Tagore’s Humber: Ravaged By Time

A black 1933 Humber stands forgotten in a glass case at the Uttarayan Complex in Santiniketan, its days of wandering firmly over. It is one of the two Humber sedans that was bought by Rathindranath, the bard’s elder son and gifted to his father.

In 1938, Rathindranath, (who went on to be the first Upacharya or Vice-Chancellor of Visva Bharati) returned from the US after completing his studies in agricultural science from Illinois. In the same year, Rathindranath purchased two 1933 Humber sedans for 400 pounds each. One of the two cars was kept at Tagore’s ancestral home in Jorasanko and the other was taken to Viswa Bharati. Rabindranath Tagore would go around the campus in this very 1933 Humber. In those days, this was the only motorized vehicle in Santiniketan and hence, a centre of much attraction.

The Humber, though not a high end car was preferred because it had more ground clearance than other British cars like Rover, Hilman or Austin and suitable both for the rural roads of Birbhum and also Jorasanko which faced problems of water-logging. Also it had considerable leg space and passengers sitting at the back could stretch their legs. Remember, the bard towered over the rest in the literal sense as well.

But today, the old, classic beauty has remained grounded since the last few decades. The lack of use and maintenance had rendered several parts of the car useless. In its present condition, several components of the car have to be replaced.  On several and much publicized occasions, Viswa Bharati authorities expressed their desire to restore the vintage car but not much progress has been made in the direction. One of the reasons might be the unavailability of spare parts. According to experts who had a look at the car, the carburettor, distributor and the two pistons have gone missing. This car is undoubtedly, a priceless Tagore relic, particularly, after the loss of the Nobel medallion. The Humber has not only carried the Nobel laureate, but its plush upholstered interiors have had passengers like Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru among others.

Humber was a British automobile marque which was started by Thomas Humber in 1868 and grew into one of the largest and most well renowned British automobile manufacturer of all time.

One of the most famous cars coming out of 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 80×116 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 two to one drive to ensure that the engine was spun rapidly when old.
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.

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