Whose “Jeep” is it anyway?

For the corporate head honchos, it’s a trademark, an intellectual property, a copyright. For every other soul that exists on the planet, a Jeep is the quintessential multi purpose, go anywhere, distinctive off-road vehicle that doesn’t get marred by any obstacle.

Till the term “SUV” was not coined by a marketing whizkid in the US, every off-road vehicle was colloquially referred to as a Jeep. Be it the FJ made by Toyota or the Gypsy (a.k.a. Jimny / Samurai abroad) made by Suzuki in India. (Legend goes that the name Gypsy was chosen as it sounded very close to Jeep)

The ongoing battle between Mahindra North America (MANA) and Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) raises interest questions. While FCA might be the owners of the Jeep brand and the round headlamp – slat grille fascia, one can’t simply deny that almost all the body-on-frame SUVs that exist around the world are either direct descendants of the original Willys army vehicle or have been heavily inspired by them. For instance, Mahindra has been making Jeep derived vehicles non-stop for the last 70-odd years and unlike FCA, the company has always been under one family since day one.

The Jeep DNA is a part of automotive landscape across the globe. It’s not American anymore. Every country has made the Jeep its own or developed its own homegrown version or made a licenced version for decades.

Let me share a list and this is just the tip of the iceberg:

The Land Rover Series 1 was essentially a Jeep-like vehicle replicated by the Brits following the success of its American counterpart in WW2
This is the Mitsubishi Jeep. Built officially under licence in Japan. In fact, the first generation Pajero gets its underpinings derived from the Jeep platform
Suzuki LJ50 is the predecessor of the legendary Jimny. Can you see the similarities?
The Toyota FJ has all the characteristics that were associated with an off-road vehicle back then: Boxy body, flat fenders and an unmistakable silhouette
This is an official licensed Korean version of the Jeep christened “Korando” by SsangYong

So what does this tell us? The licensed versions mere made for decades and some are still being made even after the licence expired. The earlier owners of brand Jeep were just not bothered as their market was largely untouched. They never really took any strong legal action on these so-called “copies”.

This has made this design so ubiquitous just like say a toothbrush or a bicycle that it would be a little weird for one company to claim that it is the rightful owner of the design. It’s just like Mercedes-Benz doesn’t sue every 4-wheeler maker because Karl Benz invented the automobile or Piaggio or Bajaj doesn’t sue every 3-wheeler manufacturer that exists today.

Note that these so-called “copies” have built Jeep’s legacy across the globe and the brand has nonchalantly used that heritage whenever it officially entered that particular country. Which brings us to an interesting juncture! What if tomorrow one of the makers listed above create a neo-retro version of their “jeep” that looks exactly like the first generation they made for years? Does Jeep really have the moral right to stop them? Do let us know your thoughts.

The “traditional” car enthusiast is a dying breed and we need to live with this reality

Cars are changing. No matter to what extent purists deny that electric powered autonomous cars are the future, the truth is that they are the future. Cars are losing their soul and might soon become an appliance just like the washing machine in which you cleaned your laundry today.

And even before this change has happened, one can’t hide from the changes happening around us right now.

The first toy that a toddler gets today is not necessarily a toy car anymore. Toys, action figures, miniature sports items were what young boys were given as kids even though they did note necessarily belong to a family of car enthusiasts.

How often do you see kids playing with toy cars these days? (Pic Credit: Everdayfamily.com)

Well, why would that kid relate to a model car? When perhaps his (or her) parents today have started seeing owning a car a liability. Even some hardcore car enthusiasts today drive only on weekends and prefer public transport or cabs most of the time.

The glitzy world of touchscreen phones provide far more gratification than a static toy would. Toy makers around the world are facing the issue of finding younger buyers. Kids don’t buy Hotwheels cars any more. At best, they are buying Hotwheels track sets where the hero is not the car but unrealistic stunts and the carnage of cars slamming into each other.

A common sight associated with HotWheels today (Pic Credit: HotWheels.com)

Hence the toy companies’ focus is shifting towards the collector and hobbyist market. Factor in the growing manufacturing costs and prices of model cars (they are not toys anymore) have gone through the roof.

