If you are a motoring enthusiast, chances are that you will have heard of Jeremy Clarkson. Jeremy is the presenter of the highly-successful, and very irreverent, BBC program, Top Gear.
Unlike many motoring journalists, Jeremy tells it like it is. If he doesn’t like a particular vehicle, or any of its features, he says so. If the manufacturer’s PR people get upset about what he has said; too bad. One of the reasons for Top Gear’s howling success - as a television program and a magazine - is that the public really appreciate opinions that are not ‘tainted’ by any relationship to advertising and sales promotions.
In Jeremy’s book, Motorworld, I was interested to read about his trip to India, and the fact that, while he was in that country, he drove a 4WD Mahindra. It was easy to gather that he wasn’t impressed, when he said, “This may have been based on the American beach-party special but it’s Indian-made and Indian-developed. Were it not for the Russian version I drove in Vietnam, I’d have to say it was the worst car in the world. The only smooth things about it were the tyres. Its steering was supertanker precise and heavier than a photocopier. It braked like a rhino, sounded like a bulldozer in an aviary and nothing electrical worked.....except the horn.”
This brought back memories of 1990, when an Australian businessman ‘launched’ the Mahindra into the Aussie market. The versions he was offering were based on the Jeep CJ3B of the early 1950s; and the sales spiel was that Australians would snap up a no-nonsense, no-frills 4WD that was powered by a Peugeot-designed, 4-cylinder diesel.
The drive-day for the motoring writers took place on a farm. It wasn’t the best day for the event; it was raining and everyone managed to get mud up past their ankles. Those that were more used to testing mega-buck sports cars and luxury sedans were not impressed.
But, at lunch, there was a lighter moment. One of the journalists asked the Indian executive from Mahindra whether he thought two people would be happy to travel in the vehicle. The executive quickly replied, “I’ll have you know, that in India, up to nine people ride on a Mahindra at the one time.” It was the best part of the day!
Not long after, a 4WD magazine asked me conduct a long-distance test of the vehicle. It was the ‘up-market’ Bushranger version that featured 15-inch white spoke wheels, wider tires, Stratos seats, grille guards, rubber fender flares and fancy decals.
First impressions were not good. The spare wheel was stock. This meant the tire circumference was different to those on vehicle. “Could we have a different spare, please?” “Sorry, that is all we have.”
Within half an hour, I was regretting my decision to take part in the test. The noise from the diesel was unbelievable, the smell of hot fumes filled the interior, the driving position was uncomfortable and the turn signal lever assembly was so loose on the steering column that the whole thing could be turned more than 360 degrees!
On the freeway, the Mahindra was a horror. The vinyl doors threatened to blow off after the clips on the leading edge decided to unfasten themselves, the top made so much noise that conversation was impossible, and we had no choice but to stay in the slow side of the slow lane.
Shortly after some mild off-road stuff, the clutch stopped working. We slid underneath the vehicle to see if something was caught in the works. Only to find that a nut had worked loose and the clutch actuator assembly had simply fallen off.
Back at the campsite, we gathered around to have a good look at some Indian 4WD engineering. We already knew that we were unlikely to be impressed. But we were not prepared to be so shocked. Even though this was a new vehicle, there were already signs of corrosion on every engine part made of alloy, rust was visible in the body seams, and the reason why the doors kept unclipping was simple – the male part of the clips were not screwed into the body in the correct position. Not only that, the existing studs were the second attempt to get it right; the first row of holes having been filled with sealer. However, the biggest shock came when we noticed that many rubber grommets were missing from the holes where wires and hoses ran through the firewall. Did I really have to drive this heap of crap back to the city?
On the way back down the freeway the Mahindra’s main fuel tank ran out. Not a problem. We simply switched to the second tank. Nothing! How could this be? The second tank was full and the pump was working. Another trip underneath – with trucks rushing close by at freeway speed – established that the hose from the second tank had never been fitted correctly.
A week later I submitted the words for the test article, titled “Back Passage from India.” Meaning (of course) that the vehicles were shipped to the distributor's premises in Perth, which is on the far western side of Australia.
When the story appeared in the 4WD magazine, the title had been changed. The publisher had decided that the proposed heading would create 'too many waves'. However, due to the lack of gullible customers, it didn't take many moons for the Mahindra distributors to discover it was all too hard.
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