Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi: India's Unique Bond With Cars And Bikes

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Whether a Luna or a Premier Padmini, your ride, and whether or not you even owned one, was always much more than a means of transport. It revealed so much about who you were and what you aspired for.

This week, we look at the automotive sector in India over the last few decades and invite you to share vintage memories with us, fun stories, anecdotes and even misadventures, relating to two- and four-wheelers. Write in to us with your stories and we’ll publish the most interesting ones on our website. Our email address is: contactus@livehistoryindia.com

The idea is to bring to life these wonders of our past and, by keeping their memory alive, preserving them as treasures for the future. Aaja meri gaadi mein baith ja…

The symbol of success in Indian society has almost always been linked to owning and driving a personal vehicle. Who has a motorcycle or a scooter, and which brand do they own? Who finally bought a car or upgraded to a better model?

Atlas Cycles | Vintage Indian Clothing

Every strata of society has its yardsticks by which it measures success. Bicycle riders have their own set of aspirations with a rating of brands to match. The two-wheeler lobby followed up with their ‘passion’ and splendour’. Four-wheeler manufacturers, of course, followed suit and release a never-ending list and numerous categories of cars and SUVs.

Even the big screen has played a part in perpetuating this stereotype. The depiction of a hero who, because he travelled by the city bus, could never get the girl of his dreams while his faithful sidekick on his trusted scooter would always have a pretty young lass riding pillion with him! A hero’s success has always been weighed against his ability to drive around in a car or on a motorcycle.

For a long time, across the media, the emphasis was on buying Indian. This idea had its roots in the Swadeshi movement, when Indians led by nationalists supported Indian-made goods as a mark of protest against British rule.

The same motto carried forward for quite a few decades, post-Independence. In the 1990s, we grew up knowing every one of those advertising jingles of popular two-wheeler brands. Famous Indian authors at times wrote iconic jokes where the central hero was the common man’s car.

Bajaj Chetak Scooter | ED Times

In a time when most of the automotive world was marked by joint ventures, two- and four-wheeler brands had iconic but strange names. For instance, ‘Kawasaki’ was immediately followed by ‘Bajaj’ but it made logical sense.

Hindustan Motors Ambassador

Each car on the streets had a unique image and identity. The mighty Ambassador was instantly associated with sarkari babus. The Premier Padmini turned into the taxis of Mumbai and, of course, the Maruti Omni was the minivan that changed the face of school transport in smaller cities.

Kinetic Luna | Pinterest

An avid Bollywood fan cannot look at many cars without immediately remembering their iconic big-screen image. Two-wheelers too had their identities, from the hero’s ‘Rajdoot’ to the policewallah’s ‘Bullet’, to the simple, middle-class uncle and his scooter and the independent young woman and her slogan of “Chal meri Luna!”

We all grew up drawing these parallels, humming these jingles and playing games to prove who remembered these brand names. And this is the journey we want you all to join – a sepia-tinted, exciting ride back in time.

This article is part of our Heritage in our Homes campaign, in collaboration with Jugaadopolis. If this story has stirred up personal memories, now get a chance to share your own stories of these classic automobiles with our readers. Please write to us at

contactus@livehistoryindia.com

with your stories. The ones selected by the LHI Editorial Team shall be compiled and featured on our website.