Probably the world’s smallest car ! The Bajaj Personal Transport Vehicle (Bajaj PTV) was Bajaj’s first attempt at taking the car market by storm.
Back in the mid 1980s, there was a quota on the number of rickshaws that could go into production, so instead of keeping the factory idle, a small group of Bajaj engineers were put to the task of working with an auto rickshaw chassis and making a small car out of it. Apparently four different designs were pitched to Bajaj and this one got the green light. An initial batch of 25 prototypes were made and sold to senior officials and distributors at a price of Rs. 25,000 – to put that into perspective, a scooter would have cost you Rs.9,000, a rickshaw about Rs.18,000 and a small car would cost about Rs.60,000 back then. It was a vehicle that could be registered in your name. It seems a couple of these were even crash-tested, but I surely wouldn’t go about playing bumper cars in this !
Why was Bajaj PTV made?
At that time, there weren’t nearly as many cars available for purchase, nor were loans available. So what did the majority of Indians do, then? They put their names in a list to buy a scooter and waited. They waited for up to three years to get possession. If they wanted a car, they either had to pay five times the money to get on the list or put up twice that amount to get their car sooner rather than later. The Bajaj PTV was basically meant to straddle that gap. Priced much lower than traditional cars, the Bajaj PTV was a solution the market certainly could have done with.
How was Bajaj PTV made?
The Bajaj PTV wasn’t a homemade car. There are some 10 known prototypes in existence and of these, no two cars are the same. But again, that’s the whole point of a prototype, to keep improving each successive design. The car I had a go in was No 8. There’s no doubt at all that the auto rickshaw parts bin had been used to put this together. A basic rickshaw frame underpins it, but instead of a 2,000 mm wheelbase, it’s been shortened to 1,400 mm and instead of a handlebar, there’s a proper rack-and-pinion steering unit in place. It’s another thing that it’s a 1:1 ratio box, where even the slightest twitch of your hand will send you into the next lane! Design-wise, they pretty much had only rulers to work with, so there’s nothing that resembles a curve anywhere. Some say that its less-than-pleasing looks are one of the reasons it didn’t go into series production, but I reckon there could be more to it than that.
How is Bajaj PTV to drive?
Really fun ! It doesn’t make too much power, but with what it has, it can do a whole lot. A 145cc auto rickshaw engine at the back makes just about enough power, but with an all-metal body, you can’t really expect performance to be too perky. Still, the gearing helps the little PTV keep up with normal city traffic. The steering is a very quick ratio unit that threatens to send you in the opposite direction if you turn it too much. That’s where all the fun comes from though, fun and a slight fear of tipping over. Since it’s based on a rickshaw, the Bajaj PTV has a sequential shifter instead of a traditional H-pattern one.
I think the Bajaj PTV could have revolutionized the car market had it actually gone on sale, but sadly, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. The project was dropped after these prototypes were built, and no one knows for sure why exactly. Over time, the people behind this project either left the company or were put in a different department and the project was pretty much forgotten. But just imagine if it had gone into production. Hundreds of thousands of these little machines would have been buzzing about everywhere! This could well have replaced the Maruti 800 in all those sweet memories I have of my childhood and, of course, changed the course of our automotive industry.