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The last trip: Mumbai’s kaali-peeli Fiats will vanish soon... But will live on forever

In 2023, the once-ubiquitous Fiat taxi will permanently go off Mumbai’s roads. The owners of the last few such cars share tales about the black-and-yellow cabs.

October 09, 2022 / 02:29 PM IST
Mumbai's last few kaali-peeli fiat taxis are running on nostalgia and jugaad - but not for long. (Photo by Ashutosh Patki)

Mumbai's last few kaali-peeli fiat taxis are running on nostalgia and jugaad - but not for long. (Photo by Ashutosh Patki)

Rais Ahmed (43) gets out of his car as a leaking radiator forces it to a halt. Even though it has ceased to function, his taxi catches the attention of passersby with its shiny bulging headlights, antique-looking luggage rack atop the yellow roof, voguish front bumper, and of course, its vintage feel, which allows it to stand out among other cars.

Ahmed pops the hood and pours turmeric powder into the radiator. He cranks the engine until it heats up and that’s it—the car is ready to run again. His car is one of Mumbai’s last few Fiat taxis, lovingly called ‘kaali peeli’ (black and yellow, because of their livery).

Officially, the car is known as the Premier Padmini—it was manufactured by the now-defunct Premier Automobiles Ltd, part of the Walchand Group, under licence from Fiat (Italy). It was manufactured in India between 1964 and 2000.

In 2020, the Maharashtra government decided to de-register all vehicles that were over 20 years old. The decision was the death knell for the kaali-peeli taxis, with almost all of them forced to retire. Only a handful managed to escape the deadline, perhaps because they were registered after 2000, but they, too, will have to shut their meters permanently by the end of the year.