How I Met A Red President

Images: Deepanjan Sarkar

It was a lazy Sunday morning and Souryadeep had planned to sleep until noon or even later, but fate had planned something else for him... such as a phone call at seven in the morning, that would get him to head out of the house in a hurry, without the slightest desire to go back to bed. He knew what he was heading for, and it was something that he had been searching for since a while!

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Elegance personified

As traffic was light, he was able to get to his destination and see first-hand the crimson beauty standing right in front of him. It did not take him any time to decide, as the young restorer and collector from Calcutta decided to add another charmer of a car to his collection.

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A much loved family car from yesteryear

Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) was founded in 1899, and over the years became a giant of the world’s automobile industries, making its mark in the history of global mobility by setting a great example in the automotive field of Italian technology and savoir faire. In the late 1940s, Fiat signed up with the Indian Walchand Group, and the company that was set up, Premier Automobiles Ltd, began by assembling under license from Fiat the Fiat 500C and then the 1100, known better as the Millecento.

Over the years the 1100 evolved to the version known as the 1100 Delight. In 1969, the government of India, along with full localization, insisted upon the Indianisation of the branding of cars too. This Premier chose to change the branding of the model from Fiat 1100 D to the Premier President. This was in 1972.

The model name of President though was short-lived, as the government wasn’t too happy with the President moniker. Premier changed the model name to Padmini, a branding we are all so familiar with. Padmini, which means ‘she who sits on the lotus’, is another name for goddess Laxmi, which, presumably portrays refinement. Either way, the Premier President branding had a rather short run: from 1972 until 1974, making them rather rare.

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In the 1970s, the President was a projection of social status

Just like the Fiat 1100D and the Premier Padmini, the President was identical in looks and specifications, and was the ‘personal drive’ alternative to the mostly chauffeur-driven Hindustan Ambassador during the 1970s. Very popular with Bollywood stars, even current stars such as Rajinikanth and Aamir Khan owned Padmini when they all started out. More a sensible competitor to the bigger Ambassador and not-so-spacious Standard Herald, the President contrasted with the Ambassador’s ‘stodgy’ image of being a car associated with government and the powers that be.

A classical front-engine, rear-wheel-driver, the 47bhp 1.1-liter four-cylinder petrol engine of the Premier was mated to a four-speed gearbox. Maximum torque was 71Nm at 3000rpm, and the car managed to get to a top speed of around 130 km/h, which wasn’t too bad then. Later on, Premier decided to reduce maximum power down to 42bhp in the 1980s by changing the carburation so that fuel efficiency could be improved. The President though, managed 47bhp.

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Reflecting refinement

Even later, after the arrival of the Maruti 800, Premier introduced the Padmini S1 with a more modern radiator grille, and Solex carburettor. Subsequently Premier’s 137D with diesel engine producing 45bhp (34kW), with a claimed fuel efficiency of 24km to the litre, was introduced as a response to the more efficient Suzuki-designed car. Yet, sales of the Padminis kept dropping over the years, until its demise in 2000.

In recent years there has been a revival in finding good survivors and getting them restored back to original specifications. Several Padminis have seen ground-up restorations, or the better-preserved ones have been sympathetically refurbished. Presidents have been rarer.

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47bhp from a 1.1 litre four

Thus, it is so good to see this beautiful Premier President, which still has its original paint in a rare crimson shade, making it an outstanding one amongst all the other Fiats and Premiers. Details like the wheel caps, the grill, which is still original, and much else, made this car a great buy!

The car’s very original speedometer and dash, the steering wheel with the PAL logo (which was formerly ‘Fiat’ in the same font), and beautifully matching seat covers make the interior of this car a delight for the eyes.

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Souryadeep and his crimson beauty

Twenty-four year-old Souryadeep Mukherji is well known in the Calcutta historic vehicle circle for his restoration work on Ambassadors, as well as his own collection of historic vehicles. His tryst with this ‘74 Premier President was in mid-March ‘22 and he had it picked up in a week. He was really impressed with the condition and paperwork.

Souryadeep was so intrigued and emotionally attached to the car that it threw him into an abyss of curiosity about the history of the car. He decided to meet with the owner, Lt. Col. N.M. Mukhopadhayay, who is 96 years old. The Lieutenant Colonel had travelled the country in that same ‘epitome of elegance.’

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Even they appreciate it

According to the erstwhile owner of the car, this Premier President was painted under a special order. The car played a major role in the army officer’s and his family's lives. In due course, he decided to part ways with the car and entrust it to the young historic vehicle enthusiast.

It is then that Souryadeep decided to embark on a road trip in that red President to Goa and back. Souryadeep is rightfully proud of his red bolide, as it impresses all and sundry.

Ambreen Hossain

Ambreen Hossain

My love for automobile is something which runs in my blood especially for the vintage ones. I like to portray it through my words and verse. Hope you enjoyed the read!


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