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. ⌧


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