As far as aficionados of four wheelers go, Kolkata is home to a bunch of picturesque enthusiasts. Some are restorers of classic and vintage cars, others collectors of antique models while a good many are professionals trying to make a quick buck in the process and then there is Uday Bhan Singh, a man of simple virtues and a simpler passion, protecting the legacy of jeeps in India. And protected he has, UBS sir, Jeep Guru are some of the names he is often called and he is not the next door uncle with a unique car, he has personally hunted down, collected and restored close to 70 World War2, Willy’s, Fords and other unique jeeps.
Uday Bhan Singh is not a renowned collector or an illustrious personality, neither is he a baron or lord who inherited a bunch of cars. He is a man who has an unadulterated love for the Jeep and its capabilities. As far as jeeps go, the country has a rich heritage and there are a large number of such machines lying about abandoned in either factories or totally in crumbles. His love for the rugged vehicle has made him procure such jeeps and he continues to do so even today.
Why jeeps and how it all began
The raw power that a Jeep delivers and the overall strong road presence that it possesses has appealed to him right from his childhood, this sparked the passion in Uday Bhan Singh from a very early age. His father and uncle had jeeps and he has grown up seeing their antics on them.
His grandfather had an array of Rolls Royce and Chryslers and as a child, all those were out of bound for him, so he used to be left with just the jeeps to fiddle with. That is how it all began.
He was just in the 9th standard in the year 1967 when he and his brother got their first jeep for Rs 2200. Their father would encourage them to open various parts of the jeep with the help of the mechanic and restore them again for them to understand how the jeep functions.
Not just finger tips
If you count right from the beginning, the ‘Jeep Guru’ has around 70 jeeps. The collection can be split into 3 categories:
2nd World War Jeeps
How so many?
Back in the early 90s he had started a project called ‘Save the Jeep’. He used to make inland letters and send them to all the people he knew to create a database of jeep owners. This created a band wagon effect and helped him reach out to people outside his circle who had jeeps. Gradually and steadily as his record of jeep-holders increased he started procuring and restoring them. Even today there are hundreds of jeeps lying about in old godowns, abandoned garages and in some cases submerged in ponds, so the legend believes that the idea of ‘save the jeep’ is an ongoing process which needs to be carried forward.
The oldest model of a jeep in his possession is the June 1942 Willy’s MB. It is a 2nd World War Jeep and one of his most prized possessions.
Maintenance & Usage
The legend has spent almost a lifetime procuring jeeps and has dealt with hundreds of people, paid premium amounts and discovered jeeps in the worst of conditions. His sons, Adhiraj and Vidyum have taken up the responsibility of repairing and maintaining them.
He uses the CJ 3B on a daily basis. During monsoons he uses the Mahindra MM S40. But, the 1952 CJ 3A is his favourite.
Having a lifetime of experiences on the jeeps, the one the legend shared was that of the ‘Great Arc Rally’. The Great Indian Arc of the Meridian in 1800, was the longest measurement of the earth’s surface ever to have been attempted.
Simply put, it was an attempt to measure the length of India from its southernmost point at Cape Comorin to its northernmost point at Kashmir at a longitude of 77 degrees and 41 minutes.
He decided to do the same with a jeep. This meant driving in a straight line at 77 degrees and 41 minutes not matter what came in the path. Be it rivers, hills or fields, the challenge was to follow a straight path no matter what. He was able to travel around 1600 miles, till Hyderabad in a span of 15 days, after which, it was declared too perilous to be done.
Jeeps and the family
Having inherited this love for four wheels from his father and grandfather who used to run the first ever bus service in Liluah where he lives, both his sons have left behind promising careers in their respective fields and have come back to the city to take forward his passion by making it theirs. His sons are interested in making an assembly line of all the jeeps that I have and showcase them soon.
The only grief
Uday Bhan Singh feels that as far as pan India goes, be it the hills in the North or the fields down South, Jeeps have been an essential part of everyday life. But, as far as Bengal goes, the Jeep has never really matched the personality of the average Bengali guy. And even today, unfortunately the tradition of Jeeps is not present in the youth. The handful few who actually have the love for it don’t have the funding to take it further.
The 4×4 enthusiast has multiple jeeping groups that wait for him to be a part of but the good samaritan is way beyond that and encourages offroading for all. He believes that till the point a regular commuter car driver feels the power and traction of a 4×4 jeep, he/she cannot develop a love for it.
How to get your 4×4
Today, it would cost around 2.5 – 3 lakhs to procure a jeep and get it in running condition. Although the jeeps that the legend has are not for sale, the doors of his house are always open for anyone interested in jeeps.
With special thanks to Mr Imroz Kabir for letting us know about the legend.