On October 29, 2023, Mumbai bid adieu to an icon – the Kaali-Peeli taxis. These black and yellow Premier Padmini taxis, a familiar sight on the city’s bustling streets for over five decades, were phased out as part of a modernization drive to introduce newer, better-for-the-environment vehicles. With their last journey, the Kaali-Peeli taxis marked the end of an era, leaving behind a legacy of cultural significance, aesthetic appeal, and a rich automotive history.

The Kaali-Peeli taxis were more than just a means of transportation; they were woven into the fabric of Mumbai’s daily life. These taxis were a constant presence, navigating the labyrinthine streets and transporting generations of Mumbaikars, from school children to office workers to tourists.

With the last Padmini taxi off the road now, a history recap of the legend is surely in order.

The Origins of the 1100: The Fiat 508 C Balilla 1100

The story of the Padmini aka. Fiat 1100 can be traced back to 1937 with the introduction of the Fiat 508 C Balilla 1100. This car, with its body-on-frame construction and pre-war aesthetics, was the first to feature the 1100cc OHV engine that would give the later model its name.

The Millecento (1953-1955)

In 1953, Fiat introduced the 1100/103, more commonly known as the Millecento, meaning “1100” in Italian. This model marked a significant departure from its predecessor, adopting a unibody construction and a more modern, post-war, pontoon design. The Millecento, most would concur, can be justifiably called THE grandfather of our beloved Padmini. Keeping with the Indian tradition of deriving nick names from the physical characteristics of a things, the Italian Millecento, unfortunately but cutely was also called the Dukkar Fiat.

The Fiat 1100/103E: Fiat Elegant (1956-1957)

In 1956, Fiat launched the 1100/103E, also known as the Fiat Elegant. This model featured a higher compression engine, an iconic grille with a center fog-light, and changes to the interior, including a one-piece instrument cluster. The body remained largely unchanged.

The Fiat 1100/103D Select (1958-1960) and 1100/103HSuper Select (1961-1963)

The 1958 introduction of the Fiat 1100/103D, also known as the Fiat Select, marked a shift in design philosophy. The Select embraced the tail-fin style that was popular at the time and also featured a more sober honeycomb grille design. The Select was soon followed by the 1100/103H aka. Super Select in 1961 which was largely identical to the Select except for an updated grille and a few cosmetic changes.

The Fiat 1100D: Fiat Delight (1964-1971)

The 1964 Fiat 1100D, also known as the Fiat Delight, represented the final step in the evolution of the 1100’s body design. The D adopted a more edgy and minimalistic design language compared to its predecessors, which continued practically unchanged right till 2001 in the Padmini.

The Fiat 1100’s Indian Legacy: The Premier Padmini (1972-2001)

It is as this point that the history for the 1100 reaches its climax from a global standpoint while simultaneously undergoing a re-birth of sorts within the Indian context. 1964 marks the year that Premier Automobiles Limited (PAL) starts manufacturing the 1100D in the country and continues to do so till 1972. In 1972 PAL rebrands the 1100 and calls it the Premier President and in 1974, the Premier Padmini. The powertrain, mechanicals and interiors largely go unchanged during this period with the exception of the addition of a diesel engine and plastic bits in the later part of the Padmini’s life between 1972 and 2001. The diesel Padmini was called the 137D and was introduced in 1993 and was said to be super fuel efficient!

A Fond Farewell

While the Kaali-Peeli taxis are no longer part of Mumbai’s daily life, their legacy lives on in the city’s collective consciousness. They remain a cherished memory for many, a reminder of a simpler time when black and yellow taxis were as much a part of Mumbai’s identity as its skyline or its cuisine. The Kaali-Peeli’s journey is a testament to the power of innovation, adaptability, and the enduring spirit of Mumbai.


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