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The Mahindra Thar: Beauty and the beast

Last updated on: August 12, 2020 11:13 IST

As Mahindra readies to unveil its latest version of the off-roader that is so beloved of adventure enthusiasts, the urban crowd as well as the countryside, Rajesh Karkera/ traces the vehicle's journey through the decades.

A cavalcade of Mahindra Thar's in Sakleshpur, Karnataka

Mahindra Thar is the first vehicle that comes to mind when you think of 4x4 off-road capabilities.


As we wait for the much-awaited BS6 version of the iconic Mahindra Thar 2020 to be launched on this Independence Day, let us take a look at the icon's journey over the years.

1949: The CJ-3A

Mahindra CJ3A

The first-ever Off-Road vehicle from Mahindra & Mahindra was born 71 years ago.

The CJ 3A, a Willys Jeep assembled in India, was the first-ever off-roader from Mahindra and Mahindra, having secured the licence for it from Willys.

1953: The CJ-3B

The WIllys CJ 3B

Four years later, the CJ-3A was upgraded to the CJ-3B, which later became an integral part of India’s motoring culture and lifestyle. Thanks to the yearn to own one, which enthusiasts like young Selvin Jose above personify even today.

Selvin searched high and low for a genuine CJ-3B for years around the country and when he was about to give up his search he landed this 1969 beauty in Madhya Pradesh. 

Powered by the original legendary 2.2L Hurricane engine by Willys, Selvin has retained its originality and loves driving it. "Built like a Bullet," he says, "She starts up when I want, giving no trouble at all and she’s a looker too."

"Runs very very very well and is a head-turner for all ages," is how he sums up his prized possession.

1985: The MM540


This was the year when the MM540, considered the grandfather of the Thar, was launched by Mahindra and Mahindra.

It is also the first off-roader to get a name without the suffix CJ -- which stands for Civilian Jeep -- because Mahindras had gotten out of the licence with Willys. 

The MM540 had a longer wheelbase than the CJs. Its 2.1 litre engine was sourced from Peugeot and was mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox, along with a two-level transfer case.

1995: MM550


Ten years later the MM540 got its upgrade. The MM550. 

This was an enhanced version of its predecessor and was built specifically for the Indian Army.

The trust that a jeep could also be a workhorse came from the MM550. A trusted 2.5 litre diesel engine from Peugeot powered this beast which could throw out 72 HP.

1996: The Mahindra Classic

Mahindra Classic

Just a year later came the iconic Mahindra Classic, a dream vehicle for many enthusiasts.

Its rugged stance and powerful engine made it one of the most successful Jeeps from Mahindra and Mahindra.

It was the first vehicle to get shiny spokes alloy wheels with chrome which is a wow factor even today and which Vinod Nookala has retained in his vehicle.

Nookala incidentally is also the deputy general manager of Mahindra Adventure.  Seen above is his 1996 Mahindra Classic, which he bought from the original owner a year back.

"This is easily one of the best looking 4wds ever!" he gushes. "I chose it because it's the last of the flat fenders made by Mahindra in short wheelbase form. 

"It has been my childhood dream to own one. It is so capable off-road, so much so that it can teach a thing or a two to the modern 4wds.

"And those wire wheels are so so rare! Plus, it has million dollar looks."

2000: The Mahindra Major


Four years later, the Mahindra Major, the last of the CJ series, came out.

This version of the CJ had a 2.7-litre diesel engine mated to a 5-speed gearbox.

Used by the police across India and seen in all old movies, it brings back memories.

The 2WD version of this Jeep too became a popular people mover in rural India as it had more seating capacity.

2006: The Legend

The Mahindra Legend

The Mahindra Legend was a limited edition Jeep from the Mahindra stable based on the MM540 and 550 series, to commemorate its 60th anniversary.

Only 60 units of this vehicle was produced, and ownership was through invitation only. 

Powered by a 2.5 litre DI engine, sadly this vehicle suffered from poor handling along with low fuel efficiency.

2010: The Thar


It was in this year that the Thar was officially born, a vehicle that changed everything in the off-roading world.

A vehicle which hither-to was popular mostly in the countryside, now had the urban young and old alike rooting for it.

Many daring road journeys were realised for the young at heart thanks to the Thar. And its ruggedness and reliability made it an object of desire for auto enthusiasts as well. 

The Thar also gave tough competition to the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy, which was one of the most popular 4-wheel drives at that time.

The Thar came with two engine options--  2.6-litre and a 2.5-litre. 

2015: Mahindra Thar Refreshed

Thar refreshed

Five years later, the Thar was given a second avatar with a more vintage look and a better-looking premium interior.

This was also when the CRDe BS4 engine was introduced in the Thar.

The front metal bumpers of the previous iteration were changed to plastic ones to adhere to the changed pedestrian safety norms of the Indian government.

The dashboard and the steering wheel now had a premium look and this was the first to get an air-conditioning system as well.

2019: Thar 700

Thar 700

Marking the end of an era and to make way for BSVI and new crash test norms of the government, Mahindra made the Thar immortal by launching the Thar 700 in 2019.

The Thar 700, which marked the 70-year legacy of an off-road icon, was the last batch of 700 units of the iconic 4x4 off-road SUV in its current avatar. This special edition features a special badge with the signature of Mahindra group chairman Anand Mahindra.

This vehicle might still be available with some dealerships if you want to own a piece of history.

And now, coming on August 15, will be the all-new Thar 2020!

We know little of what Mahindra has in store for the vehicle. But social media has been flooded with sightings and details. So, till August 15, 2020, here are some photos sourced online.

Sneak peek at the Mahindra Thar 2020

IMAGE: The 2020 Thar sighted in Bengaluru, Karnataka.



Rajesh Karkera in Mumbai