photo taken from the same French link.
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(The car in the photo has also been called the Russa, so looking forward to corrections.)


Swadeshi Special
There are a couple of mentions of a 'Swadeshi Special', made by Bepin Behari Dass of Ballygunge, which was sold to the Corporation of Calcutta. The car was registered 35977. Luckily a few details are mentioned in Gautam Sen's book, and reproduced below.
Quote:
Sometime in the 1920s, a Calcutta-based entrepreneur, Bipin Behari Das, made an all-Indian car. Named Swadeshi, which means self-reliance in Hindi, and echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s self-reliance sentiments, this car was made from locally available materials and lashed together in a garage with very basic equipment. Nothing seems to have come of it and the car remained just a one-off.
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Russa Cycle Car
We have seen many references to The Russa Engineering Works Ltd. as popular motorcar dealers in Bengal. However in a list of Motor Vehicles registered in Calcutta, published by the Government of Bengal, car bearing registration number 871 is registered as a "Russa Cycle Car" and owned by the Calcutta Chemical Co. I assume this would have been their attempt at cobbling together a cyclecar as an economical option to customers.

Birla Brothers
I recall a car built by the Birla Brothers registered in Calcutta, however I cannot find the details at the moment. Not much is known, will update as and when I find the registration number, it was listed in the Calcutta records. If I remember right, the address mentioned was also 8 Royal Exchange Place, which was later the Hindustan Motors address.

Cooper
The Cooper family from Satara have been in the field of engineering probably for over a 100 years. I remember reading a piece years back in the magazine "Parsiana", which featured a picture of a prototype car they made in the 1930s. I shall look for it.

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Old 5th June 2018, 14:43   #2
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Default re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

Post independence we saw a resurgence in smaller attempts at a family car - driven I assume by the Government's ambitious plans to encourage such projects. For an insight on the topic, I highly recommend reading the book 'A Million cars for a Billion People" by Gautam Sen, available here. You can get a flavour at the FIVA site, here.

The Meera
We read more about the Meera earlier here

Quote:
This microcar was made in India in 1949/1951 by Shankarao Kulkarni.
It was a two doors two seater with the passenger behind the driver, like the Messerschmitt.
Note the antelope head ornament on the hood.
Till 1975 Kulkarni made 5 other mini models. Due to red tape they never came into production.
B&w photo colorized.
While the first model was said to be made in 1949 (51?), the later ones we assume date as late as 1975. This more modern version bore sharp, angular contours, with a striking resemblance to the Autobianchi A112 Giovani of 1973. More details here

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Later generation version.



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This is the 1973 Autobianchi A112 Giovani by Pininfarina - the resemblance is uncanny.
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1960 Raghavaiah Electric

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We saw this car here

Quote:
This electric two-seater is developed by P.V.Raghavaiah in cooperation with Autonagar from Vijayawada, India.
Black&white photo colorized.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrscharroo/7630374948/

Lambretta Microcar
This Microcar based on a Lambretta scooter was entered in a reliability trials in 1957 by one Mr. Matthen of Automobile Products of India.
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Lambretta Microcar Nagpur
If I remember correctly, this Microcar was also built around a Lambretta, and was made by Vinod Jaiswal of Vinod Scooters on Residency Road in 1967. This car(?!) survives, though I am not sure exactly where.
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HAL
We have heard of atleast 2 attempts from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore, at building a people's car.


The first was named the Pingle, named after Pingle Madhusudan Reddy, popularly known as PM Reddy, who designed and engineered the car in the 1950s. The car was recently in the news here. If we look closely we can see two concepts of door layouts - suicide or conventional front doors.


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A second attempt was made in 1964 apparently.
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Moralfibre had shared a curious looking 3 wheeler here

Quote:
INDIAN INTERNATIONAL ENGINEERING EXHIBITION, JAN. 1951.
De Luxe Minicar – weighing only 375 lbs (scarcely more than one quarter as much as any orthodox model more British market), giving 85 miles per gallon one and having a maximum speed of 43 m p.h. is two seater British Miniature car, priced at the Rs. 6, 000/-
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Not sure if an Indian product or not, but thought I'd share anyways.

