Peeking out of the window from the rear; knees crouched, with a strong whiff of petrol in the cabin – the Herald is what I’ve always – very fondly – remembered, and it still succeeds at rekindling a certain joy, leaving me raptured. The car you see in this delectable light-grey hue was very kindly presented to my parents, by my grandfather, on my first birthday, back in 1995. It was a car the Padmini could never imagine holding a candle to; and while Maruti’s Zen was what everybody wanted, the Herald was just something else. In the year 2000, however, we parted ways with the car as rust started to get the better of it, and that meant maintenance costs would soon hit the roof.
If there ever was something to write home about on the Herald, it would be its understated yet distinctive design language, thanks to Giovanni Michelotti: the Italian styling veteran, equally responsible for the Maserati 3500 GT Spyder’s lines and other Ferraris with Vignale bodywork. For me, the Herald sported some of the most sought after elements, like the chrome-cowl headlamps, over-riders set neatly at either ends of the bumper, chrome strips running the length of the car – and of course – those signature 1960s shark-fin tails with tubular tail lamps integrated. Occasional strolls down to Hendrik’s Garage would often have me thrilled to leer at gremlins work on the car’s four-cylinder, overhead valve 948cc engine, coupled with a single Solex carburettor producing 38bhp.
The most fun bit being watching the flip-forward bonnet taking a 90-degree curve when opened. All the greasy mechanical parts looked perfectly intact, despite the old girl’s age – and I have vivid memories of myself being plonked on the tyre, peeping into the engine bay. Mechanics would often enquire if the car was for sale, given its timeless patina; that’s how envied ADY 745 was. Even at the petrol stations, with chaps cheerfully waiting to fill up her belly.
The cabin – festooned with minimalist details – was subtle in more ways than one. A large two-spoke steering, Yenkay metres and a dashboard swathed with wood veneer were among some of the finer details that piqued my fancy. Rolling down windows and opening doors with those tangible metal door handles and window winders had an old-school charm to it all, especially if one had to consider the Maruti 1000’s newfangled features. And not to mention, that relatively peculiar fashion of ingress and egress; pulling the seat forward to get access to the rear bench, and then have your knees graze the back of the driver’s seat if your limbs were too long.
I stood patiently, awaiting it on my tutor’s balcony to come pick me up, and then smirked at that raspy burble from its exhaust…
After having had the privilege of riding shotgun in a friend’s Herald, I realised what I had missed out on as a toddler. The rack-and-pinion steering – although light – is communicative to an extent, with just a hint of feedback, letting you revel in the experience – and the 13-inch Crossplys holding the road well for as long as you stay within a speed of 60-65kph. Shifting through the cogs with that stubby gear lever can have you tickled pink.
Bad patches of road have never been the Herald’s forte – as I rightly recall the bobbing and rattling seated behind when younger – but the setup of transverse leaf springs and telescopic dampers at the rear, and double wishbone with coil springs and telescopic dampers up-front have always been renowned for their capacity to withstand wear and tear.
Owning a Herald back then was something of an unorthodox exercise, just as it is today – and no matter what foibles you tend to face as its custodian, there will always be a bottle of radial water placed in the corner of the boot; something that reflects your image and passion for a thoroughbred of this kind.
Parking lots in cluttered areas will never be the same without the Herald’s sleek silhouette. Perhaps I will give myself a reason to relive times like those someday. But until then, all I can do is lie down on my bed, looking at the ceiling – harking back to the days when I stood patiently, awaiting it on my tutor’s balcony to come pick me up, and then smirked at that raspy burble from its exhaust…