The Premier Padmini was among the premium cars of its time but lost its way with the onslaught of savvier competitors
In 1944, the Premier Automobiles (Walchand Group) company was established. After independence, Premier vehicles were among the first to drive on free India’s roads. The first step was to get manufacturing rights from Chrysler Group LLC of the United States to manufacture Plymouth cars and Dodge vehicles in India.
But when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru led India, the country operated as a socialist one, and automobiles were not a high priority.
The Fiat Licence
Premier’s only hope for success was to introduce a small car that lacked any pretence of elegance. It licensed the Fiat 1100 from its Italian manufacturer, Fiat, in 1952. The Indian government enforced pricing and volume limits, as well as a prohibition on the upgrading or changing of passenger car models, in the 1960s and 1970s. It wasn’t until 1985 that the price ceiling was finally removed.
The first serious rival to Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador arrived in 1964 in the form of the Premier Fiat 1100 Delight, which was developed from the Fiat 1200 GranLuce Berlina. It was a genuine threat to the HM Ambassador’s hegemony. It was smaller and more streamlined than the Ambassador, and it looked good doing it. The 1100D was more advanced, economical, and convenient to use. It quickly gained popularity among people of all ages, backgrounds, and demographics. Anyone born between 1970 and 1908 had a good chance of riding in a Padmini.
The government’s reliance on domestic manufacturing led to the termination of the contract with Fiat in 1972–1973. The name was changed to Premier President. The name changed later. The sedan was sold in India as the “Padmini” in 1974, taking its name from the fabled Rajput princess Rani Padmini of the 14th century. In that era, this was a popular name for women in India. The name honours the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, whose epithet means “She who sits on the lotus.”
The sedan was so popular that commercials referred to it as “Padmini, a beautiful princess of your own,” featuring a woman dressed to resemble a regal Indian princess and accessorized with traditional Indian silver jewellery and a crimson bindi.
Padmini, a brand with deep roots in Indian culture, became successful via some fascinatingly inventive means. The goddess of riches, Laksmi, is associated with this word because she is shown sitting on a lotus. There were not many women who drove at the time, but the car’s name represented the importance of women in Indian society. Its adaptation of the Italian product to Indian tastes was innovative and very valuable.
In contrast to Hindustan Motors’ chunky Ambassador, Padmini’s clean, contemporary styling won over female and youthful purchasers in the 1970s and 1980s. The ‘built-like-a-tank’ Amby won the hearts of government officials and politicians, while the sleek Padmini won the hearts of the upper middle class.
Padmini’s owners included actors and producers, namely Aamir Khan, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, and the legendary Dev Anand. Movies and songs about the automobile have made their way into Bollywood, with Suresh Wadkar’s ‘Seene me jalan…’ from the film Gaman becoming a classic.
Cutting the Power
The engine’s horsepower was lowered to 42hp in the early 1980s. The firm rapidly realized that fuel economy was more important to Indian consumers than power output. The corporation improved the four-door sedan’s gas mileage by developing a new carburettor design.
There were air conditioning, leather seats, courtesy lighting, and tinted windows on the Padmini. At the time, such conveniences were still considered a luxury in India.
Fall from Grace
Maruti Suzuki first appeared on our shores in the mid-1980s. The new firm offered vehicles that were less expensive, more fuel efficient, and more up-to-date. Premier Padmini’s market dominance gradually eroded. Padmini was struggling to keep up with the competition internationally by 1991 when a slew of new enterprises had set up shop in India.
Premier introduced the Padmini S1 as an upgraded version of the automobile in an attempt to resuscitate its waning popularity. It had a floor-shift synchronized gearbox built by Nissan and was available with more powerful engines. There was an addition of a diesel model.
The introduction of diesel engines, however, did little to boost Padmini’s dwindling sales. The production of the vehicle ended in 2000.
While new models are no longer available, a well-maintained vintage Padmini or taxi may still be found. Unfortunately, even the best things eventually end.