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Old 5th June 2018, 17:40   #3
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Default re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

The Aravind
One particularly interesting car that we seen a mention of now and again was the 'Aravind' - another home grown effort that did raise a lot of eyebrows. Of course the project didn't take off, but a little known fact is that there atleast 3 separate attempts. Not much is known about the first two. The projects seem to have been the brain child of one K A Balakrishna Menon.

This thread was incidentally planned to be just on the Aravind, given the amount of photos available, and grew from there.

The first attempt seems to have been in 1959, using a 1947 Studebaker Champion chassis, and a Mercedes Diesel engine. Details courtesy this great page.
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The second attempt was in 1965, the 'Palace Special', where they used a 1939 Cadillac from the palace garages for the engine, and maybe more.
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The next year, in 1966, was the family car, the one that we are all familiar with, and probably the only one that survives. It seems to be based on Fiat 1100 mechanicals.
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On a closer look, the car seems to have a totally new body construction, with heavy doses of brightwork. As expected, the local parts bin available at the time was of course used - we see windscreens that probably came off a Herald, the speedo from a Fiat, handles from an Ambassador and more. Later on it even gained Ambassador taillights. The spear on the rear fender with a reflector came from a 1940s Buick. Luckily, this car survives. It has lost some of the chrome, probably a practical decision.

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Hopefully the car will be restored soon, and more importantly faithfully. On to the next.


Textool Vahan
In 1964 an attempt was made in Coimbatore by textile magnate Balasundram, of Textool. The car was front wheel drive, and named the 'Vahan', but that is all that is known to me, courtesy this and this page. I believe the brains behind the design was B. Jayachandran, who we see later in this thread making Mayura cars.
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Stanmobile
This was Standard Motors' proposal for the small car project. Seems to borrow heavily from the Basic Eight, though apparently shortened. I'm told the prototype was destroyed relatively recently, with the sale and demolition of the plant in Madras. Further details not known.
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Old 19th June 2018, 17:25   #4
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Default Re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

Gogomobil
On the FIVA site mentioned earlier we see some rare pictures and literature (courtesy Harit) of a Gogomobil prototype that was being evaluated for production in India. I'm not sure what transpired eventually when the project went bust.
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Here we see Pandit Nehru inspecting a proposal.

Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-img_20151023_152526.jpg
A car is on display at the Geedee Naidu museum, wonder if it is one of the prototypes. Posted here.

DKW Tata
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There was a brief proposal from the Tatas to build a DKW.

Originally from the book 'Horizons - the Tata India Century - 1904 2004' by Aman Nath & Jay Vithalani with Tulsi Vatsal, previously posted here.


Tempo
Some terrific details on a small car protype from Bajaj-Tempo are recorded in Adil Darukhanawallas seminal work "Classics and Thoroughbreds". The car survives in the Tempo museum in Germany.
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BMW Isetta
Again more details are documented in Adil's book. Hope someone can share more details.




Scootacar
This was an attempt at making the German Fuldamobil in India, but with a more common Villiers engine as opposed to the Sachs unit in the original. Not to be confused with the English Scootacar, a completely different car.
A more detailed discussion on the Scootacar can be seen at this link.


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One car is on display at the fantastic Geedee Museum.

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Default Re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

Venas Arun 500

Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-00-die.jpg
Another oddity that I could find nothing more on. It seems it was made in Bangalore, and offered as a Minivan or a Pickup, with economy as the USP. Seems to be dated 1982. Posted here.

Bajaj PTV

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This was Bajaj's attempt at a small people's car, called the Private Transport Vehicle, or PTV. A fellow member is lucky to own 2 out of the hand full of cars built, more reading here, further reading here.


Trishul

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This small little Jeep type vehicle was built in Patna in the 80s, powered by a single cylinder diesel engine. One of them seems to have survived, and is featured here.


Hindustan Motors Gambler

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Apparently a concept shown in 1971, and made in fibre according to this site. This is again probably the only image we have, nothing more is known of what happened to the project.


