Driven #11: 1984 Maruti 800

All of us who call ourselves auto enthusiasts are perceived as brainless nuts by many. Some stare, some glare, some gawk and some wink but nobody misses to notice the things that we do while driving, testing, shooting and reviewing the various cars and bikes. But, things were very different this time. Ladies flashed their pearlies, gentlemen gave us a thumbs up and whoever we encountered gave us sweet gestures. If you thought that we were doing some social welfare activity, you got it completely wrong. All we were doing was preparing ourselves to review this car. Oops, we shouldn't be calling it a review, 'nostalgia' would be the right term as driving this car took us way back in time with many associated memories.

It's not an exotic sports-car nor is it insanely expensive. On the contrary, it is one of the most affordable cars of all time and a common sight on Indian roads. For people in their sixties' whose choice when buying their first car was limited to Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini, this came in as a whiff of fresh air. For people in forties', this was their first set of wheels. Guys and girls in their twenties' and thirties' learnt driving and literally grew up in this car. To cut a long story short, this car put India on wheels like what Ford Model T did to America and Volkswagen Beetle did to Germany. If you have still not guessed it right which is highly unlikely, oh yes, we are talking about the Maruti 800.

This particular example was manufactured in 1984 when the 800 did not have many localized components. As a result, the quality was much better than the later models that had high local content. This car has passed through 4 owners and has covered a total of 122,845 km till date. So, how does a car which redefined the way Indians traveled in the 1980's look and feel now? Does it make any real sense now when cars have moved forward? Or is it just fit for rekindling fond memories associated with it? Be prepared to be surprised, just like we did.


30 years is a very long time, more so for something as fashionable and ever-changing as an automotive design. But, the Suzuki SS80 has lived the test of times with the existing 800 still using the same basic shape and theme of the original, albeit with a few facelifts. A casual glance at the 800 would reveal its clean and uncomplicated design. It comes across as a car that is small yet purposeful, boxy yet sexy and eternally cute yet practical. The rectangular headlamps, indicators with integrated parking lights and the slab-like tail lamps are typical '800' stuff that makes it instantly recongnizable. The ground clearance seems to be on the higher side keeping in mind the Indian road conditions at that time. The bumpers are big enough to absorb the impact in the event of an accident. Like the Honda Brio hatchback which has brought this concept back recently, the 800's boot can be accessed only through the rear windscreen.

Compared to its prime competitors during those days, the Hindustan Ambassador and Premier Padmini, the 800 was smaller, shorter, narrower and consequently, had less passenger space. Though the space available is at a premium, the way in which it has been put to use can teach modern small cars a thing or two in practicality. The jack to lift the car up for instance, has been smartly placed under the hood in the top left corner. Following the trend of exteriors, the interiors are also simple and neatly laid out. Features like ABS, Airbags, Climate Control and Power Windows were unheard of in those days in India and the 800 came with slider controls for the air-conditioner. Reliability was top notch as the car had absolutely no gizmos that are prone to failure. Every single button, knob and latch still works perfectly and the interiors have been durable to this day.

Manufactured in 1984, this 800 belongs to the initial lot of cars which had all components except the tires and battery imported from Japan. If ever proof was needed how the Japanese manufacturers have gained confidence worldwide, you have to just look at this 800. Most of the original fittings are still intact, and working too. The Stanley sealed-beam headlights and Tokai Denso taillights and indicators look and work great and have not faded 28 years into its life. Most of the components under the hood are still original too, manufactured by companies lie Nippon Denso and Mikuni. Even the original 'Suzuki' and SS80 scripts in the valve cover are intact. The car is devoid of any rust around the joints and hinges but the repaint has not quite brought out the magic of the original 'Sky Blue' color that the car came with.


Turn the ignition on and the car shows its first signs of age. The starter motor takes some time and effort to crank the engine on. Once done, the engine is pretty refined compared to the shaky and noisy competition this car had in those days. Press the accelerator pedal and that's when the real surprise hits you. The car moves forward swiftly with the light kerb weight helping things here. Except in parking speeds, the absence of power steering is never felt as the steering weighs up nicely as speeds build up. The car willingly turns and remains composed around corners though very sharp directional changes tends to unsettle it a bit. To hell with the Stability Control, this car knows nothing about those gizmos. It is just uncomplicated mechanical bits at its reliable best.

To be brutally honest, we knew that driving the car would be fun but we never thought that it would be so much fun. It just goes to show that there is nothing that can bring as big a smile in your face as a small, light and nimble car sans the electronic gizmos. To make things better, so much fun comes ridiculously cheap too with 800's negligible maintenance costs and amazing fuel-efficiency endearing it to owners who still swear by the 800. Having said that, the brakes are pretty scary as the car failed to react on nudging the brake pedal. Finally, we stood hard on the brakes to bring the car to a stop, the absence of a brake booster making its presence felt here.


* Engine Displacement: 796 cc
* Maximum Power: 39.5 bhp @ 5500 rpm

* Simple and clean design
* Nimble handling and fun-to-drive factor
* Rock-solid reliability
* A modern classic in the making


* Scary brakes
* Restricted passenger space


We have never seen a it before but if transporting us to a by-gone era is what a 'time machine' does, then the 800 gets as close to being one as possible. In just a couple of hours that we spent in this car, it took us back in time and brought back memories when there were no gizmos that instructed us how to drive or intervened to change what we intended to do. If you love driving and intend to have fun doing so, we suggest you go for a spin in the 800. Not the recent ones, but the earlier models like the one featured in this post, mind you. It is so much fun driving it considering the money that we would be spending on it. If Maruti-Suzuki ever gets to read this post, there is just one request from our side - "We all love this car to no end and please make us fall in love again".


  1. An unforgettable car !!! Nice idea to review the forgotten Aravind

    1. Cars like these (the original 800) will never be forgotten Arun, no matter what!

  2. Do you think Maruti will make a Copy? (Like the Fiat 500 and the new Volkswagen Beetle)

    1. This 800 is nothing but a 'few-generations-old' Alto, which is still being made globally. So, we doubt there will be a new 800.

  3. A very nicely written review. I still own a 1987 Suzuki SS80, but it's brakes are better than a brake booster car. The one you reviewed might have worn out disc rotors. And the starter motor needs to be serviced. Once serviced, it'll start by the quarter-turn of your key.


    Ali Raza Khan.
    Lahore, Pakistan.

    1. Hello Mr. Ali Raza Khan, thanks for the complement. Its great to know you are still a proud owner of a Suzuki SS80. We guess you will be cherishing the experience of owning a rare classic.

      This particular car might have worn-out brakes we agree, but do you really mean this car's brakes were better than ones with boosters?

  4. Too bad this car is now truly gone.

  5. Excellent Article... narrations, pictures and the overall presentation is quite good. The car no doubt is legendary.. but the way you have presented is amazing..!
    My dad became emotional reading this article as he used to own one in his time.
    adding this article to my bookmarks.. :-)

    1. Thanks for taking time out to comment and appreciate us Mr. Jojo Dutta. It is true that thousands of Indians have an emotional connect with the Maruti 800 and that's what resonates in the comments that people like you have sent for this post. Keep reading/supporting/cheering Anything On Wheels!