Old is Gold: History of Maruti 800

by Kshitij Rawat | 17/04/2020
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As Sunil Gavaskar scored his 30th test century in Chennai (beating Sir Don Bradman’s previous record of 29 test centuries) playing against West Indies, Maruti’s factory was busy building India’s version of the people’s car.

A sea of Maruti 800 hatchbacks at the company's Gurgaon plant

A sea of Maruti 800 hatchbacks at the company's Gurgaon plant

14th December 1983, on Sanjay Gandhi’s 37th birth anniversary, Maruti 800 was unveiled in India. Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi introduced the car to the country to a room full of journalists with teary eyes and resolute words.

"And it is my desire that this motor car will serve the ordinary people of India and they will have no complaint about it. I hope it will contribute in every aspect of the nation building."

Late PM Indira Gandhi

Before 1983, all cars sold in India were horrendously outdated. Most were based on cars initially built two decades ago. The introduction of a new car breathed new life into the Indian automotive industry, and opened the door to affordable personal transportation for the masses. Maruti 800 was launched at a price of Rs. 48,000, a moderately hefty sum back in the day.

India's first Maruti 800 - Harpal Singh

India's first Maruti 800, won by Harpal Singh via a lucky draw

Here, we shall present a brief history of the iconic ‘800’, starting with the first, right till production ended in 2014.

First Generation Maruti 800 (1983-1986)

Maruti 800 first generation

Maruti 800 (first-generation model)

The first-gen Maruti 800 was based on the 1979 Suzuki Fronte (aka Alto), internally referred to as SS80 model. The car featured a tiny 0.8-litre engine and a lightweight monocoque chassis. As it was based on a JDM Kei car, the dimensions of the ‘800’ were pretty tiny.

Maruti 800 (Carburetted) Specs

Engine Size

796 cc

Engine Type

Carburetted, inline, naturally aspirated (F8B)

No. of Cylinders

3

Max. Power

38 PS

Max. Torque

59 Nm

Gearbox

4-Speed

Weight

620 kg

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Cars during this era were mainly rear-wheel-drive models (like Hindustan Ambassador and Fiat Premier Padmini) and were not very fuel-efficient. Maruti 800, with its tiny engine and front-wheel-drive format, was economical, affordable, and (relatively) spacious.

Second Generation Maruti 800 (1986-2014)

Maruti 800 second generation

Maruti 800 (second-generation model)

Just 3 years after production, Maruti replaced the 800 with a newer-generation model. The new one (codenamed SB308), featured major changes to the interior and the exterior, although the engine and transmission remained the same. There were no further generations of the car, and it continued production with only a few changes over the years.

Facelift

Maruti 800 second generation facelift

Maruti 800 (second-generation facelift model)

Just a year after the introduction of the new generation, Maruti 800 underwent a facelift. The exterior got a pretty substantial redesign, with new headlamps, taillamps, and front grille. The interior, however, remained the same. The powertrain remained the same as before.

MPFI

Maruti 800 MPFI

Maruti 800 (feat. Fuel Injection technology)

In 1997, Maruti added multi-point fuel-injection to the car, thus bringing an end to the carburettor-era. Along with the new MPFI system, the engine was also given 4-valves per cylinder, which made it not only cleaner in terms of emissions, but also more fuel-efficient and powerful than before. The gearbox was also upgraded to a 5-speed unit.

Maruti 800 (MPFI/5-speed) Specs

Engine Size

796 cc

Engine Type

4-valve per cylinder, MPFI, inline, naturally aspirated (F8D)

No. of Cylinders

3

Max. Power

38 PS

Max. Torque

59 Nm

Gearbox

5-Speed

Weight

640 kg

 

In 1999, Maruti rolled back to the 2-valve per head design, but retained the MPFI system due to the stricter emission norms. The consequent drop in power was complemented by a 4-speed gearbox. While it made the car less fun-to-drive than before, it also made it cheaper to manufacture. Also, the short production run of the 5-speed version made it extremely exclusive.

Maruti 800 (MPFI/4-speed) Specs

Engine Size

796 cc

Engine Type

2-valve per cylinder, MPFI, inline, naturally aspirated (F8B)

No. of Cylinders

3

Max. Power

38 PS

Max. Torque

59 Nm

Gearbox

4-Speed

Weight

640 kg

 

This version remained in production unchanged till 2014. There was an LPG variant available for purchase in 2008. In 2010, due to updated emission norms, the car wasn’t on retail in major cities. On 18th January 2018, the last Maruti 800 rolled off the production line. In a poetic manner, another cricket-related milestone had India cheering in the background; Virat Kohli reached the 900-point mark in ICC rankings, the second Indian batsman to do so after Sunil Gavaskar.

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Fun Trivia

  • Maruti 800 was one of the only four Maruti cars to wear Maruti’s "Winged M" badge. The other three were Omni, Gypsy, and Esteem. Rest of the cars wore (and still wear) the “Suzuki” logo.

  • The early Maruti 800s were CKD imports, with Suzuki OEM parts arriving from Japan and assembled in the carmaker’s Gurgaon plant.

  • Technically speaking, the Zen and the Alto were both newer-generation models of the 800.

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