First Maruti 800 owner drove the car all his life, never upgraded
A little white car covered with garlands came out from a factory in Gurgaon on December 14, 1983, and at the wheel of India’s first Maruti 800 was Indian Airline employee Harpal Singh heading towards his Green Park residence.
The next day Harpal planned the first trip in his car to Meerut along his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur, elder daughter Govinder Pal Kaur, her husband Tejinder Ahluwalia and younger daughter Sunita Walia.
Harpal Singh receiving the keys to the first Maruti 800 car from former prime minister Indira Gandhi. (Raj K Raj/ HT File Photo)
“We halted at two places on the way and at both the places huge crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of it,” said Ahluwalia, 65.
In those days, many people had applied for Maruti 800 but it was being given only to few through lucky draws. “People were ready to pay more than Rs 1 lakh (its actual cost was Rs 47,500 then) to my father-in-law to buy it, but he never even contemplated such a move,” said younger son-in-law Amardeep Walia, 55.
Harpal Singh (L) with his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur with their Maruti 800. (Raj K Raj/HT File Photo)
He also said the media had misquoted him in saying Harpal Singh was ready to sell the car.
Remembering the day when Indira Gandhi handed over the key to Harpal at a function in Gurgaon in which the family members were also present, Ahluwalia said, “Rajiv Gandhi was also present there. He knew my father-in-law as they both worked in Indian Airlines. The moment he was called on stage to receive the keys, Rajivji got up and hugged him.”
Harpal had sold his Fiat car when he bought the Maruti 800 and drove it for the rest of his life. When Maruti Zen was launched, the family advised him to upgrade to Zen but he was adamant that he would not leave this car till he is alive.
Harpal Singh's family: (From left to right) Govinder Pal Kaur, Tejinder Ahluwalia, Amardeep Walia, Sunita Walia. (Virendra Singh Gosain/ HT Photo)
“Cleaning the car in the morning was a ritual of sorts for Harpal uncle,” said neighbour Reema Babbar.
“There had been times when eight people had been adjusted into it. We were surprised how a small car could adjust so many people in it,” said elder daughter Govinder Pal Kaur, 58. There has not been a single occasion when the car stopped in between leaving the family stranded, she said.
Harpal passed away in 2010 and two years later, his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur died. The couple’s Green Park residence now remains locked. Their two daughters live in separate areas of south Delhi with their husbands.