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201210 Aug


Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's 1933 Humber bearing registration number WBA 8689 kept in a glass enclosure at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan.


The 1933 Humber was perhaps the only car that Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore ever called his own. He loved the car and used it till his last days. Beside the bard, this historic car has had illustrious passengers like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru. autojunction.in uncovers the tale of the Humber.  


In the year 1938, Rabindranath Tagore’s eldest son and the first Upacharya of Visva Bharati - Rathindranath Tagore returned from the United States after completing his studies in Agricultural Science from Illinois. In the same year, Rathindranath purchased a pair of 1933 Humber sedans from HH Lilley, Rootes Ltd, which was the only Humber dealer for the whole of India, Burma and Ceylon. Its showroom stood at 42 Park Street in Calcutta. Rathindranath purchased these cars for 400 pounds each (approximately Rs 5300 in 1938 and Rs 7.4 lakh in current valuation). One of these two cars was kept at Tagore’s ancestral home in Jorasankho in north Calcutta, while the other was taken to Visva Bharati in Santiniketan.


Tagore was not keeping well in those days but still made it a point to walk to different ends of the campus every day. This is the reason why Rathindranath bought the car for him. Tagore just loved the car and would take a spin several times a day. It was the only motorised vehicle in those parts at that point in time and evoked a lot of awe, because the sight of it always meant that the poet was on his rounds. Tagore had also got the car customised by fixing sitalpati (handmade mats) in the interior of the car to keep it cool.


Humber was a British automobile marque which was started by Thomas Humber in 1868 and grew into one the largest and most well renowned British automobile manufacturers of all time. One of the most famous cars coming off its production lines was the 1933 Humber Snipe and Pullman sedan. The four door sedan's power unit was a straight six of 3,948.5 c.c. with a bore and stroke 80x116 mm and over-head inlet and side exhaust valves.


Other mechanical innovations utilised in this car included:

  • A mechanical fuel pump
  • Radiator shutters operated by thermostat in the header tank
  • Engine and gearbox in one unit with silent-bloc trunnion mountings
  • A starter motor with 2-to-1 drive to ensure that the engine was spun rapidly when cold
  • A new frame with deep-section sides had an extra stiff and deep triangulated cross member in the middle
  • Suspension was, of course, non-independent with beam axles and half-elliptic springs
  • A new downdraught carburetor


In 1931 when the Rootes Brothers bought a majority shareholding, the Humber lost its independent innovations, as numerous designers left Humber, lacking the freedom of workspace. But eventually the 1933 Humber model regained its market share lost during the depression period and brought "the eccentricity" back into the British Automobile market.


Tagore's 1933 Humber is currently on display at the Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan.


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