Now let’s look at adults. While we are blessed with classics which provide us simple motoring purity, most of these cars will be forced to retire due to growing concerns of pollution around the world.

The new age cars are brilliant. They are comfortable, spacious and safe. No doubt. But at the same time, they are getting complicated. There is no joy of fixing them yourself. Not to mention, many are sharing the same mechanicals, the only differentiating factor being the styling, badge and perhaps the features in the infotainment system.

I have been attending multiple car meets and I can’t fail to notice that the average age of people attending these meets is steadily increasing. This is in a nation like India which is getting younger. Kids of car enthusiasts are not taking their parents’ hobbies as seriously. They have other avenues today compared to the limited choices with which their parents grew up with. Yes, there are exceptions but these exceptions are very few in comparison to the larger reality.

How many kids can you find in this pic? 
This is the story of most car meets

On the flip side, the level of awareness of cars in general is growing due to ease of availability of information online. If anybody wants to be an active car enthusiast today, the entry barriers are far lesser. There are online forums, e-commerce sites and a gazillion car portals.

A few car guys (or girls) are born. They inherit the passion from their parents and siblings. But most are made. Because cars for most, till now, were a symbol of freedom, the first taste of speed, a shining example of being “arrived” in life. But this is eroding at a frighteningly quick pace.

When the larger base itself is dwindling, naturally, the “traditional” car enthusiast, i.e., the enthusiast who eats, sleeps, drinks cars, is becoming an endangered species.

While we might see a lot of people into cars as a passing fad or out of general interest, the true blue car nerds may cease to exist completely a few generations down the line! Or who knows, they may evolve into something else.

This Maruti 800 is a survivor

… and it’s in a colour that you would have probably never seen on a Maruti 800. Here’s a quick story about a 1988 Pista Green Maruti 800 from Hyderabad.

Not many cars were made in this shade. 1988 was a stage of transition for the Maruti 800. Earlier batches had majority parts imported from Japan. From 1987-88, localised content in the 800 increased significantly. The car retains what makes these 800s so endearing to the enthusiast: the slatted grille, the bonnet release button and chrome hub caps.
This car was discovered lying neglected at a garage. Probably, it was love at first sight for the current owner. Glad he took the plunge and rescued this tiny car.
After some tender loving car, the car was brought back to life. It proudly wears the scars. And honestly, there is no shame in that. It’s a reminder of the fact that the car is a survivor. The photograph has been taken at the local transport office with the car awaiting its turn to get its registration renewed. Note the lovely biscuit cream Maruti Omni.
And it gets certified. It gets its right to live for another 5 years at least! The owner has given a period touch with some cool stickers on the rear windshield and hatch.
The interiors still retain the original upholstery. Quite remarkable considering what the car went through before it was brought back to life.

Not every car has to be a museum piece. As long as it has a story attached to it and it keeps the owner happy, it’s all that matters. So the next time you see a car lying neglected in your neighbourhood, do give a second thought!

MotorBlabber would like to thank the owner for sharing the pictures. The 800 featured here is a part of the Classic Maruti Enthusiasts (CME) Club.

This Maruti 1000 is a Time Capsule

In an era when buying a car was a privilege for the select few, owning a Maruti 1000 was so elusive that owners often came under the lens of the Income Tax Department. The 1000 was perhaps India’s first modern and reliable sedan that spawned the popular Esteem which went on to dominate Indian roads for the next decade or so.

Call it the lack of options in the market or the non-existence of aggressive marketing in the pre-liberalisation days, the car had a simple name which denoted its engine size, the “1000”. Heck, there was no badge on the car which denoted that name. In fact, some of the earlier models didn’t have any emblem or badging on the hood or the front grill.

The featured example is a single owner 1992 Maruti 1000. Almost everything on the car is untouched. It is a time capsule of the Indian automotive scene of the early 1990s. After serving its family for over 15 years in and around Mumbai, the car is living a peaceful retired life in the family’s Pune home.

