Vadivel and his daughter Joshna pose with the Landmaster. Picture by GC Shekhar
Where else but on a street named after a Bengali will you find a car that was once born in a factory outside Calcutta?
So, when I discovered a 1957 black Landmaster, the forefather of the now vintage Ambassador, parked at one end of Sengupta Street in Coimbatore’s Ramnagar, the coincidence seemed too striking.
It was also ironical since the street is lined with second-hand car dealers and here was one owner refusing to let go of his grandfather’s first possession, bought for a princely sum of Rs 4,000 more than five decades ago.
Like other streets in Ramnagar that are named after freedom fighters, Sengupta Street owes its name to Nellie Sengupta (originally Edith Ellen Gray of England) and her husband Jatindra Mohan Sengupta, well known freedom fighters from Calcutta.
The Landmaster’s current owner, K.M. Senthil Vadivel, 48, has maintained its bodywork and internal fascia as well as the steering wheel, speedometer and switches.
“Even the horns are original Bosch. Since I did not want to change the dashboard’s original look, I installed the AC’s blower behind the rear passenger seat,” he said.
Vadivel, a rice mill owner from Darapuram, 88km from here, says he was compelled to change to an Isuzu diesel engine and disc brakes since parts for the old engine were difficult to find in the second-hand market.
“The car is absolutely roadworthy and last year we drove all the way to Hyderabad for a family wedding,” he said.
Hindustan Motors began producing the Landmaster, modelled on Britain’s Morris Oxford Series II, in 1954 at its factory in Uttarpara, 17km from Calcutta. Its production stopped in 1957 as the auto company shifted to manufacturing the Ambassador.
Proof of Vadivel’s attachment to his Landmaster can be seen at the bottom of the windshield, where the car declares, somewhat ungrammatically, how its owner “love’s me as a god”.
The car’s registration number, MDE 367, has proved so lucky that the registration numbers of all Vadivel’s other vehicles end in the same three digits. Even his phone and mobile numbers end in 367.
“There have been many offers to buy the car but I refuse to part with it. This will stay in my family and my 13-year-old daughter Joshna has promised to continue to treat it as a family member,” said Vadivel, who drives down to Coimbatore for his shopping.
He recalled that his grandfather, Ayyavu Mudaliar, used to drive him to school in the Landmaster. Recently, when he took it to Ooty for a vintage car rally, his daughter’s classmates from her boarding school were equally thrilled to go for a spin in the car.