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201315 Jan

1913 Stoewer

1913 Stoewer owned by Pratap Chowdhury at the Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally

 

It was on one of those cold winter mornings in the mid-1990s when I first attended The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally. We hopped in our Amby and drove down to the Eastern Command Stadium on Strand Road which played host to the event. And once I stepped foot inside the ground, I was completely overwhelmed with what I saw. There were grand old Rolls-Royces, stylish Jaguars, cute little Baby Austins and big and black Cadillacs. I was in awe of these graceful and ageless beauties at their very first sight; I still am. That day marked my never-ending love for vintages and classics which has only grown deeper with every passing year and an association with one of the oldest vintage and classic car rallies of the country which has now become an important annual fixture in the city’s event calendar.    

 

Come January and Calcutta gets all set to celebrate the saying 'Old is Gold'. For, this is the time when the city's fleet of vintage and classic cars are brought out from the garages as their proud owners gear up to participate in The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally. And as expected the Rolls Royces, the Jaguars, the Cadillacs, the Chevrolets, the Austins, the Fords and many other golden oldies from the yesteryear turn up for the event gleaming and shining to leave their onlookers completely mesmerised. 

 

The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally was first held in 1966. In those days, the event was held at the Maidan and later moved to the Eastern Command Stadium. This event is indeed a great way to start the New Year for all those who have a passion or just curiosity for the "horseless carriages" that had once transformed our world. The Statesman Rally is not only one of India's most prestigious car events, but unique in the world, combining a "Concours d'Elegance" with a "Rally", drawing a variety of cars and motorcycles from all over the country.

 

Many might be unaware that The Statesman had been one of the driving forces behind the enactment of the legislation by Government of India banning the export of vintage cars from India. Did you know that until 1940, over 60 per cent of the Rolls-Royce manufactured, were shipped to India? Unfortunately, most of these were exported before the new law came into force.  At present both the export of vintage and classic cars as well as used parts, so necessary in the daunting challenge of restoring the cars yet to be resurrected, are banned.  

 

The Statesman Rally is always held during the first weekend of the year spread over two days. Judging the Concours usually starts early on Saturday morning. First the cars are registered and given a number card indicating their age; the "oldest" one was at last year’s rally was a 1906 Renault, the "youngest" a 1978 Mercedes. The cars then undergo a methodical scrutiny, first for Mechanical Fitness (30 point), then Fit and Finish (30 points) and then Originality (40 points). These are the moments of anxiety for the collectors and restorers who have worked so long and hard, some even resurrecting the wrecks that should have been otherwise scrapped. And for those enthusiasts who want to examine the cars and talk to their proud owners, or even click photographs, Saturday is perhaps the best time.

 

The following day is the D-day when all the excitement happens. The cars start assembling from 7 am onwards and the crowd starts to pour in soon after. Many participants come dressed in period attire adding that nostalgic touch and flavour to this grand old event. The Chief Guest flags off the cars around 9 am marking the commencement of the rally after which the cars are sent off to complete the rally route running a distance of almost 40-50 km traversing through the crowded, potholed streets of Calcutta with eager onlookers at every nook and corner of the city awaiting to catch one glimpse of these beautiful cars. And as each car, with considerable historic importance, tours the city of joy and completes the rally route, you can see how the time gap between history and modernity is bridged in style and elegance. Most of them return to the rally ground after completing the rally route, while some go home after suffering a breakdown or technical snags.

 

Once the cars return to the venue, the judges pour over the sheets to determine the winners split into various categories. And although not every single collector and restorer goes home with a prize, for me personally, each and every one of them is a winner because without their effort and perseverance, this generation would have never got an opportunity to witness the glorious legacy of automobile that once was.

 

 

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