Ode to the humble Gypsy



Its lack of sophistication, pedigree and power notwithstanding, the Maruti Gypsy was always a special vehicle. Launched in India back in December 1985 when there were more cows than cars on the road–especially the ones the Gypsy made its own– initially it had a 1 litre 4 cylinder petrol engine. And, was an automatic favourite with rallyists and off road aficionados.

In 1996, Maruti fitted the erstwhile 1.3 litre engine from the Esteem into the vehicle and more modifications were done in 2000 to increase the power of the vehicle.

It has always been one of the most affordable four wheel drive vehicles that one can get in India. And that dwarfed some obvious flaws like poor fuel economy, bad rear seat comfort and pathetic air conditioning.

Maruti did try to rectify some of these issues but Gypsy was never a perfect car. It always played in a niche and within its limits and was an automatic choice for anybody looking for an all terrain vehicle. Its off road abilities is underlined by the fact that it has been the preferred vehicle with armed forces.

Its biggest failing, however, was the lack of a diesel engine which saw its demand in the market fall as compared to rivals like Mahindra Scorpio and Tata Safari.

As fuel prices soared and turbochargers gave diesel cars the edge, the Gypsy looked outdated in style and technology. The never say die spirit remains but for the increasingly style and economy conscious Indian consumer, it fell off the priority list.

For the last few years, the Armed forces remained faithful to the vehicle which went a long way in extending its shelf life. It does not figure in Suzuki’s global line up where the Jimny has had many life cycle changes. And it continues with basically the same shape.

With the Army now finally looking to move on towards bigger, more powerful and diesel powered vehicles, the days of the Gypsy are numbered. Since 2008, its numbers have halved and this year barely 500 units have been sold. In the last three months not even one.

Part of this is because of a technical compliance issue where Gypsy was still not ready. The company says it would be from next month and shipment should begin again in earnest from next year. But the Army is already looking at the Scorpios and Safaris and there is a big doubt whether they will go back to the Gypsy.

It will not disappear from within our midst in a hurry but it could be the beginning of the end for one of India’s most loved off roaders.

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