When owners of vintage and classic cars drive their beloved vehicles down potholed, congested city roads on Sunday they would, like the boy in the James Joyce story, be “bearing a chalice safely through a throng of foes.” The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally is here and so are the romantics who lend their magnificent machines to this annual epiphany.
The car and bike owners ~ each a collector ~ claim that every single vehicle of theirs is a gem and if indeed that is true, one may easily imagine the sight that the Eastern Command sports stadium in Fort William will offer on 9 January.
The vintage and classic car connoisseur, Mr Sanjay Ghosh, flaunts his favourite 1932 Ford V8 DeLuxe Phaeton and reminisces about his maternal grandfather, late Justice JP Mitter, who bought the Lady Bird after coming to the city from Oxford in 1932. The price was Rs 2,700, but since he bought it on installments, he had to pay Rs 300 extra. He used it from 1932 to 1952 and then the car was grounded for 20 years.
“In 1972 when the neglected Lady Bird caught my attention, I used to earn Rs 450 and I invested Rs 400 to buy five new tyres and a battery for the car. Around 1976-77, I gave up my job and then went on to set up this workshop and took to restoring vintage cars,” Mr Ghosh said. He said that though the city had the largest collection of vintage and classic cars once upon a time, it is difficult to find any in the workshops now. Road conditions are so bad that it is a great risk to take the vehicles on road. More so, as insurers refuse to offer comprehensive policies for such cars. “The Statesman rally is one of the best I have seen. We would be happy if it maintains the standards,” Mr Ghosh added.
Mr Partha Sadhan Bose has entered five cars and two bikes in this year’s rally. He has been participating since 1984. He participated for the first time with his friend’s car and then the next year with his 1917 T4. Mr Bose is worried though about the route. “I hope we do not have to take our cars towards Salt Lake where roads are dug up because of Metro Rail construction,” he said. The problem, however, is that roads in almost every part of the city offer a challenge to these magnificent machines. Mr Bose and all his family members drive the cars themselves on rally day.
Mr Gautam Mukherjee, another participant and enthusiast, felt that the road performance allowance should be decreased from 3 minutes to 1 minute. The route earlier was not good; the road conditions of north Kolkata and the tramlines posed a great threat to the cars. But now since the route has been changed, the time could be brought down, he added.
Mr Shrivardhan Kanoria, who is entering the competition with nine cars, also expressed apprehensions about the road conditions in Salt Lake. He makes sure he brings a new car to the competition every year. “Since the competition is very tough, I feel that the newcomers and more humble cars should be given a bit of weightage. That would motivate other participants,” he added.