The Indian economy during the time of independence was in relatively bad shape. Decades of British rule had created a significant depression in our economy. Post Independence, India had to rebuild its wealth and stature, which had been exploited for decades under the British rule.
However, building a country's economy is easier said than done. Even after nearing 73 years of Independence, India is still considered as a developing nation across the world. This status can be seen in various fields, including in something like the official car used by the President of India.
The official state car of the President is not only a means of transport but can also be a reflection of wealth, status and power of a country. This is one of the main reasons, apart from security why high-ranking dignitaries such as the President and Prime Ministers, use top-of-the-line vehicles for their travel.
In India, the current President of India Ram Nath Kovind uses a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine S600 Pullman Guard as the official car. This 21.3-foot limousine has now become the car of choice, having served his predecessors as well, including Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee.
However, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine wasn't always the first choice of Indian Presidents. So who was the first President of India to choose the S-Class and what other cars served other former Indian Presidents?
The first Indian President to choose a Mercedes-Benz S-Class as their official state car was Shankar Dayal Sharma. The former President who served India between 1992 and 1997, chose a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine W140 as his official state car.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine W140 was even bullet and grenade proof. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine W140 came with a number of security and safety features, making it the ideal car to ensure the safety of the former President.
The S-Class Limousine (W140) is also known to serve other dignitaries and heads-of-state of various other countries as well. The W140 came with a choice of two engine options: V8 and V12. While the V8 was used on the standard models, the V12 was the engine choice for the armoured vehicles used by important dignitaries across the world, including the former President.
Although Mercedes-Benz offered a standard list of safety and security equipment on the S-Class Limousine (W140). Dignitaries could customise it according to their requirements and personalisation, making each model slightly different from the rest.
The official state car used by former President Sharma would have also received this additional equipment. Being an official state car, the exact specifications and equipment list on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a closely kept secret and is not revealed under any circumstance as it could pose a threat to the safety of the President.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Limousine (W140) was passed on to Shankar Dayal Sharma's successors as well. This included K R Narayanan, APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil. However, during the time of Pratibha Patil's Presidency, the car was relieved of its duties, with the President upgrading to the Mercedes-Maybach S600 Pullman (W220).
The official car was later updated again to the W221 version, which is still in use by Ram Nath Kovind, the current Indian President. The car was expected to be upgraded yet again this year to its latest (W222) iteration, however, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, President Kovind decided against the upgrade.
So, if Shankar Dayal Sharma was the first President of India to select a Mercedes-Benz S-Class as the official state car, which cars were used before? There have been a number of interesting cars, including a few Mercedes-Benz models as well which have served former Indian Presidents.
Some of the most prominent has been the convertible Cadillac and the Jeep Willys, both of which served India's first President Dr Rajendra Prasad. There was also a Mercedes-Benz 300D Adenauer Cabriolet used by ex-presidents. The humble Hindustan Ambassador has also served various heads-of-state and dignitaries during its time as well.
Our former Presidents also had a gold-plated buggy, which was once in use. The Presidential Buggy was initially used by the Viceroy of India, however, post-independence it was passed on to our President.