India to gets its first automobile museum

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi : India is set to get its first museum here next year that will chronicle for posterity more than 100 years of the country’s automobile history.

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Spread over a sprawling 10,000 sq yard plot in the capital, the museum is being set up by a group of vintage motoring enthusiasts in collaboration with the Indian government and prominent carmakers.

It will be modelled on the lines of the Rail Museum here that showcases the country’s rich railroad legacy.

“The blueprint was drawn up four months ago. The Delhi government has sent it to the ministry of urban development for its approval,” leading advocate K.T.S. Tulsi, who is also president of the Heritage Motoring Club of India (HMCI), told IANS.

The club, a professionally managed forum of heritage motorists, is spearheading the project.

“It has been our ambition to set up an automobile archive in the country. Automotive heritage, like motoring and aviation, is part of the new global tourism trend,” Tulsi maintained.

“We want every visitor to India and those within the country get a feel of the country’s rich motoring and automotive heritage. And the government will not have to shell out a dime,” he pointed out.

The museum will be funded through corporate sponsorships.

“Since vintage motoring is a very visible sector, we are in no dearth of sponsors but I would not like to reveal any more at this stage,” he said.

Unlike in the West, where automobile majors host their own archives, the Indian industry does not. “Hence, we will have to do it ourselves,” Tulsi said.

The HMCI, however, has been assured of support by all the leading carmakers in India.

India, which is one of the biggest manufacturers of automobiles in Asia and one of the largest auto-markets in the world, has a rich motoring history. The first car, according to auto-historians, rolled out in Mumbai in 1898 – three years after it was manufactured in the West.

At the beginning of the 20th century, three cars were imported to Mumbai, then Bombay. In a decade, the city flaunted 1,025 cars. The horse-drawn vehicles in India, however, can be traced back to 4,000 years when the first wheel was used for transportation in the country.

India’s tryst with luxury vehicles began in 1910 after Rolls Royce unveiled its handcrafted Silver Ghost model. But the arrival of the high-performance Mercedes Benz in 1957 changed motoring history – as it ushered in an era of big, fast and high-performance luxury cars.

According to a rough industry estimate, there are 100 people per vehicle in India today, compared to 82 in China. The Indian automobile industry, watchers claim, is expected to achieve optimum capacity status by 2014.

Outlining his plans for the museum, Tulsi said: “A part of it will showcase the strides made by the human minds in one century in developing automobiles and the rest will be devoted to India’s romance with wheels.”

The museum will feature automobile models from the days when Indian vehicles were fired by crude electrical circuits, did not have fuel tanks, shock absorbers, batteries and mechanical devices.

“It will be a step-by-step study in advancement of automobile technology, design and the significant role automobiles have played in the last 100-120 years. Changes in design and technology in the auto-sector reflect the progress of a civilization,” Tulsi maintained.

India’s automotive and motoring history is intimately connected with the country’s freedom struggle.

“Vintage cars are linked to national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other statesmen, who rode on them at some point of their lives.

“The rulers of the princely states had their own fleet of luxury automobiles, mostly shipped from the West, and they allowed the nationalists free use of their vehicles whenever necessary,” Tulsi said.