Around the World : Sipani Automobiles

Every car company is allowed at least one or two failures, but for the unfortunate Indian car company Sipani this would prove to be the fate of every model they made in their quarter-century of car building.


Based in Bangalore, India, Sipani had its origins in Sunrise Automotive Industries Ltd (SAIL), which was set up in 1974 with help from British manufacturer Reliant – best known for their quirky three-wheeled cars. Reliant had aspirations to set up an empire of car industries in distant lands, which had also led to the formation of Autocars of Israel in the mid-1950s, Otosan of Turkey in the 1960s (now a Ford subsidiary) and Mabea in Greece. The first product of Sunrise Automotive was a curious-looking three-wheeler called the Badal (below), based loosely on the Reliant Robin but with completely different three-or five-door bodywork and a rear-mounted 198cc engine.

23 Sipani Badal 3 roues (1980)In 1978, SAIL was restructured by its founding managing director, a Mr SRK Sipani, and became Sipani Automobiles Ltd. In the early 1980s, Sipani replaced the Badal with the Dolphin, a locally-manufactured version of the recently discontinued Reliant Kitten. Compared with the Badal, the Dolphin was a revelation.

The combination of the Reliant-developed 848cc engine and the light, synthetic bodyshell gave the car sprightly performance, and drivers must have been grateful for the extra wheel, but the Dophin had a huge flaw: in India, where all cars are either five-door hatchbacks/estates or four-door saloons, the Dolphin was a two-door model (or three-door in estate form).

‘So what?’ you might say, but due to the strict restrictions and regulations imposed by the government the car could only be sold in the south of India. Shortly after its launch, the all-conquering Suzuki-based Maruti 800 stole the small car show, forcing Sipani to react. The result was a hastily modified Dolphin called the Sipani Montana – a model born out of necessity, though at least it now had the option of two extra doors, so important to success in the Indian market. In 1985 a subsidiary company, Dolphin Motors Ltd, was set up by Dinesh Sipani, a director of Sipani Automobiles, to handle sales and distribution.

Sipani soon recognised the need to replace the Montana with something more modern and acceptable, effectively marking the end of their relationship with Reliant who had since reverted to building three-wheelers. Having progressed from the Badal, Sipani had no wish to go back to three-wheelers, and besides, India had since legislated that only auto-rickshaw taxis could be so equipped.

Thus, the Montana was soon supplanted by the D-1, which had the same basis, though its publicity photographs suggested it was modified from a Daihatsu Charade. That was not the case: the D-1 was a development of the Montana, retaining rear-wheel drive, but it could at least boast 100% local content due to its combination of Maruti and Mahindra parts, and a diesel engine sourced from Autoland—which could trace its roots back to BL.

Sipani’s next venture represented a considerable move upmarket, as they began to assemble UK-supplied Rover Montego kits in saloon and estate form. However, in the 18 months it lasted, fewer than 300 examples were produced. Chalking up yet another failure, Sipani ironically renamed itself Maestro Motors Ltd, and began making a utility vehicle called the Arjun.

This was not enough to save the company and it went bankrupt in 2000. As for Dinesh Sipani, he transformed Dolphin Motors Ltd into Dars Automobiles Inc., operating from the same premises in Bangalore but now specialising in marketing LPG conversion kits for Indian cars.

Rover Montego

Introduced by Sipani as an up-to-date competitor in the executive market, it was never actually sold under the Sipani marque name, being referred to as the Rover Montego – in a vain effort to avoid evoking memories of Sipani’s past failures.


Article written by Asopèe Simeli, some corrections by Jack Yan.

Keith Adams


  1. Interesting that less than 300 were produced, I wonder how many CKD sets of parts were supplied to Sipani in total?

  2. Based on the sketches below, it seems like there were plans to produce 4-door saloon and 4-door estate versions of the Sipani Dolphin (aka Reliant Kitten).

    Perhaps along with such bodystyles, the Dolphin would have provided a more serious rival to the Maruti 800 if the company were able to secure the rights for the 875-998cc engines from the Imp/Sunbeam to sit above the existing 848cc Reliant unit.

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