Time was when you could order a car with every design detail built in according to personal choice. The choices ranged from the exterior look to interior features and allowed buyers to even choose their own metal for the bodywork.
Perusing old manuals, I chanced upon an amazing feature that was offered on Daimler cars: swivelling headlamps! Demystified, this meant, you could order headlamps (or spotlamps) mounted on a rod attached to the steering rack, so that the lights turned in the direction the front wheels pointed. This allowed the driver to see the curvature of the road ahead of him, for example, when the car was taking a curve. Interestingly, it was a feature offered on many cars, particularly the high-end versions.
Open sports cars
Design experimentation extended to exhaust pipes, as the attached picture of the ex-Calcutta Mercedes-Benz sports racer shows. Shiny exhaust tubes outside the bonnet represented very high speeds and the last word in styling. Now in an overseas collection, this car was presented at car rallies by the foreigner head of a giant liquor company operating out of the city. It was seen on an off on the streets as well. Sadly, when the gentleman went back to England, he took the car with him and it vanished forever from Indian shores.
For the sporting minded, few cars could have offered more graceful transport than the Rolls-Royce with the sportsman body featured here. Again a car that was in the city at one point in time, this car is specially fitted with bicycle type wheel wings instead of the long full body length wing-mudguards we are accustomed to. While this kept the dust and mud down on the move, it also allowed the fitting of side mounted spare types besides a spacious utility tool box along the side below the driver’s door and a spacious trunk for luggage at the back where the spare wheel would usually be mounted.
No motoring narrative about our city would be complete without recording the fact that even the world’s greatest car, a Duesenberg, was known on city roads. One car, owned by a Bengali business family, would have been like the one pictured here. The Americans say, “Its a Duesy” for anything that is the best in the world, truncating the word “Duesenberg”. With good reason.
The humblest Duesy had a 265 bhp engine, and higher models ran on well over 325 bhp. In the 1920s!
The fact that they also had wonderful bodywork in open or closed sports sedan styles helped bolster the legend. Though the company shut down later, its cars fetch prices hundreds of times more than the price they sold at when new!
GM’s design revolution
General Motors started a revolution in 1927 when it set up a full-fledged auto styling department to come up with specially-designed bodies that could compete in beauty and grace with the best the specialised bodybuilding firms could produce. Thus was born the 1927 La Salle followed soon by the larger, more expensive Cadillac models.
Both models were popular in Calcutta and a famous zamindar family living in a narrow lane in south west Calcutta had several Cadillac cars clad in large limousine bodywork. These cars were the first to offer factory-produced designer car bodies. As the picture shows, the designs were beautiful.
To sum it up we can say that – beauty depends on both overall design and on fine detailing. Thanks to a high degree of craftsmanship both overseas and here, car buyers really had a great time choosing their look and doing up their drives.