Even though this year’s Detroit Auto Show was a little bit thin, there were still plenty of interesting cars around: the new Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, the new Supra that we never talk about, and I suppose even the new Ford Explorer. But when it comes to the most technically interesting car at the show, none of these big shots are my pick. No, by far the strangest and most interesting vehicle was something I think most people walked right by: the Mahindra Marazzo.
It’s a little strange this purple people-mover was at the show at all, considering it was never intended for the American market. The right-hand drive and manual transmission are sort of a dead giveaway about that.
But it was designed and developed in America, right here in Michigan, at Mahindra’s North American Technical Center, so I think Mahindra wanted to show that off, a bit.
And, sure, at a quick glance, it has a lot of things that car-weirdos like myself like: it’s a manual-transmission, three-row diesel minvan that’s even painted a dark, deep purple. It’s not at all the kind of car we usually find sold here. But it gets even weirder.
What’s really, really bonkers about this thing is the way it’s built: it’s a body-on-frame front-wheel drive car. That’s a very, very unusual layout, and even more so when you consider that it’s a transverse-engined body-on-frame front-wheel-drive vehicle.
FWD cars are almost always unibody things, including everything from a Hyundai Veloster to a Golf GTI to a Chrysler Pacifica. There’s been very few body-on-frame front drivers: one of the earliest ones, the Cord 812, was one, but that was from 1936. Even the Citroën Traction Avant was at least semi-monocoque.
There’s the Oldsmobile Toronado, sure, and weirdos like the Volkswagen Hormiga/Basistransporter, but really that’s about it. I’m not sure anyone currently makes a front-drive body-on-frame car or truck or anything currently.
Mahindra’s reasoning is pretty simple: toughness. The environment these MPVs or minivans or people movers or whatever you want to call them will be operating in isn’t really the cushiest.
India’s roads and driving conditions are rough, and they need something that can take abuse, be amenable to easy repairs, and just keep going. Body-on-frame construction delivers on that.
Plus, it was designed by Pininfarina (who Mahindra now owns) with heavy influences from sharks.
So, I feel comfortable saying that a purple, manual, three-row, body-on-frame, front-wheel drive, transverse-engined minivan designed with shark references is the most interesting car of the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.
Come at me.