The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally is an important event in the festival calendar of Kolkata. It is organised every year by the Statesman group, one of the oldest newspaper groups in India. Started in 1968 as The Statesman Vintage Car Rally, it was later modified as The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally. It was just twice that the rally could not be held, in 1972 after the Bangladesh War and later in 1974 due to the OPEC crisis.
A gorgeously painted car at the 2013 Kolkata rally
Today the entry of the vintage cars and bikes is restricted to those manufactured prior to 1940. Stoewers, Rolls Royces, Cadillacs, Austins, MGs and Vauxhalls, among others, participate the rally.
The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally is not just a rally but a festival complete with fancy dress period costume, cultural programmes and food.
Scene from the 2013 Kolkata rally
The rally also has a Delhi edition, which has been held since 1967 with a lot of fanfare, like the one in Kolkata. The Statesman even started one in Mumbai but pulled out after holding just three rallies.
A participating car at the 2013 Vintage Car Rally in Delhi
The primary reason behind holding these hugely popular rallies in Kolkata and Delhi is to preserve quaint old cars – keep them in working condition. It is also an occasion of pride for the owners who spend lots of money to keep these in running condition, as parts are not easily available and mechanics too, who have the knowhow to maintain these classics. For the spectators, it is an occasion, in a way, to experience what life was like on the streets decades back.
A participant at the 2013 Kolkata rally
This year, Sunday, January 19 would be Kolkata’s date with the rally. A high point of this year’s rally would be the participation of a classic blue-and-white Ford Fairlane Galaxie automobile, owned by young car enthusiast and collector, Shrivardhan Kanoria. Fairline was one of the best cars Ford Motors had ever manufactured. The six-cylinder vehicle, first built in 1959 was the most popular car in its day.
Kanoria has toiled hard to restore the vehicle from scratch. It was a very difficult task as the vehicle had to be restored to its original.
A Ford Fairlane 500 Galaxie
The rally would be sponsored by Birla Tyres, State Bank of India and Exide, among others. The competitions are held in three categories: Vintage, Classic and Post-War. Prizes are awarded for performance, maintenance, originality and restoration. There are over 40 trophies, some of which include The Statesman Challenge Trophy to the oldest car, a trophy to the most consistent participant, and the C R Irani Memorial Trophy for the ‘Queen of the Rally’.
The restored cars come out in all their colourful splendour and it is a wonderful sight to see them on the roads. For most of them, this is the only time of the year when they are taken out for a long drive, to be returned to their garages after the rally and kept ready for another year.
A participant dressed as a chauffeur wipes his 1932 Chevrolet at the 2012 Kolkata rally
India has had a traditional love affair with cars, with the first one
imported into the country in 1890. The Bombay-Pune Time Trials were the
first car races to be held in India. It is estimated that Indians own
between 1,000 to 3,000 vintage cars.