Mahindra Thar, undoubtedly the best 4x4 offroader the automaker has ever built, was the toast of the town in Kochi recently.
It was the biggest gathering of Thar owners and fans from across the country, on October 15, where passionate offroad enthusiasts celebrated the spirit of this iconic brand.
If some got the opportunity to showcase their skills through a series of events and contests, for others, it was an opportunity to learn a few tricks and tips from experts.
So, what makes this vehicle a favorite among offroading enthusiasts?
Mahindra can be considered the grandpa of all offroading vehicles that are made in India today. It can be credited with introducing the concept of offroading to the country even before Independence.
Mahindra acquired the license to build Willys Jeeps – which can be considered as the forefather of all offroading vehicles -- back in 1947 and began assembling the Willys CJ3B.
Given the unpaved roads and rugged rural areas, Mahindra was quick to realize that the Jeep would be a perfect vehicle for India. It had the right pedigree – a hand-built all-terrain vehicle that is rugged and tough and used by the US during World War II.
When the first vehicle landed from America at Mumbai port, it not only gave birth to an offroading culture but also opened the door for the beginning of a multi-billion dollar Indian automobile empire.
Initially the Jeep's offroading capability was put to a rather unintended use -- to transport military, police, and government personnel. And, given its rugged nature, it soon became the workhorse of various government departments and security agencies.
Gradually, those vehicles changed hands and reached towns and villages and continued to build its reputation as a reliable utility vehicle.
But the damage this did was that nobody bothered to check out the offroading capability of the vehicle. Besides, the economic conditions too were for favorable then.
People started rediscovering the value of the vehicle only after the arrival of Maruti and other new generation vehicles.
Soon, some spotted its offroad capabilities and started enjoying the rugged outdoor experiences it can provide. The popularity of the vehicle as a mean machine that could take on any terrain started spreading across the country. It was a rebirth of sorts for the vehicle.
Enthusiasts were also quick to notice its modification potential. When people started modifying the old 4x4s and it became a trend, Mahindra too started thinking in the same way.
Though it made several modifications to the vehicle, Mahindra succeeded in retaining its classic nature, which helped it taste success.
Starting off with the CJ4A, CJ500D, CJ340, Classic CL340DP, MM440, MM540 DP and MM550, the evolution continued. In 2010, the Mahindra Thar was introduced. Though a modern vehicle, it retained most of the classic lines seen on the older models and became one of the rare examples of the successful evolution of the brand.
It soon developed a fan following. It had everything an enthusiast needed -- retro Jeep styling, butch design, macho image, enough power and torque, decent ride quality, offroad competency and an affordable price tag.
The Thar fest and Club Challenge
If you have a 4x4, you need a place to flaunt it and showcase its capability. Mahindra took the initiative and the Thar Fest was born.
Billed as the largest gathering of Thar owners and fans, the second edition of the festival held in Kochi gave enthusiasts a chance to display their offroading skills and showcase their modified vehicles, among others.
The Club Challenge saw 12 offroad clubs from across India competing against each other for the title of the 'Best Offroading Club’ in the country. It was held on October 14 and 15.
The 3rd Club Challenge, which was first held in 2015, included the night stage on the first day and the day stage on the second day for different categories like pro-stock, modified and pro modified.
The vehicles had to clear a mix of natural and man-made obstacles which require excellent driving skills as well as think up ingenious ways to cross hurdles to emerge victorious.
Led by a Malayali
Mahindra's adventure initiatives is led by Bijoy Kumar, who is from Kerala and a former auto journalist.
Set up in 2011 under the leadership of Bijoy, Mahindra Adventure is one of the major organizers of adventure trips in the country. They include the Great Escape, Monastery Escape (10 days), Royal Escape (8 days), Authentic Bhutan (8 days), Himalayan Spiti Escape (7 days), Authentic Myanmar & Thailand (12 days) and Authentic Northeast Escape - Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh (10 days), among others.
If you want to get first-hand experience of offroading from the best in the business, you can enroll at the offroad training academy of Mahindra Adventure at Igatpuri in Maharashtra.