On a fine evening in 1964 when Mr CR Irani decided to support Mr Peter Moore to host the very first Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally, what they ignited was a spark which lights up the city even today on the 31st of January every year. How so you may ask? Well, it gave the countless faceless enthusiasts hope that there was someone out there who shared the same passion. There were other men in the world too, who were wild enough to protect their beauty on four-wheels- daring all odds.
There was a time when the century old legendary Stoewer of the benevolent Mr Pratap Chowdhury was just a heap of metal, a time when maybe ace restorer Mr Sanjay Ghosh didn’t know the true value of the mighty Dodge parked in his garage today. Dr Debashis Bhose could have always been busy tending his patients and not restored his Baby Austins. Mr Rishi Kumar could have well let his other hobbies get the better of him instead of the ordeal of maintaining his vintage cars. Mostakin Jamadar could have let go of his father’s passion for vintage cars once he passed away. Mr Billy Bose could have simply shoved me out of his house when I tried to peek into his legendary collection of beauties. Mr Peter Moore, could have well continued being the professor at IIT Delhi and restricted his passion for old cars to just words for the newspaper.
But, all the people mentioned above and countless others are not simply ‘vintage-car-enthusiasts’ or ‘restorers’. They are not living in the comfort of their homes, purchasing equipment to make their beauties. These are men who have shaped the course of history. Men who have gone out of their way to create modern day marvels. Men who let their passions get the better of them despite constraints of all forms. Men, whose efforts have created beauties which would have otherwise been rust and dust by now.
So who are these men? These men come from varied backgrounds, otherwise most ordinary like you and me. What differentiates them though is the distance they have gone, the sleepless nights they have spent and endless stacks they have searched to find the perfect part to complete their beauties.
The lesser known heroes
Take leave from work someday, visit any by-lane in the city, stumble upon any street-side mechanic, the ‘Raju bhais’, ‘Akbar bhais’, ‘Khan chachas’ as they are lovingly called, look deeper into their garages, remove the cover off some ancient looking scraps, I can bet my money that you will find a rare beauty lying there.
Of course we all love seeing those spick and span vintage beauties drive by us, but what we don’t ponder is the amount of effort that goes into maintaining the beauty.
Take Chotu da, the restorer who works for Mr Pratap Chowdhury for instance. He has been restoring vintage cars from the past 22 years and even today, when required, he sprints away to look for spare parts in the market or a scrap yard like a boy searching for his favourite candy. Such is the passion of hand-crafting a piece of art. Such is the addiction of seeing your creation in motion.
So what is special about these lesser known heroes? Take out the time and spend a few hours with them someday. Like Indiana Jones scours the cave to hunt down the missing clue, these are the men who leave no stone unturned to find the perfect tool for the perfect finish.
From the clang of the pistons to the carburetor chugging-in the fuel and the axil and differential powering the wheels, not a single motion is permitted to be out of synchronization under the supervision of these men.
Old baddies: Ask any connoisseur the regret that they have and tad you’ll get a set reply from all, ‘The pre-independence and early 1960s phase when a chunk of the vintage and classic cars were shipped out of the country’
From golden finished Rolls Royces to Auburns, there was a time when the rarest of the rare cars were found in let alone the country, but plying the streets of our very own city. From the legendary collection of the Maharaja of Burdwan, to the beauties of the British officials, Kolkata was once home to a wide array of vintage cars. This though explains the scattered reminiscent of the abandoned beauties today.
New baddies: My friends often tell me that I was born in the wrong generation seeing the keen interest I take in vintage cars and their connoisseurs. While the current generation is after the latest sports cars, the world is witness to the fact that much like the quick acceleration of these models, the interest of young owners in their fancy cars too is short and swift. This is quite understandable too, because you can’t put a price tag on passion and drive it home can you?
The Ray of Hope
Interestingly, defying all odds, even today, the culture of taking the time to restore an ancient beauty is not dead. With many young men taking interest in procuring and restoring vintage and classic cars in the worst of conditions, it is safe to day that the lamp is still burning bright. Perhaps every generation manages to enjoy its own share of enthusiasts. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that Kolkata will always be a haven for people with this particular taste. If in doubt, simply visit the Statesman Vintage Car Rally every year. And if you don’t want to wait all year for proof of Kolkata’s love for vintage cars, just visit the police headquarters at Lal Bazar someday, the Commissioner of Police still proudly flaunts his perfectly restored 1956 Dodge Kingsway in the parking lot. Hope that sparks the fire for these beauties in you too