Connoisseur's Corner

‘As a young boy, the Stoewer was my favourite hiding place’

Ever since his childhood, vintage-car collector and restorer, Pratap Chowdhury had dreamt of restoring his grandfather’s custom-built Stoewer. The dream came true in 1998. Read on to know how…

Did the Stoewer originally belonged to your grandfather, Iswar Chandra Chowdhury?
Yes. He was the zamindar of Malighati, in east Midnapore. My grandfather used to commute from the village to Midnapore town in horse-drawn carriages daily. In 1900, when automobiles were introduced in India, he thought of purchasing one. But the treacherous road condition between Malighati and Midnapore made him realise that he needed a sturdy car. He went to Kolkata and then to England, but the fancy cars failed to impress him.

So, he went to Germany?
Right. And visited the Stoewer factory in Stettin. This company primarily specialised in manufacturing road rollers and earth removers. So, my grandfather gave them specifications and the company manufactured a custom-built car. The car and a mechanic (he imparted the technical know-how) were shipped to India in 1907. My grandfather regularly rode in this car till his death in 1926.

Was the car grounded after that?
Hmmm. After his death, my grandmother Bishnupriya Chaudhurani took over the ‘zamindari’ and since she did not like the car too much, it was garaged. In 1946-47, my father, Santinath Chowdhury decided to restore it. Back then, he had to use the rim and tyres of T-Model 4 to get the Stoewer running. He used the car till the early 50s.

Were you always passionate about the Stoewer?
I was very fond of it since my childhood. As a young boy, the Stoewer was my favourite hiding place and ‘play ground’ I wanted to take it out on the road, take part in rallies. I was able to fulfill my dream in 1998 when I single-handedly restored the car within three-four months.

Did the success of this car inspire you to become a full-fledged restorer?
You can say that. In 1999, I took part in The Statesman Classic and Vintage Car Rally and the car won ‘the oldest car’ award. It also got the best restored car prize. Since then, it has won many awards including the oldest car on view, oldest car to complete the course, best maintained car prize in 1901-1920 category. Today, the Stoewer is the third oldest car in this part of the country. Its success eventually made me a full-time restorer.

How did you restore the car?
My first job after I got the car out was to dismantle it. Next, I made a ‘what’s missing’ list. After that I had to make arrangements to get these parts from abroad. I even had to fabricate the corroded water-jacket portion. I had to get the wood work done from scratch. Besides these, every other part of the car is original. Although, the Stoewer was gutted after the second world war, there are still plenty of enthusiasts and specialised clubs in Germany. And they helped me with valuable information after I got in touch with them.


Do you take the car out only during the rally?
No. Sometimes, I drive it in Salt Lake. The roads are better and the traffic is light. The car is also started up every alternate day and is cleaned weekly. In 1999, I drove it to Malighati, which is 140 kilometres from Kolkata.

Has the Stoewer ever taken you for a ‘ride’?
Once I made the mistake of taking it out late at night without a service car. All of a sudden, the car ‘suffered’ a break down. In the end, I had to send my son home and he got a service car. The Stoewer had to be towed back home. After that I never take it out without a service car.


You want to open a car museum, isn’t it?
Besides the Stoewer, I also own several other vintage four-wheel drives and classic cars and also 500 miniature cars. I want to build a museum at my Usnani (Howrah) factory and showcase my collection. I am looking forward to fulfilling this dream.

(AS TOLD TO JAYEETA GANGULY)

FACT FILE
Name: Stoewer
Date of Birth: February 1907
Country of Origin: Germany
Manufactured by: Emil & Burnherd Stoewer Co. Stettin, Germany
Brain Child of: Gebrüder Stoewer
Body work & Engine capacity: Custom built open Tourer. 15 H.P. 4 Cylinder
Specialty:

  • The headlights glow with the aid of acetylene gas. There’s a special chamber where calcium carbide and water is mixed to produce acetylene gas.
  • The sidelights run on kerosene.
  • Upholstery is made from cuff leather.
  • The car does not have a temperature meter. A swan is attached on the radiator It is filled with wax. You can see the wax from the steering wheel. When the wax starts to melt, you know that the car is heating up.
  • The throttle is on top of the steering. There’s no battery — it has a magnetic starter.

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