Memories Of A Passing San Storm… Which Did Not Raise Much Dust, Alas…
Images: Anamit Sen
Certain cars tend to remain in one's memory always because of a particular reason. Like the San Storm roadster, made by San Motors. San Motors was the motor car division of San Engineering & Locomotive Company Limited, India's largest private locomotive manufacturing firm from Bangalore, which has been manufacturing locomotives and other engineering products like cranes, axle drives and transmissions since 1969. Today the company is heavily into composites and FRP design and supplies.
A sporty roadster from a locomotive manufacturer may seem a bit odd at first, but not if one looks at the team behind the project. The project tie-up was with the Le Mans Design Group (LMDG) of France, which meant getting in some of the best car designers and engineers in Europe in the shape of Philippe Beloou, Christophe Bihr and Gérard Godfroy. With many years of experience in suspension and chassis tuning, vehicle dynamics and design work for Peugeot, Renault as well as supercar manufacturers like Venturi, Bugatti, Aston Martin and Ferrari behind them, the LMDG was a very formidable group indeed.
The San Storm was assembled at a combination of two facilities, in Goa and Bangalore. The body was made of impact resistant FRP and was available in four striking colours.
At first glance, the tech specs seem less than impressive: the 1.2L Renault D7F four-cylinder, fuel injected OHC engine uses microprocessor-based management but develops just 60bhp at 5250rpm and 9.6KgM of torque at 2500rpm — enough to get it to a top speed of 160 km/h, and the claimed acceleration time of 0-100km/h was 11 seconds. The electronic management system meant it had the option of 'chipping' for better performance if required, though most customers didn't know about it or didn't opt for it. Warranty issues may have been one reason why the engine remained “stock”. Dealers on their own started offering their own tuned versions but this was not uniform across the country.
What the San Storm had going for it was its light but very strong FRP body. Together with the nimble handling and the tuned suspension (made out of locally sourced components), the Storm relied on its handling (chuckability if you will) to give the driver a rather enjoyable experience.
To enjoy a car like the Storm, one needed a suitable road with ups and downs, twists and turns and the author of this article was fortunate enough to have such a road right where he lived — the Gurgaon-Faridabad road… particularly the Gwal Pahadi section, which was a steep downhill S curve rather reminiscent of the "Corkscrew" section of the Laguna Seca race track in California.
The only difference was that Gwal Pahadi was not a race track. Moreover, being near a stone quarry out in the countryside, the majority of traffic was slow, labouring over the "corkscrew"! Most of the 'test' driving was done there and while going downhill was extremely enjoyable, downshifting and using engine braking was also the bit where the San Storm's small engine was exposed and came a bit unstuck. And if one was following a truck uphill, one would definitely wish for a bigger, torque-ier engine while trying to overtake a slow-moving heavy stone-laden truck.
On any flat stretch though, there were no issues at all. One could opt to drive top up or down and getting the top up or down was an easy single-handed operation.
The Storm was reasonably well equipped for the price of around Rs 6L — It had air-conditioning, a music system (which the author didn’t use, preferring to listen to the exhaust and the engine note through the gear shifts), power windows and alloy wheels.
While in terms of performance, it would be out-dragged by, say, a 5-speed Maruti 800 or Alto VX, what you will not get is the fun, wind-in-the-face experience of top-down motoring like in a Lotus Super Seven! Add to that the superlative handling with minimal body roll, and you have the San Storm!
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