Hindustan Motors Trekker

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Probably the most successful of all the cars mentioned in this thread, the Trekker was HM's attempt at a basic utility vehicle, and met with relative success. It was launched presumably in 1976 with the 1.5 litre OHV petrol engine borrowed from the Ambassador, and soon offered with a more economical diesel engine. I assume the car was built (in various versions) till atleast the 2000s. While many manufacturers attempted similar concepts, probably the one that is matches the closest is a utility vehicle from Skoda - called the Trekka


SAIL/Sipani
I believe that Sunrise Automobiles (SAIL) made the fibreglass 3 wheeler Badal in Bangalore, and then sold to Sipani. Engine was a 150/200cc Lambretta rickshaw engine? Subsequent models were the Dolphin (based on the Reliant Kitten) and Montana (4 door version) and Mondata D1 (diesel version). I do not know much about these products, they were probably more popular in the South. Over to the experts to shed more light.

More reading on the Badal, Dolphin and Montana.

SAIL Badal
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A 4 wheeler was also envisioned, and I believe this was the product, and one survives in Pune.
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Sipani Dolphin
Available as a hatch and an estate.
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A rare brochure scan from 1986.
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Dolphins met with considerable success in the rally circuit.
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Sipani Montana
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Sipani Montana D1
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Premier Padmini 'Powers' Facelift
In 1994 or so, an attempt was made by a California based design house to upgrade the ageing Padmini. Featured in a 1994 issue of Auto India.
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Old 25th June 2018, 14:40   #6
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Default Re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

Not to be outdone by the other 2 big brothers, Standard Motors too made their mark. Perhaps their attempts at localising a car were the most visually apparent as opposed to Premier and Hindustan. It started with smaller changes to the existing Standard Triumph Herald and also the inclusion of a 4 door India-only model called the Mark 3, in around 1968. In late 72 or 73 came the new Standard Gazel wit major sheetmetal changes - with a heavily redesigned front and rear end, as well as an all new dash and interiors, as well as some mechanical updates. This was followed by a fibre-hatched station wagon called the Companion (initially offered on the Herald, and later on the Gazel). As I've said before, it is the inherent ugliness of the car that I find the most endearing . More reading on the Gazel here.

Standard Gazel
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We saw a very interesting prototype badged the Standard Ensign in the 1980s, here. It is mentioned that the car was based on the Simca/Talbot Horizon. Nothing more is known to me, hoping to learn more from the experts.
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Standard 2000
A passing mention must be made also of the Standard 2000 - the SD1 with a Vanguard based engine. While there was sufficient interest, the project failed miserably, with many booking amounts never refunded.
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And the Standard 20 minibus, which in 'Micro' version did sport an all Indian design - just flat panels
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Maruti Protoype
The biggest success story was of course the Maruti project - here is some insight into the origins, thankfully shared here. For further reading again I highly recommend Gautam Sen's book.
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A mention must also be made of a couple of home grown one-off sports cars -

Jayaram GT
A superbly executed project, from the grounds up. Luckily it survives, more can be read here and here.
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Limbdi Special
Chanced upon on facebook. Nothing more known to me.
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Jaya Mayura
A promising but short lived attempt at building a modern sedan. All you need to know courtesy the January 1988 Indian Auto Journal.
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Some more gems can be seen at this link - seems to be an archived article from India Today but I can't tell the date.
Cars mentioned include

Mikki
400cc diesel engine, fibreglass body, 3 seater. Priced at 70,000.
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Eddy Electric
Electric power, 12hp motor, fibreglass body. Priced under 2 lakhs.
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Merican Motors Miracle
400cc diesel engine, fibreglass body, 3 wheeler. Priced at 72,000 without doors, and 86,000 with doors
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More recently there have been so many more, like...
  • Kajah Motors Kazwa - the MPV proposal
  • Quantam - the convertible sports car proposal
  • Kinetic City Car - planned liason with a French company
  • San Storm - perhaps India's first locally produced (full scale) convertible (at least in recent times)
  • Chinkara roadsters - mostly hand made on discarded Herald chassis
Further reading here.

Last edited by karlosdeville : 7th July 2018 at 15:36.
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Default Re: Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India

A mention must be made on some of the two wheeler attempts too.

Atlanta
In 1961 an attempt was made to build a scooter dubbed the 'Atlanta', in South India. More reading here.
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Royal Enfield Fantabulus
Probably the most well known from this list, Royal Enfield, usually known for building large motorcycles, did make a stylish (if a tad ungainly) scooter in the 60s - sporting such refinements as a self starter, foot operated gearshift and even tailfins. More reading here.