The 1000 was based on the international Suzuki Cultus hatchback platform. Like we mentioned, the earlier Maruti 1000s were devoid of any badging on the front. Although based on a hatchback platform, the boot integration was so clean that nobody could tell the origins of the design. This was a far cry from the awkward looking hatchback-based sedans of today.
Who stole the co-driver mirror? Nobody! It was too luxurious even for this car to have one in the early 90s.
The interiors are original & a little tired but they just reflect the fact this an honest car which has got nothing to hide
Instant nostalgia? The rectangular vents, sliding AC controls, aftermarket Sony stereo and that cigarette lighter! All from an era gone by!
The simple and slightly boxy rear is still one of the most instantly recognisable rears amongst Indian cars. The tail lamps and the integrated reverse lamps in the boot were unique to that era. The original Maruti Suzuki badge has faded over time. The left hand side should have ideally had the Devnagari (Hindi) Maruti logo but that too has faded over the last 26 years of this car’s existence.

The 1000 got eventually replaced by the more powerful 1.3L Esteem but the 1000 continues to be an important milestone in India’s journey towards modern motoring. Since a lot of cars have since then been “converted” to look like later model Esteems or retrofitted with CNG & LPG kits, it is really difficult to estimate how many of these actually remain on our roads today. Nonetheless, let’s hope more such beautiful cars resurface in the near future.

MotorBlabber would like to thank Nikhil Wagle for the awesome pictures. The 1000 featured here is a part of the Classic Maruti Enthusiasts (CME) Club.

This Little Red Car might just be One of India’s Future Classics

To an Indian, the Maruti 800 needs no introduction. With over 2.6 million examples sold in India over a production run spanning 3 decades, this is India’s quintessential people’s car which liberated the country from the shackles of outdated gas guzzling cars

For the uninitiated, this car featured here is the second generation Maruti 800 produced in 1995. Based on the Japanese Suzuki Alto / Fronte (code name SB308), the engineers at Suzuki wouldn’t have thought even in their wildest dreams that a tiny kei car designed for the narrow city streets of Japan will become a developing nation’s most loved car.

Although made in India, every nut and bolt in this car is a shining example of Japanese principles of lasting build and exceptional quality.

The clean angular lines with curved edges represent a state of transition between the boxy designs of the early 80s and curvy lines of the mid-90s
At 3.3 m in length, the car is really tiny but is spacious enough to accommodate 4 adults. The car here is still on its original St. Germain Red paint (if you leave the repainted driver’s door)
The honeycomb grille was introduced in 1995 as a part of the minor facelift on the 2nd generation
Performance was brisk for its time. Youngsters had a ball at traffic lights seeing their 800 pull away from older, heavier cars
The 796cc 3-cylinder engine is as basic as it gets. There is perhaps no mechanic in India who has never worked on an 800 😊
The dashboard screams the 80s the moment you look at it. The boxy cluster and ultra thin steering wheel to name a few. Thanks to the optional tinted glasses on this car, the dashboard is by and large pristine with minimal fading. Note that tissue box – a period correct accessory
Maruti in the Indian Devnagari (Hindi) script on the steering wheel to add a hint of Indianness to the Japanese car. This script has changed from Roman (English) to Devnagari (Hindi) multiple times during the production of this car from 1983 till 2013
The Greenwheels sticker denotes Maruti cars’ preparedness to accept unleaded fuel for the then introduced catalytic converters in the exhaust system
The clean look continues to the rear. Original dealer stickers have been added to give it an authentic period look.
Check out this cool video of the same car shot by Saurabh Pawar

Can’t view the video? Click here to view it on YouTube

While there is no dearth of 800s in India, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find pristine and well-maintained examples from the 80s and 90s. Although interest in these cars has picked up in recent times, it’s high time we conserved this piece of Indian automotive heritage for the years to come.

MotorBlabber would like to thank Nikhil Wagle for the awesome pictures. The 800 featured here is a part of the Classic Maruti Enthusiasts (CME) Club.