Back In Action As Kolkata Gets Its 52nd Edition Of The Statesman Rally

Images: Deepanjan Sarkar

When the news of Statesman re-starting its iconic vintage and classic car rally after a two-year hiatus broke, Kolkata’s historic vehicle owners heaved a collective sigh of joy and relief in equal measure. After all, The Statesman Rally was the one annual event that every historic vehicle owner and enthusiast from town looked forward to. Held almost every year since 1968, the Kolkata Statesman Rally is perhaps the oldest historic vehicle event in Asia.

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The 52nd edition of the Statesman Vintage & Classic Car Rally, back after a hiatus of two years

The 29th of January 2023, Sunday, was chosen as the rally date with the scrutiny of the entrant vehicles on the preceding Friday and Saturday. Friday was reserved for scrutiny of Indian Classics such as the various models of Fiats, Ambassadors, Standards, Vespas, Jawas etc., while Saturday as usual was the day reserved for full-fledged judging.

In a break from tradition, Statesman had announced the Rally route at least a week before the actual rally, in order to garner enthusiasts along the route. Alas, this did not prove to be too much of a success as there weren’t really cheering enthusiasts along the Sunday Rally route. As usual, the venue was Eastern Command Stadium in Fort William, the HQ of the Eastern Command.

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All serious—a Morris Minor being judged
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A Mercury 8 storms into the ground for scrutiny

In terms of participants, there were just a handful of new entrants with several old-timer attendees missing. Of the new entrants, some of the classic cars included a well restored 1950 Austin A40, a 1948 MG TC whose story is nothing short of a resurrection by the owner and a 1958 Mercedes Benz 180A.

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Many participants look forward to their vehicles being judged—in this case, an Austin Big Seven

The Indian Heritage section saw a freshly restored 1959 Fiat 1100 in an attractive two-tone combination of pale yellow and light coffee and a few first timers too. The two-wheeler section included a beautifully restored Matchless motorcycle.

Sunday morning saw an old favourite of enthusiasts displayed on the Rally grounds—the 1906 Renault which has been an attendee since 1968. Also present was the ever popular 1913 Stoewer owned by the same family since new. A 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost converted decades back into a motorised chariot for various deities from the owner’s temple drew a curious crowd whilst Austin Sevens, a rarity in Calcutta nowadays, were a cheery sight.

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One of several attractive trophies to be won
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A Land Rover Series I and an Austin 7 alongside each other on the roads make for an interesting sight

With the grand parade of historic vehicles announced and the rally officially in progress, the old wiggle-woggle wasn’t to be found which was sorely missed by participants. What was appreciated was the excellent handling of the TSD (time, speed, distance) rally format with tulip charts given to each participant and time control checks with professional marshals along the way for the road section points.

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A cute Fiat 500 makes an appearance after a gap of a few years

The 20-kilometre route traversed the city and took the vehicles from north Calcutta (Kolkata) to south Calcutta culminating back at the stadium. In the meantime, visitors to the rally were entertained by artistes singing pop music.

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Throngs of visitors on the rally grounds

Once back at the grounds, vehicle owners swapped stories about their favourite cars and bikes and caught up on old times whilst critiquing each other’s vehicles.
From the stadium seats, one could see that only half the grounds was dotted with historic vehicles, no doubt a result of a combination of several vehicles leaving the city in the recent past, some vehicles in disrepair and long time participants with larger collections shying away from the event.

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A Morris Minor stops in front of the grand Statesman House which houses the Statesman newspaper

Yet, at the same time, it was encouraging to see a flood of young visitors, eagerly asking questions to owners, taking photographs, going on social media with live posts and making video logs.

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One of several two-wheelers present

The prize distribution started well past 3:30 PM and continued beyond 5:00 PM, by which time just a handful of participants were present. The Statesman Trophy for the Best Overall Performance of the Day was presented to a 1933 Austin 10 saloon whilst the trophy for the Best Overall Performance of a Classic Car was awarded to a 1950 Austin A40 Devon.

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A Triumph, Lambretta, DKW and Matchless

A 1958 Mercedes-Benz 180A took home the trophy for the Best Restored Car. In the Indian Heritage section, the overall trophy was won by a 1959 Fiat 1100. A 1941 Matchless motorcycle got top honours amongst two-wheelers.

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Italian flair represented by a charming scooter

Although the 52nd Statesman Rally Kolkata was a bit lacking in competition and not quite the event of yesteryears, the very fact that it has been revived (many thought that 2020 was the last ever Statesman event in Kolkata) has drawn a lot of support from historic vehicle enthusiasts and owners alike and it can only get better from here!

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Brits all—Morris, MG, Wolseley and Hillman


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