| VINTAGE WARRIOR: Netaji’s Wanderer W24, parked at Netaji Bhavan, Elgin Road. Picture by Pabitra Das
The wonder wheels of Wanderer W24 will roll once more. January 23, 2004, should see the historic, four-door German sedan that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose used on the night of January 16, 1941, for his ‘great escape’ from Calcutta, hitting the city streets.
With the Netaji Research Bureau drawing up grand plans to showcase the car during Netaji's birthday celebrations next year, the vehicle, parked on the ground floor of Netaji Bhavan, 38/2, Elgin Road, since 1957, must be made road-worthy. “It's no longer in running condition and it needs a lot of repair. The car is very significant and was one of the first items to be included in the Netaji museum, along with his letters to Chittaranjan Das and a Buddha idol,” disclosed parliamentarian Krishna Bose, also chairperson of the Bureau.
Netaji’s nephew’s wife can’t recall the last time the German sedan last pulled out of Elgin Road since being used in a 1979 Japanese film on Netaji, where Sisir Bose drove the car for a shot. “While making his film on Netaji, Shyam Benegal contacted us recently and wanted to use the car. But it couldn't be used, as it was not roadworthy," added Bose.
When Bose’s son Sugata, who teaches history in Harvard, came down in March, the Bureau decided to set the makeover wheels in motion. Sugata contacted Siddharth Swarup, whose vintage car was used by Benegal.
“I grabbed the offer and after checking the car closely, I had a meeting with him (Sugata) and his mother (Krishna Bose) at Netaji Bhavan. They wanted a detailed proposal,” said Swarup, a young industrialist and an “old car enthusiast”.
For Swarup, the Netaji car project is a brush “with the history of India’s freedom struggle”.
After going through the original registration booklet and sales catalogue of the 1937-make, 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, 42 HP car, and rigorous research, Swarup sent a detailed proposal to Sugata in early April. “I received a mail from him last week and he has given me the green signal. Now, I will have to coordinate with Krishna Bose.”
According to Swarup, the car needs a “complete makeover”, from engine and suspension to electrical wiring and the entire leather upholstery. He, however, refused to disclose the estimated project cost. “It’s indeed an exciting project for me, as I will have to restore the car as close as possible to the original model. The condition of repairing it inside Netaji Bhavan — as laid down by Dr Sugata Bose — will make it even more challenging,” added Swarup, confident of completing the restoration work well within the deadline of January 23, 2004.