Premier Padmini: India’s Iconic Car That Raised Style Quotient
Of the few iconic car models that ruled the Indian roads of the early 70s and 80s, Premier Padmini aka Fiat 1100 D garnered immense popularity with its simplistic yet fascinating design. Gone are the days of a Premier Padmini being synonymous with a luxurious possession of a middle-class Indian household or a style statement of the youngster of yesteryears. What still remains, is the unflinching nostalgic charm it casts upon the countless Indian hearts.
Interestingly, much before the Economic Liberalization facilitating the entry of a number of foreign automotive players who forged ties with Indian companies to tap the Indian market, Premier Padmini was the first instance of a successful cooperation between an Indian company with a foreign automotive player.
FIAT 500 was the first car from the Italian engineering marvel Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (FIAT) which was assembled for Indian market since 1951. In 1954 The Fiat 1100 first came to India as the Millecento. The Millecento evolved into the 1100 Elegant which then became the Select and the Super Select models. Fiat 1100 D (D for Delight) came to India in 1964.
In the year 1974, Mumbai based Indian Premier Automobiles Limited, part of the Walchand Group, started manufacturing the indigenized version of FIAT 1100 D under Italian carmaker’s license and marketed it as the Premier President later branding it as Premier Padmini, naming it after the 14th-century legendary Rajpoot queen Padmini.
The original transmission was a four-speed manual gearbox with rear wheels drive via a live rear axle. It had a column-mounted shifter, on the left-hand side of the steering column. Weighing 895 kg (1,973 lb) with that engine the car could attain a top speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).
In its peak years during 80s Premier Padmini gave sharp contest to ubiquitous Ambassador by Hindustan Motors with a sleek and elegant look, easy to drive mechanism, modern appearance, and fuel efficiency.
Over the years the modest four-cylinder car underwent few upgradations with the engines finally receiving a major engine upgrade, in the form of a diesel heart in 1996.
Aesthetically, the car was simple and sleek with chrome lined round headlights placed at corners with bigger grill at center housing PAL logo and blinkers placed beneath it. The front end resembled the Morris Mini to a certain extent. It had a curved front and rear bumpers crafted in chrome which made it stand out of the crowd. Side profile was simple and carried a chrome line running across the length, chrome door handles and hub wheel cap also made up of chrome. Some mounted the tyres with white colored side walls which completed the overall appearance of the car from the side.
Seating configuration was like 3+2 with two sorts of comfortable bucket front seats and a flat bench at the rear. Some fitted it with a flat bench at the front, which accommodates 3 persons at the front, making it a 6-seater.
Premier manufactured the Padmini at their Kurla plant in Bombay (now Mumbai) until they sold a majority stake to parent Fiat SpA in September 1997. The reason why Mumbai still boasts of the largest number of Padminis, be it as a taxi or as a personal vehicle.
All in all, the iconic Padmini is integral to India’s rich automotive history and the few existing well maintained possessions rarely spotted on Indian streets are still a head turner for its retro quotient years after their heyday.
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