The best and the worst thing about the modern car is that nothing ever goes wrong with it. Tell me, when was the last time your average Indo-Jap-Korean-European car gave up the ghost on you? When was the last time you actually opened the bonnet of a car to see whether it really had an engine under it? Trust me, there are souls who’ve bought, used, serviced, used more and sold a car without ever staring at a plastic shroud that read ‘16 Valve DOHC’ or ‘Caution: Hot!‘ Sure, there are exceptions in the form of real lemons in the market, but generally speaking, cars have become almost as reliable as wristwatches with quartz movements. Almost.
Not so long ago they were not, and buying, owning, driving and generally living with cars required a certain mindset. Those who had cars drove them to far-flung places and enjoyed motoring, and those who didn’t quickly befriended the local mechanics. The apartment complex where I live has, at last count, 160 cars. It was less than 50 when I moved in some six years back. Assuming that I can safely count up to 200 and the fact that there has not been an addition to the concrete structures, the reason for so many cars around is simple – second cars. Okay, some people are buying new cars and since they are appalled at the value of their depreciated asset, have decided not to part with them. Some double income families genuinely need two cars and a few, of course, are buying a second car simply because they can.
What alarms me is the fact that most of the second cars are as reliable, as new, as similar and therefore as dull as their first cars. It looks like we Indians do not want to experiment with cars. Alright, what if we make a list of comparatively reliable yet outright quirky second car options? Hope you read on, since these are not merely automotive solutions but will work hard to ensure you that you remember the ownership experience – whether it is good or bad!
Maruti Suzuki Gypsy
You like the convertible idea but want something that is more mainstream and maybe macho, right? The Maruti Suzuki Gypsy is still the best off-road vehicle money can buy in India today. The ride quality, with leaf springs all around, is on the bouncy side and weather protection (unless you opt for a GRP roof) is not very good. What is going to hurt the image though is trying to park it properly – the Gypsy does not come with creature comforts such as power steering and air-conditioning. It never did and looks like it never will. Splurge on balloon radials, some nice graphics and the obligatory Hellas and bingo, you are the dude on the move. Sure, some people will suspect that you are a plainclothes policeman – especially if your Gypsy is painted white. But when the roads crumble and water-logging stops other cars in their tracks, trust the Gypsy to make its own way. Holiday to Ladakh? Do you know what the low-ratios in a Gypsy gearbox can do?
Where can I buy one? Maruti will make them till our armed forces buy them
Does it cost the earth? Rs 5.5 lakh for new ones – they are built to order for civilians though
Why should I avoid it? Spinal injury at a later stage is a possibility!
Why should I succumb? It is a car, a convertible and a proper off-roader all rolled into one. And with its fuel-injected Esteem heart, its reliability can be termed bullet-proof San Storm
I have been driving one over the last few weeks and I can tell you that it is one hell of a celebration in itself. To begin with, it is only marginally bigger than my son’s Hotwheels models, is a convertible and what’s more, it’s painted yellow. The example I drove had done duty as a test mule yet the fibreglass body still looked brilliant. Alright, it rattles a bit, more so with the hood down, but all that noise gets submerged in the rorty exhaust note. Despite an anaemic motor from Renault powering it, the Storm has power-to-weight ratio working to its advantage – and that translates to good fun. A great second car to cheer up the lazy Saturday morning commute and to do the school run every morning. And smiles are guaranteed everywhere when you are driving one – on the faces of people on the road and very much on your own face.
Where can I buy one? San still makes them
Does it cost the earth? Rs 5.5 lakh for new ones, and about half that for used cars (if you can find them)
Why should I avoid it? Not very practical during very hot summers and er, during the monsoon
Why should I succumb? In life, one should own a convertible. At least once Maini Reva
Now here is a car that families living in closed housing complexes should take a serious look at as a second car. Sure, it looks as if it rolled out of Cartoon Network, but it is a genuine electric car that has proved its worth not just in India. It’s popular even in London where electric vehicles don’t have to pay hefty congestion charges. It is a strict two-seater, but three children can be moved efficiently to school and back without causing any deformity. So acute is the lack of space, that two adults are sure to fall in love and end up contemplating marriage even after a short drive. It helps if they are from the opposite sex. Assuming that you have used a cellphone in your life, charging the Reva is easy. And with a 80 km range, shopping and commuting in small towns can be accomplished easily.
Where can I buy one? Bangalore, for sure. Maini makes them there
Does it cost the earth? Rs 3.5 lakh for an electrical appliance is certainly a bit much. The Reva needs government subsidy – now!
Why should I avoid it? Power cuts?
Why should I succumb? You can wear a bumper sticker that reads ‘My other car is a hydrocarbon sucking monster’.
Ah, the pleasure of owning a collectible classic. How can the brainchild of a bloodthirsty dictator look so affable? The Beetle, despite its bug image, is a well made car with quality parts that last forever. Spare parts are freely available around the world – if not in your backyard – and they aren’t too expensive. Tackling steamy summers is not its strength, but with a bit of TLC, Beetles can do amazing stuff – like taking you to work and back without breaking down.
Where can I buy one? Classified columns in auto magazines
Does it cost the earth? Rs 3 lakh for a pristine runner and half that for a runner. Barn finds are much cheaper but costly restoration can ruin your happiness
Why should I avoid it? Morris Minors are cheaper to own/run
Why should I succumb? Own one for some time and pass it on to a worthy relative or friend – they will love you forever