The 90s are highlighted by some iconic models that defined the industry’s path in our country. Even then there were companies that were fighting for market superiority. Hindustan, Premier, and companies alike ran fast and hard against Maruti Suzuki, an automotive giant then and now. Indian automotive industry has branched and grown since then with many multinational corporations viewing our domestic market as a field filled with promises.
We are going to reminisce in this article of some of the greatest models from that decade that more or less paved the way for the current industry.
Ambassador is India’s symbol in the automotive industry. First launched in 1957, this has been in production for 57 years until it was discontinued in 2014. It had been the longest-running production car in the automotive history of India. They didn’t dub Ambassador as the King of the Roads for nothing. This HM car was known to carry politicians and elitists of the nation. Ambassador gave Maruti Suzuki a good strong competition during the 90s and ran the show for another decade and a half after that. There is no replacing the King ever, nor does it deserve any place of mention other than at the top.
Hindustan Motors’ Contessa was India’s muscle car back in the late ’80s and ’90s. HM had a strong sales ratio in the country by then with Ambassador running the show. With Contessa, the company introduced a contemporary vehicle during that time that had the flavour of a muscle car. Contessa with its luxurious interiors, air conditioners, power steering, and central locking system impressed the car buffs in India.
During the early 90’s Contessa received engine upgrades and other changes. The car was definitely one of the most popular vehicles of the 1990s. It is still a much-valued vintage collectible among car enthusiasts. The first half of the decade after 1990 saw Contessa getting new engine options and more refinement. Contessa is another symbol of transportation of that period.
Premier launched the Padmini, also named the Fiat 1100D in 1964 as a rival to the Ambassador. Padmini was an easy success among every class and creed among the Indian crowd. This saloon was built to be efficient and effortless to drive. Even a few years back, one could see some Padminis as taxis in Mumbai. Though it did not have as strong a run as the ambassador or the Contessa, Padmini still had a good long life just short of a decade during the ’90s after which it was discontinued.
After Padmini’s success, Premier introduced the 118NE in 1985. After the initial demand wore off, the car’s popularity slowly faded away. Though this model did not retain its popularity in the market for as long as Padmini, this is still one of the classiest models to have graced our roads. 118NE came with the top-of-the-line engine and transmission options for its period and ran like a dream.
The main reason for the car’s discontinuity was the long wait period and non-availability of parts for the car. Maybe if it had had better support, the car would have run longer and parallel to the Padmini and the Ambassador. However, it still remains a classic from the ’90s.
Maruti Suzuki 800
Maruti Udyog Ltd. began its run with the launch of its first model- the Maruti 800. This is another legendary, longest-running production car with more than 2 decades under its belt. With the increase in demand during the ’90s, the Maruti 800 saw a lot of sales and ran strongly till the early 2000s. Though it was no match to the Ambassador in its royal and elitist owners, 800 was more in line with the general population of the country. Discontinued in 2004 to pave way for newer models, Maruti Suzuki’s 800 still runs in India as originals and modified models.
Maruti Suzuki Gypsy
Gypsy ruled the off-roads of India with more than 3 decades of popularity and strong sales numbers. The car was launched first in 1985 after which it received a new oil burner in 1996. Christened as the king of off-roading in India, Gypsy retains its supremacy over the decades. Even though the production of Gypsy has been discontinued for civilians since 2019, they are still being produced for The Indian Army. Indian Army alone has bought over 35,000 units of Gypsy since 1991.
Maruti Suzuki 1000
In 1990, Maruti Suzuki launched a sedan with a 970cc engine and called it Maruti Suzuki 1000. With its low-ride driving dynamics, the car was an enormous hit among the rally racing community. Maruti 1000 was technically the parent version of Esteem. After its successful stint in the Indian races, Maruti upgraded 1000 with a more powerful 1.3-liter engine and dubbed it Esteem. 1000 was stopped from production n 2000. Later in 1996, the company introduced an automatic AX variant as well, with a torque-converter type automatic transmission. Esteem’s production was also ended later in 2007.
Launched in the early ’90s, Montego embodies style and class with a touch of executive quality. Even then the car came with power steering, power windows, and air-conditioning as standard features. One of the most expensive vehicles of that period, it was priced at around Rs 10 lakh. Also to note is the fact that only a total of 287 Montego were sold in India during that decade.
In 1995, the company produced only 236 cars and sold a very minimum of 51 units in the next 15 months. We cannot call it a success in the market, though by no means does that make this car any less iconic. For a vehicle that was ahead of its time, this car had all the style it needed while it lived.
Sierra was India’s first indigenous SUV. Tata launched it in 1991 when there weren’t many options for different models of cars. There were a few sedans and some hatchbacks like the Maruti’s 800 and the Alto. But SUVs were still a novelty till Tata launched Sierra. This also marked the company’s entry into the production of vehicles for private transport. With a three-door design, Sierra was powerful and looked uniquely different from what our masses were used to in terms of cars. Tata Sierra was offered as a rear-wheel-drive SUV with 4WD as a choice. Sierra has again stirred the anticipation of the Indian market with murmurs of re-entry as an electric model.
There is no missing Ford in the list of iconic cars of India. Ikon was an icon in itself. Launched towards the end of the decade in 1999, Ikon was run by a 1.3-liter SOHC petrol engine producing almost 70hp of power and a peak torque of 100Nm. It also came mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The car had an extensive equipment list that included power steering, power windows, air conditioner, anti-theft alarm, child safety locks, central locking, power door locks, day and night rear-view mirror, and more. It might have begun its run in the later ’90s but ran for almost a decade through the next century.
How did you find this list of iconic cars from the ’90s? Do you have other favourite models that you feel should be mentioned in the list?