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201501 Oct

1904 Calcutta Car Rally

Glimpse of the first motor rally from Calcutta to Barrackpore organised by Automobile Association of Bengal

 

The first ever automobile arrived in India 1897. It was owned by a Parsi gentleman in Bombay by the name of Jamsetji Tata who also founded the iconic Tata Group. A year later three more cars were shipped to Bombay, all of which were coincidentally bought by Parsis.

 

And although Bombay was the first home of automobile in India, however, it was Calcutta that rapidly embraced this new found fancy of the rich, so much so that the first automotive association in the country - Automobile Association of Bengal was founded in the then capital of the British Raj. Soon after, other automobile associations followed suit.

 

The Automobile Association of Bengal was also the first to introduce motor car rallying in India. In the spring of 1904, it organised a drive from Calcutta to Barrackpore, a small cantonment town which was used as a military base, situated just 40 kilometres north of Calcutta.

 

A total of 60-odd cars had registered in the Bengal Presidency, out of which, 11 cars turned up at the starting line. Needless to say that the event was an all Brit affair as were most elite events of that era.

 

It wasn’t really a race, but more of an amiable drive to a distant suburb, with a break for tea at the country house of Maharaja Bahadur Sir Jeetendro Mohun Tagore. But for its time it was quite an achievement, considering that cars in those days had to be hand-cranked, were fairly unreliable, had a ride that was far from smooth and suffered a tyre puncture every other kilometre.

 

The most powerful car pumped a meagre 8.5bhp. Such races never became seriously competitive events, and remained languid, rally-style drives with the occasional parade and tea party thrown in.

 

In the years that followed, several automobile associations started to spring up at various parts of India and started organising more races and rallies, some with a more competitive bent. But like Neil Armstrong, Calcutta will always be remembered for being the venue of the first ever motor rally in India.  

 
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