GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Takes the rough with the smooth? Remember that tag line?
The Tata Sierra is possibly India’s first SUV. Launched 25 years ago at a time when Tata Motors was still called Telco, the Sierra was a proper lifestyle offering that was way ahead of its time
TATA MOTORS, TELCO AS THEY were called back then, were way, way ahead of their time. Look at the Sierra! Doesn’t it look desirable even today? Doesn’t it seem impractical even today? Now can you imagine the stir it caused when it was launched 25 years ago! Those were the days when an air-conditioner was an unimaginable luxury — and the Sierra not only had a factory-fitted air-con but power windows and power steering. It was also the only car, in the world probably, that had two rear wipers. The Sierra dragged the Indian automotive industry, kicking and screaming, out of the socialist era. And it can legitimately claim to be India’s first SUV; a lifestyle car in the days before anybody had a lifestyle.
It was based on the 207 pickup which, you might recall, body shops in the day would fashion W124 Merc-style bodies over. That pickup still carries on to this day, albeit heavily worked upon, and just mechanical parts but a lot of the bodywork is interchangeable with the 207 DI. Even the wheel arch extensions can be swapped with the pickup!
Manuj Saxena, who is a member of the national Sierra owners group, insists that the Sierra is not a white elephant. He says that any mechanic who knows how to work on a 207 or Sumo can fix a Sierra, all the parts except for maybe the clear lens taillamps are still available, and with proper maintenance the Sierra doesn’t need to visit a garage that often. That said, I also have to tell you that Tata’s early experiments with passenger cars had none of the reliability of a Maruti. None of the refinement too.
The aforementioned wheel arch extensions came with the Sierra Turbo, which made it one of the first turbo-diesel passenger cars in India after the Rover Montego that Sipani brought in their dying breath. It gave the Peugeot-derived 1.9-litre diesel engine a much needed booster shot and led to ‘turbo intercooler’ stickers being the coolest accessory on any car. The engine is not bad even today. Of course there’s monster turbo lag, plenty of noise to drown out the suspension rattles, and no great power, but it’s not unacceptable. What needs a bit of re-wiring is the dog leg first — first gear is where you’d expect to find second, pull a collar and reverse is where first should be, and for all the hunting you won’t find a slick or precise shift. Neither was there handling or braking but those weren’t big issues back in the day. Getting into the rear seat was. And that signature glass makes for a signature oven if the air-con wasn’t working at peak efficiency (which it rarely was).
There’s no doubt four doors would have dramatically improved its fortunes but, experiments with the Sierra, that’s what gave birth to the Safari. And again, Tata Motors were way ahead of their time. ⌧
IT WAS INDIA’S FIRST SUV; A LIFESTYLE CAR IN THE DAYS BEFORE ANYBODY HAD A LIFESTYLE