Cult Classics: Indian Automobiles and Graphic Design

Illustration by Kunal Anand (2021)

Introduction

Cars are checkpoints indicative of human innovation, befitting the title of the quintessential manufactured product. They have been vehicles of stories, symbolism and carriers of identity, as they continue to transform the maps of the mind and lands alike. Any product’s identity is inextricable from the web of perceptions and impressions that structures our reception of it: the curve of the bonnet, the sounds of the engine purring on the ignition, the smell of leather seats in new cars. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze called this tactile intermediary the logique du sens, a phenomenon that stirs the memories, whether it is your first time driving or the soft blur of the surroundings fading away, that create patterns of routinised familiarity and belonging. In this artwork series, we embark on a quest to construct the cultural philosophies that guided the creation of some of India’s cult classic vehicles. The form acts as a lens to reveal the hidden stories within the contours of society and culture. These iconic cars shaped their image through the veins of space and time to create the visual language of our history.

I am interested in automobile design from vintage retro vehicles to modern electric concepts. This is an exciting way to look at social, political, economic and tastes change especially in an Indian context. From this thought developed a series exploring the design and form of some of India’s cult classic vehicles. As a creative director and graphic designer I starting at looking at the design of these user manual covers.

Ambasador / Premier Pandmini / Maruti 800

Each vehicle in this series is depicted in a graphic design illustrative form, floating between assembly and disassembly. Wrapped around typography with a bold colour palette. Research extended from brand manuals, Youtube repair videos, spare parts and online forums.

The Ambassador

Amby designed by Kunal Anand (2016)

You can drive any car, as long as it’s an Ambassador.

The Ambassador is fondly known as the King of Indian Roads, a monarch that broke through the license permit era to reign Indian streets. For the elite who could afford the car, it was a symbol of prestige attracting civil servants and ministers alike. Its journey is one that inspires humility and resilience, as its initial reign of stardom with the elite soon gave way to a lasting embrace by the general public through taxis.

The form is reverent to the needs of the Indian context, the sofa that was later replaced by sectioned seats could accommodate a large capacity, and the sturdy build ensured a consistently dependable carriage for off roads and city roads alike. Mechanics were ubiquitous because repairing an Ambassador didn’t require elaborate training or expensive equipment. Its iconic form is amplified in the curved bonnet, mouth-organ grille and large eyes. Depth is built through the interplay of layers in the contrasts of colour. It is a homage to the noble icon still plying across Kolkata, Kerala and Delhi, as a memory frozen in time while the world flashes by through its arched windows.

Amby
16" x 21"
150gsm Fine Paper
Limited Edition — 30
Signed and Numbered
Fonts— Modern Twenty by Monotype

The Premier Padmini

Padmini designed by Kunal Anand (2020)

Choice, is a virtue, a canvas of expression and a dance of binaries within culture and conversation. The Premier Padmini was a stark contrast, in its sleek build to the curved arches characteristic of the Ambassador. It became the jewel of the affluent young, female and celebrity circles during its peak in the late 1970s, made famous by the stars who endorsed this icon of the future, including Rajnikanth and Amir Khan among many, for its ability to bring an alternative through the gravelled streets of country lanes.

However, the true significance of the Padmini lay in its fame as the iconic Kaali Peeli Taxi, a symbol revered by the city of Bombay. The Padmini entered the Mumbai taxi market in the late-60s when Premier approached the state government to encourage products by Maharashtra-based companies. Approximately 60,000 Padmini taxis flooded the city’s streets, according to Anthony Lawrence Quadros, the general secretary of the Mumbai taxi drivers’ union, and continue to do so despite the withdrawal of their production in 1998. While newer models have been replacing the iconic car, it has been immortalised through its ties to the Bollywood film industry. The taxis often featured the latest film posters as an advertising opportunity to the city’s crowds. The rare sighting of a Padmini is still prevalent on old Bombay roads, and with it, the colourful notes of old film songs whistled in the backseat.

Padmini
16" x 21"
150gsm Fine Paper
Limited Edition — 30
Signed and Numbered
Fonts— Cairoli Classic Black Variable by Italiantype

The Maruti 800

800 designed by Kunal Anand (2021)

Cars were always viewed as luxury products, available only to the elite while the rest of the population relied on two-wheelers and public transport. The Maruti 800 opened a whole new demographic for the automobile industry. Developed as a collaborative venture by the Japanese firm Suzuki Motor Corporation (SMC) and the Indian brand Maruti, the car reflects a vision of understanding customers and creating products that integrate seamlessly to the landscape of their lifestyle.

The car was conceptualised through a market survey commissioned by Maruti and test samples provided by the Suzuki Motor Corporation to enable the Japanese manufacturer to understand the local terrain. The test cars were driven across Kolkata, Delhi, Shimla and Mumbai covering more than 10,000 km. The tests resulted in several modifications such as higher ground clearance, stronger horns, more robust shock absorbers, etc. Pre-launch ads ran in parallel, building the brands’ identity for the customers that promised new technology standards, fuel efficiency, safety, reliability, and service with a significantly lower and more affordable price. Post-launch, the company provided customer care and service for the vehicles, a concept unheard of on Indian lands before the launch of the Maruti 800, a democratic challenger rising to the heights of cultural significance through an experience that was authentic and accessible to the culture of their audience.

800
16" x 21"
150gsm Fine Paper
Limited Edition — 30
Signed and Numbered
Fonts— Euphoric Heavy by T-26

Design Process & Silkscreen Production

Coming Soon..

Research

The Automobile: An Indian Love Affair
Written by Gautam Sen, Published by Penguin Books

National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life
Written by Tim Edensor, Published by Routledge

Pukka Indian: 100 Objects that Define India
Published by Roli Books

Artworks Designed by — Kunal Anand
Text Edited by— Tanya Chandnani
Prints Available from Kunalanand.co

Kunal is creative director, graphic artist and curator. With over 15 years experience his interest lay in the intersection where art, design and culture meet.