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.
The rally which is sponsored by Birla Tyres along with several others will be held at the Eastern Command Sports stadium today.
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, are the regular cars participating in this year’s rally as well. Mr Shrivardhan Kanoria, the youngest car collector and restorer The Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally is not just a rally but a festival complete with fancy dress period costume, cultural programmes and food.
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.
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 high point of this year’s rally would be the participation of a 1957 Fiat Elegant, a new entry, to The Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally with his fleet of cars by the youngest vintage car collector and restorer in Kolkata. Also Mr Kanoria has in his stable a 1906 Renault Freres, the oldest car to participate in the rally. “It is very difficult to maintain such an old car. I take it out only three days in a year”.
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.
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.