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Rajdoot Runabout / Rajhans
The next scooter in the list came from Rajdoot, I believe called both the Rajhans as well as the Runabout.
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Rajdoot Bobby
Immortalised in the Rishi Kapoor starrer 'Bobby', the Rajdoot GTS 175 was our attempt at 'monkey bike'. More here.
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Vinai
Here is a surprise product from Scooters India Limited, a crossover scooter/bike called the Vinai (SIL's mainstream product was the Vijai scooter). Am unusure if this ever went into production - would love to hear more from the experts.

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Both the major motorcycle manufacturers also mad a short-lived attempt at making a 3 wheeler or trike version of their mainstream products. The Bullet version did go into production, am not sure about the Jawa version.



Bullet 3 wheeler
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Jawa 3 wheeler
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The list could go on - on the top of my head I can also think of
  • Narmada
  • Girnar Leo
  • Aravali
That's it from my side, looking forward to hearing about more similar attempts, and the stories behind them

Last edited by karlosdeville : 11th July 2018 at 16:54.
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Old 6th July 2018, 22:33   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by karlosdeville View Post
Venas Arun 500

Attachment 1773759
Another oddity that I could find nothing more on. It seems it was made in Bangalore, and offered as a Minivan or a Pickup, with economy as the USP. Seems to be dated 1982. Posted here.
Venas was set up by a Mr Arunachalam. He had set up Sunrise Auto which made the Badal. That company was sold to Sipani and you all know the rest!

Venas were trying to manufacture those two utility vehicles. A friend of mine worked there and was helping develop it. The vehicle was crudely engineered and was powered by a Greave waterppump engine. It was noisy, crude and slow. One day, my friend was coming up the road to visit us and it went over a a poorly relaid part of the road and snapped its tierods.

I understand the old man Mr Arunachalam was a catankerous bloke. If you disagreed with him, he would sack you, only to rescind his decision 15 min later. One day, he went too far and some key engineering folks walked out and nothing progressed after that.
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Old 22nd July 2018, 09:50   #9
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Classic Car Section. Thanks for sharing, Karl! Phenomenal read - rating thread 5 stars .
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Old 22nd July 2018, 10:26   #10
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Many years ago, I spotted Scootacar and Sail Badal in a quiet residential area here in Bangalore. Of course, I didn't know what they were then. But now I know (thanks to this thread)! Both vehicles seemed to be in excellent condition.

Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-dsc00865.jpg

Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-dsc00866.jpg
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Old 22nd July 2018, 13:19   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by karlosdeville View Post

Eddy Electric
Electric power, 12hp motor, fibreglass body. Priced under 2 lakhs.
Attachment 1779022
The image seems to be incorrect.
Some photos of the car are below. This car was way ahead of the market.

Quote:
Eddy introduced India’s First indigeneously developed electric car “LOVE BIRD“, a concept which was under the development stage in the automobile industry. Displayed at Auto Expo, New Delhi in 1993, LOVE BIRD won awards and laurels from all quarters.
Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-whatsappimage20171117at18.42.52.jpeg
Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-car.png
Indigenous Oddities - Oddball Automobiles of India-13718588_1367930396553924_5805792293976146935_n.jpg

I contributed to the powertrain design of this car as part of my electrical engineering degree.
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Old 22nd July 2018, 16:16   #12
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Excellent thread Karl!

You've missed out on the Chinkara though.
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Old 22nd July 2018, 17:06   #13
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Amazing thread Karl! This is really an eye opener. The detailed explanation along with pics is really amazing. Could you also include commercial vehicles from HAL and Tata in this thread ?
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Old 22nd July 2018, 19:20   #14
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The Gambler was supposed to be made to order. Fibreglass shell on Ambassador mechanicals. Never seen one on the road, but had spotted one in dealers service centre. Incidentally there was also a estate version of the Ambassador, also made to order. Metal, but built like a bus body of old, ie sheet metal over a framework of angles and channels.

For some years, Escorts went about exhibiting a car. Any details?

The Bond motorcycle?

Regards
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Old 23rd July 2018, 09:31   #15
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You've missed out on the Chinkara though.
Chinkara
Name:  56159.jpg
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IIRC, this pic is originally from bsmotoring.com. My post from another thread:

Quote:
Originally Posted by GTO View Post
Heres some updates from a very very reliable source.

1. Gautam Singhania is PISSED OFF with Chinkara for selling him a sub-standard car. This despite the fact that he had some kinda business arrangement with Chinkara (Vijay Mallya with San Storm, Raymonds on Chinkara type)

2. Do you know what chassis the Chinkara uses? The STANDARD HERALDS!!! Thats a 4 decade old economy design. Can you just imagine the limitations it would have in terms of handling the power and going around corners!!

3. The front suspension is a stock Maruti 800's while the rear suspension is a modified one from all kinds of Indian cars.

4. Brand new Chinkaras have been surfacing in the market with missing parts...either from the suspension or the engine. Just heard about one where the oxygen sensors were not even installed, and some plugs/connections came off before delivery!!

5. The guy behind this Chinkara project has some exemplary experience in fiberglass motorboats BUT no experience at all with cars. Apparently the build quality is so pathetic that the car falls apart before you run the engine in.

6. The brake pedal on this supposedly Indian sportscar is more like the accelerator - You press it with all your might and the car still keeps moving.

I am really disappointed because this was one car I was really impressed with, at least on the outside. I like the looks and love the concept. But the Chinkara fails...Its poorly built, its dead slow and even a Zen will outhandle it in slow or fast corners alike.
San Storm


Quote:
Originally Posted by GTO View Post
Dippy, Firstly amazing camera that you have there. I never expected such details as the lousy paint drops to show up in the pictures. And yes, thats me revving the car to the 5000 rpm redline!!!

I had a talk with Revvmaster last nite, and after hearing my opinion on the car he asked me what I would choose between an Indica and the San Storm. My answer? The Indica. Next was between the Ambassador and the San Storm. Guesses? The Ambassador. If there is a worthy contender to the title of the worst car in India, team-bhpians....the San Storm is it!

This car is just so horribly put together that its falling apart before you even drive it out of the showroom. When me and dippy saw the examples, we inquired if these were pre-production prototypes as I didnt think anyone would have the guts to sell a vehicle with such sub-standard quality levels in India in 2004. He replied "No sir, these are fresh production pieces"!!

The body is made out of bath-tub fiber-glass...or atleast seemed so. The holes drilled in to accommodate the dicky locks are not even perfect circles!! The interior quality is so shabby that I would rather sit in a Premier Padmini cab than a San Storm the next time around. Panel gaps were totally uneven all around the car. The soft-top seems like it has been cut from patches of a 10 year old umbrella no less. The quality of the 35,000 leather upholstery is there for all to see in photograph no.2, and it seems to be done more at a backlane road-side tailor than at a carmakers factory.

The San Storm, apparently Indias first sporty car is so under-powered that an Mpfi 800 would leave it for dead...to the 60, to the 100 or in-gear acceleration. The Zen is in a totally different league by itself. Entering the seaface on the racing line at full rpm, I was scared because the cars feedback is next to nil, and the handling is rubbery at best. The shift quality is the worst I have ever seen in any indian car, and car guys like me and dippy were constantly mis-shifting. Dippy infact revved the car to its redline in 3rd gear, and mistakenly put it in 2nd...oh boy you should have heard the engine then!

The 1.2 liter Renault engine pumps out a measly 58.5 bhp, and REFUSES to revv above 4000 rpm. Mr. Renault 1.2 engine, are you a diesel? Its only after a lot of coaxing that it climbs further on to its 5000 rpm redline. The word lethargic in the dictionary should have the words "San Storm" as its explanation. To make things even worse, it is just so unrefined that you can feel vibrations and grinds on your feet all through the rpm range....even in idling!!

Think about it, if a car is so poorly built that a brand new example has squeaks and rattles all around it, what will it be like after two years on Bombay roads? Its going to draw the crowds sure...but those crowds will be assisting you in picking up body and suspension pieces from the road after they fall off

I am just darned shocked that someone has the guts to sell such a horribly put together car in India, at a price of 6.27 lacs! Gosh, just buy an Ikon 1.6 instead...or better still get a used City 1.5 and pump in all the mods that gods earth has come up with in the Honda customization markets. If a san storm owner were to sell this car after 2 years, I seriously doubt he would even get Rupees 1 Lakh back.

After experiencing the San Storm, I saw a Tata Indica...and the Tata felt as well-built as a Mercedes S - Class...No exaggerations.

The San Storm - An absolute shame on Indian roads.
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